Annabelle Selldorf, who was born in Germany but now lives in New York City, founded architectural design practice Selldorf Architects in Manhattan in 1988. The firm designs public and private spaces and has worked with the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, the Clark Art Institute in the Berkshires in Massachusetts and Neue Galerie New York among many others. Selldorf Architects recently renovated Steinway Hall in Manhattan, the flagship showroom for Steinway & Son.
The company was also recently selected to design an expansion and enhancement of the Frick Collection in New York and a new contemporary art center in Arles, France.
On the residential level, the 70-person firm has been involved in the ground-up construction of large condo buildings, custom-built private homes and has spearheaded apartment and townhouse renovations. Two of Ms. Selldorf’s most recent projects are 10 Bond and 42 Crosby Street in Manhattan, both ground-up condo constructions.
In 2016 Ms. Selldorf, 57, received the AIA New York Medal of Honor and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Mansion Global caught up with her to discuss the growing importance of branding in real estate, her lack of sentimentality in architecture, and more.
Mansion Global: Describe your dream property.
Annabelle Selldorf: I’m not sure that there is such a thing. People always ask “What’s your favorite house?” I’m not one to play favorites. If you ask me my favorite food, I’ll say many.
It all depends where I am, what I’m doing. I love light, space, and I’d probably like to have outdoor space. I don’t have it in the city, but I have it in Maine.
As you get older, you become more appreciative of the calm and quiet. My home in Maine is my dream property, really. It’s a very remote location, with nothing commercial around it. It’s in the middle of nature and close to the water. It’s really fantastic. And the house is an old house that I rebuilt, so now it’s both old and modern.
MG: Do you have a real estate property that got away?
AS: I try not to harbor regrets. At one point I had an opportunity to buy an apartment in Paris. I sometimes think, “Wouldn’t it have been nice if I had bought that?” I couldn’t make up my mind. I was reasonable not to buy it, but it’s the kind of thing, where you go “that would have been great.”
MG: What does luxury mean to you?
AS: Time. But I think luxury is also awareness. What I mean is that if you live in a very conscious way you become more aware of what makes the moment.
Like today, I brought my dog to work, and that really makes me happy and taking him out for a walk makes my day.
But I’m not so interested in any one material thing. But I appreciate quality and I appreciate the things that make my work good.
As an architect, luxury is something that’s very well laid out and well built, with thought, consideration and specificity, and also the idea of being long-lasting.
MG: What’s the biggest surprise in the luxury real estate market now?
AS: What surprises me is that nothing can surprise me anymore. I don’t always understand what constitutes value. I used to think it’s the size and the location of the property, but I think it’s many other things nowadays— a lot has to do with name recognition and status.
And not just for apartments, but houses, too. You could buy two acres for $50 million in the Hamptons, or 45 acres in New Hampshire for $500,000. Why is that? Because luxury often means being close to other people who have a lot of money.
Aside from that, the success of Miami, despite rising tides and other weather-related issues, I find surprising.
MG: Where are the best luxury homes in the world and why?
AS: When I think about a luxury home, I think about great architecture. Great architecture is very hard to come by. Just because you have very expensive houses in Miami, does not make them great pieces of architecture.
These days, there’s really great contemporary architecture in Mexico. There’s wonderful modernist architecture in Switzerland. The quality of building there is very high.
And some of the best architecture is in New York.
MG: What’s your favorite part of your home?
AS: I like to live in a very open environment where the living, dining, and cooking spaces aren’t segregated. I live a fairly informal life, so I like to be in that “loft space,” because I love to cook and entertain, and cook and have a glass of wine and chat.
MG: What best describes the theme to your home and why?
AS: I don’t know that there’s a theme, but I live in a pre-war apartment that’s designed with simple details, so it’s about the space and the light that comes into it. I guess you could say it’s modern. It’s defined by the art I live with—that includes furniture. I have a variety of antique Chinese pieces, a beautiful drawing collection.
It’s both very personal and spacious, too.
MG: What’s the most valuable thing in your home?
AS: My dog. But besides that, it’s probably my art.
MG: What’s the most valuable amenity to have in a home right now?
AS: What I bring to these kinds of projects is an ability to do layouts. It’s not strictly speaking an amenity, but they’re spaces where proportions and light is balanced and privacy is possible.
People like a place where they can have a very formal and an informal lifestyle, too.
MG: What’s your best piece of real estate advice?
AS: I still think location, location, location. It has to do with where you like to be. If you hate going through a neighborhood because you think the buildings are ugly or it’s noisy or it’s dangerous and your only reprieve is when you walk through the front door, that’s a problem.
MG: What’s going on in the news that will have the biggest impact on the luxury real estate market?
AS: Just look at the tax bill. That’s all I can say.
MG: If you had a choice of living in a new development or a prime resale property, which would you choose and why?
AS: Just in the last year, we built two new buildings, and I’d love to live in either. 42 Crosby [in SoHo] is a dream to live in. I’m very, very proud of the design, and also how beautifully it’s built. The quality is great. People understand quality a lot more than they used to. They want that for their money. Developers are listening and it’s becoming more important to them, too.
I love 10 Bond Street [in NoHo], for the same reason. They’re both very different in terms of location and what they look like, but they both had very involved developers who think of what brings quality to the sale.
I’m interested in quality design. I’m not at all sentimental. I would have torn my house in Maine down had it made sense to tear it down. I love designing a new house, but there were reasons not to. There were no new buildings in my area in New York, but I’d love to live in a new building there, too.
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