New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community
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Package rooms, tracking technology, and storage lockers to the rescue.
Online shopping means buildings are dealing with more packages than ever. What do you do when they start to take over?
The packages, parcels, and deliveries at the Gramercy Plaza had gotten out of hand. Although the 287-unit cooperative at 130 East 18th Street in Gramercy Park is a luxury building, the lobby didn’t look it. “There were boxes piled upon boxes everywhere, and with our mirrored walls it seemed as if there was twice as much stuff,” says board member Erica Bown. “The place looked like a huge closet where you cram all your things before company comes over, except with the door left open. It was an embarrassment.” These days, however, the lobby is spotless, spare, and clean, thanks to a redesign that carved out unused space to create closets, shelving, and cabinets that keep packages neatly out of sight. The co-op is just one in a wave of properties that are building new package rooms or expanding existing ones in order to cope with a constant – and constantly growing – deluge of deliveries.
“The volume has increased exponentially in recent years because of the proliferation of online shopping,” says Joel M. Ergas, president of Forbes Ergas Design Associates, which handled the Gramercy project. “I was visiting one lobby we were redesigning, and there were actually car tires in the corner,” he says. “If that’s not a clue to the crying need for more storage space, I don’t know what is.”
My Packages Runneth Over
At Gramercy Plaza, the tiny, 50-square foot package room was no match for the deliveries arriving daily; making matters worse, it was inconveniently located at the back of the L-shaped lobby, 60 feet from the concierge desk. An unobtrusive storage area was needed in the front. Ergas saw a solution in the long, 31-foot wall of underutilized space that ran along one side of the seating area beyond the vestibule. He installed six bays of seven-foot-high closets with walnut doors. “The shelving inside, as well as the hang bars for clothes, are all adjustable and removable, so any combination can be created as needed,” says Ergas. “I wanted to provide total flexibility.”
Equally important, the concierge desk was moved from the left side of lobby to the right, just steps from the storage area. Ergas also built a 36-inch-high black marble-top counter with an open compartment underneath where boxes too large for the closets could be stored. “The open side doesn’t face the lobby, and the counter height allows the concierge to have a full view of the door at all times so security isn’t compromised,” he says. For good measure, a furniture cabinet was installed adjacent to the vestibule, where residents could leave laundry bags for pickup and a cleaner can drop them off without distracting the doorman. “Whether it’s a large, luxury building or a smaller one with a modest budget, co-op and condo boards run into the same problem, which is finding sufficient storage space in a limited area and coming up with a layout that makes sense,” Ergas says. Thanks to the redesign, the Gramercy lobby has never looked better. “It’s a seamless integration of form and function,” says board member Bown. “The staff has easy access to the closets, the doors are easy to open and close, and you’d never know that packages and boxes are behind them.”
Working with a Workaround
Building a package room sometimes involves working around existing structures, which can be especially challenging. Case in point: the Bel-Air, a 244-unit co-op at 66-36 Yellowstone Boulevard in Forest Hills, Queens, where there was no storage space and boxes and parcels were piled high on the floor in the lobby, obscuring a floor-to-ceiling window. “The only practical spot to build a package room was behind the doorman station, but there was a rounded wheelchair ramp that curved around the back of it,” says Marilyn Sygrove, president of Sygrove Associates Design Group, who handled the redesign. “It was clear we needed to alter the ramp by making it L-shaped, which would free up a rectangular space for a decent-sized room.”
Sygrove created a 75-square-foot closet with fixed shelving along one wall and a bar to hang dry cleaning in the rear. The co-op’s decorating committee – the group was created so that interested shareholders, not just board members, could have a say in the final decisions – wanted the built-in elements “to help ensure that the space would stay organized and not morph over time into a monstrous mess,” Sygrove says. “Opposite the shelves is a dedicated area for shopping carts – the residents use them instead of bellman carts – which was another key criterion of the committee.” Even better, the Bel-Air got an unexpected bonus – some room at the top. Taking advantage of the lobby’s 16-foot ceilings, Sygrove doubled the storage area by designing two eight-foot-high closets. “The ceiling of the package closet is the floor of the second level, which is accessible by a ship’s ladder that can be pulled down,” she says. “It’s an ideal space for long-term storage items, whether it’s old files and paperwork or seasonal holiday decorations.”
Done at the Dunhill
In some buildings, retooling a package room can be the main driver behind a wholesale lobby renovation. At the Dunhill, an 88-unit condominium at 401 East 84th Street, the cramped storage room was close to the concierge desk, but it was tucked away in a front corner of the lobby, blocking a floor-to-ceiling window.
“It would fill up every single day with deliveries from the post office and FedEx, Amazon, and Zappos,” says Howard Grufferman, a Dunhill board member. “We had to put the boxes in the kids’ playroom behind the lobby to accommodate the overflow, and even then we were still buried.”
There was no unused space that could be carved out around the package room. But in the mailroom at the back of the lobby, a wall sealing off an area with mechanical pipes and risers could be demolished to create extra square footage. Ergas, whose firm redesigned the space, did just that, grabbing every inch he could get for a 200-square-foot room.
“We installed a custom cabinet for dry cleaning but no custom shelving, because the board was more concerned with strength and durability as opposed to flexibility,” he says. “So we went with stock steel shelves, which work well when you have a dedicated standalone room. The back section – containing the pipes and risers – was left open to accommodate big items, like a 60-inch flat-screen TV, or car tires.” A new concierge desk was built in front of the package room, with a clear sight line to the front door. Ergas solved the last part of the layout puzzle by putting the mailboxes where the old storage room had been and designing an open area that re-exposed the window.
“Going into this project, the board’s overall goal was to modernize the lobby, which was 30 years old,” says Grufferman. “It’s the first impression for anyone walking into the building, whether you’re a resident, visitor, or potential buyer, and we wanted to maximize that experience. The package room has made it possible to have a truly elegant space.”
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