Chances are you've seen the ads touting architect Michael Graves' collection of household items at Target stores. Well, that's not the only surprising place you'll find this famous architect. Look for his name splashed throughout the marketing campaign for Maxwell Place on the Hudson, a luxury mixed-use community he is designing on the waterfront of Hoboken, N.J.
"He is all over our design center that is about to open, our sales offices, our brochure, and our Web site," says Mary Boorman, senior vice president of marketing and strategic planning for Pinnacle, which is developing the 832-unit project with Toll Brothers.
Graves' name is everywhere–and for good reason. As more and more luxury condos and apartments go online across the country, it's getting increasingly difficult for developers to find ways to differentiate their properties from the pack. So developers are turning to high-profile architects, like Graves and Robert A.M. Stern, to give their properties a distinct, competitive edge.
Graves' image is the perfect complement to the upscale Maxwell Place, says Boorman. "We thought it would be a really good idea to bring in someone who has a branded image for special design," she says. "Our market is a lot of people who are very tied in with New York City and tend to be cutting-edge when it comes to what they wear and what they buy for their home." Graves is designing the building's lobbies and interior spaces.
Some developers are taking name recognition to a whole new level. At one of its Stern-designed projects, ARCWheeler Group, a Philadelphia-based developer, is offering upgraded units with products and finishes handpicked by Stern himself. The finishes–from light fixtures to flooring and crown molding–are prominently displayed in the design center for 10 Rittenhouse Square, a luxury condo project being developed in Philadelphia. And residents are willing to pay an extra $100,000-plus for these upgrades, says Robert Ambrosi, a partner at ARCWheeler.
High-profile architects, however, can bring more than just marketing opportunities to a project. Neighbor-hood groups and elected officials respond very positively to the assurance of high-quality design, says
Dick Knapp, senior vice president of Vienna, Va.-based KSI Services, which is building several communities in the Washington metropolitan area designed by prominent architects Stern and Cesar Pelli. And these designers know how to address a crowd of concerned citizens. "These famous architects are famous for a reason," Knapp says. "They can command the attention of a room and can be quite motivational and inspirational."
Of course, fame often comes with a high price tag. The architects' design fees are typically 20 percent higher than a pure production architect, says Knapp. Plus, you can expect higher construction costs, since they tend to spec more costly, detailed finishes for items like windows and trim. But these higher costs–some of which can be recouped through higher rents and sales prices–might just be worth it if you can sell 152 units in your building to residents in only two and half hours, as with Maxwell Place.
–Rachel Z. Azoff