Amid New York City’s luxury penthouses and sprawling duplexes is a stash of secret rooms: one-bedroom and studio apartments that will never appear on public listings or the open market.
These bijoux crash-pads — known as accessory apartments — are available only to elite families who’ve already bought (much larger) homes in the building.
Rafael Viñoly’s cloud-scraping tower near Central Park, 432 Park Avenue, includes such hush-hush assets, as does the West Village’s new luxury complex the Greenwich Lane.
Among that development’s 200 units are six small apartments — starting at around 500 square feet for $1.26 million — and offered for sale solely to existing buyers; four are already spoken for.
It’s a similar setup at NoMad conversion 212 Fifth: Its 48 units include six smaller apartments on the second floor, averaging around 425 square feet and starting at around $875,000.
So what’s the appeal of these tiny, secret apartments?
“The competition to hire, and keep, the best staff — a personal assistant, nanny, butler or house manager — has gotten way more intense over the last 10 years,” explains Caspar Harvard-Walls, a partner at Black Brick in London (where the trend first gained traction). “So the way they are housed has changed enormously.”
In other words, if you want a top-tier Poppins to tend to your precious offspring, she won’t settle for a dank room with a bunk bed; modern Mary expects the same finishes and fixtures as the family home, albeit on a smaller scale.
And there are other motivations informed by the increasingly informal and in-flux lifestyles of typical buyers.
“People often work from home today, so if both spouses are there they might prefer a place they can go to be alone — say, if they’re writing a book,” notes 212 Fifth developer Robert Gladstone. “Maybe they have a kid returning from college who is one of those millennials who needs to move in with their mom and dad.”
Of course, the concept is hardly a new one. In Manhattan’s Gilded Age, buildings often incorporated smaller accessory apartments (mostly studios for staff) tucked just below the roof. It’s the reason there are so many pronounced cornices among developments from that era. While many of these vintage examples have been swallowed up bysurrounding apartments, the strategy is now being revived in luxury conversions and new builds.
These clandestine hideaways — real estate’s version of speakeasies — are quickly becoming a brag-worthy high-end amenity. And once the kids no longer need that practically perfect nanny, there’s no need to downsize — simply sell the spare apartment. As long as the buyer is already a neighbor.
“These apartments are intended as a convenience to owners in the building,” Gladstone emphasizes. “So we do ask that someone doesn’t resell to an outsider.”
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