The Pei Penthouse! Architect Offers Visions for His Centurion Crown, Hoping to Sell $39 M. Spread

  • “This is an interesting part of town, because we’re in a congested, urban, commercial district, full of hustle and bustle,” Sandi Pei said, standing inside the penthouse of the Centurion last Thursday evening. “And yet we wanted to create a sense of calm and ease when you entered the building, make it a refuge.”

    Part of the appeal of living of New York is its inherent energy and vibrancy, but all that action can be wearying—especially if you happen to call the middle of Midtown home. It was this tension, between the hustle and bustle outside and the calm within, that inspired Mr. Pei and his father, the Pritzker Prize winner I.M. Pei as they designed the Centurion, right in the middle of Manhattan at 33 West 56th Street. One need only step into the quiet, nearly romantically lit lobby to feel the city melt away. (This is no PR b.s.: this is truly one of the nicest, most embracing lobbies The Observer has ever set foot in, like warm blanket of marble and mood lighting.)

    The building has seen respectable sales, since it came on the market in 2009, but 13 of the 39 units remain available, including the three penthouses. To help push sales along, and demonstrate the true potential of the spaces, which currently sit bare, the developer contracted Sandi Pei’s firm, Pei Partnership, to design two sets of interiors for the penthouses, which range in price from $12.3 million to $14.5 million. All three can be had for $39 million, to create a zen-like triplex spanning some 9,098 square feet.

    “You look at this space and there’s so much here, people can have a hard time envisioning it,” Julius Schwarz, a principal at the sponsor MCP, told The Observer as brokers and perspective buyers milled about the space, champagne in hand. “People are overwhelmed by the lobby, the water garden, the serenity of it all. Except for the floors, when you’re in the apartments, it’s basically an empty space, and we wanted to help buyer conceptualize that.”

    Mr. Schwarz said he began discussing ways of improving the space with Mr. Pei when they hit on the idea of having Pei Partnership design the spaces itself to convey their possibilities. The firm is available to create the spaces for real, should buyers choose. The design work is not included in the price, but Mr. Schwarz noted “everything is negotiable.”

    For the demonstration, Mr. Pei created two layouts for penthouse 1A, the $14.5 million top-floor spread. The traditional layout is more curvy and smooth, the contemporary one more sleek, sharp and edgy. “They both draw from the same warm palette,” though, Mr. Pei said. Among the noticeable differences, beyond the shape of and style of the finishes, is that the traditional layout has a library while the contemporary one combines that space into a larger dining room that connect through a sliding wall to the living room to create one of those chic “great rooms.” Both have three bedrooms while the traditional layout also has a maid’s room.

    “The most important thing to take from this is there are a million different things to do with this unit,” Mr. Pei said.

    Only about 20 percent of his firm’s projects are residential, so he said it was a special pleasure not only to have designed the building but now also to have the opportunity to fit out the interiors, as well, even if only on paper. “Residential work is very different from the other work we do,” Mr. Pei said. “Clients can be very particular about what they want, it’s a special kind of challenge, and that’s why it’s nice to give them so many different options.”

    “We wanted to show that the place can go either way, and we’re very comfortable with that,” Mr. Pei said.

    mchaban [at] observer.com | @MC_NYC

  • The Centurion, designed by Sandi Pei and his father, the Pritzker Prize winner I.M. Pei, is designed as a refuge in the heart of Midtown.

  • The setbacks on the higher stories, with a zig-zagging profile, helps enhance the feeling of stepping outside the city.

  • That quietude begins in the lobby, one of the most tranquil we have ever seen. It feels like a zen garden.

  • In fact, there is a zen garden off the lobby. Talk about luxury.

  • Sandi Pei has designed model layouts for the penthouses in the hopes of helping them sell. Buy one for $14 million or all three for $39 million.

  • There are two models, out of a million possibilities, one contemporary, pictured, and one more traditional. The contemporary living room has a sliding room divider, at left.

  • When the sliding wall is open, it connects the space to the dining room, creating a "great room."

  • The traditional living room, where the edges are soft and curvy.

  • The traditional layout trades the great room combo for a library off the living room.

  • The traditional dining room (the library is on the other side of the right wall) with a recessed ceiling.

  • The contemporary dining room, with big spaces and plenty of room for big art.

  • The kitchen for each apartment is currently the same, but again, Pei Partnership is available for any customizations.

  • The master bathroom, with its luxe finishes, is also the same in each design.

  • The sleek foyer of the contemporary design. Both designs feature a similar palette, emphasizing the warmth of the homes.

  • The master bedroom in the traditional layout, a refuge from the madness of Midtown.

  • The contemporary layout, with its grand entertaining spaces.

  • The traditional layout, with its stately rooms.

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