Wet Beams

The exposed beam ceiling has become a coveted architectural detail in Manhattan luxury real estate. Prospective homeowners are embracing the industrial and brute charm of exposed beams juxtaposed against the luxury finishes of high-end condo renovations.

Historically hidden from view, exposed beam ceilings have assumed a vintage character. "People respond to it as a design element; it makes a property more valuable," said Corcoran listing agent Christian Powers, who studied architecture at MIT. "There is an honesty of material and construction when you see exposed beams. It allows people to connect with the structure of the building." Inexpensive from a contractor's perspective-the current plaster facade has only to be sandblasted-such a renovation easily and inexpensively exposes a higher ceiling height and a rough-hewn mystique.

"The owners completed a $1 million renovation covering up every detail of the original apartment except for the beams, which they wanted exposed," Sotheby's broker Joshua Judge said of his penthouse listing at 44 Walker Street.

In many of the city's former industrial spaces, the beams are a structural requirement buttressing the ceilings of multilevel dwellings. "Structural beams are quite typical in prewar buildings," said Stribling broker Mary Ellen Cashman. "In this case [her listing at 136 Waverly Place], the original concrete beams have been exposed in the bedroom but nowhere else in the apartment."

Suppose there are no original beams. The alternative, Mr. Powers said, is the faux-provenance style of beam-a contemporary aesthetic that is added purely for looks.

The different materials used for ceiling beams range from poured-on concrete to plaster, pine and oak. An apartment with original wooden beams is the Kobe beef of beamed ceilings because the beams are often made from, according to Mr. Powers, "old-growth trees rarely available in this country, which means you are owning a piece of history that can't be replicated."

-Chloe Malle

44 Walker Street, Joshua Judge.


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