One in an occasional series
This is not about ostentatious displays of wealth. The developer, the architect, the marketing executives--they all insist on this point. This is not, declares architect Gary Handel, about having "more crystal chandeliers than anyone in your neighborhood." Or gilded faucets. It's not even about obscenely beautiful marble from the Malaysian rain forest or mahogany hardwood harvested in Bolivia or perfectly soundless dishwashers imported from Germany--though all those things do exist here, in this fantasy world rising at 22nd and M streets NW.
This is about assisted living for the rich. Handel cringes a bit at that description--it sounds just a little bit crass--but he finds it difficult to dispute. This is about living in a world where dinner parties can be catered to your penthouse apartment via a back service elevator, straight from the kitchen of a top restaurant. This is a world, explains developer Christopher Jeffries, where one quick call to the concierge can arrange "plane tickets to London on the Concorde and theater tickets for when you land." Valets park your guests' cars. And there is no staff to hire, fire or manage. That tiresome bit of work is handled by someone else.
It's like living in Eloise's version of the Plaza, where the magic words--"charge it please, and thank you very much"--can summon almost anything to your door. Eloise's world, adapted for grown-ups.
The project is the brainchild of Jeffries and his company, Millennium Partners, which is based in New York. On a plot of land at 22nd and M streets, Millennium is building a $260 million complex that includes a 300-room Ritz-Carlton hotel, an attached condominium building with 162 units, and a health club more than two acres in expanse that Handel refers to as "an urban spa."
The apartments vary in cost from $385,000 (for a sweet little 772-square-foot unit on the interior courtyard) to $5 million for the 6,100-square-foot triplex penthouse with a rooftop terrace. They are the most expensive apartments ever built in Washington, costing residents on average more than $600 a square foot.
"This," Jeffries says, "is housing with a lifestyle."
Ritz-Carlton hotel service is legendary. The concierge will literally loan you the tuxedo off his back for that last-minute black-tie invitation. Such a level of attention will be at the disposal of those who purchase one of the residences.
The owners do not actually live in the hotel. They live in apartments that include big, airy, well-applianced kitchens, should a day come when someone actually wants to cook, rather than order in. The closets are walk-in. The floor plans are adaptable, to fit each owner's specific needs. These are not expanded hotel suites, these are homes, and by Jeffries' estimation at least half will be their owners' second--or even third--homes.
"The concept really revolves around providing very gracious apartments that are very well finished and are supplemented with services from a five-star hotel," Handel explains. "It's really about creating amenities to support a lifestyle. For certain busy, working people, these things just make their lives better and easier."
In other words, it's assisted living. For the rich.
Christopher Jeffries has a vision. A grand vision. A very, very, very expensive vision. We're talking about more than $2 billion here--the amount Millennium Partners is investing in the hotel-apartment complexes it has planned for New York, Boston, Miami, San Francisco and here in Washington, where Jeffries has just finished a mini-tour of the construction taking place at 22nd and M streets.
There is no market research to support this vision. Jeffries didn't bother with that. This comes from a feeling he gets, a feeling backed up by what he sees and reads and hears in the real estate community. Jeffries is convinced that he knows how the rich and the richer want to spend their money at the turn of the century. Specifically, how they want to live.
He sees the two-income power couple, the aging boomer, the thirty- to fifty-somethings with significant incomes, and he sees them fleeing their palatial homes in the suburbs, casting aside their two-car garages, and moving back into the city. He sees an urban revival--cities as the hip place to live. And not just for young singles.
Is he crazy? Perhaps not.
For the record, studies show that Washington has lost population in the 1990s, but has gained in average income per household. According to estimates provided by Ken Hodges, director of demography at Claritas Inc., an Arlington-based marketing information company, the number of D.C. households with an income in excess of $150,000 has more than doubled from 1990 to 1998--from 7,805 households at the time of the 1990 census to 18,936 according to 1999 Claritas estimates. The percentage of total District households earning $75,000 or more has jumped from 14.1 percent in 1990 to an estimated 27.4 percent in 1999. Total D.C. households in all income categories $45,000 and below have dropped during that time.
Dao Nguyen at the Brookings Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy is researching who lives downtown in major metropolitan American areas and plans to release a new study in the fall. She says that most cities anticipate an increase in "fairly well-to-do population" at the turn of the century, particularly given that it has been projected that 72 percent of American households will not have children at home by 2010.
"Middle- and lower-income folks are moving out, and upper-income are moving in," she says, "so this guy is not out of his mind."
But Jeffries didn't need a research expert to tell him that. He simply trusted his instincts.
"This is all about responding to who you think the people are who have money and what do you think they want to do with it, relative to their housing choices," Jeffries says. "We think they're people who are probably over 35, with an average age probably in the forties. They are two-income couples, or if they're not two wage earners, the spouse has a busy, active life and city living is very convenient. They probably have two homes."
And this is what Jeffries thinks these people want: big closets, eat-in kitchens and easy parking--hallmarks of suburban living--transported to an urban environment. That, and to be pampered and cossetted, their every need catered to, so that they can focus their attention on their lives, their careers, their interests.
"They're people," Jeffries says, "who have a high demand for services. And they're people who can afford what they want."
They are people like the Andersons.
The house was perfect. Stanton and Carol Anderson bought the eight-bedroom brick home on R Street NW near 22nd in 1985, when their children were still young. They wanted to leave their home in Potomac because, among other things, Carol was sick of the driving that comes with schlepping five kids in the suburbs. And the space they found was wonderful for their large family. The kids even had a separate entrance, around the right side of the house. There is a two-car garage--a blessing in this neighborhood, just off Dupont Circle. And safety is never an issue, what with all the embassies lining the block. Cyprus is across the street. Ghana, Kenya, Egypt all call themselves neighbors. Guatemala is next door. Always, there is security somewhere nearby.
"It was wonderful," Carol Anderson says. "But now it's just too much to take care of."
Anderson is in the sitting room of the house, just off the entryway, where there is a grand piano, a Chinese screen, pictures of the couple with George Bush, Ronald Reagan, Dan Quayle--mementos of the days when Stanton Anderson served as counsel to the 1980 Reagan-Bush campaign, and then in senior positions at the Republican National Conventions in 1980, 1984 and 1988. There is, too, a beautiful collection of artwork, including a John Singer Sargent. Out front, the Andersons have a curved driveway, a more than simple luxury for a home located on R Street NW. Carol Anderson argued with city officials for 18 months before she was allowed to have it built. Ditto for the swimming pool out back.
But Anderson is packing now, in early summer. The house was just sold for $1.6 million--$400,000 more than she and her husband paid for it 14 years ago. She is sending the grand piano to her son's place in California. Some items are going into storage. Some to the family home in Palm Beach, Fla.
"We're about to be homeless for a while," she says, shrugging. Homeless in Washington, that is. But only until September 2000. That's when the Ritz-Carlton opens and the Andersons--now empty-nesters--move into their specially designed apartment overlooking the garden.
Save for the fact that they already live in the city, the Andersons are exactly the type of buyer Jeffries expects to entice to his project.
Carol Anderson, a venture capitalist with Delaware-based TFG International, is nothing if not organized, and focused. She gave herself a five-day window to find a place in the District. She planned to rent, not buy. She had issues about location, about space, about services. She found nothing that came even remotely close to suiting her needs. Her dream apartment--a place at Washington Harbour--was not available. All that was open there was a small one-bedroom without, she said, much of a view.
"It was impossible," she says. "There is nothing in D.C. I had started thinking about moving into a hotel."
During her search, she repeatedly drove past the huge billboard at 22nd and M. She started thinking. She started asking questions. And she ended up doing exactly what she said she would not do--she bought another Washington home, rather than finding one to rent. She's thrilled.
"It's perfect," she says. "I think I'm an expert on hotels and what services they should have, with all I travel. This has those services."
Carol, 52, estimates she travels for business about 70 percent of the year. Her husband, 58, a partner in the Washington office of the Chicago-based law firm McDermott, Will & Emery, is the same way. She spends perhaps 10 percent of the year in Washington now, Stanton 15-20 percent. They are more likely to get together at the Palm Beach place when they have free time. But they need a place here--a way station of sorts, but one that feels like home.
Carol also wanted to be sure her husband is taken care of when she's not in town, and she doesn't want to hire--and manage--a staff to make that happen. Enter the services provided by the Ritz-Carlton: room service, laundry, dry cleaning, package delivery, etc.
"If my husband is there and I'm not there, it'll be perfect," she says. "He'll be fed, he'll be dressed. These are the things that I worry about."
The Andersons purchased two apartments, actually--two one-bedrooms--that they are combining. This is one of the advantages of buying from Millennium Partners. You can redraw the floor plans, move walls, erase kitchens, whatever you like. Have It Your Way. For the Andersons, that means one apartment redesigned as nothing but a master bedroom unit, complete with his-and-hers bathrooms, and the other apartment used for kitchen, living room and dining room space. Each apartment is 1,100 square feet. At $500 a square foot--which is on the low end for the building (because the apartments are on the smaller side, and overlook the garden, rather than the city)--that comes to a whopping $1.1 million.
Oh, and they bought a third, smaller, apartment on a separate floor as well. "In case," Carol Anderson says, "two is not enough." It's insurance, for when the kids come to visit here instead of Palm Beach, or there are special overnight guests.
"For Washington," she says, "[the cost is] pretty high, as my husband said. But this is a lifestyle change." In her current home, "when things go wrong, it's a headache. And right now, I'm much more interested in furthering my career than looking after my house."
Millennium Partners decided early in their planning process that they needed an entree into Washington's social circles. They also needed to be advised on what was appropriately tasteful for Washington decor, and what was just considered too gauche. So the company went to Aniko Gaal Schott, a well-known Washington social figure. And Schott went to the Ladies Who Lunch.
"It became pretty clear," Schott explains, "that if we wanted to see what it was that the hotel and residences would benefit from, here in Washington, it would be some comments from discerning tastemakers, let's say, who all happen to be friends."
And so Schott organized a lunch, in mid-May, at the Greek Embassy. Actually, a lunch already had been planned for the date, one hosted by Helen Philon, the ambassador's wife. It was a private, intimate luncheon. The original intent was to discuss art, a particular passion of Philon. Eight local women were invited. Salmon tartare and truffled risotto were served.
At Schott's behest, though, the ladies were joined by Lisa Jeffries, Christopher Jeffries' wife, and three men from Millennium: Rod Johnson, a vice president; Mario Palumbo, a project director; and Matthew Hall, the company spokesman. They were there to meet, to greet, and, most important, to learn.
So the Ladies Who Lunch--and both Schott and Philon's secretary steadfastly refused to release the guest list, citing privacy concerns--put aside their planned topic of conversation and examined floor layouts and fabric samples and design plans and then proffered their suggestions. According to Schott, they wanted smaller, more intimate spaces in the lobby. Smaller niches in the hotel dining room. Perhaps even a private restaurant for the residents alone.
The decor in the entrance hall? Deemed a little too flashy for Washington. Too much gold, too many floral designs in the carpet. The women asked for cleaner lines, more subtle colors. Antiques mixed with the best crystal and the best china. An updated Ritz-Carlton design--starker and stronger than the old look, a little less flowery and a little more elegant. They analyzed every little detail--the type of wood, of glass, of crystal. Overall, the little "focus group," as Schott calls it, was impressed with the project.
"We were all saying how special Washington was, and how nice it was that a quality hotel is coming in that offers the nth degree of service with the nth degree of interiors to make it very unique and very luxurious without being pompous," Schott says. "New York is so much more fast and flashy and daring, and Washington is really more studied and more low-key--but also more demanding.
"If they were going to make a statement," she adds, "I think they needed to know that Washingtonians have a higher expectation."
"I would have died to have been there--at the lunch," Handel says, laughing. He is on the phone from his firm, Gary Edward Handel + Associates Architects, who designed the Washington project with the assistance of the Washington-based firm of Shalom Baranes Associates.
"I've heard all about it," Handel continues. "We were nervous a little bit about learning what you should do in a local market. People had been advocating that perhaps our approach was too contemporary or too modern, and the response from the ladies who lunch was really perfect for us."
From the beginning, there were several large, structural things associated with the project that are specific to Washington. There is the inner, landscaped courtyard with its gardens and waterfall, designed to counterbalance the fact that Washington's zoning restrictions force the building itself to be wider, and shorter, than Millennium normally would have planned. There are the generous terraces--70 percent of the apartments have them--which far outnumber those at any other site. There is the five-level parking garage, because Jeffries is well aware that, unlike New Yorkers, Washingtonians are wed to their cars.
Handel, though, was looking to the ladies for a response to the details, which had been planned quite meticulously. The marble for the bathrooms, for example, comes from Malaysia, from a small town named Lahad Datu on the island of Borneo. It fell to Charles Norman to find it, and he went to Southeast Asia for three weeks to search. Usually, his company uses Italian marble. Or Spanish. But he heard that the stone in Asia was excellent, saw an Indonesian sample provided by another client. More research ensued. Vietnam, it seems, has excellent granite. But Norman wasn't looking for granite, not for the bathrooms. He wanted something different, a stone that his clients "would notice and be proud of, even many years from now."
So Norman went to Indonesia, and Malaysia, and visited six different islands, exploring quarries carved into the sides of mountains. On one trip, he rode 90 minutes into a rain forest in a Toyota Landcruiser, driving across rivers without bridges, the water seeping madly into the upholstery. Packing, well, that wasn't easy. Needed suits for the meetings, shorts for the heat, serious adventure gear for these quarry trips.
"You're always scrambling on your hands and knees at quarries," Norman reports.
Norman didn't mind the trip, kind of liked it actually. Soon, though, he has to go to Bolivia. To get the mahogany for the hardwood floors. It's not easy to find enough matching hardwood for an apartment complex this size, he says.
The designers are proudest of the kitchens. Everything the best, they insist. "No more GE, no more KitchenAid," Norman says, "we're going directly to the top." The major appliances are commercial-grade by Viking. The refrigerator is a Sub-Zero, of course.
Then there is the dishwasher. It's a Miele. Made in Germany. The manufacturers swear you can get down on your knees and put your ear right up against the door, listen intently, and you won't be able to tell if it's on or it's off. The kitchen cabinets came from Germany, too. Poggenpohl. There was a lot of shopping done in Germany, actually. That's where the plumbing comes from--the faucets, the bathtub spouts. This, apparently, is important. "It's that German mentality," Norman says. "It feels solid and sure. When you turn it on, it's a positive feeling."
Everything about living at the residences must be perfect--down to the last faucet handle. Perfect, and perfectly convenient.
This is why Jeffries stumbles, briefly, when he is asked about the location of the nearest grocery store. He has been caught out.
"We're not aware of one," he says, then recovers quickly. "We're working on it. We have some ideas. We think we'll be able to deal with that problem."
There is, after all, 40,000 square feet of retail space in the complex still waiting to be filled. And not by just anyone. Millennium will accept only the right kind of business, with the right kind of image. A branch of Dean & DeLuca, for example, might make for a nice addition. And groceries can always be delivered. Money can fix many problems.
But what about the fire station, the one across the street from the property? How much money does it take to stop the sirens from blaring at 3 a.m., when you're up in your $5 million triplex penthouse apartment, snuggled under your Calvin Klein comforter, your head resting on one of those special $2,300 pillows sold by the Company Store?
"The windows," Norman responds, quickly. "They're made of this very thick glass."
ABOUT THIS SERIES
The Dow is up, unemployment's down. Millionaires sprout like dandelions and the rest of us wonder why we're not wealthy, too. Excess is everywhere: One Manhattan bar charges more than $300 for a snifter of rare single-malt Scotch. The neighbors are spending the bonus on a first mansion. Over the next few months, Style will take occasional looks at this new Gilded Age we live in and how it is changing culture, society and the size of our sport utility vehicles.