When Mark Kress moves into his West 4th Street penthouse later this year, he hopes it’ll be a sanctuary. In fact, it already has been one: Until two years ago, when architect-developers Jon Kully and Mick Walsdorf bought the building, it was Washington Square Methodist Church. Today, the landmarked façade and spires are intact. In the Kresses’ apartment, clerestory windows frame the views. The “cathedral ceilings” are the real thing, some reaching 36 feet. And in the lobby atrium, an immense stained-glass window reaches heavenward. “We have a large traditional home with a pond in Westport,” says Kress. “We wanted something completely different in the city.”
Different indeed. A decade into the building boom, the great majority of obvious residential conversions—cast-iron loft buildings, high-ceilinged brick warehouses—have been remade. (Tribeca, it’s said, is more or less complete.) That means that developers have two remaining choices: build anew and then sell into a market that some are calling saturated, or try property that others have rejected. So everything is fair game, despite the challenges that refashioning odd spaces impose.
Developer Jed Walentas says 110 Livingston Street in Brooklyn, once the Board of Education headquarters and, before that, an Elks Club, was “infinitely the most difficult” building he and his father, David, ever took on. The demolition alone—which included clearing out rabbit-warren offices, a basement full of snarled telephone wire, and an entire side of the building (the floor plan was changed from a ring to a U, to admit more light)—cost $3 million. At Tribeca’s Mohawk Atelier, architect Joseph Pell Lombardi had to combine two adjacent but very different nineteenth-century buildings. There was enough area to have two units on each floor, but one building was too large for single units, he says, and the other was too small. (The finished apartments sprawl into both, with bedrooms sequestered in the smaller building.)
The Upper West Side’s trapezoidal Apple Bank Building made for an “odd grid,” says SLCE Architects’ Robert Laudenschlager, so 22 of the 29 units have unique floor plans. So far, says Michele Conte of Brown Harris Stevens, who’s handling sales there, buyers are saying they prefer the results to yet another plain white box.
That said, these places are not always an easy sell. “Going in, we knew there would be a narrow audience,” says Corcoran’s Steve Cid about Washington Square Methodist, now called Novare. “We’re looking for visionaries.” Or, at least, buyers like Kress. “As an atheist raised Jewish, I might have been less attracted [if] the stained glass had religious symbols,” he says. Lucky for him—and the developers—these windows are nondenominational.