classic loft at 42 West 15 Street sells at $1,700/ft without windows in living room

an unusual floor plan on a classic Manhattan loft footprint

The “2,000 sq ft” Manhattan loft on the 3rd floor at 42 West 15 Street took a while to sell, but it closed last month at $3.4mm, two numbers round enough for you to calculate the (healthy!) price per foot easily. I am less surprised by the days on market than I am by the (healthy!) price per foot, as the loft currently has a rather unusual usage for a classic Long-and-Narrow footprint.

as the stairway position implies, the top (north) is the front of the loft, where you often see a living room; the rear wall is split between 2 BRs, as is typical

For a full floor Long-and-Narrow loft, the 3rd floor has a few things going for it, including having plumbing stacks on both long sides in the middle and an additional plumbing stack toward the front, opposite the stairs. Here’s the way broker babble tries to make lemonade out of a typical problem with Long-and-Narrow lofts:

a large square living room immediately off the entry gallery [has] exposed brick wall and clever use of mirrors tucked into old windows to reflect light throughout the space.

I don’t know quite how old the “old windows” are, but this is the third floor and there’s no light coming in from the long side walls. In nearly every case with such a typical footprint, the front windows open into a living room; if more sleeping areas are needed than the two true bedrooms on the rear wall, you will see an interior “bedroom” (say, with clerestory or full glass windows, say, behind the stairway along the west wall).

Not in this case, where white walls and those clever mirrors help brighten life in the living room:

the insert for the bookshelves must be an old window, right? (we are looking toward the back BRs)

There are not many buyers for whom “no windows in the living room” is a Must Have. If the recent buyers need only two bedrooms, I suspect they will use the front as public space. But note that there would still be very little light past the elevator; unless they do a more expensive renovation, removing that huge bathroom opposite the stairs (along with the closets on each end), without that change the path for light still narrows after the kitchen.

As nice as the space is (high ceilings! all that brick! vaulted ceilings, no less!) and as convenient as the location is, many buyers are going to scratch their heads over the living room without windows. Somebody satisfied themselves that the loft is still worth $1,700/ft, despite this being a no-frills coop, and (with sparse history) no loft ever having sold for $2 million before. Pretty healthy! indeed.

does the loft look better In Real Life than in broker babble?

The listing description is fairly restrained, but I found one hint in here of a commitment to quality materials:

Find a large square living room immediately off the entry gallery with exposed brick wall and clever use of mirrors tucked into old windows to reflect light throughout the space. Chefs will feel at home in the large kitchen with ample custom cabinetry, including large pantry, top of the line integrated appliances and center island with two inch slab marble counters. An adjacent laundry room is the definition of convenience. Floating over the treetops with pleasant northern light, absolute serenity is found in the enormous master suite with custom closets. The ensuite master bath is the essence of luxury with radiant-heated floors, double vanity and oversized shower with frameless glass enclosure. The secondary bedrooms are on the southern end of the space and bathed in light throughout the day. A separate home office is conveniently tucked away lending itself to organization and utility.

I don’t count “radiant-heated floors” in the master bath as a hint, but a “center island with two inch slab marble counters” seems pretty committed.

Of course there’s another hint: $1,700/ft, blowing well past prior (ancient) sales in the building. This is the more enthusiastic babbling for the 2nd floor when it sold for (only) $1.655mm in March 2010, the last time a loft in this 7-unit building sold:

Brand New Designer Kitchen w/ Porcelain Floors, Soft-Close Cabinetry, Subzero Fridge, Bosch Cooktop, Glass Tile Backsplash, Bosch Washer/Dryer, Separate Storage Room / Work Space, Grand Master Bedroom Suite, Extensive Built-Ins & Walls of Deep/Tall Closets, Triple Exposure – North, West & South, Large 4-Piece Bath w/ Jacuzzi Tub, Track & Customized Lighting, Add’l Window Can Be Added To Home Office/Bedroom.

Making a simple timing adjustment based on the StreetEasy Condo Index, that 2nd floor loft would be worth about $2.25mm now (the Index is up 34%). There’s a huge spread between the implied current value of the 2nd floor and the observed value of the 3rd floor, suggesting that there may be something special about the 3rd floor that is not obvious from the listing description or photos.

what sort of Manhattan loft owner puts a dark living room in the middle of a loft?

You can’t do this on StreetEasy, because StreetEasy doesn’t have the listing description or photos from when the recent 3rd floor sellers bought the loft in June 2006. Bear with me on this search (or skip down to the architect photos below) as this will take a few steps.

Step One. I know that the recent sellers bought in June 2006 because that is what our listing system says, and what this peculiar sales record confirms. That sales record is peculiar because it isn’t obviously linked to the 3rd floor, but the buyers are the same as the recent sellers on the 3rd floor deed record, because it is “commercial”, and because it purports to be for a huge loft. And, note the name of the 2006 seller.

Step Two. Our listing system has a single photo and no floor plan, but this description of the 3rd floor listing in 2006:

This stunning 2+BR/2Bth property designed by George Renalli [sic: Ranalli] has been published in over 9 architectural magazines and books. The full-floor loft integrates original prewar character and modernist design with soaring 12 +/- barrel vaulted ceilings, maple floors, exposed brick and beams, and plaster with Baltic birch walls. The open kitchen is a clean and understated design of white. The master bath has a steam shower and there is a washer/dryer in the apt.

I was confused at first by the “2+BR”, but if the 3rd floor in 2006 was “published in over 9 architectural magazines and books” it was likely in pretty sweet, well-considered condition.

Step Three. I couldn’t have done this if the architect hasn’t been identified, but The Google found the guy and this residential project pretty easily. Remember the name of the seller in 2006? Hence, the “K-Loft”, described (click on the grey strip on the left; my emphasis added) in architect-speak as follows:

The renovation of a residential Chelsea loft preserves the lofty expanse of existing space, while providing its occupants, two artists and their child, with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a combined living and dining area open to a large kitchen, and workspaces for sculpture and printmaking. The architectural resolution centers on a unifying spatial theme not unlike a traditional courtyard house. The central spatial feature of two large sculptural elements is elaborated by architectural variation, within a soaring barrel-vaulted space.

Inside the 2,100 square foot rectangular loft, at the front, a central foyer leads into an artist’s studio, with a new bathroom expanded from its original configuration. A separate entrance leads to a piazza- like interior for living and dining, which includes a large open kitchen. Nestled at back are the family’s private quarters, including two spacious bedrooms, and a large bathroom. An antechamber outside the bedrooms, spacious enough for a private moment, or conversation, improvises space between more personal areas and the large expanse of living room.

Sculptural forms, defining the design of the kitchen, bathrooms, and bedrooms, undulate rhythmically beneath an existing vaulted brick ceiling; geometric spaces, within cabinetry, provide sculptural movement across transitive surfaces. A balance of materiality, extended further by honey-colored wood furniture, light fixtures, and cabinetry, moves across walls, and around doorframes, emphasizing and protecting corners and edges. Each interior design element echoes the planar inflections of the architectural design, fabricated at the same high-level of craftsmanship, producing a composed atmosphere. A combination of delicate lighting against the substantial brick ceiling, smaller lateral light sources, and tinted transom windowpanes, introduce an essence of the ephemeral into an otherwise solidly constructed space.

To answer the question in the sub-head above: the sort of Manhattan loft owner who puts a dark living room in the middle of the loft is an artist, who needs the front light for an artist’s studio. (Or two.) Of course!

Step Four. It is obvious that the architect’s interior photos are very different from the recent listing photos. What I’d love to know is how different the loft looked in 2006.

all the flourishes (“the planar inflections of architectural design”) aside, even the kitchen configuration is different, 1995 to 2015

Going top-level (for once!), my guess is that the client who commissioned the architectural flourishes in 1995 had made some changes to the decor before selling it in 2006, but not to the shape or room count or placement. Whatever changes that 1995-2006 owner made, the logic of the design was sufficiently compelling for the 2006-2015 owner to keep it except to trade the front artist studios into a master suite.

Kitchen stayed where it was, bathrooms too, most likely. Most critically for present purposes, the usage of the space with the public rooms in the (window-less) middle remained. Either it was wonderful in flow and function, or simply too expensive to ‘fix’. (Remember: to really open up the front you’d need to remove the master bath plus two sets of closets along the east wall, and then find another space for a second bath.) With someone recently having paid $1,700/ft as-is, I very much suspect the former (“wonderful in flow and function”) explanation.

I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun obsessing over a floor plan!

welcome back to Manhattan Loft Guy, architect George Ranalli

Speaking of having fun, I made a half-hearted effort to search the ‘publications’ link on the website of the architect of the 3rd loft, to see if I could learn anything else about the usage of the space by that 1995-2006 owner. No luck, but I came across this January 2011 Sunday New York Times Real Estate Section Habitats feature (which was an OMG moment for MLG) about the architect’s own loft.

Longtime readers of Manhattan Loft Guy with very good memories will recognize the loft in the article as the one I hit in my January 24, 2011 (the next day!), NY Times loves the architects who (live in +) love lofts / West 15 Street Lego edition. The architect for the 3rd floor at 42 West 15 Street in 1995 was then living on the next block in a small studio he bought for (wait for it) … $35,000 in 1985, and later combined with a small 1-bedroom next door into the 2-bedroom-plus-master-sleep-loft configuration featured in the Times. I won’t lengthen this post with more photos, but if you are curious you will find some of the same design flourishes in the architect’s own West 15th Street loft as in the 3rd floor loft at 42 West 15 Street, circa 1995.

I like my 2011 summation of what the architect did to design for a client (his family) that he knew intimately:

With (only) 12 foot ceilings, I wonder if he stands up in the loft. The daughter’s bed also sits on a yacht-worthy jumble of storage, but the son’s room seems not to have taken advantage of the height. (Perhaps when he is older….) When you know exactly what your client (family) needs, you can design within an inch of pain, I guess.

As with the bento box family, to ask what about resale? is to introduce an irrelevancy into the client’s enjoyment of the space. It works for them, with all the hidden storage and visual tricks to ‘expand’ the space. Who cares if anyone else would like it?

The what about resale value? question looms large in considering the 3rd floor at 42 West 15th Street. The 1995 owners needed studio space, and engaged the architect to give them that in the front of the loft, where you would typically find the living area. The cost of that choice was to leave the entire public space of their loft in the middle, with no windows, which is such an unconventional choice that Conventional Wisdom would carp about it (would shout the what about resale value? question).

You can argue that resale value would be higher with a classic floor plan. But I can say that The Market didn’t really care, even as the former artist studios was converted into an unconventionally located master bedroom suite, because: $1,700/ft.

Good for them!

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