Fred A. Bernstein

A Paparazzi-Proof Condo

The apartment every celebrity needs

Published in The New York Times, January 23, 2007

WHEN Annabelle Selldorf designed the Urban Glass House, a condominium building in TriBeCa, in 2005, she shared billing with Philip Johnson, who had died early that year. (The design was inspired by Mr. Johnson's famous Glass House in Connecticut.) Their faces stared down, jointly, from a giant billboard.

With her latest condo building, on 11th Avenue at 24th Street, Ms. Selldorf is sharing the spotlight with a gizmo: an elevator that will allow apartment owners to drive their cars into garages adjoining their high-rise apartments. "For a client who is haunted by paparazzi," said Leonard Steinberg, the marketing director for the building, "it is a dream come true."

Fourteen of the 16 units will have the elevated garages, pending city approval, Mr. Steinberg said. The apartments, which average 2,500 square feet and are expected to be completed in mid-2008, will sell for "the mid fives," Mr. Steinberg said, by which he meant around $5 million.

The developer is Young Woo & Associates, which helped create the Chelsea Arts Tower, a commercial condominium, around the corner.

Ms. Selldorf is best known for designing the Neue Galerie, on East 86th Street, and expensive private homes. She was chosen for the project, Mr. Steinberg said, because she knows how wealthy clients live.

The base of the 18-story structure will be clad in gunmetal-colored terra cotta. At the fourth floor, the terra cotta will give way to brushed stainless steel, some of which will be visible from inside the apartments.

In addition to direct Hudson River views, the units will have teak floors and other expensive finishes. "We don't want the building to be known for just one thing," Ms. Selldorf said, referring to the auto elevator.

And yet that thing is impossible to ignore, suggesting as it does a futuristic city with vertical as well as horizontal mobility.

Ms. Selldorf said she had gotten the idea for the elevators from the surrounding neighborhood, where many older warehouse buildings contain elevators large enough for trucks to shuttle goods up and down. (Martha Stewart was once photographed driving directly into her office in the Starrett-Lehigh Building on 26th Street.) "In terms of technology, it's actually pretty primitive," Ms. Selldorf said.

Residents will drive into the elevator on 11th Avenue, and exit it on 24th Street. Luckily for the developer, the existing buildings on the site, now demolished, "already had a lot of curb cuts," Mr. Steinberg said.

For residents without cars, the garages might serve other functions, such as wine "cellars" with easy van access. "People who have garages on their houses don't always use them for cars," Ms. Selldorf said.

Ms. Selldorf, an Audi driver, recognizes that the car of choice for many New Yorkers is a taxi. Will cabdrivers be able to take residents right up to their apartments? "Maybe," she said, "but only if you tip a lot."

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