Designer Q&A: Going Green in NYC Luxury Apartments

| by Gary Wollenhaupt

With residential building in New York City undergoing a bit of a boom, some developers are seeing the value of offering green and sustainably designed housing.

In 2015, the city's Department of Buildings approved the construction of 56,528 units spread out over 1,998 buildings in 2015. That's a 67 percent increase from the previous building boom in 2008, when the number of units stood at 33,911.

Construction approved in 2015 increased 180 percent over the previous year. The construction surge revealed a market for larger projects, with 97 percent of the units approved in buildings with five or more units. Manhattan averaged 120 units for every permitted building.

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According to New Construction Manhattan, green buildings are becoming a larger part of the Manhattan condo marketplace: "Green condos can now be found in just about every Manhattan neighborhood, from the large-scale, ultra-green condominiums of Battery Park City to the ultra-luxurious High Line-hugging green condos of Chelsea to a host of new green condo listings on the Upper East Side, Upper West Side, Midtown West and elsewhere."

In an exclusive interview with, Highlyann Krasnow, founder of The Design High, a boutique interior design firm specializing in residential buildings throughout Brooklyn and Manhattan, and the exclusive interior design branch of MNS Real Estate, discussed the challenges in going green in The Big Apple.

The company designs floor plans, interior finishes, lobby finishes, corridors and common areas in some of New York City's most desirable addresses. For 2017, her company will introduce fundamental and environmental changes to in an effort to do their part in leaving a positive mark on the world. In the New Year, the firm will be committing to the protection of our environment by forming partnerships with companies dedicated to creating durable, eco-friendly products, ending the use of paper for all documents and by donating at least 5 percent of annual profits to the National Resources Defense Council.

Highlyann Krasnow

PGH: How is the New York City market accepting green and sustainable residential building?

HK: In the past, as much as many developers may have wanted to be as sustainable and green as possible, it's always been a little bit cost prohibitive to do so, and that's an issue when you're talking about $500 million projects.

I have done some LEED projects and the developers don't necessarily see it as a good return on investment. So we're trying to take a step back and at least introduce sustainable building strategies in areas that are not cost prohibitive but are still extremely beneficial that we can tout to our clients.

PGH: Even if a project is not LEED Certified, what steps do you take to be environmentally responsible in ways that potential customers also value?

HK:  Some of things are simple, like using all FSC-certified materials for wood and things of that nature. Now we're also using countertop materials made of 100 percent recycled materials, which unfortunately are very limited, and so you have a very limited array of materials to choose from. Lately the eco-friendly product options are getting better and we found some that we kind of like and we can utilize. It does kind of limit our designs but it pushes us to be creative in other ways.

Now we're really trying to focus on materials that are made of 100-percent recycled materials, whether it's countertops or quartz tiles or the porcelain tiles that are utilizing recycled materials. We're also trying to focus on no VOC paints, no VOCs in any of our interior finishes.

For plumbing we're being very sensitive to use WatersSense certified products, we're using dual flush toilets wherever we can. And we're using LED lighting anywhere we're designing the lighting.

PGH: What have been some of your challenges in using green products?

HK:The thing that's been difficult for us to source that we actually found a good source for recently was door hardware. We were trying to find door hardware that's made of recycled materials that are cost effective, and I think we've just found a source that we can utilize.

In some cases it's limiting in design, but we're hoping to create some additional prototypes that we can use. These kinds of thing can be very limiting to design just because there are not that many options.

PGH:Do the home occupants appreciate the green approach?

HK: They appreciate that they're not breathing in VOC fumes, that's the easy stuff. But sourcing the materials that are made of recycled content, and also made locally that don't have as much of an environmental impact while they're being made, that has been more challenging and that's what we're trying to focus on now.

We take the approach that whether or not people are responding to that, if it's costing me the same amount to purchase as it would a door handle that's not made of recycled material, at least it's another marketing point we can use. Regardless if potential residents care about it, we're not spending any more to do it and we're being environmentally conscious.

PGH:How do the developers you've worked with view green building?

HK:When we did LEED buildings, I told my developers we would not most likely make any more money on it, but it would fill up faster, and it did. The units sold for a market price, but we definitely sold faster because there was a competing product that wasn't LEED certified. There were people who did care, or they at least thought it was a better constructed building.

PGH:From a design standpoint, what are some of the challenges in using green products?

HK: I think that for the most part, it's almost refreshing to have fewer options, you can get very overwhelmed with design decision, and when you're making the decisions to focus in on utilizing materials that are reducing waste, they have some very nice quality products now and that helps narrow down some of your design, which can be nice.

PGH:What's the future for green residential building in New York?

HK: I think for the long term, people do respond to it if you're looking at your home as an investment, now people are much more willing to look at it as a quality investment, but in the past they weren't.

I think developers see the value and the market potential, and the more that that becomes the norm I think that it's only going to push more companies to create more product lines and we'll have more options and that will only benefit everyone.

Topics: Building Green, Certification / LEED, Going Green, Home Design & Plans, Indoor Air Quality, Interior Design, Kitchen, Lighting, Paint | Low VOC and No VOC, Sinks & Toilets, Sustainability Trends & Statistics, Sustainable Communities, Sustainable Products, Water Saving Devices, WaterSense

Gary Wollenhaupt

Gary Wollenhaupt is an experienced writer and editor, with a background as a daily newspaper reporter as well as corporate and agency public relations and marketing. He is constantly looking for affordable green upgrades to make to his home in eastern Kentucky.

wwwView Gary Wollenhaupt's profile on LinkedIn

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