Have you met 9-a yet? Tousle-haired, drives a black BMW, does Vinyasa on the roof every morning? Never got his name—Stefan, maybe? Works in hedge funds. He has this killer apartment in District, that new building on Ann Street. Thursdays, he has his buddies over for single malts in the billiards room. Shops at Prada, spends Saturdays gallery-hopping in Chelsea. Dinners at the Spotted Pig, nightcaps at the Bowery Hotel. He’d be a catch if he were ready to settle down.
And if he actually existed. Stefan is a fiction, a full-size Sim. District won’t be completed until this summer. And apartment 9-A is just a set piece, a fantasy built to sell condos.
What we know about Stefan—and we know an awful lot—is based on clues set throughout the model apartment by brokers, developers, designers, and marketing experts. Every scrap of evidence has been chosen to flesh out the imaginary buyer, down to the magazines he reads (Men’s Vogue, Wallpaper*), his taste for ethnic art (rough-woven tapestries dotted with shells), and his bed (round). Meaning that a visit to 9-A feels like you’re breaking into someone’s home and trying on his life.
Condominiums make up 56 percent of the residential sales in Manhattan, and even as the market shows (faint) hints of slowing, many of them are presold, from blueprints. “Buyers don’t have the imagination that we do, so you have to help them,” says Shaun Osher, CEO of Core Group Marketing. Nor are they satisfied with multimedia simulations. “Five years ago, everyone was doing virtual walk-throughs,” says Nancy Ruddy of Cetra/Ruddy architects, which has designed dozens of luxury show units. “But people want to touch and feel the environment. Back then we were asked to do models for maybe 50 percent of the projects we designed. Today, it’s more like 80 percent.”
“Think of it this way: You wouldn’t buy an $8,000 Thom Browne suit without feeling the fabric,” says Barrie Mandel, a senior VP at Corcoran. So absurd sums are being poured into model apartments. “We’ll spend up to $500,000 on furnishings alone,” says Ruddy. The build-out cost can reach $1 million. “But they work,” says Kelly Mack, president of Corcoran Sunshine Marketing. “Whichever line of a building we represent with a model, that’s the line that sells the fastest.” The amount of detail is staggering, and the particulars are not an ancillary concern but the crux of the experience. “It used to be,” Ruddy says, “a model would show that, yes, you can fit an eight-foot sofa in this room. Now it’s saying, This is who I could be.”
“It used to be,” one architect says, “a model would show you that, yes, you can fit an eight-foot sofa into this room. Now it’s saying, This is who I could be.”
The breakthrough for the trend came in 2006, when the William Beaver House—a 47-story financial-district tower hyperconceived by André Balazs—put an entire wardrobe in its demo closet. The archetypal Beaverite evidently favors ruffled shirts from Zara and silk-screened tees from Old Navy. He, or maybe his nephew, rides a Sector 9 longboard.
Still, a closet can tell you only so much about yourself. That’s why District provides not just a model apartment but a movie, streamed on the Web, about two ideal occupants. She’s a broody film-noir flirt, adjusting her thigh-highs on the sidewalk; he’s a smoldering dreamboat, showering in slo-mo. In fact, the whole building seems to be about getting some. smart. sexy. available teases a poster in the sales office, showing the couple (him shirtless, her pantless) retrieving a pair of stilettos from the Liebherr fridge.
Sex-addled Sherman McCoys will get a leg up from Amy Sacco, who owns a penthouse here and is District’s “lifestyle consultant.” The nightlife guru is talking with Stephen Starr about an in-house restaurant. “People are moving here, but there’s nothing super-sexy to do. Our concept is to make District the hottest spot downtown and put the financial district on the map,” says Christopher Mathieson, who is District’s sales director (or was; he’s left the job since we spoke).
But maybe you’re not a horndog banker. Maybe you’re an Artforum reader with a taste for Egon Schiele. Then Tribeca’s Artisan Lofts could be for you. The model here is pretty masculine, with exposed conduits and concrete ceilings, but also warm and elegant, with glowing floors of oil-rubbed walnut. Here’s a manhole-cover end table; here’s a collection of old blacksmithing tools. “The goal was to convey authenticity,” says Corcoran’s Barrie Mandel.
Up at 141 Fifth Avenue, a Flatiron-district building that’s being turned into 38 condominiums, the show unit is even more lifelike. On the kitchen table sit four bowls of cereal. A chessboard is frozen mid-game. (White’s winning.) On one bed, Anya von Bremzen’s New Spanish Table is open to a recipe marked with a pen. “Originally I thought of having the radio on, the shower going,” says Osher, whose Core Group markets the property. “It would have been difficult to orchestrate, and maybe a little gimmicky, but just so people could envision themselves in the space.”