Ronda Kaysen in Board Operations on July 18, 2013
1) Hire a Designer
The first rule of a lobby refresh is: Hire an interior designer who specializes in building lobbies. The president of the board may be a fashion designer, but that doesn't mean he or she knows how to select the right commercial-grade sofa for the foyer. And just because the super did a fantastic job painting the mail room doesn't mean he can select the appropriate vinyl wallpaper.
Boards should interview several interior designers, who will either charge a set hourly fee for a ob, or take a percentage of the total job cost. As part of the process, designers will offer the board an assessment of the work they think needs to be done and present a budget based on that.
Using a designer has several benefits. The designer will oversee the job, can often get industry-rate prices on furnishings and materials and knows contractors. A designer also acts as a buffer: If a shareholder doesn't like the finished product, he or she can't (or shouldn't) blame the board for poor taste.
2) Keep Everyone in the Loop
No one likes a surprise, especially when it's the first space on view when someone walks into a building. Aesthetics tend to fuel controversies. "Lobbies bring out the worst in people," says Lillian Brash, board president of the 18-story co-op at 1150 Park Avenue. "But the lobby is not an extension of our living room. It is a public space and it cannot reflect personal taste."
Designers recommend keeping residents in the loop. To do that, you should create a design committee, consisting of board members or a combination of board members and residents. Once the committee decides on a designer's specific design, put a poster it in the lobby for all to see and have the designer on hand to answer questions. In some cases, buildings will present two options to shareholders and unit-owners and poll residents for the favorite. Once work begins, send out regular updates so they know how long it will take and what inconveniences lie ahead.
3) Do Everything at the Same Time
Once a board decides to upgrade its lobby, it is best to do the work all at once. Although doing the work in spurts is a financially attractive option on the surface, it can ultimately cost a building more, as the new sofa may not match the even newer wallpaper. Also, elected boards change, and if one board settles on a design and only finishes a portion of it, a later board might have an entirely different vision. Buildings also miss out on the pleasure of a new, cohesive look to their common areas.
"If you do it piecemeal, people are kind of disappointed," says designer Liz Morehouse, president of Morehouse Design Associates. "You lose the ‘wow' factor."
But lobbies don't exist in a vacuum. When a building updates the look of the lobby, it can affect the hallways and elevators. If the lobby extends into a hallway, that area needs to have the same aesthetic. And if elevators open onto the lobby floor, the elevator cabs should also be updated. These changes, however, can add significantly to the final price. Boards should consider all of these factors when determining a budget.
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