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The Making of a Dedicated Design Committee

Linda Connelly in Board Operations on April 9, 2018

Upper West Side, Manhattan

Hallways Redo 1

The Art Deco touches begin at the front door at 5 Riverside Drive (photo by Jennifer Wu).

April 9, 2018

This is the first of two articles. 

The hallways of our elegant Art Deco building at 5 Riverside Drive in Manhattan were last decorated in 1985 – and they’d been on life support for the past several years. But other priorities kept getting in the way of an upgrade. We had just finished two years of scaffolding and jackhammering to comply with Local Law 11 requirements, and that experience had left our residents construction-weary and our coffers too depleted to underwrite a redecorating project of this scale.

But the shareholders wanted the hallways redone. After a few apartment sales, our flip tax had generated enough income to upgrade the hallways without having to say the dreaded a-word: assessment

With funding no longer a barrier, the board voted to begin exploration of costs and timing. Having led the team that successfully redesigned our lobby several years ago, I was a natural choice for the hallway design committee. Then my board colleague Rob Anzalone, who owns Fenwick Keats Management and has been rehabbing classic New York properties for decades, volunteered to chair the committee. 

But two board members cannot presume to represent the taste of the building’s population. We immediately co-opted another shareholder, Dr. Dario Cortes, who years earlier had been the vice president of academic affairs at the Fashion Institute of Technology and had just completed a renovation of his vacation condominium’s common spaces and lobby. As an administrator, Dario understood the dynamics of group decision-making and was prepared to take the lead to keep events in our project on track. 

We knew the design needed the expertise of professionals who have a track record in this very specific area and who know the relevant code requirements. After many portfolio reviews and three in-person interviews, we selected Fina Design Group. Beyond impeccable references, principal Margaret Murray understood our design aesthetic and – just as importantly – had a keen sense of humor. After a board meeting in which we discussed process and timing and current building issues, approval was given to proceed with the initial concept phase. 

So far, so good, but we felt a wider cross-section of shareholders should be involved to ensure a positive outcome. To round out the group, we needed people who have passion for the product and respect for the process, and who would not stand down if they felt strongly about their positions. Why not recruit members at the upcoming shareholders meeting, where everyone has an opinion on everything? 

At the June 2016 gathering, we announced that we were proceeding with exploratory steps for redesigning the hallways. As expected, many came forward to express interest in serving but, in our opinion, only three were serious candidates. We recruited them. 

The lucky winners in this design committee lottery were James Kelliher, a financial services professional who is a member of our finance committee, and an avid biker and music lover; Robert Duke, an educator who is head of the Drama Department at the Brearley School and has done work in theater production, a natural to guide critical lighting decisions; and, Seena Parker, a former marketing director for Ms. magazine and National Lampoon who has a passion for Art Deco architecture and would ensure that our design choices were historically appropriate. 

With the committee in place, it was time to tackle the hard part: arriving at a consensus and getting the job done. 

Coming tomorrow: “Part Two: How the Hallways Were Done.”

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