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Uncommonly Smooth Common-Area Renovations

Marianne Schaefer in Bricks & Bucks

Upper East Side

Hallways and Lobbies

BEFORE AND AFTER: Out with the old hallway (left) and in with the new (right) at Hardenbrook House condo (image courtesy of Sygrove Associates Design Group)

Design and renovation of common areas – lobbies, hallways, even laundry rooms – is often a contentious affair. Everybody has an opinion, a favorite color, or an idea for the perfect carpet or wallpaper.

It doesn’t have to be that way, and the Hardenbrook House condominium at 404 E. 66 Street just proved it. At the annual meeting, a single design proposal was presented for renovation of the lobby and hallways. There were no objections, and residents agreed to accept the proposed design without casting ballots. The building’s property manager, Steve Greenbaum of MGRE, was amazed. “I’ve been doing this job since 1980,” he says, “and I have sat through maybe 40 or 50 of those presentations. Never have I seen an easier one in my life. Everybody was just very pleased and accepted the design.”

Rande Coleman, president of the board of this 158-unit condo, thinks the secret to success was the designer, Marilyn Sygrove, president of Sygrove Associates Design Group. “She specializes in public spaces in residential buildings,” Coleman says. “Approximately 15 years ago she designed our lobby, and we stayed in touch. Then our manager recommended we use her again.”

“The key to success is to have a very small committee,” Sygrove says. “The more people are involved, the more difficult it gets. In this case we had a two-person committee, and the board had a lot of trust in us.”

The committee familiarized itself with Sygrove’s work by touring several buildings she had worked on. Soon Sygrove had an idea what the committee wanted, and she could combine their wishes with her own ideas. “They had to renovate because there was a lot of wear and tear,” says Sygrove. “This condo has more transient residents than most buildings, so there’s a lot of moving in and moving out. Also the products change. Fifteen years ago fluorescent light was okay; now we have LED lights. We also didn’t want to use nylon carpets any more. We now have carpets with 80 percent wool and it’s very durable. You’ll get sick of it before it wears out. We opted for several new products, even though the carpet is 20 percent more expensive.”

According to board president Coleman, the renovation will cost about $500,000, and it will be paid for by an assessment spread over a year or longer. Sygrove is ready to send the design work out to get bids.

Greenbaum also manages the Sterling, a 109-unit condo at 209 E. 56th Street, where the renovation of the common areas is almost complete. “In this case,” he says, “we gave the residents a choice between two designs. We put those up on easels in the lobby with a ballot box. That was very important. It’s not so much the design that people will object to, it’s more the fear of the unknown. Residents have to know beforehand what it will look like.”

Board member Penny Dechowitz says that the board wanted to renovate the public spaces for years, but residents balked at paying for it. “But then we had to refinance,” Dechowitz says, “and we were able to put some of that money into operating costs and start renovation. I think when people have to pay for it, they feel more strongly that their wishes are honored. They think: I pay for it, so I should have a say. I believe the residents were more accepting because they didn’t have to write checks.”

According to Greenbaum, contention might also erupt during the actual renovation if the process is not well organized. He has a rule of thumb: “One should never start a renovation before all the materials are in your possession. Otherwise you might have a carpet, but the hallways are not yet painted and there will be delays. Also, private renovations have to be stopped because you cannot have too many contractors in the building.”

With proper communication, planning – and a nice small committee – it’s possible to get the contention out of renovation projects.

PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – Design: Sygrove Associates Design Group. Management: MGRE.

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