New Old Things

I spent some time this week thinking about the quantity/quality/cost relationship I discussed in last week’s post.  How our consumption patterns, while far from being in balance, are starting to shift in a more manageable, sustained direction. How people are looking for a quality product once again, knowing that its production may affect the quantity available, yet feeling this is an acceptable price to pay.  The “Five Dollar Tomato”, while a beautiful product, is not available to all, and not available in large quantities.  Yet it’s a start.  It’s a start at looking at the attractiveness of a well-made product – how genuine, raw materials of the utmost quality can make a product that endures, and often, increase its value over the long-term.  Our “tomato” doesn’t have a long shelf life – but other products that demonstrate this concept do.

I was lucky enough to see this idea in action this week via two incredible examples.  Both are interior spaces that have a long history.  Both have been occupied by a variety of people.  Yet one glaring difference was seen between the two – one that provides yet another interesting concept to explore.

Aging Well
Aging Well

The first space – and structure overall – is a 300+ year old residence located in the exurbs of Boston, Massachusetts.  This home – which happens to be where my parents reside – has a long history.  In fact, one that is longer than the life of our country.  It was originally built for one of the first governors of Massachusetts, and was occupied by his family for many generations.  It was open for tours for a short time, and then returned to private ownership during the last century.  A beautiful cedar-clad home on forty acres of land, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.

This is not the house I grew up in, so every time I visit I still marvel at its construction.  Its wide-planked floors.  Its windows, complete with Indian shutters, some of which have been removed (the original concept being that these internal shutters could be closed to prevent arrows from entering the home during conflict), and the Indian step, slightly deeper than the other steps on the back staircase, so that the “enemy”, upon entering the house, would trip on this stair and alert the occupants of an intruder.  Cool.

The thing is, while I love this house, it hasn’t had a full restoration in many years.  My parents have the laundry list of updates that are approved by the Historical Society – a list which needs to be strictly adhered to.  Most of the spaces are very livable, but some – like the back closet on the 2nd floor, which stretches half the length of the house, tucked under the slant of the roof, and requires one to bend down upon entering to look for your clothes – was quite a luxury in the 1600’s, but does not fully work for our modern lifestyles.  Heck, it didn’t even work for the “modern” lifestyle of 100 years ago.  Yet the physical structure is mostly sound, showing that this type of quality workmanship is humanly possible.  The value of the home has increased exponentially over the years, showing that historical significance combined with sound workmanship can endure.  So, we can make a product that has a high-quality and outstanding value.  Yet in this case, some features need some updating, which could actually extend and even provide more value for the home in the future.

Plaza Hotel at night

The second space I visited exhibited this type of updating.  A viewing of the Plaza Hotel in New York allowed me to see an example of extended value put to work. The Plaza is one of New York’s enduring architectural symbols, and its history is known by many (unlike my parent’s house).  The building has changed hands several times over its 100+ year history, and most recently, it went through a lavish $400 million renovation, updating the hotel via a “lobby-to-roof” renovation, including the conversion of many of the rooms to private condos (152 to be precise, versus 282 remaining hotel rooms).

The buzz about the condos has been going on since the first bid of $10 million was put on a unit in March of 2008.  Prices have dropped since then, but many of the prime units are still priced sky-high.

Case in point – the Penthouse floor apartments.  These apartments – the creme de la creme, at the top of the top, architecturally-speaking – are garnered by a rare few.  And a rare few get to see the inside of them.  Luckily, I am one of them.

I was invited for a private viewing of one of these units, which is currently on the market for $24 million.  While there is a potential buyer (identity unknown – but I did find out he is an American), this unit still stands unoccupied and available for view via the architect/design firm as well as the showroom hired to stage this lavish space.

View from the top

To say this is a spectacular space is an understatement – the 5,500 square foot duplex residence contains airy, light-filled rooms with terraces on both floors, offering unparalleled views of Central Park. I literally gasped when I caught my first view from the living room. And I gasped again when I walked onto the terrace and touched the famous Plaza green roof tiles, admiring their beauty up close and personal. I felt it unfair that only a few get to experience such a space as this. But man, I loved every minute of it.

This space could take up an entire discussion unto itself, but what I thought about as I walked through the gold-leafed rooms was this: the careful balance of an updated space that showed respect for the historical structure while giving a newly functioning life for potential residents – something that my parent’s house is lacking.  This is a truly coveted space (rare, small quantity) of the utmost quality.  Details are lavish, yet not over-the-top (which really impressed me the most).  And thankfully, it is not new construction.  It is the rebirth of a century-old space to suit modern tastes.  Whether you find it wasteful, boastful, or “full” of something else, it shows that a well-made space (or product) can endure through the ages, find new life, and thus offer a new purpose, with increased value, well into the future.

I know that these are extreme examples and don’t exactly answer the question of a sustained product that is more accessible to all.  But both spaces offer proof that we can produce quality products that reach beyond initial costs by offering long-lasting value for the future.  Starting from good, quality materials allows for a gentle reworking of the parts to create something new.  And in fact, sometimes this is necessary to keep a product in a desirable state for future use.

The quest for quality products and services continues.  And the shift to smart consumption continues to grow.  I hope the new Plaza residents enjoy the rebirth of the structure they are inhabiting for all it represents – beyond simple bragging rights.

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