Home Decor Lessons, Courtesy of I.M. Pei’s Breathtaking New York Townhouse

Posted in Interior Design

Though it sold within months of appearing on the market, I.M. Pei’s New York townhouse — a four-storey bolthole in the middle of Manhattan’s Sutton Place — is a powerful reminder of the indelible legacy left behind by the Pritzker Prize-winning architect, who passed away last year in May. He was 102. More widely recognised for ambitious modernist structures — built everywhere from Hong Kong to Doha — Pei’s longtime abode on US soil is a similarly revealing aspect of his lifelong contribution to the built environment: Drawing on characteristic elements of modernist creative movements such as natural light, tactile materials and an uncluttered aesthetic — always informed by considerations of functionality.

Prior to the sale of Pei’s New York townhouse, Christie’s International Real Estate went to exhaustive lengths to document it for a new generation of luxury property investors. Most certainly, we won’t deny that having a multi-storey home in the heart of Manhattan hurts this home’s prospects on the market as an all-time gem of interior design but, as you’ll see from the images below, there are lessons to be gleaned (largely revolving around what Pei did with the place) which can be meaningful for a broader audience. Let’s dive in.

“A clean, well-lighted place”

I.M. Pei New York townhouse
(Image credit: Christie’s International Real Estate)

Upon purchasing the townhouse in 1973 (from a cousin of US president Theodore Roosevelt, no less) I.M. and his wife Eileen embarked upon an extensive multi-year remodeling of the building’s internal spaces. A plethora of new, custom-made features were added — many of which were of Pei’s own design. The most practically significant of these was an oblong skylight, which worked in tandem with a coiled spiral staircase as a prism through which to channel natural light to all of the floors below.

This conjunction (of a built, overhead light-well and an internal staircase) would eventually come to be known as a signature I.M. Pei feature — most famously incorporated into the design of the Louvre Pyramid (1989). Elsewhere, Pei was sure to add floor-to-ceiling windows throughout the property — all but guaranteeing the continuity of natural light between private and communal spaces.

Make materials matter

I.M. Pei New York townhouse
(Image credit: Christie’s International Real Estate)

A crucial part of Pei’s remodel was the widespread installation of new floors and build-in surfaces. As with notable public projects (i.e. the National Gallery East Building and the Mesa Laboratory) the architect favoured simple building materials capable of universal appreciation — no doubt by a breadth of Chinese, American, and European guests who crossed his domestic threshold.

I.M. Pei New York townhouse
(Image credit: Christie’s International Real Estate)

The majority of Pei’s home is floored in a combination of European marble and Tasmanian oak — materials chosen for their “lean and simple” style and capacity for adaption to various modes of interior design. Similarly, the four wood-burning fireplaces (one located on each floor) are framed by mantels cut from smooth soapstone; with the material serving to draw attention to the overall shape and design — once again, conceived by Pei himself.

Social space as centrepiece

I.M. Pei New York townhouse
(Image credit: Christie’s International Real Estate)

To be sure, the size (3,848 sq. ft.) and layout of Pei’s townhouse conferred tremendous boons on his ability to design a compelling domestic centrepiece: Between the dining room, internal staircase, library and private garden looking onto the East River, the property has no less than four settings for socialising. Nevertheless, depending on your lifestyle and the spaces at home which you gravitate towards instinctively, any one of the aforesaid are an illuminating starting point for your own modernist highlight. Bibliophiles would do well to take a leaf out of Pei’s tried and tested book — by turning literature into a focal decoration with the aid of ceiling-high, integrated bookshelves. Against this woody, neutral backdrop, you can dedicate more mental effort to the task of selecting the right furniture for the job — turning an often neglected part of the average home into a nook for work and post-meal chitchat.

I.M. Pei New York townhouse
(Image source: Christie’s International Real Estate)

In the event that you have to be blessed with a location as compelling as Sutton Place, a green-themed centrepiece is another obvious option. Rather than going for elaborate hedgerows or high-maintenance flowerbeds, the Peis opted to open up the majority of their backyard garden so as to take full advantage of their surrounds — including the East River and nearby Queensboro Bridge. This approach emphasises a high degree of restraint. For those looking to replicate this at home, decorative efforts work best when they are pursued with subtlety and limited to simple concepts like a few well-positioned pieces of outdoor furniture or a footpath between the internal and external spaces that is suitably engaging.

Randy Lai

Own a Piece of History at the Waldorf Astoria New York, Marilyn Monroe’s Former Home

Posted in What to Buy

In 1955, Marilyn Monroe was nearing the height of her career, she was dating Marlon Brando, and living in suite 2728 at the Waldorf Astoria New York — paying US$1,000 a week and rented from fellow actress Leonora Corbett. In today’s money, this clocks just under US$10,000 (approx. HK$77,500) a week.

Living in a three-bedroom suite on the 27th floor for the better part of a year, Monroe was known to have decorated the place with pictures of Albert Einstein and her own portrait done by actor Zero Mostel. She was living in the suite as she took method acting classes in Manhattan and met Arthur Miller while she was setting up her own studio, Marilyn Monroe Productions.

An invoice showing expenses such as phone, sundries and food being charged to Monroe’s suite number 2728.

The hotel, which has now become an architectural landmark in New York city, first opened its doors in 1931 and has hosted a number of politicians, world leaders and celebrities throughout the years.

For the first time ever, the historic New York hotel is welcoming high net worth buyers to permanently own an apartment in this same iconic building, in effect purchasing a slice of history.

In 2017, the hotel closed its doors for a multi-year renovation that is set to transform the upper portion of the hotel into the brand new The Towers of the Waldorf Astoria, sitting atop a 375-key hotel. Slated to reopen officially in 2022, the residential towers have recently launched for sale.

Marilyn Monroe

With the likes of Frank Sinatra, Cole Porter, Grace Kelly, President D. Roosevelt and even Queen Elizabeth II having passed through its doors, the Waldorf Astoria is reputed as place where one could interact with history at close quarters, whether through the storied halls themselves or through its design reflecting the zeitgeist of the early 20th century.

From the 1893 World’s Fair Clock made by Tiffany & Co. that sat in the Peacock Alley to Nina Saemundsson’s ‘Spirit of Achievement’ statue; Cole Porter’s piano in the original lobby to Track 61, the secret railway track directly linked to Grand Central Station that transported former presidents to the hotel — a number of these artefacts have been removed or closed off from The Towers during the renovation period but residents can expect to see them by the time they are officially opened to the public.

The renovation of The Towers is being overseen by a star ensemble team consisting of renowned interior designer Jean-Louis Deniot, architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and hotel interior designer Pierre-Yves Rochon. The aim was to breathe new life into the building while respecting and maintaining the design intent of its original architect Lloyd Morgan.

With Deniot being in charge of interior design, future residents can expect to find the original Art Deco references existing in harmony with more modern trends. He has especially relied on handcrafted finishes and natural materials to bring a sense of comfort to the otherwise grand opulence of the building.

Available in layouts from studios up to four-bedroom units, the residences feature elegant touches wherever you look: From light-filled, high-ceilinged interiors to custom-designed wood and lacquer cabinetry built by Italian house Molteni & C; professional kitchen appliances by Gaggenau to heated master bathroom floors. The Towers’ common spaces will also see a collection of dynamic contemporary art, such as by Korean artist Minjung Kim, curated with the help of celebrated auctioneer and collector Simon de Pury.

Famous for its round-the-clock service and in-room dining — a pioneering concept at the time — the landmark hotel has been considered the birthplace of the ‘hotel residence,’ or what now what many refer to as the ‘branded residence.’

Similarly, residents at The Towers can expect the same level of five-star service and amenities. A number of attractive features include access to the Starlight Pool, a 25-metre indoor swimming pool with views over Park Avenue; the private outdoor respite named the Starlight Terrace; the Monte Carlo Gaming Room; the Monaco Bar; a wine tasting room with Gaggenau wine vaults available for private storage; and 24-hour concierge services in addition to dedicated on-site professionals to take care of any whim or request.

Situated in the heart of New York city, the Park Avenue luxury residences are priced starting from US$1.7 million (approx. HK$13.2 million) for its studio apartments, with one- to four-bedroom suites also available for upwards of US$18 million (HK$139 million).

Virtual or in-person tours are now available at The Towers of the Waldorf Astoria, 305 Park Avenue, New York, United States

Zeerak Khurram

Neighbourhood Look: The Best Areas to Buy in New York

Posted in Where to Live

According to data released by US real estate investment firm CBRE last April, New York City — to no one’s surprise — remains one of the 10 priciest markets for residential property worldwide.

Undoubtedly, there are an array of challenges (e.g. complicated state and federal tax rules, over-leveraging) affiliated with the ‘City that Never Sleeps’ but the good news is that the median sales price has grown steadily over the past decade. (For context: last November, the average New York home sold for US$670,000, 50 percent more than what buyers would have been willing to part with just 9 years ago.)

So yes, if you’re thinking of buying a new pied-à-terre sometime in 2020, chances are you’ll still be doing so in a seller’s market. That said, assuming the current climate doesn’t have you spooked, we’ve put together a quick primer featuring five of the best areas to buy in New York, with an eye toward neighbourhoods which balance capital gain potential with a solid quality-of-life.

Lower Manhattan

best areas to buy in New York
(Image source: 25 Park Row)

If cost is no object then a reliable medium-term profit is all but assured when looking in the Financial District — since 2019, the median sale price has risen 70 percent to total about US$1.4 million. As you’d expect, Manhattan’s nerve centre is also a hot bed for new luxury residences. The iconic offices at One Wall Street are nearing the end of a blockbuster transformation which will see them turned into 566 condominiums, whereas architect David Adjaye’s imposing William Street high-rise is expected to make its highly anticipated launch later this summer. Rejuvenation appears to be a consistent trend throughout the area: at 25 Park Row, formerly the site of J&R Music, 110 palatial apartments that offer sweeping views of City Hall Park are also nearing completion.

Long Island City

best areas to buy in New York
(Image source: G&M Realty)

Located along the western extremity of Queens, Long Island City isn’t coveted with the same breathlessness as most major Brooklyn and Manhattan-centred neighbourhoods. However, local residents have long favoured the former industrial area because of its relative remoteness from the commotion of Midtown. Investors are also closely monitoring growth potential: since 2010, median house prices have climbed 53 percent; and the area is poised to receive the lion’s share of fresh New York developments this year. A pair of residential towers at 22-44 Jackson Avenue are the main attraction. Built (somewhat controversially) atop the foundation of the 5Pointz mural space, this complex will introduce over 1,000 new condominiums into the neighbourhood. Good proximity to over-ground rail networks is likely to drive up the development’s desirability once it opens later this year.

East Harlem

best areas to buy in New York
(Image source: Bjarke Ingels Group)

Investors who are up for a little risk and long-term growth potential would do well to direct their attention towards Harlem. Rezoning efforts in 2017 have put a number of projects in forward (albeit slow-trundling) motion: with ‘6’ train and ‘Q’ metro lines predicted to extend into the neighbourhood over the next decade. Three more stations are also planned by 2029. On 146 East 126th Street, Bjarke Ingels’s 11-storey residential project — colloquially dubbed ‘The Smile’ — is a portent of things to come: a cheerful, futuristic exterior that channels the whimsical, adult-playground energy of its interior spaces.

Bedford-Stuyvesant

best areas to buy in New York
(Image source: 1134 Fulton)

If the Brooklyn brownstone is the structural archetype which most tickles your fancy, then Bed-Stuy will necessarily be where your research begins. As the result of a 2012 rezoning, residential developments here tend to conform to historic urban planning norms — a pleasant peculiarity in a city obsessed with ever-glitzier reinventions. Most developments comprise less than a dozen apartments, and it’s a rare thing to see any freestanding build in the neighbourhood that’s taller than 10 storeys. In 2019, the median asking price clocked in at US$1.2 million, and while that’s not the kind of dramatic gain you’d see if you’d invested in, say, Red Hook 10 years back, it’s indicative of more sustainable and accessible growth. Plus: a place where you and your loved ones might actually enjoy living.

Downtown Brooklyn

best areas to buy in New York
(Image source: Brooklyn Point NYC)

Brooklyn’s vertical cityscape has changed immensely over the past half-decade. At various times, all of the city’s big development cartels have battled to build ‘Brooklyn’s tallest condo’, with the current titleholder being Extell’s Brooklyn Point: a 483-condo skyscraper located at 138 Willoughby Street. The project is endemic of the critical mass that the neighbourhood is reaching, in terms of gentrification. With Brooklyn Point comes a procession of similarly timed openings, including new department stores, food halls and the city’s latest Alamo Drafthouse (a chain of boutique cinemas originally from Texas). Rising rentals brought on by the influx of these yuppie-friendly businesses are guaranteed to enrage ‘real’ New Yorkers, but assuming you’re an itinerant landlord, the news remains, for the time being, good.

Randy Lai

The Waldorf Astoria Residences in NYC is for Sale Following Transformative Restoration

Posted in What to Buy

An icon of glamour and grandeur, the Waldorf Astoria has been the epitome of luxury hospitality since it opened its doors in 1931. The legendary hotel has been the Manhattan residence of choice among global elite, world leaders, cultural icons and royalty — hosting former famous guests such as Frank Sinatra, Winston Churchill, Grace Kelly, Queen Elizabeth II and former US presidents JKF and Barack Obama amongst countless more. 

The Waldorf Astoria has switched hands a few times, but was last sold to Chinese insurance company, Anbang Group in 2015 for US$1.95 billion and later transferred to Dajia Insurance Group to control Anbang’s assets due to a run in with fraud. The property is undergoing a US$1 billion renovation as of 2017 and is set to reopen in 2022. The renewed Waldorf Astoria may not be ready for check in for another two years, but apart from attracting hotel guests, Dajia is also looking to woo investors with the property’s brand new residences within the building, The Towers of the Waldorf Astoria, which is now up for sale. 

The meticulously restored Waldorf Astoria will be transformed from its original 1,413 hotel guestrooms to only 375 guest rooms and 375 apartments, making each unit much larger. The lower floors will remain as accommodation for the hospitality side of business, while the upper floors will turn into a collection of contemporary luxury condominiums. The residences range from studio flats which start at about US$1.7 million to one-bedrooms for US$2.6 million to four-bedroom units to two pinnacle penthouses for sale at north of US$18.5 million. 

For the restoration, one of the largest and most influential architecture, interior design and urban planning firms Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM) has taken up the challenge. As Waldorf Astoria is New York City’s largest privately-owned landmark, great attention to detail was given to the original Art Deco design and to understand the building’s history and maintain its heritage while bringing it into a new age. The interior design rests on the expertise of emblematic designer Jean-Louis Deniot, the visionary behind some of the world’s most opulent homes.

Every detail was carefully considered and custom made for The Towers including solid custom-paneled interior doors with bespoke antique bronze hardware, custom Italian cabinets, vanities with polished marble countertops, forged polished nickel fixtures and tile mosaics featuring a Waldorf Astoria-inspired pattern. Every residence has been outfitted with all new windows with modern sound-attenuating technology while bringing back the 1931 design, herringbone floors and a full suite of integrated state-of-the-art Gaggenau appliances. 

“The Waldorf Astoria has a forever lavish aura. The interiors will reflect the magnificence of the past mixed with today’s great sense of energy. They will be grand and playful, all highly inviting, with many elements of surprise and excitement.” 

Jean-Louis Deniot, Interior Designer of The Towers of the Waldorf Astoria

As a resident of The Towers of the Waldorf Astoria, residents receive year round access to the hotel’s amenities. Over 50,000 square feet of private residential services includes a 25-metre swimming pool with a relaxation lounge, fitness centre with private training studios, men’s and women’s private spa (with sauna, steam room, treatment rooms), grand salon, private wine storage, games room with bar and lounge, theatre, private workspace with boardrooms, and children’s playroom.  

The Towers of the Waldorf Astoria, 303 Park Avenue, New York 10022, USA

Sales Inquiries: www.waldorftowers.nyc | +1 212 872 1200

Dara Chau

Billionaire’s Row: The Most Expensive Property in New York City

Posted in How the One Percent Live

In affluent metropolises across the globe, the term ‘Billionaires’ Row’ is one that gets substantial airtime, usually in reference to a street or thoroughfare on which lofty, palatial abodes of the 1 percent are erected. In New York City, the term describes a growing number of Manhattan highrises, collectively constituting the most expensive real estate in America — possibly on the planet.

StreetEasy (a leading New York online realty marketplace) calls it “an enclave around 57th Street [that has] become a symbol of the city’s increasingly stupendous riches”, but the Row has morphed over the years into a loose conglomeration of ultra-luxe skyscrapers, walkable distance to Central Park and Fifth Avenue. It’s a common misconception that the boundaries are demarcated on 57th Street. More sprawl as opposed to continuous stretch, realtors generally think of it as a loose affiliation of eight towers, crisscrossing between 57th Street, 59th Street and 8th Avenue. 

220 Central Park South

Despite low physical occupancies, most of the eight towers that make up the proverbial Row have benefited from stratospheric buying power. Just this July, British rocker Sting reportedly traded in his Manhattan duplex for a US$65.7 million penthouse at 220 Central Park South — the development on the Row with the best proximity to Central Park. Details regarding most of the Robert A.M. Stern-designed tower’s listings are extremely sparse, though according to Architectural Digest, Sting’s recent acquisition features three bedrooms, five and a half baths and panoramic views of the surrounding parkland. The sale comes mere months after realtors managed to make a deal with billionaire fund manager Ken Griffin, for a US$238 million penthouse that’s now regarded as the most expensive home in America. 

The view from a bathroom inside Steinway Tower.

Of the Row’s eight towers, three are concentrated at the western end of 57th Street — surrounded by NYC landmarks such as Carnegie Hall and the Russian Tea Room. Assuming you’re descending from Central Park, your next encounter with the Row is likely to involve a development at 111 W 57th St — more commonly known as Steinway Tower. Situated atop the site that was once Steinway Hall, this 1,428-foot monolith will bear the distinction of being the ‘world’s skinniest skyscraper’ once construction wraps in 2020. Inside, the vast majority of the development’s 60 condos are comprised of full floor residences — including 20,000 square feet of amenities and a residents’ lounge complete with Steinway grand piano.


One57

Down the block from Steinway Tower you’ll find One 57 — a 90-storey high-rise that completed construction in 2013. Nicknamed the ‘Billionaire Building’, One 57 was among the first skyscrapers to catalyse development of the Row, and its residents list has the credentials to back this. Within a year of opening, Dell Technologies CEO Michael Dell had set up shop in one of the building’s US$100 million penthouses, before being joined by other members of the 10-figure club such as hedge fund guru Bill Ackman and Shanghainese billionaire investor Liu Yiqian. Competition, however, is quite literally on the doorstep: with One 57 located just a stone’s throw from 225 W 57th St — site of Extell Development’s new Central Park Tower. Upon its completion in 2020, the series of luxury condos will include a 7-floor outpost of American luxury retailer Nordstrom and is slated to usurp the title of ‘world’s tallest residential building’. 

A rendering of an home inside 53 W 53rd St.

If you taxi a few blocks south toward 53rd Street, you’ll happen across 53 W 53rd St — the southernmost facing of the Row’s gleaming high-rises. Scheduled to reach completion at the end of 2019, numerous offers for the building’s 145 units have already been made — including, reportedly, the sale of one of the development’s US$33.5 million penthouses. The location does seem at first isolated from the majority of the action on the Row, though 53 W 53rd Street’s trump card is its excellent proximity to New York’s premiere cultural institutions — MoMA and Rockefeller Centre, to name a handful.

432 Park Avenue

If you fancy a brisk jog, head northeast towards Park Avenue, home to two covetable addresses. Even a country mile away, the “basket grid” silhouette of 432 Park Avenue hovers into view. The property was previously crowned the ‘world’s tallest residential building’, before being dislodged by the still-under-construction Central Park Tower.

A rendering of Central Park Tower.

In the course of wandering further north, you’ll be confronted by 220 Central Park South — yet another Neoclassicist marvel designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects. Resplendent in limestone cladding, the building exterior evokes Stern’s other work throughout Manhattan, and is the only Row highrise to occupy a spot in the Upper East Side — home of the Met and Guggenheim museums, and The Carlyle by Rosewood. According to Luxury Listings NYC, 520 Park Avenue offers “perhaps the highest ratio of amenity-to-unit space of any building in the city”, encompassing a range of recreational facilities suitable for both families and individuals. 

A rendering of 252 E 57th Street.

To close out your journey, heeds the words of William Douglas and go east. A three-block stroll will put you within spitting distance of 252 E 57 Street, the shortest and most decentralised of the Billionaires’ Row towers. Completed in 2017, this impressive 712-foot-tall tower channels the seamless, arboreal form of Alvar Aalto’s ‘Savoy Vase’. Interiors are suffused with a similarly splashy quality, courtesy of celebrity designer Daniel Romauldez, who is best known for working with a range of private clients including Mick Jagger and Tory Burch.

Randy Lai