Are You Being Served?
Concierge services were once a luxury amenity for a select few residential high-rises in Dallas. Now, they’re standard procedure.
by Rebecca Sherman
Forget hardwood floors and stainless steel appliances. We want someone to baby-sit the plumbers while we are at work. And could they also pick up the laundry and feed the dogs? Who needs a personal assistant, or even a spouse for that matter, when you can have a concierge?
Concierge services, once only for the elite, have become expected standards at most high-rise condominiums along Turtle Creek and in the burgeoning Uptown district. Within the next few years, a dozen more high-rises will open, including the Residences at the Ritz-Carlton, W Dallas Victory Hotel & Residences, The Azure, and the Stoneleigh Residences. They are all competing for the same client – you – so concierge services have become another weapon in their sales arsenal.
Will Terry, a hospitality specialist who has been hired to consult on Hillwood’s $3 billion Victory Park project, has seen the concierge business explode since 1994 when he was just starting out. The extra services have become so important. “With the competition as stiff as it is, concierges are required,” he says.
Dallas high-rise real estate queen Carolyn Shamis says: “As every new building is built, the competition gets stronger. They’re looking in every nook and cranny to add sizzle.” Shamis lives at the Plaza Turtle Creek, which is managed by the five-star Mansion on Turtle Creek. At the Plaza, such personal attention is referred to as a “Concierge Lifestyle” and includes housekeeping and laundry, alterations, child care, in-house dining, and catering. The day before you get back in town, they’ll freshen your linens, stock your pantry, and turn on the air conditioning. “At this level, it’s a lifestyle,” Terry says.
Pampering comes at a price. The cost of maintaining uniformed and smiling concierges who cater to every need comes out of the homeowners dues, and “sometimes the homeowners dues can be as much as a mortgage payment,” she says. A $250,000 condo plus homeowners dues is the equivalent of buying a $400,000 home. Because of this, there will always be a market for high-rises sans concierge and valet, but why would you want that? “Personally, I wouldn’t live in a building that didn’t have concierge and valet,” Shamis says.
For those of us who are not rich but want to live that way, most mid-priced high-rises have at least the minimum. A concierge is on duty 24/7 along with a valet. Tip them well, and you can expect yours to bring up the laundry when it’s delivered, help make dinner reservations, feed your pets when you’re out of town, and arrange for transportation to the airport.
When everybody’s doing it, how do concierges set themselves apart? Says Nathan Rausch, a contract manager for Towne Park hospitality services who oversees concierges at the Ashton: “We’re not pretentious. We treat everybody the same. I think that sets us apart from other properties.”
Rausch has 12 people on his team, including seven valets, who drop everything to help a resident, especially when there’s large tip involved. “Its not unusual for someone to call us and say, ’I’ve got a $100 bill and a list of groceries.’” We send someone down to Albertson’s to do their shopping. Or we pick up a bottle of wine for their dinner. We take a lot of cars to the detail center for people, or we wash them ourselves.” Rausch recounts one concierge on his staff who comes in on his day off to drive a frequent-flying resident to the airport. “If you don’t care about what you are doing,” Rausch says, “then it doesn’t matter if you know every maitre d in town and can get people into the best restaurants. If you treat them like hell, they won’t come back.”
Carolyn Shamis says she doesn’t see the demand for concierge services slowing down. “I’m not sure it will ever plateau. We are all continuing to be more spoiled!” she says.
Did You Hear the One About…
Concierges are privy to some of the most private things that go on inside the posh high-rises along Turtle Creek. Some are hilarious. Others are poignant. Most, it seems, have to do with pets.
Each morning at the Plaza Turtle Creek, a short, odd-looking dog with a big head and a long body rides the elevator alone. Two, $2 bills are tucked inside his collar. His name is Merlin, and hes a Corgi Cardigan. At the lobby, the doors open and Merlin scampers out. The concierge takes the tip and opens the door for the dog, who does his business outside – alone. When hes done, the concierge lets him back in. Merlin hangs out in the lobby until his owner, Carolyn Shamis, retrieves him.
Kent Brandt, lead concierge for the Mayfair at Turtle Creek loves to take care of tenant’s pets, so when a woman asked him to feed hers while she was out of town, he was pleased. “It turned out to be a baby monkey. I had to run up several times a day to feed him baby formula with an eyedropper. It was a bit scary; he was a feisty little thing.”
Jerry Reneau at the Claridge remembers a woman whose dog needed to be walked six times a day. “She’d have tip money laid out for each walk, with his collar and leash on top of that,” says Reneau. “The guys had to go up a half a dozen times a day to get the dog. After a year, I tallied up what she spent in tips to walk her dog. It was $30,000.”
Then there’s the lady who lived on the 16th floor of the Claridge, who called Reneau one morning, furious. “She said, ’Jerry, you’ve got to do something about this immediately.’ As she explained it, there was a man engaged in sexual behavior by himself in his car in the Dallas Theater Center parking lot. What I wanted to say was, ’Ma am, put your binoculars down and that will take care of it.’ But of course I couldn’t. I told her I’d handle it right away.”
Taking it to the Streets:
Victory Park’s revolutionary new model.
|Philippe Starck’s The House|
Imagine living in a city where anything you want is a phone call away. Hillwood’s Victory Park may be just that. The $3 billion, 12-million-square-foot project hopes to change the way we think about service. Located in the heart of Uptown, Victory’s myriad of hotels, residential high-rises, shops, and office space will be connected by a web of concierges, valets, and management – all hired to serve those living and working inside its boundaries.
“When people think about urban living, they often think that it’s inconvenient,” Victory’s Clay Likover says. “Our concierge services are designed to alleviate that.”
Here’s what developers are planning: Every resident, tenant, and retailer in Victory Park will have a VIP identification card with a phone number on it. Call this number anywhere within the neighborhood’s boundaries, and someone will attend to your needs. Let’s say you decide to walk from your chic apartment in The House (scheduled for 2008) to the shops many blocks away. You lunch at chef Tom Colicchio’s Craft (also scheduled for 2008), but then you realize your feet hurt. Just call the number on your VIP card, and someone will fetch your car from the garage. Instead of going home, you decide to take in the museums. But what to do about that plumber who’s scheduled to fix a pesky leak? Victory’s concierges can take care of that, too. Life, made easy.
|LIVING ROOM: “It’s a home that comes alive at night,” Julie Butler says. The striking living room was a collaborative effort between Jay Shinn and Butler. Silk draperies and lighting inspired by Jan Royere frame the skyline. The putty-colored silk mohair sofa and chairs, and a Harlow table by J. Robert Scott sit atop a tightly woven paper rug. At left, a race track-shaped painting on newspaper by Texas artist Joe Mansuco.|
It’s Like Night…
After the sun goes down, this apartment really shines.
by Paige Phelps
|BALCONY: As you enter through the front door, you see the skyline, framed by silk draperies. And if you are lucky enough to stay for dinner, it is all the more sumptuous with a view. Stainless steel table by Heltzer and Sutherland teak bar stools, custom slip-covered in Perennial Outdoor fabric. Ted Muehling candlesticks courtesy of Grange Hall Urban Flowers. The balcony floor is slate.|
As the sun sets on the downtown skyline, the buildings turn a yellow-orange. For Jay Shinn and Tim Hurst, the close of another day means the show is just beginning. Home, for these two, is perched 19 stories above the ground. With a blank canvas to start, they wanted to create a space that would invite guests to nestle in with a glass of wine and watch the night’s colors at play.
The two men, who travel a great deal for both work and play, realized that they spent most of their time at home during the evening. Thus they decided to accentuate the elegance that is created by the blend of moonlight and good lighting design. But with Shinn’s taste leaning toward neon, and Hurst leaning more toward traditional chandeliers, the two found themselves in a bind.
“We had ideas. Too many ideas,” Shinn says.
The problem wasn’t a lack of inspiration but rather how to bring the styles together. For example, Shinn wanted a red patent leather curtain in the bathroom, while Hurst was less enthused about design elements that strayed from a proper gentleman’s quarters. Enter the design team of Rodney Woods and Julie Butler. They approached the pair’s design dilemmas through logic and began to, as Woods says, “eliminate, eliminate, eliminate.”
|SALON: Hurst and Shinn wanted an interior room that was walled off from the rest of the world. Glass-inset sliding doors open to a glamorous salon that houses a Robert Rauschenberg lithograph, a Woods|Butler-designed table, tufted sofas from Interior Craft, covered in a silk boucle, and a white lacquered, white leather Klismos chair by Donghia. The grid paneling and ceiling are painted in a dark putty, the same color as the living room.|
The high-rise apartment reflects the couple’s pared down but glam style. One gets the feeling that the neighbors must be hoping for an invitation to one of the couple’s legendary cocktail hours and dinner parties within the dark putty-colored walls.
Take the evening they celebrated the purchase of their James Surls sculpture by gathering a group of friends for dinner and conversation.
“It was spectacular,” says Woods, who they also count as a dear friend. “It had all the glitz and glitter, but it was still sophisticated and charming. The people were a good mix, and everyone was so interesting – the place sparkled,” an apropos description since the walls reflect the city lights, creating a subtle light show.
How did the design team create a space that seems to be organically born out of the owners’ personality? They say that their clients did the hard part. They bravely asked for a home that was out of the ordinary, which set the design team free to imagine and create as they pleased, like painting the salon and bedroom a rich espresso that looks black at first glance.
Of course, when they chose the high-gloss plaster walls, no one knew it would take 12 long coats of painting, plastering, and sanding followed by more of the same to achieve the final look (high-rises won’t allow acrylics because of the fire hazard). The result is an illusion that works to visually raise the ceiling.
|TIM HURST AND JAY SHINN|
“People notice it [the wall finish] right away,” Hurst says. “It makes the view come into the room, especially at night. Everything reflects off the walls.”
“Yes, because the focal point of this space is the view,” Shinn explains. “That’s why there’s no chandelier over the dining room table, and no fireplace.”
Although it’s true that the view is striking, the elimination of distractions (the only lamps in the living room are the custom torcheres heralding the window’s cityscape) helps to make the couple’s collection of contemporary art pop.
|LIVING AND DINING ROOM: “The mood is magical. The two spaces flow together, which facilitates entertaining,” Woods says. In the living room, a Barcelona cocktail table by Knoll and custom chair by Woods|Butler; and in the dining room, a Saarinen dining table by Knoll and chairs slip-covered in silk fabric by J. Robert Scott. At left, a multicolored piece by Elizabeth Braden; at right, John Wilcox; far right, Jay Shinn sculptural columns.|
Works by Ted Kincaid and John Wilcox, a fun Jeff Koons “puppy” sculpture/vase, Shinn’s own wood columns, and prints by Sol Lewitt and Robert Rauschenberg catch the eye and add warmth to the setting filled with furniture such as the custom Klismos chairs by Donghia, the Sutherland teak terrace furniture, the John Gregory custom lamp and bedside table, or the antique Venetian mirror in the black powder room flanked by Phillipe Starck sconces. To please Hurst’s taste, silk draperies and silk mohair upholstery on living room chairs work to anchor a sense of traditional elegance, as does the bedroom’s panel of brown velvet above the bed. In all, everything works together to guide the eye from one rich pleasure to the next.
Case in point: Without fail, everyone who visits the home gushes over the Baroque chair in the living room. The J. Robert Scott chair is leafed in 22-karat white gold and upholstered in silk from Gretchen Bellinger.
The clients wanted a little jewel box that they could live in, Woods says. This is the way we achieved that.
BEDROOM: The walls and ceiling upholstered in espresso velvet give the room a sense of midnight. The dark bedroom, like the rest of the space, accentuates the art. A Ron Slowinski piece hangs above a wooden sleigh bed, and the “big picture window with a view of the city becomes a piece of art also,” Woods says. The bedspread is a silk autumn pattern in espresso and black with Dakota Jackson calfskin espresso pillows. The mirrored nightstand and lamp rock crystal are John Gregory.
|LIVING ROOM: Open, airy spaces typify McElwee’s interior, and that’s the way he wants it. The room opens to the north-facing terrace, giving the space a warm glow. To the left is a mahogany topped table with steel base that McElwee designed. The Saarinen womb chair and ottoman are Knoll, and the sofa is Cameron Collection. The white oak-paneled storage unit keeps the space clutter free and simple.|
Sunlight streams through Patrick McElwee’s serene Turtle Creek apartment.
by Paige Phelps
|DESIGNER: Patrick McElwee, whose resume includes stints with iconic designers such as Sister Parish and Mark Hampton, now runs his own firm Patrick McElwee Designs. Here, he’s perched with Willie in front of a Richard Serra lithograph, which McElwee considers the best piece in his collection.|
If the term “minimalism” brings to mind images of a sparse, white environment devoid of warmth, color, and the little touches that make a house a home, Patrick McElwee has something he wants to show you. His monochromatic castle is pared down to the bare essentials. No noise. No distractions. No bold declarations. But his Turtle Creek Boulevard apartment is as inviting as it is simple, quiet, and elegant, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“That’s my personality. I love my homes to be thoughtful. I like quiet. When I listen to music, I put the earphones on, even when I’m alone,” says McElwee, a well-mannered man with an impeccable wardrobe.
“You can walk into a completely sparse environment – no window treatments, a lovely garden, a chair, a table – and it’s beautiful, but it’s very hard to live that way. It’s hard to keep that up,” he says. “I think that most people need a background that can change as they change. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
His goal is to capture a quiet elegance without feeling stiff, a mirror of his own personality.
|TERRACE: Bertoia chairs and table bathe in the warm sunlight on the terrace.|
But even though McElwee seems mild on first impression, don’t let the still pond fool you. He wields an impressive resume that includes stints with iconic designers such as Sister Parish and Mark Hampton and now runs his own design firm. He’s got a keen wit, snarky opinions that will leave you doubled over laughing, and, of course, a hectic schedule. All of which work well with his clean, precise taste.
“The first sign that a design job is going to be bad is when I suggest a Holly Hunt chair, and the client immediately says, ’Oh, I’ve got a guy in Oak Cliff that can copy that for $200.’ They think that a $2,000 chair is priced that way for fun. They’re the kind that think you can find reproductions of $10,000 antique dining chairs for $350 at Forney.”
|DINING ROOM: A D’Urso dining table with white marble top and Mies Brno chairs are set off by the contrasting colors in a red daybed and art. The painting, which was done by McElwee’s roommate in college, is something he says he used in every home he has lived in.|
So McElwee keeps his home, and therefore his mind, calm by using the finest materials and furniture designers available. But he’s not a knee-jerk purist. His home is not strictly mid-century modern, though it may look it with the Knoll wall fabric and Sirmos faux bronze lamps in the bedroom, the Mies Brno chairs in the den, and his favorite piece, a Saarinen womb chair. He doesn’t mind adding contemporary or even antique pieces to his design as long as all the elements are “as quiet as possible,” like his home, which he washed in a soothing monochromatic palate of grays and blues with hints of gold.
“If a client wants color, I’ll do color. But for myself, I tend to be more conservative,” he says.
|KITCHEN: The cabinets are original from 1957, and so are the ovens, which still work. McElwee chose white marble for the counters to maintain character of the ’50s, and the backsplash is Ann Sacks glass. The floor is a sealed cork, which he says is easy to maintain. Behind the large, comfortable Saarinen chairs and Noguchi dining table is a floor screen, which is covered in Donghia wallpaper squares.|
Most of McElwee’s furniture has been collected during the last 20 years, and though he keeps up with the latest materials, he prefers sturdy staples, the ones he feels will retain their classic beauty. His favorite spot: A Bertoia chair on the terrace where he likes to breakfast as the sun streams through the trademark 3525 grid windows. Nearby, his dining set in the kitchen is made up of mid-century modern masters, a Noguchi table surrounded by Saarinen chairs. And instead of installing new cabinets and appliances, he kept the two original stoves and white enamel cabinets because, he says, he didn’t want the room to look new.
“I don’t want to do a home that’s so new, so fresh, that one year later it looks dated. I don’t like to saddle anybody with a time period. This is expensive stuff. I don’t want them to feel like they have to change it,” he says.
And don’t even think about suggesting a knock-off.
|BEDROOM: Simplicity continues in the bedroom. The space is designed to work together, and I used all of the spaces, he says. A Jim Dine print hangs on the walls upholstered in a wool suede fabric by Knoll. Complementary Sirmos lamps with a faux bronze finish sit atop cherry wood bedside tables.||BATHROOM: Frameless glass was delicately channeled up into ceiling and then into the floor. White oak, limestone, and polished white marble contribute to the clean, uncomplicated space. With lights from Scott + Cooner, Dornbracht hardware, and a Bertoia bench, the effect is utilitarian and aesthetic.|
Real estate analyst Kate Henry runs the numbers on the condo-buying craze. See how Dallas stacks up.
I love the idea of “going high-rise” as much as the next upwardly mobile professional. My right brain says go for it – you’ll have breath-taking views and be close to hip shops, restaurants, and entertainment: Get in the holiday spirit and buy now. But just as I’m overcome with the urge to yell “taxi,” my left brain kicks in. Hold on a minute; let’s think about this. You are, after all, a real estate analyst. For goodness’ sake, do a little homework. At least run some numbers.
I can tell you right now. Condos look very good from an investment standpoint. If you have the money to spend, an investment in a condominium is likely to yield above-average returns. Besides the fact that you’re buying a condo to fill a basic, primal need – shelter – you can simultaneously make a wise investment decision.
For possibly the first time ever, real estate has become a valid asset class, right alongside stocks and bonds. Investors looking to diversify their portfolio with an asset that’s presumably less risky than other standard products have turned to real estate. And rightly so. Condo prices, specifically, have increased an average of 15 percent per year over the past four years, while the S&P 500 has gone down an average of 2.3 percent, and the bond market has increased only 7.7 percent over the same period. Cumulatively over the past five years, condo prices have soared a whopping 80 percent. Money managers, pension fund advisors, life insurance companies, and other educated investors have begun allocating a significant portion of their portfolios to this asset class that, until recently, did not exist.
PRICE TO RENT RATIOS BY CITY
San Francisco – 38
New York – 36
San Diego – 30
Los Angeles – 27
Washington, D.C. – 26
Miami – 26
Boston – 23
Chicago – 22
Houston – 19
Atlanta – 17
Dallas – 16
SOURCES: Toro Wheaton Research, Northeast Apartment Advisors, Zip Realty, Money Magazine.
Just the Beginning
Not only are the returns convincing, but the increasing demand for luxurious, convenient, hassle-free urban living has only just begun. With more than 75 million baby boomers becoming empty nesters and retirees, the rush to simple living will soon become a stampede. Having no children left living at home, Mr. and Mrs. Baby Boomer will gladly trade their now too-large home, complete with yard, repair, and suburbia commute hassles, for a new, elegant, amenity-rich, maintenance-free, 1,500-square-foot castle in the sky. If the ease of living doesn’t hook them, the pampering will – 24-hour room service, valet, on-site spas and gyms, dry cleaning delivery, onsite dog walkers, and on and on.
Almost every major market is experiencing a high-rise boom, and because Dallas was so late getting into the game, there are additional advantages to buying now. I would be remiss if I didn’t give you the (yawn-yawn) straight out comparison of Dallas condo prices compared to those of New York or LA. Obviously, Dallas is cheaper – about half the price. But there is a final indicator that I find intriguing. It’s called the price-to-rent ratio. The price-to-rent ratio is an indicator used to measure property value. In this context, it’s the condo price divided by the price to rent that condo for a year. Obviously, the lower the number, the better. I applied the price-to-rent ratio to the major condo markets taking the average condo price divided by the average annual rental amount. Dallas had the very lowest ratio of the markets, which suggests that the Dallas condo market is stable, possibly undervalued, and it has plenty of room to grow.
The combination of above-average returns, increasing demand, and the lowest price-to-rent ratio of any major market in the country, makes the analyst in me downright bullish. Now it’s time to get swept up in the season and let my right brain run wild. “Taxi!”