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Don't Forget to Consider Design When Upgrading Your Elevators

Ronda Kaysen in Building Operations on December 26, 2013

Chatham Green, 185 Park Row

Dec. 26, 2013

When Chatham Green  — an historic 1964 co-op at 185 Park Row, part of a complex with the two-building Chatham Towers at 170 and 180 Park Row in lower Manhattan — redesigned its six elevator cabs as part of a $1.4 million overhaul, however, the board decided against a design committee. "We were considering a committee, but in the past whenever we got an outside decorating committee, a lot of time it went nowhere," says Richard Scorce, secretary of the co-op complex.

The Chatham board members took an active role in the project, inspecting elevators at other buildings to get ideas. The biggest challenge was agreeing on a color scheme. In the  end, they selected light laminate walls and black floors with stainless steel studs. The project cost $35,000 per elevator cab.

How Do You Use?

According to experts, boards should consider how the elevator will be used when selecting materials. For example, if the building does not have a freight elevator, easily damaged materials are best avoided. "It's really nice to have wood panels, but the first refrigerator that gets moved in is going to scratch that wood up," says Mike Mottola, a project manager at Vertical Systems Analysis, an elevator consultant.

Also, if a building doesn't have a live-in super or staff to wipe children's fingerprints off mirrors, it should opt for sturdy and low-maintenance materials.

If the cab interior is a low priority and residents merely want a machine that runs well and looks presentable, set a budget and discuss it with the elevator consultant to find a solution that works. "There's only so much money," says Beth Markowitz, the principal at Merlot Management. "Do you really have $50,000 to spare for the elevator?"

Don't Ignore Design

The biggest risk to a cab redesign is forgetting to deal with it all. It is not uncommon for the board to become so consumed with the mechanical side of an upgrade that it forgets to pick out the tiles and walls. In the worst-case scenario, the elevator has been out of service for several weeks while the mechanical parts are being rebuilt and suddenly contractors are scrambling to order stone-veneer wall coverings, delaying a project that has already frustrated residents.

"You don't want that project held up because the cab isn't ready," warns Gerard J. Picaso, president of the property management company Gerard J. Picaso Inc. "If you get it in on time and everything opens up according to schedule, everyone will be happy."

The aesthetics of an elevator are not like a lobby — a sofa is a sofa, after all. The types of finish you choose for an elevator can affect how the machine operates. If a board hires an interior designer for the project, involve an elevator consultant to address the mechanical issues. Stone floors, for example, are heavy and could affect how the device is balanced. If a designer changes the panels for switches and buttons, it could mean changing the electrical wiring. Any alterations to the mechanical system mean the elevator will have to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

De Facto Designers

The elevator consultant often ends up playing the role of designer, as was the case for the Upper West Side co-op that replaced its only elevator in a $140,000 project. Mottola provided the board with material samples. When board members debated whether to install high-maintenance materials like mirrored walls, he reminded them that their building needn't worry: It has a live-in staff.

"We chose the most cost-effective wall coverings and floors. We just didn't go crazy with all that," says Melanie Keenan, a member of the board. "We wanted the money in our reserve fund for other things." Not a whole lot of time was spent looking at color schemes. "How did we choose the colors? The guys were like, ‘Let's get this over with,'" she recalls. In total, a single meeting was spent making a choice: light colors and a sleek, modern look.

In fact, the board was so quick in dealing with design matters that by the time the elevator reopened, Keenan didn't even remember what colors had been selected. So she was as delighted — and surprised — by the result as the other residents. "Everyone loves it," she says.


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