No matter how swish the building, thanks to the pandemic, amenities just aren’t what they used to be.
Like millions of others, pianist, singer and songwriter Mike Tedesco, 29, saw his career screech to a halt when COVID struck. Unable to perform in-person gigs due to the pandemic, in August he switched to Twitch, a streaming service, where he began performing virtually.
He’d belt out his own compositions — as well as covers by artists including Queen, Billy Joel and Ed Sheeran — requested by followers from around the world.
But some of Tedesco’s neighbors at AKA Times Square, a luxury brand of extended-stay hotel residences (prices from roughly $6,400 a month for a one-bedroom, though rates can vary), didn’t want to tune in.
“I got a couple noise complaints,” he said of his time spent performing from his two-bedroom apartment, which he shares with his 25-year-old girlfriend, Jordan Hirsch.
But there was a quick solution. “[Management] allowed me access to their lounge on the top floor … so I’m in this beautiful lounge upstairs overlooking Times Square, and it’s pretty much private and I’m not bothering anybody.”
The building’s 3,000-square-foot, two-level lounge had functioned as a shared amenity for all residents.
Now, it’s Tedesco’s makeshift venue, where he performs four times per week for at least three hours each time. He said the acoustics are quite good.
Tedesco is just one local taking advantage of his buildings’ underutilized amenity spaces while working from home.
Pre-pandemic, rentals and condos fought an amenities arms race to lure in residents with high-end extras, such as teen rooms, skate parks, pet spas, movies theaters and private restaurants, which largely went underused after move in. But now, across the city, lounges, lobbies and other purpose-built spaces are all being reimagined for creative and surprising new uses.
Across the Hudson at the RiverHouse 11, a rental building in Weehawken, New Jersey, where prices start at $2,190 for a studio and $5,260 for a three-bedroom, 30-year-old artist Nathan Von Braun has turned the building’s public spaces into his private studio.
For a change in scenery, he shuns the one-bedroom he shares with this partner Franky Gonzalez, 34, and moves to the development’s lobby to create his large-scale paper and canvas artworks.
“The only thing is I miss being around people,” he said, noting that in the lobby he is free to spread out his materials across a large table.
Right now, he’s chipping away on a series of Zodiac portraits, showing a life-size interpretation of how each Zodiac symbol would look in a glamorized way, and neighbors have taken interest.
“They’re like, ‘Oh, this is really great — I would love this as a print,’ ” said Von Braun of passersby who eye his work. “It’s great marketing.”
But when he really needs some room, Von Braun can book the conference room in advance for a full day to use as a makeshift studio.
“I just love the fact that I can go downstairs … and I can have my own private space, and it’s much closer than any studio,” he later added. “I think I’m going to be leaning toward not getting a studio after [the pandemic].”
For others, a sense of privacy is the sole goal. That’s why 41-year-old Caroline Barsoum, a prosthodontic dentist and the managing partner at Integrated Aesthetic Dentistry, has begun taking her Zoom calls in her building’s music practice room to keep her three young children from interrupting.
Barsoum lives at 100 Barclay with her 42-year-old husband, Michael Cafarella — who practices dentistry with her — and their spunky kids in a three-bedroom unit with a terrace. (Three bedrooms currently start at $4.48 million.)
“It’s intimate — there’s nobody else going up there,” she said of this space, where she perches her computer on a piano and gets busy, though without a kitchen or a bathroom inside, she can’t spend the entire day there. “It became my getaway.”
And while New Yorkers can’t easily head to their favorite cafe to work on their laptops, certain locals are getting a comparable experience in their own buildings.
Shawn Li, 35, a graduate student studying marriage and family therapy at Nyack College in the Financial District, heads to the third-floor cafe at One Manhattan Square — where she lives in a two-bedroom with a view of Governors Island — to work on her assignments. (Pricing now starts from $1.09 million for a one-bedroom and goes to $4.95 million for a three-bedroom.)
“I go to the cafe for a change of scenery from the apartment, and also because it provides natural light,” she said, adding the space — whose options include espresso drinks and sandwiches — has seats spread apart for social distancing. (Masks are also required when not eating or drinking.) She heads to one of the couches, “just treating it as my own living room which, in an extended way, it is.”
Li never visited the 2,023-square-foot social space after moving to the building in 2019 — and now heads down once or twice per week during the daytime.
“We want to work in isolation, but we don’t want to physically be in isolation,” she said. “It definitely does feel like it’s just a normal day. I think the only distinction is that people are now wearing masks and there’s probably far less volume in terms of … how many people are walking in and out. This is the right amount of social interaction for me without being completely isolated.”
It’s not just building residents who have caught on to alternative uses for amenities, but also their designers.
“I think we, as a society, have learned that you don’t have to be in your office five days a week — and it has worked, to greater and lesser degrees depending on what profession you’re in,” said Nancy Ruddy, one half of the husband-and-wife architect duo CetraRuddy. “So we’re designing spaces that are for the next chapter.”
That means integrating work, and even study, areas into amenity spaces at the rental and condo buildings the firm has designed.
For instance, at the 393 West End Ave. condo where prices aren’t yet available, the firm is carving a portion from each of the building’s multiple lounge spaces to create remote workspaces. In another lounge, children will get a dedicated area for remote learning.
At the Rose Hill condo in Nomad, where studios begin at $1.38 million, CetraRuddy is looking into repurposing a private 37th-floor dining space and lounge as a work area — and on the ground floor, making small conference areas with doors that open for air flow, suitable for small gatherings outside of apartments.
“I think our lifestyle is changing,” said Ruddy. “The majority of people in New York don’t live in those six-room apartments — they live in studio and one-bedroom apartments. So providing a viable … yet social space as a really positive alternative way to work: I think it’s going to energize people. I think it’s something that is really here to stay.”