Arlene Shapiro seems to have a complicated relationship with real estate. Take, for example, the house she used to own in the Massachusetts Heights neighborhood of Northwest Washington. After redoing the kitchen and tackling a few other projects a couple of years ago, she says she looked around and thought, “We have to move, there’s nothing left to do.”
And move she did, though divorce and not the lack of new projects was really the reason. With her 14-year-old daughter, Shelby, Shapiro went looking at new condo projects in Washington’s developing West End. Why new? “I look at things from being a single woman,” she says. “I don’t want to deal with pipes, old electrical.”
Why a condo and not a house? “I’m from Puerto Rico, where we live in condos because that’s what’s in the best parts of town, on the beach,” she says. Also, “If something goes wrong, I want to call someone and they come up and fix it the same day.”
The three-bedroom, three-bath condo she bought for $2.1 million in 22 West Residence — at about $900 per square foot, one of the most expensive condo projects in D.C. — met Shapiro’s criteria: It had a bedroom and private bath for her daughter, more than 2,300 square feet of space, walls of floor-to-ceiling windows for good natural light and a roof deck with a pool. But it also had one other desirable thing: Even though it was brand new, Shapiro’s unit needed remodeling to meet her needs. Yes, a new project, which cost her an additional $65,000 but met her needs completely.
The condominium building occupies a vaguely triangular block bordered by 22nd Street, New Hampshire Avenue and M Street. M meets New Hampshire at a sharp angle, and the building follows this contour. When Shapiro first visited the condo that became hers — dubbed, small surprise, the Point — she looked at the pointy end of the large living room, looming over M Street traffic. “I liked that corner. I said, ‘That’s where the dining room is going to be.’”
That’s not where it was on the official floor plan. The dining area was at the end of more than 30 feet of living space running east to west along New Hampshire Avenue. Adjacent was an open kitchen, set into an angled wall of sleek white Poggenpohl cabinets and separated from the living area by a Kashmir-marble-topped island. The whole area, Shapiro thought, was too cavernous for her needs.
By contrast, the master bedroom, at the far end of that long space, was cramped and inadequate. With a door to her bathroom on one wall and those enormous windows opposite, the two remaining walls had to accommodate a bed facing a row of closets, with no place to install a television set for watching in bed. As originally configured, there was barely room for bedside tables or a chest of drawers.
Shapiro consulted with Florencia de las Gradillas and her BST Design group, and an idea evolved, complicated but logical. At the end of the open-plan living room was a succession of small spaces: a 16-foot-long dining area, a 12-foot-long third bedroom with its own full bath, and the master bedroom, 18 feet wide but only 12 feet long. The dining area, third bedroom and the bath were all reconfigured, their borrowed space added to the master bedroom.
Shapiro and de las Gradillas used the BST Design construction division to enclose the dining space, turning it into a small office/TV room that can still be used as a guest bedroom. The third bedroom was eliminated and its en suite bath turned into a much-smaller powder room entered from the hallway.
Shapiro and her designer then did something novel: They installed closets on the far wall of the now-larger master bedroom and then built a parallel but freestanding wall about four feet away and installed more closets to face the first ones, turning the area into its own little corridor/dressing room that leads right to the master bath. The head of the bed is up against the back of the newly constructed wall, but now there’s room for a TV to be mounted at the foot of the bed.
EastBanc President Anthony Lanier, the brains and drive behind 22West, points out that the building has 92 units with 73 different floor plans, but he’s not surprised to hear that Shapiro moved her walls around. Some other buyers have also reconfigured their condos, he says.
“I dislike walls,” he says. “I think all of them should be mobile,” so that tailoring a space for oneself is easier. Lanier’s company developed the Ritz-Carlton, across the street from 22 West, and he has projects slated for redeveloping the West End firehouse on M Street to incorporate the firefighters and housing, and a redo of the West End Public Library a couple of blocks away, again melding public purpose with private housing. “Over 15 years, we’ll have developed about 1 million square feet of space around the Ritz,” he says. “It’s a way to have an impact — buy everything around what we’ve already created.”
As for getting the 22 West architect, Shalom Baranes, to produce 22 West on its oddly shaped lot, Lanier acknowledges, “I like imperfections and challenges. They make for exciting spaces.” Such as the pointy end of the D line of apartment homes, the D line being, Lanier adds, where his adult son, Philippe, also lives.
“Effectively,” he says, EastBanc, which also developed Cady’s Alley of design and fashion shops in Georgetown, builds buildings “where things aren’t the same. . . . If we keep living in places that are rabbit’s warrens of small rooms, one day we’ll feel like rabbits.”
Shapiro’s daughter, who helped her shop for the condo, agrees with Lanier’s take on oddly shaped spaces. Shelby loved the extreme angles of the Point, her mother says, especially the weird little window that juts out from her parallelogram of a bedroom. (What can you do with that space? Shapiro is asked. “Nothing!” she says with a smile.)
Because 22 West came on the market as the recession hit, it has taken some five years to sell out most of the condos (about half a dozen remain available, from $1.35 million to $1.8 million). But Lanier says he remains faithful to his notion of luxury living. It’s not about granite or Miele and Sub-Zero appliances. He means tall, wide, substantial doors, nine-foot ceilings, wide hallways, soundproof windows and ventilation stacks capable of removing cooking odors. “We [design] things you can’t sell,” he says. “Luxury is being able to see city traffic and planes flying over the river but not hear them.”
Luxury, to Shapiro, is the large grill and service kitchen on the roof deck. And the cable, Internet, electricity and gas that are all included in her $2,360-a-month condo fee. And the Fed-Ex and UPS services in the building lobby. And what Mei-Mei Watts Venners, the director of sales for the building, calls “lock and leave living.”
And what Shapiro calls real service: “They’ll accept groceries — and even put things in the fridge for you.”