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Like so many great things in life, the idea of designing Beckford House and Tower as a pair started with a conversation over drinks. Todd Cohen and Terrence Lowenberg, principals of Icon Realty Management had commissioned Bill Sofield, the designer behind 111 West 57th Street and a darling of the fashion elite, to design a tower on East 81st Street and 2nd Avenue, but one evening at Temple Bar in Soho, fate intervened. When Sofield learned about the opportunity to create something one block north, he told Cohen and Lowenberg that they had the chance to design a new neighborhood. As Sofield tells it, a few hours later they changed course and began designing the buildings as a pair—and the results are stunning. Departures got an exclusive first look.
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“I’m a contextualist so I spend a lot of time on sites before I even think about designing something,” Sofield told Departures. In that spirit, he eschewed the more modern glass box buildings that are so common these days, instead channeling the grand pre-war architecture that the Upper East Side is known for by cladding the exterior in three different types of limestone and brick. He also drew inspiration from the more modest townhouses east of Park Avenue, in particular the buildings on 81st Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues. “Each house or shop has a pair of globe lanterns on either side of the door and that continues down the street,” Sofield explained. “So one of the first gestures was to include the globe lights on our building and it sets up the whole rhythm.”
The incredible attention to detail continues inside both buildings, with custom hardware, stone fireplaces from London, bespoke silk carpets, and more luxurious finishes. In the entrance to Beckford Tower, there’s a massive cast glass mural by local artisans and cut crystal hanging light fixtures made in Vienna. “I think no matter how beautiful something is, if you repeat it too much it starts to become soulless, so each of the buildings has an entirely different set of details,” Sofield said. “The way I craft everything is element by element.”
The main difference between the two buildings is the size. Beckford House is the more intimate property, with just 32 residences ranging from two to five bedrooms spread out over 21 floors. Beckford Tower stands 31 stories high and has 72 residences, which range from one to six bedrooms, with three full-floor penthouses with expansive terraces. Both buildings feature soaring ceilings from nine to 13 feet high, open living spaces with custom millwork, and kitchens with marble countertops, hand-painted Christopher Peacock cabinetry, and appliances by Sub-Zero and Wolf. The master bathrooms include deep Kohler tubs, enclosed showers, and specially made vanities. The residences range from $2 million to $25 million.
The other difference is in the amenities. “The pool seems like something you would find at Claridge’s rather than in a building on the Upper East Side,” Sofield mused, explaining how he incorporated whimsical seahorse motifs and glass mosaics into the art deco-inspired pool in Beckford Tower. The tower also has a grand reception room and library, a piano bar designed to feel like a private member’s club, a fully equipped game room, children’s playroom, and 3,000 square feet of wellness amenities, including a fitness center, yoga studio, and basketball half-court. Beckford House also has a fitness center and yoga studio as well as a reception room and private lounge. What it lacks in terms of other amenities, it makes up for with a rooftop terrace outfitted with plush seating, verdant greenery, and an outdoor kitchen. Fortunately, residents of either building get access to all the amenities in both buildings.
“I’m not sure, given the choice, which building I would choose,” Sofield reflected. “81st Street there’s a real intimacy to it and then of course 80th Street is so incredibly grand.” Though Sofield has worked on the kinds of stratospheric real estate that tends to draw foreign investors, he’s pleased to report that he’s had a lot of calls about these buildings from New Yorkers. “The overall tenor is, ‘It seems like the most fantastic thing to ever hit New York—is there anything wrong with it? It seems too good to be true.’ And I’m like ‘no, they really are that well-built.’”