Richard Meier Builds Perry Street Palace For Calvin and Martha

On the evening of Nov. 20, architect Richard Meier was wearing his signature black suit, white shirt and black tie and peering into a glass box in the center of the Jean Georges restaurant. Encased inside at eye level was a model of the two towers Mr. Meier has designed at 173 and 176 Perry Street. The glass structures were spotless and surrounded by whitewashed buildings, even though Perry Street is actually cluttered by short, stubby warehouses and 19th-century, four-story brick walk-ups.

No matter. To Mr. Meier, his host and the other guests, the buildings had bathed the strip of the West Side Highway which they abut in light. The kind generated by celebrity.

Jean Georges Vongerichten-who has promised to open one of his hot restaurants (with a terrace) in the lobby in about two years-has reserved the 10th floor of the south tower. Calvin Klein is spending about $20 million on a triplex penthouse in the south tower-and he’s paying Mr. Meier extra to fix it up. Martha Stewart has dibs on the north tower’s penthouse, which came with a $3.75 million price tag. And Mr. Meier has bought one apartment in the south tower for himself, though it wasn’t clear how much it would cost him since, aside from designing the building, he was also an investor in the project, owning under 10 percent of the development.

Mr. Meier partnered with Richard Born, Charles Blaichman and Ira Drukier about a year ago, after the three had bought the land for about $12 million and called him about being the $50-plus million project’s architect. “He called back immediately and said he’d love to,” said Mr. Born, who partnered with André Balazs on the Mercer Hotel in Soho.

Mr. Meier, who has also designed the Getty Center in Los Angeles, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona and the Church of the Year 2000 in Rome, as well as multimillion-dollar homes in Honolulu and Tokyo, has never before done an original construction in Manhattan. Thirty years ago, he converted the Old Bell Telephone Lab in the far West Village into Westbeth, artists’ housing and work space. But that doesn’t count.

“The light off the river is so beautiful,” said Mr. Meier, of his interest in the site. “To have morning light and afternoon light, that was unique.”

As designed, each apartment in the 15-story towers occupies a full floor; prices range between $2 million and $8 million. The south tower has 14 apartments with up to 4,000 square feet; the north tower has the same footprint but offers smaller lofts with up to 2,000 square feet. The apartments went on the market on Sept. 27, and 22 have sold to 17 buyers-so far there will be three duplexes and Mr. Klein’s triplex. There are six apartments left. The project has amassed about $70 million in sales and deals are expected to close by late fall of 2001, when the building is supposed to open. The developers said they now plan to transform the parking garage adjacent to the south tower (which was part of their purchase) into a hotel once the condos are completed.

Two more apartments have been spoken for by people involved in the building: Mr. Drukier bought two floors, and the son of Bill Schaffel, another partner in the project, bought the north tower’s eighth floor for about $2.5 million. Mr. Schaffel, who owns W. D. Schaffel, a real estate development company, said that night at Jean Georges that his son, Alex, 26, who lives in Los Angeles and works as an assistant to agent David Schiff at United Talent Agency, bought the apartment as a pied-à-terre . He, too, has hired Mr. Meier to design the loft, which will feature one bedroom and a screening room. “He wants to leave as much open as he can for the views,” said Mr. Schaffel.

Interior designs by Mr. Meier are extra-though he has already come up with four interior floor plans, including a design for a duplex. Each apartment has four floor-to-ceiling exposures and ceilings that are over 10 feet high. There are frosted-glass balconies on many floors, but only the penthouses have large terraces with views of the Hudson River.

“I love space,” said Mr. Vongerichten, emerging from the kitchen in his apron to admire his new home. The chef currently resides in a brownstone on 14th Street and Seventh Avenue.

“I love light,” he chimed out.

Mr. Vongerichten said that when his café opens it will offer room service, and residents will be able to send a “market list” down to his kitchen.

“We will stock the fridge with steaks,” he said, as an example. He sees the café, which would be his 13th restaurant, “like a coffee shop.”

“The project targeted affluent people with a taste for fine art,” said Louise Sunshine, whose firm, the Sunshine Group, is selling the apartments. “Some buyers were avid followers of [Meier’s] work-people from the fashion world, people associated with design.”

One man spent $15 million for two floors, she said, and he did the entire deal from Aspen without ever looking at any plans.

Standing in front of the building’s model, Ms. Sunshine leaned into another guest, writer Dominick Dunne, saying, “His name”-Mr. Meier’s-“adds $1,000 per square foot.” Ms. Sunshine got closer and whispered, “The building across the street is asking $800 per square foot.”

UPPER WEST SIDE

490 West End Avenue

Four-bed, three-bath, 2,200-square-foot co-op.

Asking: $1.995 million. Selling: $2.105 million.

Charges: $1,874; 45 percent tax deductible.

Time on the market: four weeks.

FAMILY FEUD Witness the perfect family apartment: 2,200 square feet with an eat-in kitchen, four bedrooms, plus a maid’s room (somewhere to put the nanny), 10-foot-high ceilings and a washer and dryer. It couldn’t be more ideal-or more difficult to find. “The key is space,” said the sellers’ broker, Whitney Gettinger of Douglas Elliman. “People with children are desperate for space.” Six families duked it out for this apartment with three exposures and lots of sun, but the sellers-who were giving up the space only because they were reluctantly moving to Boston-didn’t want a bidding war. “We were getting so many offers thrown at us,” said Ms. Gettinger, “that we eventually just asked that everyone make an offer, and they wound up going with the highest one.” A desperate couple, with two children and one well on its way, made an offer for $110,000 over the asking price and got the apartment. The building has a doorman and, as if to prove its family status, allows pets.

80 Central Park West

One-bed, one-and-a-half bath, 975-square-foot co-op.

Asking: $695,000. Selling: $628,000.

Charges: $946; 50 percent tax deductible.

Time on the market: two and a half months.

C.P.W. WHITEWASH The people who owned this apartment had been living in the post war building at Central Park West and 68th Street since it went co-op almost 30 years ago. “The apartment was a very good home to them,” said the listing broker, Amy Arpadi of the Corcoran Group. When they passed away, the apartment was in such disrepair that it turned off many apartment shoppers when the deceased’s family put it on the market in May. “We started it high,” admits Ms. Arpadi. She suggested that the family take the place off the market and spruce it up. “We had it painted a nice white and we took the old carpet off to show the wood floors below,” she said. The second time around, the apartment attracted some interested buyers, but the sellers still didn’t get any offers for the asking price. The first buyer backed out at the last second, but there was another waiting in the wings. “He had already lost out on several apartments and he knew what he had to do to get this one,” said the broker of the final buyer. Although the place needs some work, it does have a view of Central Park and a small balcony.

SUTTON PLACE

333 East 53rd Street

Two-bed, two-bath, 1,450-square-foot co-op.

Asking: $998,000. Selling: $870,000.

Charges: $1,680; 60 percent tax deductible.

Time on the market: three months.

RESTLESS ITALIAN’S BUILDING BOOM An Italian documentary filmmaker had been living in this two-bedroom, prewar, full-service building long enough to put doors from Tibet and painted columns in the space. According to his broker, Mary Anne Fusco of Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy, the apartment, which has terraces off every room, had been turned into a loft-like space. But the Italian grew restless and decided to buy a building so he could have both his living space and his documentary-film offices in the same place. After a faulty start (the first building he bought didn’t suit him), he found the perfect spot in Long Island City and is currently renovating it. As for this place, a single woman who works on Wall Street bought it and will do some renovations before moving in. The 12-story apartment building has a doorman and an Art Deco–style lobby.