Thom Filicia makes a model apartment environmentally safe and stylish apartments

j christopher daly, thom filicia, sheldrake, riverhouse river house

Thom Filicia has an organic bone to pick with environmentally friendly interior design.

“People think green design has to have that same minimal, clean look,” says Filicia, star of Bravo’s “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” and author of “Thom Filicia Style,” a book coming out in October. “Even green cars all look like spaceships. They don’t have to. I set out to prove that green design doesn’t have to look like hemp world, that it can be luxurious and elegant with personality

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and color.”

Working with the Sheldrake Organization, who developed the LEED-certified Platinum Riverhouse condominium in Battery Park City, Filicia transformed a three-bedroom apartment on the eighth floor of the building’s east wing into one of the most modern examples of how to design interiors using nothing but environmentally safe and sustainable products.

There’s a lamp made of a recycled wine jug, with silk cords running electricity and wool strings for a shade. (Filicia designed that himself.) Benjamin Moore Eco Spec paint is used throughout. Linen-wrapped orange bed tables surround a bamboo-based sheet set and an organic mattress. The edges of antique frames come together to form a dresser in the guest bedroom.

In the dining area, recycled jet airplane parts compose a chandelier. Plumbing parts, such as nozzles and pipes, make a floor lamp. Ceramic side tables add stability to a multicolored wool and silk living room rug made of remnants of rejected carpet samples. There are no plastic or volatile organic compounds (VOCs) anywhere to be seen, or inhaled.

At the Riverhouse, Filicia used recycled nails on the custom-made furniture. There’s certified woods in the sofa and low-VOC adhesive for wallpaper glue. The dining room table is constructed with paper stone — recycled paper hardened with resin. Sea grass and bamboo combine to form the window treatments.

“Some things in the apartment tend to be more green than others,” says Filicia, whose new television show, “Dress My Nest,” airs on Wednesdays at 11 p.m. on the Style Network. “But that’s part of the decisions you have to make when designing green. You have to go as green as you can where you can. That’s all anyone can ask.”

The Riverhouse already counts as one of the more sensational green residences in the country. Actor and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio owns a large penthouse with Hudson River views and a private green roof. Tyra Banks also bought in the building. Twenty percent of residents have moved into the apartments, which average in cost around $2.5 million.

A City Bakery, Poet’s House and New York Public Library branch make up the building’s retail mix. A salt-water aquarium highlights the spacious lobby, slated to open next month.

The Sheldrake Organization carefully chose Filicia for the project, hoping his visibility and green philosophy would come through. With a reported budget of a couple of hundred thousand dollars, Filicia delivered.

“Our buyer can afford high-end design,” says J. Christopher Daly, owner of the New York-based Sheldrake Organization. “We met Thom [Filicia] at an open house at the building that he came to on his own. His work here shows that excellent design seamlessly blends into the green lifestyle our buyers are looking for….

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It’s Getting Easier to Be Green

j christopher daly, green building, sheldrake, riverhouse, river house

THEY are not yet as ubiquitous as the Toyota Prius, the hybrid car popular among the ecologically minded, but “green” apartment buildings have begun popping up around Manhattan. At least six large buildings designed to meet elevated standards for energy efficiency and for the use of environmentally friendly materials have opened in the last three years, and several more are under construction or being planned.

The green designation is conferred on buildings that incorporate recycled or renewable materials and that slash energy use and water consumption with features like photovoltaic cells, internal sewage treatment systems and roofs covered in soil and vegetation.

Developers say they are building green because they believe in it, but they also expect to gain a competitive edge. If faced with the choice of renting or buying two similar apartments, the developers say, consumers increasingly will opt for the one with green features, even if it comes at a higher price.

“We think it’s important to do, and we think that other buildings that don’t do this will become obsolete, and our buildings will continue to maintain their value,” said Douglas Durst, who built 4 Times Square, a pioneering green office building, in the late 1990’s. He is now building his second green apartment tower.

But will New York apartment dwellers share the enthusiasm

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of developers for going green?

Polly Brandmeyer and her husband, Michael, moved into the country’s first green apartment tower, the Solaire, a rental building at River Terrace and Murray Street in Battery Park City, when the building opened in 2003. They picked it because it was in the neighborhood they wanted (they were moving from two blocks away). They now pay about $6,500 a month for a three-bedroom, three-bath apartment, which is at the upper range of rents in the area.

At the time, the Brandmeyers thought of a green building as little more than a novelty.

“It’s funny,” Ms. Brandmeyer said, “because now the green part of the building is the most important to me. I think this should be the standard. It’s night and day different, the quality of living.”

Since moving in, the Brandmeyers have had two children, Alexa, now 2, and Nicholas, 6 months. Ms. Brandmeyer likes the fact that the air entering the building is filtered and that fresh air is constantly being circulated through her apartment, especially with all the construction around the nearby World Trade Center site. The humidity in the apartment is also regulated, so that the air does not get too dry, and she considers it an advantage that the building uses environmentally friendly cleaning products and paints. “You don’t have fumes everywhere from when they clean the carpets or paint an apartment,” Ms. Brandmeyer said.

Tenants in the city’s six green apartment buildings — five rental towers and a low-rise condominium — generally seem to split into two groups. One is made up of outright enthusiasts like Ms. Brandmeyer. Members of the other group say that while they may not always be able to tell the difference between a green apartment and one that is not, they like the idea of living in a building that, in numerous ways, is designed to tread a little more lightly on the planet.

“With the war in Iraq and gas prices over $3 a gallon, when you’re living in this particular era, you want to do what you can,” said Kelly Caldwell, who rents a one-bedroom apartment at the Helena, a 37-story green building at 57th Street and 11th Avenue. She would not say how much she pays in rent, but a typical one-bedroom in the building is $3,400 a month.

Ms. Caldwell, a freelance researcher, said the air did not seem noticeably fresher or the water purer in her apartment. But she does notice a big difference once a month when the electric bill comes.

In her previous apartment, which was about the same size, she paid about $200 a month in the summer for electricity. At the Helena, with its energy-efficient design, her bills have been about half that amount.

The road to a greener life has not always been without bumps, however.

At 1400 on Fifth, a green condo at 115th Street in Harlem that opened in late 2004, residents said there had been problems with a heating and cooling system that operates on water drawn from deep geothermal wells.

Lark E. Mason Jr., an expert on Chinese antiques who is seen regularly on “Antiques Roadshow” on PBS, moved with his wife, Erica, into a three-bedroom triplex apartment during the recent heat wave, only to find that the air-conditioning was not working properly. Grit from decomposed rock in the water from the geothermal wells was clogging the cooling units in some apartments, and the Masons were told that the developer, Full Spectrum of New York, planned to install filters to remove the grit from the system.

The Masons, who paid slightly under $1 million for their apartment, took the attitude that they were pioneers in a new way of urban living. “The concept is really exciting,” Ms. Mason said. “Practically speaking, there are still some kinks they’re working out.”

Carlton A. Brown, the chief operating officer at Full Spectrum, said that only some of the apartments had been affected and that he expected the filters to take care of the problem.

The Solaire’s 290 luxury rental units were built by the Albanese Organization in accordance with green building guidelines created by the Battery Park City Authority, which now requires all new office and residential buildings under its jurisdiction to meet the criteria.

Next, in late 2004, came 1400 on Fifth, built with support from the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development. The building has 129 units, including 85 that were sold at below-market rates to low- or moderate-income buyers.

Two more green buildings opened in 2005. The Related Companies completed TriBeCa Green, a 274-unit rental building at 325 North End Avenue, at Warren Street, across Teardrop Park from the Solaire. And in Hell’s Kitchen, the Durst Organization finished the Helena at 601 West 57th Street, at 11th Avenue, with 597 units. That building includes 120 units offered at below-market rents.

Early this year, Albanese completed its second green rental in Battery Park City, the Verdesian, with 250 units, at 211 North End Avenue, also on Teardrop Park.

Becker & Becker also finished work this year on the Octagon, a 500-unit rental building on Roosevelt Island that incorporates a restored octagonal tower from what was once the New York City Lunatic Asylum; 100 units there are for middle-income tenants.

Anybody can call a building green, so to impose some accountability, the United States Green Building Council created a rating system called LEED, short for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, to measure the degree to which buildings incorporate green practices and materials. The Solaire, Helena and TriBeCa Green have received gold ratings, the second-highest rating. Developers for the other buildings said they expect to receive either a gold rating or a silver, one rung below gold.

Several more green apartment buildings are either under construction or being planned. Five are in Battery Park City. Millennium Partners is at work on a 236-unit condo at Little West Street and First Place; Albanese is planning a 250-unit condo tower at 70 Little West Street; and the Sheldrake Organization is putting up a 320-unit condo called One Rockefeller Park, on River Terrace across Murray Street from the Solaire. Milstein Properties is planning two towers with a total of 421 condos on North End Avenue between Warren and Murray Streets. The developers say that new design refinements may qualify the Albanese and Sheldrake buildings for platinum LEED ratings, the highest.

In Midtown, Durst and a partner, Sidney Fetner Associates, are building a tower called the Epic at 125 West 31st Street. It will have about 400 rental units, 20 percent of them at below-market rates. The Dermot Companies are building the Mosaic, with two towers of about 300 rental units each, on 10th Avenue between 51st and 53rd Streets.

And in Harlem, Full Spectrum and a development partner are at work on another project, the Kalahari, with 250 condos on 116th Street between Fifth and Lenox Avenues. Half of the units will go to moderate- or low-income buyers.

The buildings share many similar features. To improve indoor air quality, they circulate filtered air through the apartments. (The windows open, but some tenants say they prefer the indoor air.) They also use products that eliminate or minimize volatile organic compounds, or V.O.C.’s, such as formaldehyde, which can give off unwanted gases. They choose paints that are low in V.O.C.’s and carpets and cabinets with low-V.O.C. adhesives. They also use many recycled products, like

carpets made from recycled materials or wood flooring rescued from demolished buildings.

Energy saving is a key factor in building green, and most buildings are expected to use at least 35 percent less energy than typical apartment towers. Most of the buildings have photovoltaic cells to generate electricity used in the lobbies and hallways. The newest buildings have microturbines, powered by natural gas, to generate electricity. Green roofs improve insulation and cut rainwater runoff.

To receive a LEED rating, completed buildings must be evaluated, and points are awarded for their green features.

Bruce S. Fowle’s firm, FXFowle Architects, designed the Helena and the Epic. He said the Helena includes an internal sewage-treatment system that purifies wastewater and recycles it for use in the building’s toilets, which gave the project enough points to qualify for a gold rating. The Epic will not have such a system, although it will be comparable in other ways, like its energy-saving features and environmentally friendly materials. As a result, Mr. Fowle said, it will probably receive a silver rating.

Developers say that features necessary for a gold LEED rating generally add 6 to 8 percent to the cost of a building. In the case of One Rockefeller Park, J. Christopher Daly, the president of Sheldrake, said that he expected to spend an additional 8 percent, or $18 million, for the building’s green elements, which include an unusual double-glass wall that provides an added level of insulation.

J. Christopher Daly Launches NYC’s first green apartment Designed by Thom Filicia

Riverhouse event launch, designed by Thom Filicia, NYC

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Photos by Patrick McMullan

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Dedicated to Providing Affordable Housing

J. Christopher Daly

Founder and President, Sheldrake Organization “Recycling, Rehabilitating, and Recreating Sustainable Buildings in New

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York State”

J. Christopher Daly is the President

of Sheldrake Organization. He founded Sheldrake in 1988 with the mission to recycle and create urban residential and commercial properties. Under Daly’s leadership the company has earned a reputation as a responsible developer, dedicated to providing affordable housing, environmentally responsible residencies, and creative urban business opportunities. With nearly 5,000 units of housing, the Sheldrake Organization has and will continue to be an effective and socially conscious developer, owner, and manager of residential developments.

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