Condos, Co-ops, and Cash: Breaking Into the Lucrative Luxury Real Estate Arena

Some firms, like Robert A.M. Stern Architects (RAMSA), are as well known for their interior architecture as their structures. “We are not unique, but we are in a minority of architects that really have taken the effort to understand all of the details of how people live,” says RAMSA partner Dan Lobitz. “Our interior design team is very skilled and we like to do a whole project, inside and out, and have one consistent voice, when we have the opportunity to do so.”

RAMSA’s design for Chicago’s One Bennett Park, with numerous common areas and views of a park and Lake Michigan, is one example. But there are also times when developers seek interior designers with a different vibe. For the Upper East Side’s 150 East 78th Street, for example, Midwood Development wanted to create a building with two star designers. So RAMSA worked with Robert Couturier, who had done the Four Seasons in Lower Manhattan. “We did the exteriors and his team fine-tuned the apartment layouts and also devised all the finishes, the furnishings, and everything for the amenity spaces,” says Lobitz. “Robert [Couturier] had not done a multi-family building like that, but he and his team were kindred spirits and have the same kind of worldview that we do and the same idea of what might be appropriate in a prime Upper East Side neighborhood.”

Elisa Orlanski Ours, chief planning and design officer at Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group, spends her days matchmaking interior designers with architects for every project her firm takes on. For Tishman Speyer’s 11 Hoyt in Brooklyn, she tapped Michaelis Boyd to do the 55,000 square feet of amenities and the 481 residences inside Studio Gang’s 57-story tower. Erik Rose, managing director of residential development at Tishman Speyer, loved the combo. “The form of 11 Hoyt is striking and strong, and we wanted to complement that with amenities and residential interiors that felt welcoming and comfortable—and Michaelis Boyd was a natural fit,” says Rose. “Their respect for authentic materials and their warm approach lend themselves to an interior palette that feels current, dynamic, and distinctly connected to Brooklyn.”

A lounge space inside 11 Hoyt.

Courtesy of Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group

Orlanski Ours has met many designers during her career, so she has plenty of advice for those looking to land real estate work. “Just because you haven’t done a condo doesn’t mean you can’t. Maybe you’ve done a hotel, or a restaurant, or a mega-residence with a gym and pool—that can scale up to a multi-unit building,” she says. She loves to tap up-and-coming designers, sometimes recommending them just to do a lobby and amenities. She’ll ask decorators she likes to put together a portfolio. “If you don’t have a huge range of work, that’s okay; you can put together a portfolio of all of your kitchens, or all of your bathrooms,” she suggests.

Understanding how your vision can scale is critical, Ours says, so designers pitching to developers or architects (whom, she says, are absolutely fine to cold-call) might consider doing a handful of drawings “to show that can you take the motifs of a beautiful galley kitchen and expand it for a three bedroom and the penthouse. It’s really learning how to take a design and break it up into component units and some discrete ‘moments.’”

Most importantly, Ours says, interior designers have to be easy to work with and play well with others. “This is not a shotgun marriage,” she says. “This is matchmaking for a long-term relationship.”

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