the City, Laps of Luxury; A Pool in the Apartment Is the Latest
- The New York Times, By DAVID W. CHEN,
Published: April 17, 2004
a wealthy entrepreneur, grew up with a swimming pool in the
suburbs of Tel Aviv. So when he bought a multimillion-dollar
home in the United States several years ago, he built a heated
outdoor pool, studded with ocean-blue tiles hand-painted in
Spain and ringed by a teak deck.
The view is remarkable,
too, as the pool sits on the 12th-floor roof of Mr. Leitersdorf's
penthouse triplex near New York University. In one of the
ultimate indulgences of urban living, a small but growing
number of New Yorkers are installing swimming pools in their
own apartments. These are not inflatable or above-ground pools,
which are more native to the backyards of Staten Island or
Queens, or smaller resistance pools, which are large aquatic
exercise machines with adjustable countercurrents. Rather,
these are pools measuring, say, 12 feet wide by 25 feet long
by 7 feet deep, tucked into the basements and penthouses of
New York's costliest townhouses and high-rises.
This is no easy feat. An
apartment must be boxy enough to accommodate the pool, as
well as the temperature and filtration equipment. A building
must be strong enough to support a pool that may hold 50 tons
of water. And an owner must plunk down hundreds of thousands
of dollars in construction, plus thousands of dollars a year
For those who can afford
it, though, the intimacy and sheer incongruity of having a
personal pool in the heart of the city, for use at any hour,
in any season, often trumps the logistical challenges. For
everyone else -- well, it never hurts to fantasize while staring
at the walls of a studio apartment, or waiting for a swimming
lane at the local Y.
''I think people think it's
pretty crazy because space in New York is something very holy,''
said Marcus Nispel, who is having a ground-floor pool built
in his five-story townhouse on Lafayette Street in SoHo. He
is a director of music videos and commercials and also directed
last year's remake of ''The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.''
''I love water,'' said Mr.
Nispel, who grew up in Frankfurt (dreaming of water) and currently
lives in Malibu (surrounded by water), ''and I love the idea
of how it contrasts with the city.''
While the city's Department
of Buildings issues permits for these pools, it does not keep
track of the total. But according to brokers, appraisers,
pool builders and maintenance companies, there are at least
two dozen and perhaps as many as 100 private indoor pools,
mostly in Manhattan, many of which have been built in the
last decade. Perhaps another dozen are being built or planned,
said David Plotkin, president of Steel Style Pools in Newburgh,
N.Y., which designs and builds high-end pools.
An owner can spend about
$150,000 for a stainless steel pool, and another $150,000
on structural work. It may cost another $50,000 to $100,000
for humidification and air-conditioning, and $25,000 per year
to heat the pool. Maintenance costs can run a few thousand
dollars annually -- contributing to a start-up total of perhaps
$500,000, said Warren Pearl, a general contractor in Manhattan
with experience in installing such pools.
Mr. Nispel's pool may well
be viewed as a human aquarium when it is completed within
the next year. That is because the 5-foot-high by 7-foot-wide
window on the side of the 40-foot-long pool will allow Mr.
Nispel to shoot underwater scenes, said Peter Guzy, whose
firm, Asfour Guzy Architects in Manhattan, is rehabilitating
But Mr. Nispel, 40, expects
that his two children will enjoy the pool, too. Like many
pool owners in New York, Mr. Nispel plans to rely on bromine
tablets, not chlorine, to minimize the smell.
''If you live in New York,
you live a life in theory -- you work all day long, and you
say you could go to the Hamptons, but you never do it, because
you're always working,'' he said. ''So you bring the ocean
Most townhouse pools are
in the basement. Perhaps the best-known, on East 67th Street,
belongs to Bob Guccione, the former publisher of Penthouse.
One of the oldest underground
pools belongs to Emil and Eva Talel, who live in a Civil War-era
brownstone on West 75th Street, not far from Central Park.
He is an international businessman; she is a litigation partner
at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, a Wall Street law firm.
About 15 years ago, when
their two children were still young, the Talels determined
that their hectic schedules would make it impractical for
them to maintain a weekend home. So they decided, Ms. Talel
said, ''to make our city home all-purpose,'' complete with
a pool, sauna and billiards room, all in the cellar.
Enclosed by glass, the 30-foot-long
pool is reminiscent of a cozy upscale health club or family-friendly
hotel. There is a skylight opening up to Mr. Talel's office.
Embedded in the sky-blue tiles lining the pool are the words,
''No Diving.''''This was a great clubhouse for my children,''
Ms. Talel said, while her son, Alex, 19, swam laps. ''When
you come down here, you don't feel like you're in the city.''
At least two private pools
come with the rent. One is enclosed in a greenhouse in what
used to be the backyard of a townhouse at 3 East 94th Street,
said one businessman who lived there in the 1990's and spoke
on the condition that he not be identified. The rent was $33,000
-- a month.
The other rental is a penthouse
duplex at Le Triomphe, at 245 East 58th Street, near Second
Avenue. Even though the building has its own health club and
pool on the third floor, open to all residents, there is one
unit, on the 30th floor, with its own pool, 16 feet wide by
25 feet long, with wraparound views. The monthly rent is $11,000.
The current tenant, a French financier, has been there for
about six months.
''Everyone freaks out over
it -- they say, 'What? A pool in the apartment?''' said Zoran
Grbich, property manager of Hampton Management, which is affiliated
with the Olnick Organization, the building's owner. ''My friends
say, 'Come on -- just one night, can I have one party?'''
(Sorry, no can do.)
The pool at Le Triomphe
is one of several high in the air. Paul Milstein, the developer,
has one at his penthouse near Third Avenue and the East 60's,
said his son, Edward L. Milstein. So does David Copperfield,
whose pool on East 57th Street is one of at least three on
the same block, brokers say. So did Adnan Khashoggi, the Saudi
Arabian arms merchant who once lived atop the Olympic Tower
on Fifth Avenue, near East 51st Street.
Aside from occasional complaints
from neighbors, private pools have not been the source of
any major lawsuits involving leaks or infrastructural problems,
said Stuart M. Saft, a real estate lawyer who is chairman
of the Council of New York Cooperatives and Condominiums.
And while a pool does not directly affect a building's tax
rate or property value, according to the city's Department
of Finance, potential buyers sometimes ask whether there is
any structural or water damage, or whether a pool reflects
a previous owner's tastes just a little too much, said Jonathan
Miller, president of Miller Samuel, a real estate appraisal
It should be interesting,
then, to see what becomes of Mr. Leitersdorf's outdoor rooftop
pool near New York University, which was featured in an episode
of ''Sex and the City.''
Mr. Leitersdorf spent $500,000
on the pool, which is 25 feet long, 12 feet wide and 6 feet
deep. With its underwater lights and metallic railings high
above the currents of Broadway in Lower Manhattan, jumping
into the bubbling 90- to 100-degree pool, ''is like going
to a Kiss concert in the winter,'' Mr. Leitersdorf wrote in
an e-mail message. ''You have underwater lights and steam
comes out at night.''
The apartment is often rented
out for private parties and commercial shoots under the name
Sky Studios, for about $10,000 a day. Hillary Clinton had
a fund-raiser there. Jerry Seinfeld got married there. The
pool has also been the setting of a party or two in which
people stripped naked and jumped in, Mr. Leitersdorf wrote.
''It was always fun and it always broke the ice,'' he added.
But now, it is for sale,
and can be yours for just a hair under $20 million, said Mr.
Leitersdorf's broker, Michael Shvo, an executive vice president
of Douglas Elliman.
Mr. Leitersdorf, 40, said
he would miss the apartment. But he is building a home in
Switzerland that won't lack for water. It is a chalet in the
Alps, with a pool carved into the mountain.
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