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The Owner's Rep Who Doubled as a Design Consultant

Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on February 10, 2021

Chelsea, Manhattan

Common area renovation, condo board, owner's rep, design consultant.

The 19th-century wing of the condominium (left) and a renovated hallway (photos courtesy of New Bedford Management).

Feb. 10, 2021

When co-op and condo boards tackle capital projects, they always hope to get their money’s worth from their contractors. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Once in a while they get lucky and get much more than they paid for.

That happy scenario played out recently at a condominium in Chelsea after the board decided it was time to freshen up the common areas, which had last been redone in 1986, when a seven-story brick building was wedged into the alley between the condo’s four 19th-century brownstones and the neighboring church, bringing the total units to 26.

“We wanted to refresh the interior and make it more contemporary,” says Dave Fulton, a retired marketing executive who is president of the seven-member condo board. “There’s no natural light in the hallways, and one goal was to lighten them up.”

Three board members were named to a design committee, and they were delighted to learn that a unit-owner named Lawrence Levy owns an interior design firm, Lawrence Allan, and was willing to do some initial design work free of charge. The board decided not to hire an architect. A request for proposals went out to contractors, but the bids that came back were all over the map. The board then turned to its management company, New Bedford Management, and hired an owner’s representative, or project manager, from the company’s in-house staff. 

“When I arrived in early 2020, there was no detailed scope of work,” says Jamie Peruso, the owner’s rep. She put together a scope of work, reviewed resulting bids and helped the board pick a contractor. Then, in addition to these conventional project manager duties, she began to take on an unconventional one.

“There was no full-time interior designer on the project, so I had to act in that role,” says Peruso, who had contributed to design and aesthetic decisions in her previous jobs as a project manager before joining New Bedford. “The board asked for my opinions and advice. On this job, I helped pick light sconces, the tile, what kind of grout to use, and I helped find the oaken desk for the doorman in the lobby. The board was very receptive.”

Fulton says the board was grateful for the guidance. “Aesthetics are a tricky issue,” he says. “Jamie’s role was to find us sources by scouting websites. As she found sources, her personal opinions would come into play. It was good to have another person to help us through the design process. Her input from an aesthetic point of view was valuable. We didn’t always agree with her, but it was helpful to have somebody who was confident enough to provide an opinion – in addition to her duties managing the contractors and keeping track of the work flow.”

This interior makeover had an exterior component as well. The board brought in a subcontractor to restore the double oaken doors on the 1986 wing of the property. “They’re beautiful,” Fulton says. “The contractor put an attractive walnut stain on them. It wasn’t a big part of the project, but it was a nice maraschino on the sundae. It revitalized the entrance and lobby.”

The whole project – carpeting the hallways, painting the ceilings and walls, redoing the lighting, restoring the front door and bringing in the doorman’s desk – came in on time and on its $150,000 budget. The board paid for it with an assessment. By the most reliable barometer – resident feedback – the project is a success.

“If someone is dissatisfied with anything, the board hears about it,” Fulton says. “To the best of my knowledge everyone is happy because there has certainly been positive feedback and I’ve gotten a total of one negative comment on the carpeting. My sense is that we accomplished what we set out to accomplish.”

The owner’s rep who doubled as a design consultant agrees. “It was very successful,” Peruso says. “I’m hoping we can do more projects like this one.”

PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – PROPERTY MANAGER: New Bedford Management. CONTRACTOR: Demo Contractors. SUBCONTRACTOR: K&S Construction Renovations.

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