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Renovating the Lobby: War or Peace?

Marianne Schaefer in Bricks & Bucks on April 10, 2019

Scarsdale, Westchester County

War or Peace?

Now and then: the lobby at 281 Garth Road in Scarsdale (image courtesy KMB Interior Design).

April 10, 2019

Lobby renovations are notorious for igniting wars over inconvenience, aesthetics, and cost in co-ops and condos. Many boards dread the prospect. But there was no way out for the board at the 198-unit co-op at 281 Garth Road in Scarsdale: the lobby needed a lift. 

The wallpaper was 20 years old, no replacements were available, and the furniture looked dated. The four-member board knew, from prior experience, that every single resident would have an opinion not only on how the new lobby should look but also on how the work should flow. The board also knew that a consensus could never be reached, so they did not consult the shareholders. Instead, they simply announced at the annual meeting that there was going to be a lobby renovation. Decisions about the design and workflow would made by the board, and the $150,000 job would be paid for with money from the reserve fund. End of discussion.

“Let the shareholders vote? Oh my God, we did that before,” says treasurer Jacqueline Campisi, a retired nursing home manager who moved into the co-op in 1998. “In 2008 the board had to replace the wallpaper on floors one to six. The tension was unbelievable, the voting was unbelievable, it was all unbelievable – and we could not come to a consensus. We had to cancel the whole project and wait a while before we tried again. Honestly, we didn’t even want to touch the lobby.” 

If you want peace, you have to prepare for war. This board did everything it could to avert war by minimizing inconvenience. The hallways that connect the co-op’s three buildings were painted one side at a time so residents always had enough space to pass through. The terrazzo hallway floors were cleaned and the Carrara marble floor in the lobby was polished at night, when foot traffic was scarce. Mercifully, the machines were quiet enough not to keep residents awake. Radiator covers were built, and the board bought new furniture and area rugs. New wallpaper was installed. All that remains is to hang the artwork

“I would say 85 percent of it went well, but it was difficult listening to people,” says Campisi. “We were organized and coordinated, but still people were yelling and screaming. Some people have an opinion about everything, saying that one kind of work should have been done before another.” 

The interior designer, Kate Ball, endorses the board’s approach. “The four board members would vote on everything, and they were very professional about it,” she says. “There are so many residents, and it’s not possible to make everybody happy. But we went with a really classy design. Instead of making 400 people happy, I just needed to make the majority of the four people on the board happy. So working with just the board was actually very nice.” 

To match the lobby’s marble floor, which is white with grey veins, Ball designed the lobby in a variety greys with many different textures. As expected, not all residents liked the contemporary furniture, and some felt that the lobby turned out too gray. Taking the long view, Campisi begs to disagree. “This has to last for at least 10 to 15 years,” she says, “so you cannot have bright colors like reds or pinks in your lobby.” 

And there has been positive change. “Before the renovation,” says Ball, “people would just pass through the lobby. Now they’re actually spending time there, and that makes realize we reached our goal of creating a more welcoming environment.” Prospective buyers have told the board that the lobby played a role in their decision to buy shares in this co-op rather than another in the neighborhood. What they say about curb appeal turns out to be true. 

“My advice to boards, truthfully: don’t pay attention to those who complain,” says Campisi. “Otherwise you’ll go out of your mind, with 198 co-op owners and it seems everyone wants something else. Just do the best you can.” 

PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – PROPERTY MANAGEMENT: Garthchester Realty. INTERIOR DESIGN: KMB Interior Design. WALLPAPERING: Guy Gargano. FLOORS: Marblelife of Connecticut.

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