As prices for co-op and condo apartments in Manhattan continue to climb, and wealthy buyers continue to clamor for the next word in luxury real estate, one subset of house-hunters has set their sights on something different. They want one-of-a-kind properties with character, unique architectural elements, and historical significance—and they’re finding those properties in buildings that formerly housed banks, schools, and even carriage houses.
What’s the profile of a buyer looking to move into a space formerly occupied by horses and carts? Gail Morin, a senior vice president with the Corcoran Group’s Brooklyn Heights office says that it’s “someone [looking for] uniqueness, for something different, something historic—but something that has also been totally updated to high-end luxury living.”
In a city as rich in architectural grandness and short on living space as New York, it’s no surprise that buildings originally built for commercial or industrial purposes—many of which are much more beautiful than their original function would imply—are often candidates for luxury residential refurbishment.
The first step in that process, obviously, is to assemble a crack team of architects to work on transforming the space and making it habitable. According to Craig Tooman, an architect and partner with the Manhattan-based firm Cutsogeorge Tooman & Allen Architects, PC, “We do a lot of gut rehab work and adaptive reuse. When you convert old buildings into new, old commercial or old loft type spaces, you get unusual spaces leftover and they become a feature. I think it’s really exciting to design interiors that fit into quirky or unusual spaces. It’s really boring to design cookie-cutter apartments, so when you have a spectacular space, in my mind, the outcome always ends up being better.”
Of course, converting a schoolhouse or a turn-of-the-last-century sugar warehouse into residential units requires a great deal of forethought and planning, and presents certain challenges for the project’s architectural team.