"If you want, you could put a pool up here," says Landmark Development's Edward Baquero, standing on top of the Loft at 30 Crosby Street, where a roof deck is under construction. In a building where duplex penthouses go for $7 million, tar paper is not an option. Instead, the deck's sides will soon be covered with titanium -- inspired by the Bilbao Guggenheim -- and its floor tiled with San Cristóbal marble. "It's hard to find that right shade of vanilla with the red veining," says Baquero, who personally traveled to the Dominican Republic in search of the perfect slab. "It's coming on a ship next week in four containers. You better have it," he says, reciting the new mantra of New York's high-end developers, "or they don't buy, they don't react."
At the top end of the New York City housing market, people are willing to pay any price, bear any financial burden, for the cause of a fabulous apartment. But it's got to be truly fabulous. Which means custom faucets and four-star room service, valet parking, cast-iron soaking tubs, and, yes, titanium roof decks. It's a full-scale, no-holds-barred amenities race. "You need to differentiate yourself in a market like this," explains Andy Gerringer, who heads Douglas Elliman's development-marketing department. "There's Continental breakfast built into the common charges at 308 East 72nd Street. Private libraries at 66 Leonard. They've got heated towel racks at 110 West 17th. Perceived value -- that's what all this is about. You learn as you go," he says. "A lot of people like to hang big pieces of art, so you have oversize elevators when you can. The more little things to hit the hot button, so to speak, the better," he says. "It's just the game you play."
These days, developers strategize with their architects and brokers about which indulgences will appeal to their well-researched target markets. "Even with the doorknob, we try to establish a point of view," says architect and developer John Petrarca of Guenther Petrarca. To play to a hip downtown clientele, fashion photographer Marco Glaviano was hired to snap statuesque models preening in empty, sun-drenched lofts for 30 Crosby's brochure."Since most units are sold before they're built," continues Petrarca, "that 'story' has become more important."
For above-60th-Street buyers, typically on the lookout for service-related amenities, that translates into concierge moms, dog walkers, and room service from private restaurants just for residents. "People can always redo the kitchen if they don't like it," allows Stribling's Kirk Henckels, who handles properties with price tags of $3 million and up. Each building tries to stake out its niche. At 838 Fifth Avenue -- the "Love Thy Neighbor" building, as it is called for the exhortation etched across its landmarked limestone façade -- luxury is the leitmotif. Separate staff suites, a lobby coat-check area, and a surveillance system designed by an official of the U.S. Department of State no doubt helped the penthouse sell for $18 million, even though it won't see its moldings for more than a year. The Park Laurel, at 63rd Street just off Central Park, is billed as "family-friendly," with kids' wings and an emphasis on closet space instead of his-and-her bathrooms. The former Westbury Hotel, at 15 East 69th, has retained Anthony Pike, the hotel's original concierge. Just the other day, a client landing at Kennedy on the British Airways Concorde asked Pike to arrange for his personal jet to meet him at the adjacent gate. "I was able to call a contact of mine at British Airways and had them hold a space in the next jetway so he could walk down the tarmac and onto his plane. He was on his way to Jamaica," Pike explains, "and didn't want to lose any time."
Brand-name chefs are another selling point uptown -- Alain Ducasse is opening a restaurant to serve the Essex House -- as are floor plans from brand-name architects. David Rockwell is fashioning the lobby and adjacent sitting room at Bridge Tower Place on East 60th. Michael Graves has just unveiled the Century Tower, the latest addition to RFR/Davis's East Side corridor, where residents will be treated to Accompli, a concierge service launching this month that links their buildings' amenities. Besides using it to, say, book a nanny, residents of any Davis development can reserve time in the screening room of the Wellington Tower at 350 East 82nd or in the conference center of the Impala at 76th and First.
Downtown buyers, most often younger professionals with hectic schedules or empty-nest expats from the Upper East Side, want well-designed physical details -- they don't have the time or inclination to rip out the GE appliances and start again. And a booming market means buyers can shop around for their particular stylistic sensibility. "One-forty Franklin has this European modern look, like a sophisticated European hotel," explains James Lansill, director of development for Stribling Marketing Associates. Franklin Tower, the sleekly renovated Deco office building at 90 Franklin Street developed by RAL Associates and designed by Petrarca, has everything from recessed night-lights to a new line of Waterworks hardware in the bathroom, stainless-steel countertops from Boffi, and customizable Poliform closet systems. Not surprisingly, Mariah Carey, Ben Stiller, even Bob Vila will soon call it home. Those with an environmental conscience may be lured by five townhouses Petrarca is developing himself on nearby Reade Street with geothermal wells for energy-efficient heating and cooling. (Water from the wells travels into the house and heats or cools it through pipes in the floors.) One even boasts a solar panel, so its residents could conceivably never have to pay an electric bill. Provisions have been made for each to have its own Web address (www.156reade.com, for example) run on a server in the basement. "Now we're looking into wireless," says Petrarca, musing on his forthcoming design project, another RAL conversion at 270 Broadway, "so you can sit in the bathtub and read your e-mail."
An even more flamboyant offering, however, comes with Lansill's next effort. Denizens of penthouses at 21 Astor Place can live out their Batman fantasies as they pull into a private remote-controlled garage and onto mechanical tracks. At that point, they can get out -- and watch their Range Rovers as they seem to "drive" themselves into an elevator and thence to basement parking spaces. It's an extra chauffeurs will certainly applaud.
Until 21 Astor is up and running (automotive enthusiasts won't move in until early 2001), Baquero's 30 Crosby, which goes on sale this week, is downtown's current winner in the signifier sweepstakes. In addition to the Bilbao borrowings, there are wood-burning fireplaces outside on the penthouses' terraces, wide "rain" showerheads, a "smart garbage" recycling system that automatically sorts paper and plastic, Bosch appliances, bamboo gardens in back, and a wine cellar-tasting room where residents can store at least 1,000 bottles of their favorite vintages or dine around a farmhouse table in front of yet another fireplace. Baquero is so captivated by the masterpiece he's created that he's thinking of moving in himself. "We didn't have to do this," he says, on his way down the half-finished stairs to where designer Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz's retro-futuristic lobby will shortly materialize. "Honestly, I think we're a little nuts. But you exceed people's expectations," he says, "and that's how you win the game."