By Claudie Benjamin

Architect Aaron Dussair, Executive VP of Pembrooke & Ives, has long mastered the challenge of working with as many as 40 stakeholders. He explained that beyond the input of the design/architectural team, those who weigh in on each and every detail of a project include representatives of the developer and numerous investors as well as outside stakeholders – the sales and marketing team. The goal for all involved is to produce luxe apartments that will convince potential buyers to commit between $10-15 million toward a new home.

Dussair has been involved for almost a decade with The Astor building that spans the west side of Broadway between 75-76th Streets. Built as a luxury apartment building in 1901, the years took their toll. By the 1950s and early 60s, The Astor was a wreck. Subdivided and re-subdivided, it languished for years as an SRO. Was anything left of the original interiors? “Not much,” Dussair said.

However, what did remain was a pretty spectacular discovery. Dussair explained that going back about 50+ years, the building was used as a brothel. “The walls of the lobby were all covered in wood, and the floor was blanketed by a hideous red shag carpet.” The more than 100-year-old, intricately patterned mosaic floor was intact when these makeshift cover-ups were removed. Amazingly, the original stone-sheathed walls and decorative plaster ornamentation had also been preserved over the decades.

The building had already been approved by the Landmarks Commission for penthouse development when Pembrooke & Ives entered the picture. 

How to envision ultra-luxury or the penthouse market? A key approach involved expanding downward to the floor below. Yes, this means adding a lot of space.

“The big challenge,” Dussair explained, is deciding if the disposition of rooms should be “right side up or upside down.” This means do architects plan the bedrooms to be on the lower floor, topped by the kitchen, living room, and dining room – space that would have comparatively more light and better views. The choice between these options is usually not arbitrary. The space on the top level is often smaller than the space between. This means it may be more desirable for use as a spacious primary bedroom. But, Dussair pointed out that among families on the Upper West Side, parents often prefer to have their bedroom on the same level as their offspring.

Dussair said the challenge of working for a developer is very different from consultations based on conversations with people who are planning to live in the apartment they buy. “They usually have very definite ideas about their preference and how they want to live in an apartment. Our job, in that case, is helping realize their vision.”

The penthouses created at The Astor were finished in July 2023. They range in size from 3,600 to 5,400 sq. ft. What are today’s customers looking for in a luxury apartment? Beyond high-end appliances, sophisticated lighting, clean lines, and a new feeling, Dussair notes that anyone buying in one of the Upper West Side’s classic buildings, like The Astor, wants some nods to classicism. Fireplaces, for example, though no longer functional and minus early mantels, are still in their original locations. More specifically, he mentions beautiful flooring and well-placed moldings, along with maximized light and openness, hallmarks of contemporary design. The good bones of The Astor justify themselves in their most recent duplexed form that brings more expansiveness of rooms with gorgeous 360-degree views that encompass Broadway and the Hudson River.

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