For New Yorkers, the allure of the suburbs generally reaches its nadir during the dead of winter, spiking again on the first hot day of the summer, when the city’s concrete expanses and cramped apartments call up longings for cool, leafy streets, verdant backyards and that crowning jewel of post-war suburban life—a swimming pool.
But these days, the private swimming pool, at least, is not limited to the likes of Larchmont and Scarsdale. A growing number of Manhattan developers are adding aquatic elements to high-end condos, creating almost uncanny vistas, with living rooms that look out onto vast, landscaped terraces and glittering swimming pools backgrounded by the city’s iconic skyline.
“People find the combination of the pool and the views absolutely thrilling,” says Brown Harris Stevens broker Jill Mangone, who is heading up sales at the Norman Foster-designed 50 UN Plaza, where the duplex penthouse has an infinity-edge pool that “seemingly drops off the side of the terrace,” overlooking the East River.
“I mean, can you imagine your kids playing in your penthouse pool on a hot summer day?” asks Mangone. Zeckendorf Development and Global Holdings, of 15 Central Park West fame, are developing 50 UN, but whereas the machers at 15 CPW must deign to dip alongside their neighbors at the blockbuster building’s pool, the future owners of 50 UN’s $70 million penthouse won’t have to worry about sharing.
Just a few years ago, private pools in Manhattan were all but unheard of, a pleasure enjoyed by a vanishingly small number of swimming-obsessed townhouse owners who installed them in their backyards, basements or, for the more daring, roofs. Everyone else, even the truly rich, shared. But in the last few years, two things converged: the ultra-luxury condo boom and a growing number of wealthy families who want to stay in the city.
The developer Extell’s Riverside Boulevard condo tower, the Aldyn, was among the first to offer private pools outside its two duplex penthouses. And Corcoron broker Deanna Kory, who sold one of the units for $14.7 million in 2013, says the pool “was the clinching reason the family decided to buy.”
“It was a 37-foot pool where you could actually do laps. You had a view of the river and the George Washington Bridge, so that was a good pool,” chuckles Kory. Considering that it was sunken into a 3,800-foot private terrace and came with a companion spa tub, you might even call it a very good pool.
The pools were so popular that Extell replicated the feature for three of its penthouses at One Riverside Park. Buyers, according to sales director Karen Duncan, “are not really surprised” by private pools anymore, “but they’re definitely interested.”
“We have one potential buyer who is coming soon—his brokers have already been here—who must have a pool,” says Duncan. “Some people just want what they want. Maybe he’s a big swimmer. Or maybe he has children who are swimmers.”
The pool can be heated to extend the swimming season from May through September, she noted, and then in the winter, the eventual owners can swim in the shared, 75-foot long pool in the La Palestra spa downstairs. “So [they’ll be] covered all year long.”
At 11 Beach, future residents of the three under-construction townhouses in the Tribeca condo needn’t worry about the weather—the 40- to 50-foot long, translucent-sided pools are indoors, and there are saunas and steam rooms as well. “We’ve converted what was the basement into a spa,” says Douglas Elliman broker Dina Lewis.
“Some places will put a wave or infinity pool downstairs, but these are not glorified hot tubs,” she adds. “They’re true pools.”
And though doing laps before breakfast no doubt appeals to the city’s increasingly fitness-focused populace, brokers said that the popularity of private pools is not so much spurred by a swimming craze as the strivings of a highly competitive luxury market.
“What’s going on is you have a number of people who want the height of luxury,” explains Kory. “And if that’s what people want, a developer would be silly not to do it.“
“In Manhattan, private outdoor space is a luxury—adding a private pool makes it the ultimate luxury,” says Wendy Maitland, the president of sales at TOWN Residential.
Things have come a long way fast. David von Spreckelsen, the president of Toll Brothers City Living, which will offer private, 14-foot long pools with jet systems for laps and lights to swim at night in some of its penthouses at 1110 Park Avenue and the Sutton, notes that a just a few years ago, even roof terraces were rare.
“I think people started realizing how valuable outdoor space is,” he says, adding that once Jacuzzis became regular roof features, “we started asking, ‘why not put a pool up there?’”
Still, given the challenges of siting a pool in a standard high-rise building—roofs, terraces and basements remain the norm—brokers and developers say that the trend is likely to remain limited to just a few units per building.
Or, maybe not. Soo K. Chan, the architect and co-developer of Soori High Line, designed the 31-unit West Chelsea condo with 16 pools.
Chan reports that multiple private pools are not uncommon in the luxury high-rises of Southeast Asia and his native Singapore, where he has designed similarly pool-laden buildings. And while New York’s winters might seem to discourage the concept here (barren terraces and unsightly pool covers spring to mind), Soori High Line’s heated pools are “integrated seamlessly with the interior architecture and double as a tranquil reflective pool when not in use,” Chan says, providing “a respite among the urban bustle of New York.”
Still, he admits that early on “some people questioned if this was really possible in New York.” But now, he says, that reaction is usually superseded by “the wow factor.”