The New Dream House

Ben Stiller, Drew Barrymore and Harvey Fierstein were standing on the curb in front of an ornate, four-story brownstone at 240 Berkeley Place in Park Slope waiting for something.

Then the front door to the house opened and a couple emerged.

“It’s a dream house. It’s so quiet,” said the woman, coming down the stoop.

“And the price was right,” said her companion.

Then Danny DeVito yelled, “Cut!”

Surrounded by cameras, a film crew and plenty of paparazzi, the actors were filming one of the final scenes of a comedy called Duplex , about a couple who try-and fail-to kill their upstairs neighbor for her two-story apartment.

To be released by Miramax Films in February 2003, Duplex -despite one crew member’s hope that “it translates outside of the city”-is about the two most valuable things to a New Yorker: a good deal and a lot of space. Duplex is a darker variation of the old one-liner in Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally : If you need an apartment, read the obituaries. But it also speaks to a very raw New York debate:

Manhattan vs. Brooklyn.

The dream house that the couple in Duplex wants to score is not in a Sex and the City Upper East Side co-op or near Central Park West (see almost any Woody Allen film), or even in the West Village.

It’s in a brownstone in Park Slope, a Brooklyn neighborhood newly populated by young, upwardly mobile New Yorkers-some making a stand against Manhattan’s high prices for small spaces, and many dazzled by the possibilities of Park Slope’s charming brownstones. The decision to cross the East River is either one that’s harrowing and doesn’t last long-perhaps because it throws a wrench in the social life-or one that’s simple and lasts forever. Current Park Slope residents include John Turturro, Steve Buscemi and Paul Auster.

Larry Doyle, who wrote the original screenplay for Duplex and moved to Park Slope with his wife in 1995, is another.

A former writer for The Simpsons , Mr. Doyle, who lived in New York for six years before moving to Los Angeles, sized up the Brooklyn-Manhattan debate this way: “We moved to Brooklyn because we couldn’t afford something we could live in Manhattan,” he said. “Living in Manhattan apartments, for me, was like being in jail: They were one room with bars on the windows.”

He and his wife found a duplex in an 1880′s brownstone at 120 Prospect Park West. “It was one of those brownstones that gets carved up,” said Mr. Doyle. “The ceilings had a lot of ornate carved wood, we had four fireplaces, the dining room was originally a library, and there were all these built-in hutches and things …. It was about four more rooms than we could have afforded in Manhattan,” he said.

In the original script, Mr. Doyle put in something that his wife said to him the first day they moved in: “We’re millionaires”-even though they’d only paid $250,000 for the place. “I’m sure that has tripled now,” he said.

The similarities between his real life and the movie end there, he said-for instance, he and his wife never considered knocking off an elderly neighbor for an even better pad. But the location scouts were interested in every detail, trying to find a house just like Mr. Doyle’s. They settled for a brownstone on a tree-lined block of Berkeley Place near Eighth Avenue. Mr. DeVito, the film’s director, thought it suitable because it stands out from the other homes on the block, but not too much. He also liked that it was across the street from a little playground-perfect for a scene in which Drew Barrymore’s character stares out the window, imagining having babies in her new home.

Then again, at that point, the movie’s just getting started.

EAST HAMPTON

Neighbors Swap Land to Buffer Maidstone

It seems there’s only one way to curb construction on Long Island’s East End: find a rich homeowner willing to pay for some privacy, or at least an unobstructed view.

New York architect Jaquelin Robertson knew that well when he sold the 3.7-acre property at 4 Maidstone Lane in February for $5 million, according to town records. The land is currently undeveloped farm land, and the buyer, Lawrence Flinn Jr., a retired media mogul, plans to keep it that way, at least for now.

Mr. Flinn, whose net worth was estimated by Forbes magazine last fall at $1.8 billion, owns a house on Hook Pond next to the parcel he bought from Mr. Robertson, which in turn abuts the tennis courts and golf course of the Maidstone Club. He told The Observer that he has “no plans to develop the land in the foreseeable future.”

Mr. Robertson bought the property in 1994 for a little under $2 million. After years of poring over different plans, he decided instead to build an addition to his place on Dunemere Lane and sell the property. He put it on the market for $5.9 million in 1998. In Mr. Flinn, he said, he found an “ideal buyer.”

“He always wanted a long field that one could drive by on the way to his property, as it used to be in the house that he grew up in,” said Mr. Robertson of the new owner. “I think his real interest is in protecting his property …. It’s ideal for me, it’s ideal for the club, it’s ideal for the town.”

As if it wasn’t already an exclusive enclave, Mr. Robertson, Mr. Flinn and other residents have a history of taking things into their own hands in their East End neighborhood. They’ve recently planted rows of beech trees along either side of Maidstone Lane.

“They’re young now,” said Mr. Robertson of the slow-growing sap-lings, “but in 20, 30, 50 years, that is going to be one of the great streets of the East End.”

UPPER EAST SIDE

343 East 74th Street (the Forum Two-bed, three-bath, 2,300-square-foot co-op. Asking: $995,000. Selling: $900,000. Charges: $3,935; 60 percent tax-deductible. Time on the market: six months. DEVELOPER’SHAND-ME-DOWN APPRECIATES When this co-op building on 74th Street near First Avenue went up in 1987, one of the developers snagged the penthouse for himself and had the place built to his specific tastes. The finished pad has high ceilings, an oversized living room with three exposures, two bedrooms, a small den and a balcony. Fifteen years later, the place still impresses, apparently. A semi-retired antiques dealer in his 70′s who was selling a townhouse on the Upper East Side just bought the place. Of course, he’ll have to make his mark by doing a little work on it before moving in, according to his broker, Martine Lefebvre of the Corcoran Group. Peter Schwartz, also of the Corcoran Group, represented the seller.

3 East 69th Street Three-bed, 3 1/2 bath, 2,200-square-foot co-op. Asking: $1.99 million. Selling: $1.85 million. Charges: $3,038.56; 42 percent tax-deductible. Time on the market: 28 weeks. SHE KNOWS WHAT BUYERS LIKE In March, Corcoran Group broker Jayne Firtell, then a broker at Insignia Douglas Elliman, got a call from a couple who had just moved to London and needed to sell their duplex apartment in a brownstone just off Fifth Avenue. No problem, said Ms. Firtell. Then she got the keys, had a look and realized there was a huge problem. “It was clutter after clutter,” she said. So she struck a new deal with the sellers, who hired her to make the place presentable and then sell it for them. “I was wearing two hats,” said Ms. Firtell. “I was their exclusive broker and their decorator and designer.” She shoved trinkets in dresser drawers and stuck redundant floor lamps into closets. She bought new bedding for the beds so they would look more formal, replaced a carpet in a downstairs bedroom, and had the entire place repainted in colors she chose herself. She had a pedestal sink put in the downstairs powder room and chose light fixtures for the kitchen-all bankrolled by the sellers, of course. “I was very firm with them,” said Ms. Firtell. “I said, ‘This is what you have to do if you want to get it sold,’ and they said, ‘You tell us what has to be done.’” The place sold for $140,000 under the asking price.

CHELSEA

360 West 22nd Street (London Town House) Three-bed, two-bath, 1,600-square-foot co-op. Asking: $749,000. Selling: $729,000. Charges: $1,300; 56 percent tax-deductible. Time on the market: one month. COUPLE SELLS CO-OP, BUYS PUPPY This 1,600-square-foot apartment on a high floor of a 17-story building on 22nd Street near Ninth Avenue has a few suburban-home trappings: three exposures that provided a whole lot of light, a full-fledged laundry room and a satellite dish. Still, the sellers were ready to hightail it to Long Island after having a second child. According to broker Dan Gerstein, vice president of D.G. Neary Realty, a window-shopping couple showed up at the open house and made an offer. To celebrate, the sellers went out and bought a puppy-the kind you should only have in the suburbs.

UPPER EAST SIDE

Who Will Pay $12.5 m. For Otto Preminger’s House?

“The interesting thing, I think, is that it was Otto Preminger’s house,” said Alexandra Champalimaud, standing in the dirty limestone foyer of 129 East 64th Street. “We kind of love that-it gives good karma.”

All the same, Ms. Champalimaud and her husband, Bruce Schnitzer, chairman of Wand Partners, a private equity firm in the city, have expunged any trace of the director of Laura and The Man with the Golden Arm after buying the house from his estate for $2.225 million in May of 1994.

Ms. Champalimaud said that, in fact, she was lured by the prospect of redoing everything about the house.

Preminger’s million-dollar screening room, complete with a retractable screen that closed off a picture window, remote control 35-millimeter and 16-millimeter projectors, and a sound system, is now a double-height library with a classical 17th-century Portuguese patterned wood floor and an oversized fireplace done in antique French brick, with a 17th-century original stone mantle from Portugal, where Ms. Champalimaud was born.

Preminger’s pebbled sculpture garden is now a lot less Zen-with antique Portuguese garden tiles, columns and a 17th-century fountain.

Still, the couple calls the seven-story house near Lexington Avenue “Otto”-and any good karma might come in handy as they see if they can get $12.5 million for it.

After three years of renovations, the 8,000-square-foot, 20-foot-wide house is about a month from completion, and the couple is floating the place on the market. “We’re not sure what we’re going to do,” said Ms. Champalimaud, who has her own interior-decorating business on Union Square and lives with her husband and four kids in a loft downtown.

If they were able to get $12.5 million, the price would represent a hike over anything ever paid on the block. The house next door at 131 East 64th Street-also with 8,000 square feet, but without a garden and in need of a major renovation-recently sold for $5.7 million. And the highest price to date for a townhouse on that block is $7.5 million for 121 East 64th Street. That was in the summer of 2000.

Anne Snee, a broker at the Corcoran Group who sold 129 East 64th Street for Preminger’s estate, said the place was in such bad condition when Preminger died in 1986 that it took over seven years to sell. “It was painful,” said Ms. Snee. “It was old, old modern-outdated modern.”

The renovation started with the façade. “When we bought it, the exterior of the house was very 60′s, very straight looking,” said Ms. Champalimaud on a recent tour. “We wanted to turn it into something personal, so the exterior has an 18th-century Portuguese feel to it, which is what I like.”

The couple hired the classicist British architect Christopher Smallwood, who had done work for Queen Elizabeth, to design the exterior, which now has a two-story Indiana limestone base and green stucco above. The upper windows have ornate ironwork in front of them.

Inside, in the foyer, there had been marble floors. Now, Ms. Champalimaud said, “this is all limestone … all 17th-century Portuguese.” Directly off the front hall is the dining room, “and there is 18th-century tile in here,” she said, gesturing to the floor. Beyond that is the garden.

The second floor of the house has a small study in front, and a large living room towards the back with French doors opening onto a terrace. Pointing to a semicircle window with intricate ironwork through it, Ms. Champalimaud said, “It’s an Adam’s window I bought in England.”

On the third floor, there’s a small office, a master bathroom with hand-painted Portuguese tiles, and a master bedroom with a balcony off it. Throughout the house, there are Portuguese-inspired moldings around the windows, wood slatted ceilings and wood and glass transoms above the doors.

The fourth, sixth and seventh floors have two bedrooms each; the seventh floor also has a kitchenette and a roof deck. The double-height library occupies the front of the fifth and sixth floors. Another large bedroom occupies the rear of the fifth floor. The cellar, with French terra-cotta floors, has a laundry room and bathroom.

“I don’t think there is another house like it,” said Ms. Champalimaud of the place, which has been so personalized by her that it will be hard for her to sell, even if someone offers her the money she’s asking. “And, well, in New York, I don’t know that there would be.”

“The interesting thing, I think, is that it was Otto Preminger’s house,” said Alexandra Champalimaud, standing in the dirty limestone foyer of 129 East 64th Street. “We kind of love that-it gives good karma.”

All the same, Ms. Champalimaud and her husband, Bruce Schnitzer, chairman of Wand Partners, a private equity firm in the city, have expunged any trace of the director of Laura and The Man with the Golden Arm after buying the house from his estate for $2.225 million in May of 1994.

Ms. Champalimaud said that, in fact, she was lured by the prospect of redoing everything about the house.

Preminger’s million-dollar screening room, complete with a retractable screen that closed off a picture window, remote control 35-millimeter and 16-millimeter projectors, and a sound system, is now a double-height library with a classical 17th-century Portuguese patterned wood floor and an oversized fireplace done in antique French brick, with a 17th-century original stone mantle from Portugal, where Ms. Champalimaud was born.

Preminger’s pebbled sculpture garden is now a lot less Zen-with antique Portuguese garden tiles, columns and a 17th-century fountain.

Still, the couple calls the seven-story house near Lexington Avenue “Otto”-and any good karma might come in handy as they see if they can get $12.5 million for it.

After three years of renovations, the 8,000-square-foot, 20-foot-wide house is about a month from completion, and the couple is floating the place on the market. “We’re not sure what we’re going to do,” said Ms. Champalimaud, who has her own interior-decorating business on Union Square and lives with her husband and four kids in a loft downtown.

If they were able to get $12.5 million, the price would represent a hike over anything ever paid on the block. The house next door at 131 East 64th Street-also with 8,000 square feet, but without a garden and in need of a major renovation-recently sold for $5.7 million. And the highest price to date for a townhouse on that block is $7.5 million for 121 East 64th Street. That was in the summer of 2000.

Anne Snee, a broker at the Corcoran Group who sold 129 East 64th Street for Preminger’s estate, said the place was in such bad condition when Preminger died in 1986 that it took over seven years to sell. “It was painful,” said Ms. Snee. “It was old, old modern-outdated modern.”

The renovation started with the façade. “When we bought it, the exterior of the house was very 60′s, very straight looking,” said Ms. Champalimaud on a recent tour. “We wanted to turn it into something personal, so the exterior has an 18th-century Portuguese feel to it, which is what I like.”

The couple hired the classicist British architect Christopher Smallwood, who had done work for Queen Elizabeth, to design the exterior, which now has a two-story Indiana limestone base and green stucco above. The upper windows have ornate ironwork in front of them.

Inside, in the foyer, there had been marble floors. Now, Ms. Champalimaud said, “this is all limestone … all 17th-century Portuguese.” Directly off the front hall is the dining room, “and there is 18th-century tile in here,” she said, gesturing to the floor. Beyond that is the garden.

The second floor of the house has a small study in front, and a large living room towards the back with French doors opening onto a terrace. Pointing to a semicircle window with intricate ironwork through it, Ms. Champalimaud said, “It’s an Adam’s window I bought in England.”

On the third floor, there’s a small office, a master bathroom with hand-painted Portuguese tiles, and a master bedroom with a balcony off it. Throughout the house, there are Portuguese-inspired moldings around the windows, wood slatted ceilings and wood and glass transoms above the doors.

The fourth, sixth and seventh floors have two bedrooms each; the seventh floor also has a kitchenette and a roof deck. The double-height library occupies the front of the fifth and sixth floors. Another large bedroom occupies the rear of the fifth floor. The cellar, with French terra-cotta floors, has a laundry room and bathroom.

“I don’t think there is another house like it,” said Ms. Champalimaud of the place, which has been so personalized by her that it will be hard for her to sell, even if someone offers her the money she’s asking. “And, well, in New York, I don’t know that there would be.”