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The Social Room Goes Ka-Boom

Paula Chin in Building Operations on May 20, 2016

Upper West Side

Social Room Boom
May 20, 2016

When Michael Ritchken threw himself a 50th birthday bash two years ago, he decided to stick close to home. The board president at the 18-story Trump Place condo at 120 Riverside Boulevard on the Upper West Side rented the building’s rooftop Oasis Lounge. It had just undergone a makeover, morphing from frumpy to fabulous.

“It’s elegant and it’s comfortable,” Ritchken says. “I had 45 guests and everybody could spread around, mingle, and enjoy the spectacular view of the Hudson River. It almost feels like you’re on a luxury cruise.”

The 276-unit Trump building is just one in a new wave of properties joining the “Social Room” boom. These au courant gathering spots are typically outfitted with large screen TVs, wireless access, upgraded kitchens, and comfy, intimate seating for lounging, reading, or smaller get-togethers – think of them as the contemporary version of their no-frills cousin, the community room. New condos have social rooms, and many large co-op complexes do too. And now boards in older buildings are stepping up their game, dipping into their operating funds, and installing or refurbishing them.

What’s behind the trend? “New construction offers a lot of amenities, whether it’s doggie day care or golf simulators, so social rooms are one way for existing buildings to stay competitive when it comes to buyers,” says Marilyn Sygrove, president of Sygrove Associates Design Group, which handled the Trump project. “It also ups the market value for every tenant – a minimum of 10 percent, real estate brokers tell me. In essence, it adds square footage to every unit. And there’s the ‘wow’ factor. A well-done social room is a sales tool that enhances a building’s image.”

The 120 Riverside condo was built in 2004, but the original lounge was already showing its age. “The furniture was worn, the carpeting was frayed, and the wallpaper was scuffed,” says Ritchken. “Both the board and the residents felt a refresh was overdue.” The board created a subcommittee comprised of Ritchken, the vice president, and managing agent Michael Basile of Akam Associates, who recruited Sygrove. “Our firm specializes in lobby, hallway, and common area installations at cooperatives and condominiums, and we had worked with [Basile] before at other properties,” Sygrove says.

Since the building has a room for billiards and one for children, the board wanted a quiet, adults-only space that could also be used for private events and parties. “Sygrove came up with recommendations, and we presented them to owners by putting up a ‘mood board’ with the suggested fabrics, carpeting, and wood samples in the lobby,” says Ritchken. “Then we had a coffee-and-bagels meeting where everyone could tell us what they thought. We took their feedback, refined the selections, and presented the plan to the full board. Once we got their blessing, we gave it to Sygrove to execute. It was a swift, smooth process.”

Thanks to the $100,000 redesign, which was paid with operating funds derived from common charges (as well as insurance proceeds for damage to the roof caused by a hurricane), the social room has become the crown jewel of 120 Riverside. “When people walk in for the first time they’re amazed,” says Ritchken. “Everybody loves it, and it gets very well used.”

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