Life at the top
A flat on the top floor of a tall building, typically one that is luxuriously fitted.
An outhouse or shelter with a sloping roof
An outhouse or shelter with a sloping roof? Well yes, actually. The not so humble penthouse is, give or take, 100 years old. Use the word now and it evokes feelings of luxury, far reaching views and generous outside spaces. However in pre-1920’s New York, it was a place that domestic staff called home.
In the early 20th century, Manhattan was running out of space. Four storey mansions were being demolished and replaced with apartment living. As demand increased and supply struggled to keep pace, apartments became more expensive and homes smaller, meaning no room for domestic staff. Rather than going without, they were moved to the roof.
“Such penthouses are really a necessity in apartment houses of this kind” wrote The New York Sun in 1912. “Many families find they need extra servants’ rooms, and this is the only place where they can be provided unless they are put in the cellar, which is of course not desirable.”
The 1920’s roared, the Jazz Age rolled into New York and before you could blink, Duke Ellington was describing the city as “the capital of everything”. It wasn’t long before servants quarters were being relocated to make way for a new kind of resident.
Artist Georgia O’Keeffe and photographer Alfred Stieglitz took up residence on the top floor of the 34-story Shelton Hotel on 49th and Lexington, where they painted and photographed the jagged skyline below. Their peers soon followed.
By 1928, the Penthouse as we imagine it today was fully engrained in the public consciousness, with New York Sun reporter Will Irwin noting that the new penthouse class had cultivated a “detachment impossible to anyone else on earth, with only the tainted air above Manhattan to keep them company”
A century later, and penthouse apartments have become amongst the most desirable real estate on earth.
New York is still leading the charge, but London isn't far behind. Nick Candy has listed his One Hyde Park penthouse, spanning 18,000 square feet over two floors, for £175,000,000.
It’s easy to see the appeal of such apartments. Thinking back over the ones I’ve sold, buyers were obviously drawn to the physical aspects of these spaces. Large scale accommodation over fewer floors than a comparably sized house, outside space and luxurious finishes. However what’s less immediately apparent is the feeling of living in these apartments.
Views of the horizon are rare in large, densely populated cities. We have become accustomed to noise, be it from vehicles or people. Quiet and solitude is something people usually move to the countryside in search of.
Being detached from the streets below, looking at far-reaching views, enjoying a full sunset, these are things the majority of people don’t experience when living in London.
Of course, the rarer the experience, the more people are usually prepared to pay for it. It applies to almost everything, from driving a vintage Mercedes, to being one of the first commercial passengers in outer space. Real estate is no different. There’s that other feeling, exclusivity.
A lovely client has asked me to sell their penthouse, and it’s truly spectacular.
As part of that effort, the incredibly talented Edward Bishop created a film, featuring both the apartment, and me. I hope you enjoy my on screen debut.
Things I’ve been inspired by this week
The work of Tim Ferriss has been a huge inspiration to me over the past three years, and I’m an avid consumer of whatever he puts out in to the world. This week I listened to his podcast with George Mumford, who is a mindfulness and performance expert.
He coached Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson and other members of the record breaking Chicago Bulls team of the 1990’s, documented in Netflix’s incredible series, The Last Dance.
When I first saw him (Jordan) practice, he looked like a person trying to make the team. Now, I don’t mean like he has anxiety and he’s trying to impress people. I’m saying he was proving that he’s the best player on the court. You were getting his best. You were getting a high level. He wasn’t resting. He was acting like, “I need to get better”