The Great Co-op Swap: Burch Family Trades Co-ops at the Pierre

It was only in December that socialite Tory Robinson Burch appeared on the cover of Town & Country with five of her children, a portrait of Upper East Side privilege. With coiffed blond hair, serious diamond earrings and a black cocktail dress, Ms. Burch sat on a gold-striped couch in her Pierre Hotel apartments, surrounded by a few Christmas presents, her 3-year-old twin boys and her three pre-teen stepdaughters. Now it appears that all was not right with the home of Ms. Burch and her husband, venture capitalist Chris Burch.

The couple, who have lived in the two-bedroom apartment pictured in the photograph since 1996, have been feeling cramped. Back then, they also bought a two-bedroom apartment several floors up to have more space. That apartment became a kids’ suite for their growing family: They have three sons together (including the twins), and Mr. Burch also has three daughters from a previous marriage. The kids would play and sometimes sleep there, and the staff would take their breaks there, said a source: “It was nothing glamorous.” But earlier this year, the couple became unsatisfied with that situation.

Mr. Burch approached the Four Seasons Company, the owner of the Pierre–which is half co-op apartments, half hotel rooms–about acquiring more space. He learned that he could do it, as long as he was willing to jump through a few hoops: in fact, a 1,000-square-foot luxury hotel suite next door to his home was his for the taking if he could replace it with a like space (same size and value) in the building.

The Burches found just the thing one floor down–a co-op on the market for $1.05 million with one bedroom, two baths and a total of 1,000 square feet.

“He had to give the hotel an equal trade so he could have an apartment on his floor,” said one real-estate source. “He had to buy another one like it one floor below and then switch.”

Richard Siegler, an attorney with Stroock & Stroock & Lavan who represents the co-op owners of the Pierre, said that it’s not unusual for a deal like the Burches’ to take place at the Pierre: “The board is always willing to accommodate the housing needs of its shareholders.”

The Burches bought the downstairs apartment for the Four Seasons and secured the upstairs apartment in April, sources said. (The idea is to combine it with their current home.) On May 7, Mr. Siegler said, both deals had been approved by the co-op board. And the 1,100-square-foot kids’ suite went on the market on April 30 for $1.995 million. (Maintenance is $4,326.) Brown Harris Stevens broker Nancy Candib would not comment.

Ms. Burch said she did not want to comment on the deal because she did not want her address known. “It’s not a great secure environment,” she said of the Pierre. “I’m not sure if we’re staying here or what the deal is.”

For the summer at least, the Burch family will be at their Southampton home, designed by architect and decorator Daniel Romualdez and featured in May’s issue of Vogue . Once again Ms. Burch is shown posing on a sofa–this time one that is “Bill Blass-inspired”–among other spots. Her twin sons are featured as well: One is shown grinning in the master bedroom, and they’re also pictured together, wearing bathrobes at the dining-room table.

What’s next: the Burch family posing in hard hats in the hallways of the Pierre? Someone call Architectural Digest .

BOERUM HILL

NELL’S IN BROOKLYN? MS. CAMPBELL MOVES TO HOYT STREET You may know her as Columbia from The Rocky Horror Picture Show . Or maybe you’ve been to her club Nell’s, which was the headquarters of downtown nightlife in its 80′s heyday. Now, cutting-edge Nell Campbell is turning her attentions to trendy Boerum Hill.

Ms. Campbell and her husband, Eamon Roche, bought a brownstone on a tree-lined Hoyt Street block earlier this year, and on April 14 they got approval from the buildings department to turn the four-family building into a two-family dwelling, to build an extension and to renovate the building’s chipping façade.

“It’s a wreck that was owned by an absentee landlord, so we’re reclaiming it,” said Mr. Roche, who described a dizzying list of construction projects the new building required, including tearing off the back wall of the building and rebuilding it from scratch.

Mr. Roche, who is in the construction business, was undaunted by the project and by moving to Brooklyn. The family–their daughter attends preschool in nearby Brooklyn Heights–have become outer-borough zealots since leaving Manhattan’s Upper East Side for Brooklyn’s newest destination neighborhood.

“We’re transplanted Manhattanites, but in fact it’s incredibly nice here,” explained Mr. Roche. “It’s so nice that I’ve given up on trying to convince New Yorkers how nice it is. There’s already too many people like us out here. And so now I tell them it’s a wreck.”

Mr. Roche’s efforts to put a lid on his newfound neighborhood are destined to fail: Only a few years ago, Smith Street, one block west, was strewn with empty or ailing storefronts. Now it’s loaded with trendy restaurants, bars, designer boutiques and antiques shops. And the wave that hit Smith Street seems to be reaching mostly residential Hoyt Street.

Less than a year ago, fashion designer Daryl Kerrigan bought a townhouse on State Street just off Hoyt and began a $300,000 renovation. Restaurateur Claude De Castro is about to open a restaurant on Hoyt, a couple of blocks up from Ms. Campbell’s new house, in the trendy middle-European vein. He characterizes the decor as “modern chalet chic” and promises plenty of Belgian beer on tap.

The neighborhood of small apartment buildings, brick townhouses and brownstones has been attracting New York culture brokers for some time now. Peter Galassi, photography curator at the Museum of Modern Art, lives on Pacific Street. (His brother, Jonathan, editor in chief and publisher of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, lives just over the border in Cobble Hill.) And former Little, Brown maven Sarah Crichton lives just around the corner on Bergen Street.

And the local block association is welcoming them with open arms. Defying New York expectations, rather than nosily inspecting the renovations for objectionable changes, the Hoyt Street Association is fêting the new arrivals. At a meeting on May 9, Ms. Campbell, Mr. De Castro and others who are making improvements on Hoyt Street were to describe the work they’re doing. The bill of fare is being called “Reconstructing Hoyt Street,” and refreshments were to be served.

UPPER EAST SIDE

DOUG CRAMER BACKS OUT OF $8.5 MILLION DEAL FOR 78TH STREET TOWNHOUSE Prolific television producer Doug Cramer, who brought us such cultural mainstays as Wonder Woman , Dynasty and The Love Boat , hasn’t been able to find a house since moving to New York in 1998. In early May, he backed out of the $8.5 million contract he’d signed earlier this year to buy designer Gary Rein’s townhouse at 115 East 78th Street, between Park and Lexington avenues. The house is now back on the market for $9 million. Neither party returned calls for comment.

Mr. Cramer sold his ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley in 1997 and bought a place in upscale Roxbury, Conn., near Stephen Sondheim. Though he also bought an apartment at 160 East 72ndStreetin Manhattan in 1998, what he really wanted was a townhouse, and for the past three years Mr. Cramer had been a fixture in that market. “I used to see his face everywhere,” said one own house broker.

This winter, it seemed that a townhouse would finally be his. Roger Erickson of William B. May showed Mr. Cramer the four-story, recently renovated townhouse with a bowed limestone façade that was on the market with Nikki Field of Sotheby’s for $10 million. The owner, Gary Rein, an architect and designer, bought the house for $2.61 million in the spring of 1999; it was split into apartments and had two tenants. Mr. Rein was able to empty the house and restore it as a single-family home. “He used a very light palette,” said a broker who showed the house recently. “He has done the entire interior in shades of white and cream.” Mr. Rein put in four bedrooms, a library, five working fireplaces, central air and a large, landscaped garden out back. “It is quite a lovely place,” said another broker who’d visited recently.

Mr. Cramer offered $8.5 million for the house, and Mr. Rein accepted. But just a few weeks after the deal was signed, brokers said, there were rumblings that Mr. Cramer would back out of the deal. According to one source, the trouble started when Mr. Cramer’s architect, coming to look at the house for a second time, found problems with the structure. It was not clear whether Mr. Cramer would continue his townhouse search.

120 East 87th Street

Two-bed, two-bath, 1,530-square-foot condo.

Asking: $985,000. Selling: $985,000.

Charges: $1,183. Taxes: $912.

Time on the market: three days.

ANOTHER REASON TO BE NICE TO THE NEIGHBORS Ask any broker, and you’ll be told that the sell-high 90′s real-estate market is finito . But there is still a way to sell your apartment quickly: price it right. That’s what happened to the seller of this two-bedroom apartment in a full-service condo on 87th Street, between Park and Lexington avenues. He put this 1,500-square-foot corner unit on the market for $985,000 in January. He found a buyer in three days. In fact, within the next week, said broker Barbara Posner of Douglas Elliman, there were five offers at the asking price. “The seller wanted to price it so that it would be a good value, and a lot of people want that.” The guy who bought the place had an inside advantage: Because he owned the apartment next door, he was one of the first people to see the place and made a full-price offer almost immediately. He also plans to buy a small piece of the hallway from the condo to combine with his 1,900-square-foot, two-bedroom place next door.

UPPER WEST SIDE

125 West 76th Street

Three-bed, two-bathrooms, 1,800-square-foot co-op.

Asking: $995,000. Selling: $950,000.

Charges: $1,513; 44 percent tax deductible.

Time on the market: five months.

AFTER-SCHOOL SPECIAL When a single mom and her two kids moved from L.A. to New York, mom’s choice of private schools dictated where they’d shop for an apartment. She looked for a place to rent for two weeks before deciding to buy instead. Two more weeks later, she found this apartment, formerly two co-ops that had been converted into a duplex in a non-doorman building on 76th Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam avenues. According to her broker, Jason Tames of Douglas Elliman, all the place needs is a paint job and new bathrooms. Mom was not deterred.

SOHO

66 Crosby Street

One-bed, two-bath, 1,290-square-foot co-op.

Asking: $799,000. Selling: $795,000.

Charges: $1,008; 60 percent tax deductible.

Time on the market: four weeks.

HOW TO MAKE A LOFT Here’s one way to get a Soho loft: rip down all the walls in a three-bedroom co-op on Crosby Street, between Spring and Broome streets. According to broker Michael Jones of the Corcoran Group, this technique works–at least in the case of this place. While not an “old artist loft,” he said the place feels like a loft the way “somebody would do it

today.” The place currently has an open floor plan (other than one bedroom and a large kitchen). And since it is in a building zoned as live/workspace rather than artist-in-residence space, the place is much easier to sell. “These days it is investment bankers, not artists, who are buying in Soho,” said Mr. Jones. The deal was co-brokered by Chris Leavitt, also of the Corcoran Group.