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Future flexibility in multi-family buildings

It was recently reported that Jimmy Fallon and his wife are selling their New York City Penthouse in Gramercy Park. It’s listed for $15 million. In looking at the photos, it’s pretty much what I would have expected. It’s fun and quirky. And they have a “saloon room” that looks like it could be in Wyoming. But what I also find interesting is how they assembled this apartment over time.

It started in 2002. Jimmy Fallon was single and he bought his first place in the building — a one bedroom for $850,000. According to the article, he couldn’t really afford it. But as he was nearing the end of his run on SNL, Lorne Michael encouraged him to buy his own place. So he went and did that in Gramercy Park in a building that dates back to the 1800s.

As life evolved and as Jimmy got married, he and his wife started buying contiguous apartments — three more to be exact. Their penthouse apartment is now about 5,000 square feet and spans three floors in the building. It’s an interesting case study in the flexibility of multi-family buildings. Here is a building that was built in the 1800s and has probably seen a myriad of changes over its lifetime.

Future flexibility is something that is talked about here in Toronto in the context of new construction. We talk about “knock-out panels” so that someone like Jimmy can grow into a larger suite. I’m not sure how often this actually happens, but I would imagine the frequency is relatively low. But it’s very possible and not just in older buildings like The Gramercy Park.


  1. Craig Patterson

    Very interesting article. I was told be a Realtor that basically it’s not possible in Toronto to join apartments (unless there is a knock-out panel as you mentioned). NYC seems to be a different story as it’s done all the time. Brandon, you probably have a lot more insight into this, I’m curious if Toronto has seen many apartments expand into adjacent spaces post-construction.

    In the building I live in, I know that several apartments were joined together (including my next door neighbour who has 6,030 square feet) though I believe these larger units were al conceptualized prior to construction and not joined subsequently.

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  2. Judith Martin

    I can think of two precedents in the UK, both with housing at the bottom on the social scale. The huge blocks of Peabody apartments in London (belonging to the charity founded by the American banker George Peabody in 1862 when he visited and was appalled at the poverty he saw) were a huge step up for the poor when they were built but by the second half (or maybe third quarter) of the 20th century were seen to be far too small. So the charity knocked pairs of them together. They’re still not huge but more appropriate for modern life, and above all (at least when I researched them some time ago) affordable, well-maintained and popular. Tenants stay for decades.
    Also in Lancashire, the mill towns have a mass of small-scale terrace housing built in the 19th century. The textile industry attracted large numbers of immigrant workers, often from Bangladesh, in the mid 20th century, who typically live in larger family groups than the British. (Mind you, their families may not be bigger than the families of the Victorian mill workers, but overcrowding wasn’t much considered 100 years before.) Rather than demolish, a charitable preservation trust (The Heritage Trust for the North West) acquired several streets of terrace houses and proceeded to knock two or even three houses into one, to adapt for the newer arrivals. A very good UK academic on this subject is Michael Hebbert, previously of Manchester University, now of UCL.
    A long way from a $15m penthouse but as they say, the greenest building is one that already exists, so the greater flexibility and reuse, the better.

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