Exec. Vice President
Exec. Vice President
By Alex Barrionuevo
In a city like New York, private outdoor space can be more rare than a spare bedroom. But for the wealthy, that space often becomes an extension of an already fabulous apartment, a living room in the sky that makes the summer and fall months unforgettable.
It could be where you hold that fabulous charity cocktail fundraiser, or sip a glass of rosé with that significant other (or others), or where you take a shower to wash off the suntan lotion from a day of bronzing, before slinking into a robe and dozing off in a chaise under the stars.
Given how competitive New Yorkers are about real estate, it’s no surprise that they also try to create outdoor spaces to brag about and fuel the envy of others. As a tough summer assignment I gave to myself, I recently toured some properties (most for sale) whose owners were boasting about their decks and rooftops.
I stepped out onto a terrace at the Rushmore, a building on the Far West Side, that at 2,400 square feet was larger than the entire 1,500-square-foot two-bedroom apartment. The outdoor space, which has a lonely Jacuzzi in the middle, spread out like a vast parking lot. I stared at it for a few moments and couldn’t picture ever having enough trees, plants or comfy chaises to make it feel inviting.
That’s me. Some owners adroitly transform their outdoor spaces into the most memorable part of their apartment or town house, and take enormous pride in doing so.
Consider Matthew Blesso, a New Jersey-born real estate developer. After buying his spacious two-bedroom penthouse at 684 Broadway in NoHo in 2006, he set out to “blur the line between the inside and the outside.”
He bartered for more roof rights, paying $200,000 to put in a new roof for the building. That gave him about 2,200 square feet of rooftop. He built an outdoor shower, got a friend who is a gardener at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden to create a “meadow” of wild-looking plants and flowers like Queen Anne’s lace. An automatic irrigation system waters them twice a day.
The main area features outdoor couches and a full kitchen that includes a dishwasher, an icemaker, a grill, even a beer tap. He sometimes hangs a cloth screen against a wall covered by plants and shows movies for friends, placing a projector on a chair.
“It’s fun to watch movies about New York up here,” he said, noting that the first movie he ever screened was “Annie Hall.”
And up a gentle slope, you reach a sort of private romantic perch where you can look out over NoHo and have a private chat, Mr. Blesso said. “I wanted to be in the middle of it all but in a sanctuary at the same time,” he said. “I love New York, but find it incredibly stressful.”
Mr. Blesso, 39, is now selling his apartment for $8.95 million, hoping to move on to a place in Brooklyn.
At 94 Thompson Street I found an impressive set of outdoor terraces in the penthouse of a building that once housed a few SoHo art galleries. Ian Tarr, the British owner, took two years to remodel it, spending about as much on the outdoor space as the $4.725 million he paid for the apartment in 2004. Victoria Blau, a New York architect, and Nico Rensch, a Swiss designer, turned Mr. Tarr’s vision into reality.
There are three rooftop terraces. One faces west and is the designated sun deck. On the opposite end, another terrace was made into a breakfast space by adding two trees and some plantings. Looking up you can see the penthouse next door that used to be owned by the actress Meg Ryan.
In the middle is a broad terrace with cozy furniture custom-designed by Gandia Blasco, a Spanish company that does pergolas for beach resorts, Mr. Tarr told me by telephone this week. There is a barbecue, an ice machine and small fridges.
Mr. Tarr spends most of his time back in London, where he is a partner at a scientific database publishing company; he lets friends and family use his SoHo pad on an almost continuous basis. He is listing it for $11.7 million.
At 221 West 13th Street, I found a compelling example of the ingenuity that can be used for a rooftop space in a town house. There, Andrew de Candole, a British property developer, had created a relaxing entertainment space with a small infinity wading pool with Jacuzzi jets, an outdoor kitchen and bar and a partially enclosed dining room with air conditioners and a big ceiling fan. The coolest feature, though, was the retractable glass roof that allows access to the terrace from inside the house. The town house is listed for $11.5 million with Barbara Godson and Charles Homet of Halstead Property.
Some people have created gardens that make them feel as if they weren’t in the city at all. At 35-37 North Moore Street, I found a penthouse whose owners, William and Ursula Fairbairn, had transformed two bare terraces into elaborate gardens. They hired Shinichiro Abe, who designed the Peace Bell Garden at the United Nations, to make one terrace into a Japanese garden. The couple enjoy sitting in their living room and quietly looking out at the garden, sometimes with a glass of Champagne, said Mr. Fairbairn, 76.
“It’s very calming,” he said. “And if you get down there in a snowstorm, it is magical.”
On the other side of the apartment is an even larger garden terrace, with a more English feel, that has a small lily pond with goldfish. The Fairbairns are selling the apartment for $19.95 million.
For sheer wow factor, nothing I saw beat the outdoor space under construction at Michael Hirtenstein’s triplex at 1 York in TriBeCa. Mr. Hirtenstein, a telecom millionaire and well-known collector of trophy properties, moved into his apartment last month. Now he is fitting out every inch of the 5,800 square feet of outdoor space, which is spread over several terraces.
“It is going to be like a yacht,” he said of the plan for one side of the main terrace area, which you enter through glass doors from an enormous living room in the 10,000-square-foot apartment designed by Thomas Juul-Hansen, who is doing the interiors at One57.
Workers are preparing the curved wood that will house a sunken entertainment area, which will feature a grill, a stone fire pit, a retractable 55-inch TV and a wood-slatted roof for privacy.
On the far side he has already installed a large infinity-edge pool and a 16-speaker sound system to give a cinemalike experience when a retractable projector screen rises 16 feet high from behind the pool. In the next week or two he is expecting waterproof remotes to arrive that guests will be able to throw into the pool.
It’s the high-tech version of Mr. Blesso’s simpler rooftop theater. But the effect will be the same: an outdoor living room in the sky, but still within view of neighbors, to remind them of what to add to their wish list.
Thursday, July 12, 2012