You’re thinking about your beach vacation, and I am thinking a lot about what most people think about as “Prewar” apartment buildings in New York City.
And beaches, too.
On the Upper West Side, and in most neighborhoods, there were two substantial apartment-building building booms before World War II.
First, in the mid 1910’s, the first round of apartment buildings appeared along with some substantial towers across New York City.
Much of this construction created working-class housing, and layouts were still clinging to the “one long hallway” style, leading to bedrooms and living room, smaller bedrooms, fewer closets, fewer maids’ rooms, less ornate lobbies, and most importantly, fewer floors.
That said, a few architects were doing amazing work at this time such as J.E.R. Carpenter, who designed some of the most beautiful and notable apartment houses on the Upper East and Upper West Sides starting in this early period.
The second round of construction in the 1920’s got it “right,” resulting in what many people think of as Prewar architecture; it is the dominant outcome of what was designed at that time- new ideas for living as people transitioned from grand townhouse living- when things like the Dakota were built in the 1880’s, to this period 50 years later.
All of the notable architects of that time came into their own, with layouts that feel much more intuitive, even today.
Entry foyers leading to living rooms, large closets, separated shorter hallways to bedrooms, larger windowed bathrooms and kitchens, slightly-shorter-than-1910’s-architecture-but-still-high ceilings, bigger windows- all in all, just better layouts than the first building boom.
Those projects that were completed in the 1930’s such as the El Dorado on 90th and Central Park West were the pinnacle of this period of design.
The Art Deco elements continued to appear even in thinner times of construction in the early 1940’s, then disappeared.
The sadder architecture which is considered “Post War” is really from the late 1950’s until even the early 2000’s,
when long corridors, smaller bathrooms, low ceilings are ubiquitous.
What a contrast!
The only thing missing in New York City architecture of that time was the incredible Art Nouveau architecture found in cities like Brussels.
Why am I thinking about this?
First, for those who visit these units that haven’t been renovated, you are looking at 100 years since they were first built.
That these bathrooms, kitchen cabinets, etc are still functioning is quite the testament to the quality of construction.
Then zoom out and think about the fact that these plumbing risers, elevators, building systems, etc were also all built 100 years ago.
As my own building goes through an elevator replacement, the brand new elevator is still not working very well!
“They don’t make ’em like they used to” certainly applies here.
At a time when I hear complaints from buyers that buildings only 15 years old feel dated and tired, it is not surprising that people are drawn to these 100 year-old properties- that feel timeless, inviting, and thoughtful to how people still live.
When brand new construction aims to evoke this feeling, developers must to spend gargantuan sums to do so- to achieve it successfully, anyway.
I am asked to explain why certain residential architecture makes people feel good, feel settled, feel at home.
It can be a particular view, the way a hallway turns into a public room, any number of moments in a property when things “make sense.”
Perhaps the lobby reminds someone of the building in which they grew up, perhaps the color scheme was in their childhood house.
Perhaps the pleasant greeting of a doorman, or even the tone of that person’s voice.
Perhaps the particular direction one turns into the apartment feels logical.
Perhaps that huge closet which will store all of their shopping from Costco.
Or the brands of appliances make the apartment feel more upscale and inspire someone to fantasize about entertaining.
Perhaps a dining room sets a buyer thinking about Thanksgiving with family.
Inspiration can come from any corner.
So much of real estate is extraordinarily personal to the buyer, to the seller.
This is why sellers feel their home is worth more than the market says it is, why buyers get into bidding wars, why residential brokers are almost always necessary to transactions.
If a home, in this case an apartment, is the most tangible representation of who someone is, it takes a lot of digging to understand why apartments speak to buyers, or why apartments can simply remain mute.
The randomness of it all, the stories, understanding someone’s personal history is critical to helping them find the next home.
This is why getting to know my clients is so important, to get a deeper sense of why an apartment could be a match, and how to avoid endless visits seeing properties that won’t be “the one.”
And even bigger, why searching for that home is not that different than trying to find one’s true love.
It’s full of discovery, of surprises, of big disappointment at times.
After 16 years of helping people find what’s next for them, it remains highly satisfying to see them “lit up” by clients when they see their future.
Perhaps I can help you do the same.
I think I’ll leave it on that note.
Have a great summer! -Scott