Green Scene: Outdoor Spaces Offer Sanctuary in the City

By Bernadette Starzee

“Outdoor space” and “greenery” have become buzzwords in the Manhattan real estate market. And with more metropolitan buyers seeking opportunities to breathe fresh air and interact with nature while they’re at home—a trend accelerated by the pandemic era—developers are answering the call. They’re finding inventive ways to incorporate both private and communal outdoor space into high-end developments.

Plantings line walking paths at Jardim.

Before 2020, when Eileen Foy was searching for New York City properties for her clients, the topic of outdoor space rarely came up. “Now buyers say, ‘I would really like to have a roof deck or a garden or a terrace so I can sit outside,’” says Foy, a licensed associate real estate broker for Douglas Elliman in New York City.

With people confined to their homes for months on end last year, “they appreciated more than ever the importance of being able to go outside and have greenery in their lives,” according to Catherine Juracich, a licensed real estate salesperson with Douglas Elliman in New York City.

That’s not to say buyers didn’t crave outside space before the pandemic. “There were always the terrace lovers,” says Marcos G. Cohen, a New York City–based licensed associate real estate broker for Douglas Elliman. “But now most buyers are terrace lovers.”

Increased demand means that anything in Manhattan with outdoor space—particularly private outdoor space— is trading at a premium, Juracich says.

One Prospect Park West has a roof deck with 360-degree views and an edible garden.

For the past several years, urban real estate developers have focused more and more on the creative use of outdoor space in new luxury buildings. The so-called biophilic design concept, which involves connecting the built environment to the natural environment, has been gaining ground amid reports that it benefits residents’ physical and mental health as well as the planet. “The biophilic design trend was growing before the pandemic, but now it has really taken off,” Cohen confirms. Many New York City residential buildings have beautifully landscaped roof decks, according to Patricia Isen, a licensed real estate salesperson for Douglas Elliman in New York. The roof deck may be a common area for all residents or it may be exclusive to the penthouse—or perhaps some combination. Real estate brokers have also noticed an uptick in entry-level gardens and green spaces on amenity floors other than the roof.

In newer luxury condo buildings where the roof deck is reserved for penthouse residents, common outdoor space on an amenity floor, such as a terrace off a lounge area and library, is particularly common, Foy says.

While residents appreciate outdoor common space, private outdoor space is particularly in demand—whether it be a penthouse with a roof deck, a townhouse with a backyard, a ground-floor unit with a private patio, or a unit with a terrace.

Isen is currently marketing two “exquisite” listings with outdoor space that are receiving a lot of attention, she says. One is a penthouse with 18-foot ceilings at 137 East 66th Street, a prewar building, that has 2,000 square feet of outdoor space on the rooftop. The other, a condo at 41 Central Park West, has a 40-foot terrace overlooking the park. “The view is spectacular,” she says.

A private terrace at 41 Central Park West provides an enviable prospect of Central Park.

A private outdoor space does not need to be large to be exquisite, Cohen notes. “First and foremost, New Yorkers like a beautiful garden, [and] you can do a lot with even a 10-by-12-foot space with imagination and tools.”

Depending on the size, as well as architects’ and owners’ preferences, landscaping elements may feature shade arbors, container gardens, and pergolas.

“Gardens are becoming a lifestyle element and an amenity that people value,” Juracich observes. “Greenery allows people to feel like they’re outside the city when they’re in their outdoor space. They’re incorporating nice landscaping, maybe with potted plants of different sizes to create a moment.”

Outdoor space can also provide an extension to overall living space. “People like the flexibility to entertain outside,” Juracich says. “During the pandemic, their ability to host was dictated by whether they had outdoor space. Many people are incorporating an entertaining aspect into their outdoor space and envisioning how they may interact there with their family and friends. They’re putting bars outside and high tables with stools, which don’t take up a lot of space. They’re also adding more lighting elements and incorporating speakers.”

Some are even choosing to set up workstations in covered outdoor spaces. “With so many people working from home now, they can work outside about six months of the year,” Cohen says.

A penthouse terrace at 137 East 66th Street offers a green sanctuary in the city.

Among the luxury buildings that provide ample opportunity for residents to enjoy nature is JARDIM, a condo development at 527 West 27th Street in West Chelsea. The Portuguese word for garden, Jardim was designed by Brazilian architect Isay Weinfeld using biophilic principles and features 36 units in two buildings overlooking the elevated parkland of the High Line. Lush, tranquil, multilevel courtyard gardens are situated between the two buildings and the units, which include one-to-four-bedroom options and penthouses. All are constructed as an extension of the outdoors, with floor-to-ceiling windows and spacious terraces.

Another standout is GRAMERCY SQUARE at 215 East 19th Street in the Gramercy Park neighborhood. It features four buildings connected by 20,000 square feet of private, idyllic outdoor space, including a parklike courtyard and communal rooftop terrace with outdoor kitchen. Seating and lounge areas encourage residents to gather among the landscaped gardens, which feature a variety of annuals, perennials, and trees. “It’s a great space for residents to enjoy the outdoors with family or friends,” Isen says.

The penthouse at Gramercy Square’s Boutique building is a 3,777-square-foot duplex with “an incredible roof deck with a gazebo” and 2,562 square feet of panoramic outdoor space, Foy adds.

The art deco–inspired FITZROY at 514 West 24th Street in West Chelsea is a tapered 10-story building completed in 2019 with 14 residences and amenities that include a landscaped rooftop lounge with a summer kitchen. Juracich is marketing an eighth-floor apartment with more than 500 square feet of outdoor space on two separate terraces. “Everyone loves the large balconies,” she says.

ONE PROSPECT PARK WEST in Park Slope, Brooklyn, “has a beautiful roof deck with 360-degree views, including the Manhattan skyline, and the property is adjacent to Prospect Park,” providing residents with easy access to the park, Isen says. The rooftop features hidden alcoves and secret gardens for privacy, as well as edible gardens with herbs and fruit.

With the pandemic accelerating the biophilic design trend, it’s likely “future developments will have an even greater emphasis on incorporating nature and greenery, not only in New York but across the U.S. and the world,” Cohen predicts.

View the Spring/Summer Issue of Elliman Magazine.

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