By Kari Richardson, Special to the Tribune
September 13, 2013
Wander into the lobbies of some Chicago-area condo and apartment buildings and you may never want to leave. Posh sofas beckon with luxurious cushions. The delicate fragrance of fresh flowers mixes with the aroma of brewing coffee.
Residential lobby, you've come a long way, baby.
From dark caverns outfitted with a few pieces of scuffed furniture, to sparkling spaces showcasing museum-quality artwork and designer furniture, luxe lobbies have become the gold standard in higher-end apartment and condo buildings.
"The purpose of the lobby has shifted over the past decade, from exclusive to inclusive," said Mary Cook, president and founder of Chicago-based Mary Cook Associates, which has designed lobbies around the country.
While lobbies of yesteryear served more as security checkpoints to keep nonresidents out, today's spaces are more welcoming, Cook said. Think attached iPads for surfing, free beverages and Wi-Fi, and concierge staff members who are eager to please.
Developers know that a well-designed lobby sets the tone for a property and even encourages residents to interact with one another. So they are paying more attention to the formerly neglected spaces.
"When residents are engaged and interacting with one another, it strengthens property values and encourages (people to sign leases)," Cook said.
At Lincoln Park 2550, a 218-unit condo building that opened last year in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, residents can only enter through the lobby. This helps keep the building safe and promotes neighborliness, said Eric Levin, vice president of design and construction for the property's developer, Ricker-Murphy Development.
The lobby's designer, Darcy Bonner, principal of Chicago-based Darcy Bonner and Associates, used buff limestone, a black-and-white stone floor, bleached walnut and ceruse oak to give the new-construction space vintage appeal and a "grand and timeless" feel. The design allows for views of a public park in the front and a private garden constructed at the back of the property. Details such as bubbling fountains, flower gardens and soft music engage the senses.
Another Chicago property, The Legacy at Millennium Park, has a lobby decked out in polished black stone and wood accents. The idea was to create a space where residents would feel more relaxed upon entering the building, said James Hanson, principal of property developer Mesa Development.
"We are working to create a feeling of entry," Hanson said. "Once you are in the lobby, you are home."
But a welcoming vibe doesn't mean developers are ignoring the lobby's most basic function: security. At 500 Lake Shore Drive, a 500-unit apartment tower in Chicago's Streeterville neighborhood, an enormous concierge desk is a centerpiece of the bustling lobby. It is a way station for doormen, who oversee comings and goings, and a home for the security cameras that monitor entrances.
At K2, a 496-unit apartment tower in the Fulton River District, the lobby vibe is "zen and nature meets luxury and elegance," said Sally Cathcart, a designer at Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture who designed the space. Cathcart used linac marble stone flooring, eucalyptus wood and a stainless steel, glass and marble concierge desk to evoke an atmosphere of energy and fun.
Nature is also a key theme for the lobby at The Grant, a 54-story condo high-rise at 1201 S. Prairie Ave. in Chicago. A recent redo infused the lobby with a gray, blue and green palette.
It's no coincidence that those earthy colors are also the ones residents see out their windows as they take in the lake and Grant Park, said Ann Thompson, senior vice president of architecture and design for Related Midwest, which has redeveloped the property.
A large, photo-based artwork titled "Every Leaf on a Tree" by Aspen Mays sets the tone for the space and is visible from the street. The $30,000 picture is a conversation piece for residents and guests, Thompson said.
Luxe lobbies are enchanting but also expensive, with price tags that designers say can run into the millions. Are they worth it?
"There's increasing competition to be viewed as a Class A building," said Wendell Gooch, principal of Gooch Design Studio, who has overseen lobby renovations in Chicago. "Everyone is chasing a smaller market."
That has also upped the ante for existing buildings, Gooch said. He has fielded his share of inquiries from older buildings' boards about renovating their lobbies after new properties opened on their streets.
And there's good reason to be concerned about the space, he said. A well-executed lobby provides the equivalent of curb appeal for condo or apartment units. If a potential buyer or lessee doesn't like what they see in that first impression, they are likely to keep walking.
"A well-kept lobby gives a sense that (building managers) are good stewards," Gooch said. "It encourages tenants to believe that their needs will be well met."
Conversely, entering a building with a worn, poorly maintained or outdated lobby can be a red flag that the homeowners association may not have enough set aside in its reserves, or that a rental property won't be attentive to residents.
"A first impression determines what someone will pay," said Ted Guarnero, a broker with Baird & Warner's Gold Coast office.
Guarnero has sold several condos at 910 S. Michigan Ave. in the South Loop, where a classy lobby with an inlaid marble floor and rich-looking woodwork made his job easier.
Another property has been a more difficult sell. Though the three-bedroom unit in question is priced reasonably and in a good location, its out-of-date lobby has put off potential buyers, Guarnero said.
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