‘Secret’ entrances help new NYC condos stand out — by blending in

Thanks to New York City’s jigsaw puzzle of unusually shaped property parcels, architects and developers of new condos are getting creative when it comes to designing entrances.

A slew of ground-up projects and conversions are being designed with discreet — sometimes deceptive entryways — from reimagined historic alleys to camouflaged façades.

In short, the traditional front door is no more.

In converting the former Masury & Sons Paintworks factory into 46 luxury condos at 168 Plymouth in Dumbo, development and architecture firm Alloy took advantage of a rear alleyway.

Although the industrial building’s original entry was on Jay Street, Alloy repurposed a long-abandoned courtyard accessed through an alley on Plymouth Street for the forthcoming condo’s entrance.

Once used to transport materials by horse and buggy, the tiny alley is marked only by a porous steel gate, which leads to an interior courtyard with landscaping by Brooklyn-based Future Green Studio.

“It’s a private, unique experience,” says Tara Mrowka, an architect and Alloy’s director of sales and marketing. “There aren’t that many buildings where you enter through a green space.”

The shift in perspective to Plymouth Street orients residents towards picturesque cobblestones and views framing the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges.

Combining a round arch-style brick and timber building from 1891 and a concrete factory with large daylight windows erected in 1921, 168 Plymouth has units ranging from one-bedrooms starting at $2 million to a four-bedroom penthouse with a private roof deck listed for $6.85 million. It’s slated to open next winter.

BKSK Architects partner George Schieferdecker also took advantage of an increasingly rare alley in Noho for the entrance to 1 Great Jones Alley, a 16-unit, 12-story boutique condo developed by Madison Realty Capital. The alley, which runs unusually deep between Broadway and Lafayette at Great Jones Street, was transformed into a private cobblestone drive with a steel-gated entrance that leads to a green wall.

“We brought back to life a substantial marker of the past by weaving it into the fabric and design of the building,” says Schieferdecker. One Great Jones Alley opened in December 2019; only two units remain, a three-bedroom priced at $4.59 million and a four-bedroom priced at $7.9 million.

Centaur Properties’ Harlan Berger, developer of Jardim, a boutique condo in West Chelsea, faced a unique challenge: a scene-stealing next-door neighbor in Zaha Hadid’s voluptuous, futuristic metal-and-glass residential structure overlooking the High Line at 520 W. 28th St. “You can’t out-Zaha Zaha,” says Berger.

But he tapped Brazilian architect Isay Weinfeld, known for a tropical modernist aesthetic, to design a more subdued — yet no less contemporary — building from the ground up. Two 11-story towers in textured concrete and ruddy brick are connected by a multi-level courtyard garden (as the building’s Portuguese name implies) designed by Future Green Studio. Beneath the garden, amenities include a lap pool, a fitness center and a kid’s playroom.

Taking advantage of a through-block lot, Weinfeld designed a inconspicuous vaulted brick tunnel that connects 27th and 28th streets, sheltering a sidewalk and private drive. The carefully lit tunnel leads to a mid-block sunken lobby accessed through a latticed oak wall with both revolving and swinging doors. A wall of windows behind the reception desk frames the outdoor gardens and lets in natural light.

“I like the unexpected. I never want to be obvious, to give you exactly what you are waiting for,” says Weinfeld of Jardim, his first New York City residential commission. The 36-unit condo opened in September 2019; availability ranges from a one-bedroom priced at $1.69 million to a four-bedroom at $8.9 million.

At Five Six One Pacific, a ground-up 63-unit condominium developed by Adam America Real Estate near the busy intersection of Atlantic and Fourth avenues in Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill, architect Ryoko Okada intentionally positioned the 12-story building’s entrance on tree-lined, brownstone-laden Pacific Street for a “calmer, more residential scale,” she says.

A glass wall with double doors is camouflaged by a slotted oak wood screen that “blends into the neighborhood, yet still feels distinct,” says Okada, principal and director of interiors at ODA New York. “The monastic material creates a strong statement and a nice rhythm.” It also distinguishes the residential entrance from the windowed façade of the building’s ground-floor retail space for a more “personal feeling.”

Like 1 Great Jones Alley and Jardim, Five Six One Pacific features a central landscaped courtyard, which is visible through the lobby’s floor-to-ceiling windows. From the street, the wooden slats create a sense of intrigue. “You can glimpse the courtyard beyond and the lobby’s eye-catching interiors,” says Okada, “But you don’t know if it’s outdoors.”

Amenities include a landscaped rooftop sun deck, a children’s playroom and a fitness center. It’s slated to open in late spring 2020 with asking prices for one-bedrooms starting at $875,000 and three-bedrooms at $3.3 million.

Julie Nelson, partner at BKSK Architects, employed a similar sleight of hand at 22 Bond, a 10-story condominium developed by Second Development Services in Noho. She designed a 40-foot-tall gatehouse of weathered steel and mesh screens for the entrance. Tasked with converting a structure on a through-block lot that previously faced Great Jones Street into six upscale lofts with a Bond Street address, Nelson dreamed up an arrival sequence in which the gatehouse leads to a landscaped courtyard (also by in-demand Future Green) and an art-filled corridor — all built on what was once the property’s rear vacant lot.

“There’s a tradition of art in the neighborhood,” says Nelson of New York’s booming downtown scene in the 1970s and ’80s, when artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Cy Twombly and Chuck Close lived on or near Bond Street. Photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, famed for his provocative nudes, occupied a studio next door at 24 Bond St.; today, artist Bruce Williams has installed a chain of nude golden sculptural figures dancing across the fire escapes and up the brick façade.

With this inspiration, Nelson’s monumental steel gatehouse is punctuated by a street-level window with a sculpture of cascading gold crowns by artist Roy Nachum.

“We wanted to create a clue that something special is there,” says Nelson. “When you walk by, you don’t know if it’s a building or a gallery or what.”

Opened in 2019, 22 Bond is completely sold out, though a three-bedroom duplex traded for $8.78 million in August 2019.

It’s not just front doors that are getting upgrades in an age where privacy and exclusivity are prized. Some new developments in the city boast hidden “back doors” that lead to upscale amenities or adjacent restaurants.

Through a secret door obscured by curtains, residents of the Foster + Partners-designed, Aby Rosen-developed Midtown skyscraper One Hundred East Fifty Third Street get a direct path into the bar room of Shun, a restaurant on the building’s second level helmed by Michelin-starred chef Alain Verzerol.

Residents of the 1,000-foot-tall 35 Hudson Yards condo tower, meanwhile, enjoy membership and 24-hour access to Wine Spectator, a private club and restaurant at its base. The residential elevator opens directly into the wine vault, which houses condo owners’ private wine lockers.

Whether front or back, exceptional entryways are just one more way for new condos to set themselves apart.

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