Marianne Schaefer in Bricks & Bucks on February 19, 2020
Designed by the legendary architectural firm of Schwartz & Gross and completed in 1930, the block-long brick behemoth at 101 Central Park West is now a 94-unit co-op. Its huge E-shaped lobby is adorned with columns and marble flourishes, terrazzo and mosaic floors – quite beautiful in its day, but, as it approached the age of 90, in urgent need of modernization.
“The painting job and the furniture looked old, dowdy, dated and not terribly interesting,” says Esther Rotella, head of the co-op’s nine-member lobby renovation committee. “Also, it was dark and felt gloomy. Even the guys who worked the lobby were complaining that they were getting depressed.”
Another complaint was that the concierge desk, located in front of the middle elevator, was creating foot-traffic congestion. Something had to be done.
For inspiration, Rotella and a board member walked the neighborhood and looked at other lobbies. Then they formed a committee. “We were very careful how we set up the committee, and I think that’s really key,” says Rotella. “We had two to three people form each of three elevator banks, so that all of the building’s residents would be represented. Altogether we were nine people, three of them board members. The board members participated the least.”
Not all committee members came to every meeting, but they always got a summary or Rotella met with them individually to keep them up to date. The committee solicited proposals from five architectural firms, interviewed four, then reviewed at least a dozen lobbies designed by these firms. The committee decided to hire the firm Ethelind Coblin Architect.
“Our first impression of this huge space was that its length lacked punctuation and felt flat,” says Ethelind Coblin, head of the eponymous firm. She also saw right away that this renovation would have to be done with a delicate touch to preserve and enhance the existing architectural beauty. “We do a lot of lobby renovations of 1950s and ’60s buildings,” says Coblin. “Those are often so bad that you can just come in and knock everything down and really do a number on it. The subtle work is a lot harder to do.”
The design team ended up raising the ceiling in the central lobby to create a cove with LED lighting, moved the concierge desk, painted the walls and the columns and ordered new furniture. The key word for this process was “transitional,” meaning the perfect pairing of new and old design elements.
“Our goal was to select paint colors, light fixtures, furnishings and design a concierge desk that transition to a newer, cleaner, lighter feel,” says Louis Lipson, an associate at Coblin. “The lobby was subtly pushed into the 21st century without compromising or conflicting with the original architectural features of the space.”
The renovation cost about $500,000 and was financed with the reserve fund. No assessment was necessary. Now that the job is complete, most of the shareholders are happy with the new design, but it seems no lobby or hallway renovation is free of contention. This one was no exception.
“Once we had the renderings, we held a meeting with the shareholders,” Rotella recalls. “Yes, it was a contentious meeting. One person even said it looks like a hospital lobby. But if there was feedback from the shareholders that made sense to us, then we listened to it.” The committee had the final say on the design and didn’t need the approval of the shareholders. The residents did, however, end up having the unofficial last word about the furniture.
“Once the furniture arrived we realized the chairs were too low,” says Rotella. “These slipper chairs were wrong for older residents or people who are heavy. There were a lot of complaints. So we bit the bullet on this one and ordered completely new chairs.” And now the 90-year-old lobby has, subtly, stepped into the 21st century.
PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – PROPERTY MANAGER: Douglas Elliman. GENERAL CONTRACTOR: Ari Group. ARCHITECT: Ethelind Coblin Architect.
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