The Penthouse Apartment Is Taken Down a Notch

NEW YORK TIMES

1000000096
Jan. 4, 2011

Adrian Lupu never longs for more light in his 10th-floor apartment in Long Island City, which is known as “PH1001.” He has sweeping city views, hears no traffic noise from below and, as the sun sets, he can stare out at No. 7 trains snaking toward Manhattan that look tiny enough to scoop into his hands. “There is nothing like that feeling,” Mr. Lupu said while gazing at a twinkling skyline. “You feel like you’re on top of the world and you can conquer anything and anyone.” As the designation of Mr. Lupu’s apartment suggests, he lives in a penthouse. But he certainly does not rule his building’s roost. There are eight penthouses in the building, and two floors of penthouse dwellers above him, including a politician and a hedge fund worker who enjoys body-building. The word “penthouse” evokes images of lone perches atop of Fifth Avenue towers with incomparable park views. But the word has been stretched to its limit and beyond in the New York real estate lexicon, with some apartments being called penthouses for dubious reasons. “It’s become such a generic term for anything on or near the top of the building with outdoor space,” said Barbara Fox, president of Fox Residential Group and one of four penthouse owners in her Upper East Side building. She considers a penthouse “an afterthought to the building,” or a space added to the original structure. In many prewar buildings, penthouses historically were low-ceilinged, former maid’s quarters, Ms. Fox said, adding that it seemed illogical to have multiple floors of penthouses. Ms. Fox’s understanding of the word penthouse is correct. But so is Mr. Lupu’s. Among the definitions of the word “penthouse” in Webster’s New World College Dictionary are “an apartment or other houselike structure built on the roof of a building” and “a luxury apartment on an upper floor,” especially “the top floor of a building.” The New York City building code defines a penthouse as “an enclosed structure on or above the roof of any part of a building, which is designed or used for human occupancy.” While it certainly sounds like the penthouse should be the highest space in the building, Mr. Lupu’s apartment, which is in the Vere condo, can arguably meet those definitions. It is set back from the rest of the building, effectively sitting on the roof of the ninth floor. The penthouses above him are sitting on his roof. Like the Vere, many newer buildings have staggered roofs and setbacks to create as many penthouses as possible in compliance with the building code. Some people are disappointed when their penthouses do not live up to their imaginations. Indeed, like Andrei Vavilov, a Russian financier, sued the developers redoing the Plaza Hotel, saying the penthouse he agreed to buy for $53.5 million looked like “glorified attic space.” He ultimately settled. Other penthouse-dwellers joke about their homes. Seth Bardelas, a 31-year-old sales executive at Microsoft, shares with a roommate a modest seventh-floor duplex with a deck in NoLIta for $3,800 a month. It is Penthouse D. “When people hear it, if it’s family or friends, they kind of smile and go ‘Oh,’ ” he said. “Other people raise their eyebrows.” His friend Nate Solum takes every opportunity to keep Mr. Bardelas in check about his master-of-the-universe address. “It’s definitely not a penthouse,” Mr. Solum said. “He’s really paying rent to get the title PH-D.” Caroline Stevens, a documentary filmmaker, said she had always pictured a penthouse as being more glamorous than the place where she now lives. But the room on top of her duplex in an Upper West Side town house technically makes her a penthouse owner as well. She compares reaching the penthouse with “climbing Mount Everest.” Her penthouse is filled not with expensive art but with her children’s pets — a dog, turtles, a parrot, a chameleon and fish in a saltwater tank. “You think of penthouses as being glamorous elevator buildings,” Ms. Stevens said. “We’re like Animal Planet.” When Fame Isn’t Enough Movie lovers seeking an address with some cinematic history have a few choices in this market. An apartment that appeared in Woody Allen’s “Manhattan,” at 265 Riverside Drive, is for sale for $1.299 million. The current owner, Steve Goldberg, said he did not even know that the movie had been filmed there until after he moved in. Cinematic history does not guarantee a fast sale. The Staten Island house that served as the Corleone family compound in “The Godfather” hit the market in November for $2.9 million and has received no serious offers, said Connie Profaci, a sales broker. The apartment on 21st Street appearing in “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” remains for sale for $15 million. Arthur Gallego, spokesman for the sales broker, declined to comment.