As is typical of all bureaucracies, the state of Massachusetts has laid out its guidelines for Phase III Mandatory Safety Standards (August 10) for re-opening restaurants by releasing a 4,500-word directive whose implementation gets down—I kid you not—to pretzels and potato chips, plexi-glass dividers, pool tables, chalkboards and salt and pepper. Tough as such standards will be to adhere to on a case-by-case basis, Boston’s restaurants are doing everything they can do save their businesses.
One large operations which I visited last winter before the pandemic hit, had little time to resurrect their three establishments and re-hire sufficient personnel to enforce the flurry of regulations, but, as I’ve noted before, there is no more resilient and determined industry in America than the restaurant sector.
Woods Hill Pier 4 (300 Pier Four Boulevard; 617-981-4577), located on the repurposed Boston Harbor piers where the famous (and creaky) Anthony’s Pier 4 used to sit, is part of a development, like New York’s Hudson Yards that has razed whatever historic atmosphere the area once had, now a warren of high-rise glass and steel buildings indistinguishable from their mirror images in Asia. Ironically, then, Woods Hill Pier 4 is a restaurant with a very clear link to the traditions of New England bounty and provender.
Owner Kristin Canty and Partner-Chef Charlie Foster (previously at Boston’s Toro and Clio) work with their own Farm at Woods Hill in Bath, NH, and other small purveyors to utilize “the whole animal” approach via “grass fed proteins, sustainably caught fish, raw milk cheeses, locally grown and soaked organic grains, raw fermented foods, and organic produce to deliver nutrient dense dishes that employ the best ecologically viable ingredients available.”
Seeking to maximize all possible means of producing profits during the epidemic, they are currently open for dinner 7 days a week, with lunch on Friday, brunch of Saturday and Sunday. They are doing “contactless” take-out, including cocktails, and the outdoor patio season will extend into fall and winter with heaters.
It’s a good-looking modern dining room, though hardly farm-like, with a rippling wave-like ceiling, sea blue armchairs, and a large window wall. (At full capacity it gets very loud, but these days that’s not a problem with reduced seating.) When I visited last February, the menu was more-or-less winter based, which meant cold water halibut with a luscious green peppercorn beurre monté Swiss chard, rutabaga and candied lemon ($27), and a lovely parsnip tartine with buckwheat crust, maple-glazed carrots, frisée and the tang of grapefruit ($15). Shaved Rhode Island whelk was a delight, bathed in lobster broth with green apple and lime ($17). The housemade pastas included a well-wrought bucatini all’amatriciana with guanciale bacon from their own farm ($28) and another with lamb bacon, eggplant caponata, pine nuts and a mint gremolata ($29). Both are still on the menu. There’s also a lavish shellfish platter for four to six people at $130.
I’m not a fan of grass-fed beef, but the lean steak tartare took on fine flavors of rosemary and tallow aïoli, crispy shallots for textural interest, a quail egg and warm, chewy baguette ($16). I was happier with the nicely-fatted crispy lamb ribs with urfa pepper and a red wine glaze ($19), and a full-flavored glazed pork butt with winter squash ($23). Incidentally, all menu items have code letters to indicate if they gluten-free, dairy free, vegetarian and nut free. It’s come to that.
Now, at the end of summer, menu items (I have not tried) include whelk with melon, cucumber, sesame, torn herbs, Thai chili vinaigrette ($18); pork belly confit with peach ponzu, Maine kelp salad, jalapeño (($17); a watermelon and fried clam salad with shaved sweet peppers, mint and habanero yogurt dressing ($17); and now, with tomatoes at their best in New England, heirloom tomato salad with crispy feta stuffed squash blossom, basil and purslane aïoli and espelette pepper ($19). And this would hardly be Boston if they didn’t include a mound of lobster, celery, red onion, creme fraiche inside a warm popover.
For dessert there are hot beignets with rhubarb aïoli butter and chocolate ($12) and daily ice creams. The lemon meringue pie is an American classic.
Silicon Valley is catching up to the real estate industry. Over the past decade, more than $30 billion has poured into PropTech, a new generation of startups at the intersection of property and technology.
As the owner of the largest independent real estate brokerage and advisory firm in Massachusetts, I have been studying the brokerage industry for 25 years. I’ve seen aspiring disruptors come and go. This time is different.
It’s an open secret that real estate, the world’s largest asset class, has also been one of the slowest industries to adopt new technologies. In fact, a recent KPMG survey found that only 58% of real estate companies have a digital strategy in place. The current situation leaves the field wide open to innovation—and disruption.
Startups like Hemlane and Eden are streamlining property management services. Landis acquires homes as investment properties, then allows tenants to “rent to buy” when the company’s underwriting algorithms deem renters are qualified to purchase. Bowery automates the traditional manual process of appraising commercial properties with a data-driven platform and mobile app. As PropTech continues to infiltrate the real estate industry, the conventional brokerage community will need to embrace innovation if it wants to stay in business and remain competitive.
In order for brokers and agents to take the technological leap, they need to recognize that every real estate transaction will ultimately begin and end online. Today, unicorns such as Zillow and Redfin are redefining and leading the consumer experience of search by creating new platforms for buying, selling, and renting homes. These tech companies are a wake-up call for real estate agents to reinvent or die.
For example, StreetEasy and Matterport have reduced the friction costs of finding an apartment rental. A sophisticated renter can avoid an upfront fee and still find her dream apartment with ease. This experience is one example of many where we see real estate consumers embrace technology and the benefits that it offers.
The question, of course, is how far will tech get us? And is there still a role for people in this digital revolution?
The answer isn’t all doom and gloom for America’s two million real estate agents. While PropTech will ultimately bring all listings online, real estate agents are still critical for the most important part of the purchasing process: advisory service. If all politics is local, that is doubly true for real estate. Even the most tech savvy buyer or seller can benefit from the counsel of someone with market knowledge about individual neighborhoods.
The value of expertise, after all, is timeless. Davy Greenberg said it best in a viral tweet: “If I do a job in 30 minutes it’s because I spent 10 years learning how to do that in 30 minutes. You owe me for the years, not the minutes.” For now, there is no suitable replacement for the time-tested insights of brokers with access to hyperlocal data.
Be that as it may, technological progress is relentless. Real estate brokerages and agents should pay attention to this wakeup call or become obsolete.
The pivot from conventional practice to digital efficiency has created new business opportunities for real estate agents with sharp analytical skills who understand how to translate data into palatable information. While technology narrows the gap, PropTech is still in its infancy, with a lot yet to learn. As the tech editor Chris Nuttall wrote in the Financial Times, “For all our fears about artificial intelligence becoming far too clever—as it uses machine learning on huge data sets to give it superhuman powers—people are thankfully still pretty good at making AI look like an idiot.”
Despite the need for human dexterity, it is undeniable that the future of the real estate brokerage business will revolve around the instantaneous application of data. From leads to listings, we live in a digital world. Consequently, it’s imperative for real estate agents to combine their accrued market acumen with new technology in order to be a trusted resource and effective advisor.
We are at a crucial juncture within the history of the brokerage industry that will test the survival of every real estate agent. The rise of automation and artificial intelligence will continue to propel the growing dominance of tech-powered players. As a result, PropTech will likely drive down transaction costs and eliminate jobs. The real estate agents and brokerages who survive and thrive in the coming crunch will be those who embrace technology, not fight it.
Jason S. Weissman is the CEO of Boston Realty Advisors, the largest independent real estate services firm in New England.
It’s another sign of continued confidence in Boston’s housing market, despite the pandemic
The Midtown Hotel could soon be no more.
Developers on Wednesday filed plans with the city to tear down the mid-century motor inn on Huntington Avenue and replace it with a 10-story apartment building.
Newton-based National Development, which took over the property under a long-term lease with First Church of Christ, Scientist in March, said it aims to put 325 apartments and street-level retail on the site of the hotel. It also promised to make improvements to Huntington Avenue across from the Christian Science Plaza, where the Back Bay, South End and Fenway all meet.
A letter delivered to the Boston Planning & Development Agency was a preliminary step; more detailed plans and images are likely in the coming weeks, followed by rounds of community meetings and public review. A groundbreaking would probably be at least a year away. Indeed, National plans to lease the 159-room Midtown to Northeastern University for student housing this academic year.
But the move is another show of long-term confidence in Boston’s housing market from a veteran local developer. While development proposals basically stopped for several months at the start of the pandemic, a growing number have landed at the BPDA in recent weeks, a sign that developers believe that by the time these buildings open — probably at least three years from now in the Midtown project’s case — the demand for places to live and work in Boston’s core will have recovered.
It’s also the latest in a string of developments to reshape the area around the historic Christian Science Plaza. The church has sold several parcels — most prominently the one that’s now home to the One Dalton tower — to builders over the last decade or so.
Terms of its deal with National have not been made public.
Like a lot of other real estate activity, the coronavirus pandemic has represented a pause for the luxury condo market in greater Boston. But there are signs that the pause won’t be a long one.
After a period of adjustment to the new realities of the pandemic, buyers who put off buying upper-end properties will soon be back in the market, developers said on Bisnow’s Boston Luxury Condo Update webinar. Demand will rise, but supply won’t rise as far, because it never has in Boston, whose entitlement and zoning process is protracted.
“There are not a lot of silver linings in this pandemic, but it has created a surge in the Massachusetts residential market, both in the traditional single-family bedroom communities in Boston, but also in the Cape and islands,” Boston Realty Advisors Senior Partner Jason Weissman said.
For the moment, that might mean people are looking to live outside the city, but in terms of the ecosystem of Boston residential properties, activity near Boston will ultimately be good for the city market, he said.
“I don’t look at it as losing people from Boston, but as more liquidity in the market post-pandemic,” Weissman said, adding that in many Massachusetts communities, there is less than one month inventory of single-family homes.
There are also hints that, however much cachet upmarket single-family suburban houses might have for the moment (because it is easier to distance oneself in them), buyers are still interested in luxe urban properties.
In June, just one Boston residence listed for over $5M took an offer, while in July, five properties at that price range found buyers, according to a report by David Bates, a Boston Realtor and specialist in the luxury market.
Of the six accepted offers for those months, four were in Beacon Hill, one was in Back Bay and one was in the South End, and they were all new construction or recent rehabs, Bates noted.
When the luxury market does make its comeback, its fundamentals will be strong, because there is a lack of inventory. The amount of condo inventory varies significantly between city neighborhoods, according to Boston Realty Advisors data. In places like East Boston, the South End and Allston/Brighton, there is less than three months’ supply. Beacon Hill has about five-and-a-half months’ supply, and Back Bay has more than six months.
“What that means is, demand will quickly catch up to the supply, once people begin to come back,” Weissman said.
“We see that people are still interested in buying and leasing,” HYM Investment Group Senior Development Manager Julie Livingston said. “We’re going through a pause right now, but people are still craving a return to some normalcy.”
In partnership with National Real Estate Advisors, HYM is developing The Sudbury, which is the first residential building in Bulfinch Crossing in Downtown Boston. It includes 55 condos on its top 11 floors and 368 rental units on the lower floors.
Bulfinch Crossing is the 2.9M SF redevelopment of the Government Center garage. Part of the project involves taking down half of the garage and wrapping three new high-rise buildings around the remainder. One of those buildings is The Sudbury.
One reason for the strong interest, Livingston said, is that people still want to be in the city. The Sudbury has a walkability score of 99, but also quick connections to transit.
“For the sales that are happening, prices aren’t coming down,” Livingston said. “We’re targeting between $3.5M and $6M, at over $2K/SF, and we feel confident in the market.”
Community will be an important concept for downtowns after COVID-19 subsides, and Raffles Boston Back Bay Hotel & Residences will take advantage of that, said Noannet Group founder Jordan Warshaw, whose company is developing the new condo/hotel tower with Cain International.
For example, he said, there will be 16 intimate spaces in the building for residents and hotel guests to meet, a design that will cater to the human need for interaction in smaller settings. That is something the pandemic will not destroy.
“Has there been a pause because of COVID? Have suburban sales taken off? Yes,” Warshaw said. “But people are desperate for community, they live for community, and the place to get it is cities. You can’t change the massive demographic phenomenon of people moving toward community.”
Raffles is an international luxury hospitality brand founded in Singapore, with 14 properties worldwide now. When 33-story Boston Raffles opens in 2022, it will be the first North American location for the brand, which is owned by Accor. The tower will include 147 hotel rooms and 146 residences.
“Boston isn’t a newly developed, cookie-cutter type city, and Raffles is the furthest thing in the luxury realm from a cookie-cutter-type brand,” he said.
Cain International CEO Jonathan Goldstein said that his company is a believer in gateway cities, such as Boston, and in the luxury space. There is an undersupply of luxury space in Boston, he said.
“We have a huge amount of confidence we’re in the right position, notwithstanding the pandemic,” Goldstein said. “Whilst we might, for the next six or 12 or even 18 months, be doubting ourselves or our cities, ultimately human talent will want to be in metropolitan cities, and will want the luxury and entertainment and business opportunities.”
Boston luxury condos have always been in high demand, with expansions from the inner city to the Seaport. Like many markets across the country, tenant activity and demands have evolved and the development process was halted.
What communication with tenants is being had? Are developers noticing that tenant design demands are changing? Will rentals numbers in the condo market grow? Which projects are changing the condo landscape despite the coronavirus and which Boston submarkets are seeing buying activity?
Join Bisnow as we connect with Noannet Group Founder Jordan Warshaw, HYM Investment Group Senior Development Manager Julie Livingstone and Cain International CEO Jonathan Goldstein for a discussion on how the Boston condo market has evolved and what that evolution means for the market moving forward.
Are luxury condos still a viable investment option given the current state of the market?
In traditionally strong submarkets (Seaport, Back Bay, etc) tenant demand remains strong. How is inventory in the other submarkets fairing?
Are condos trading right now? If so, are they discounted or in line with pre-pandemic numbers?
Have design expectations from tenants for developments underway changed?
Will condos as leasing opportunities be explored given the current buying landscape?
Monthly activity remains well below pre-pandemic levels as fears about job security and health keep many potential buyers sidelined
By Nicole Friedman | Wall Street Journal | June 22, 2020
A sluggish U.S. housing market is staging a recovery amid the pandemic, shaking off high unemployment and a rising number of infections as buyers with pent-up demand seize on record-low mortgage rates.
Sales of previously owned homes rose 20.7% in June over the prior month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.72 million, according to data from the National Association of Realtors released Wednesday, the biggest monthly increase on record going back to 1968. The surge in existing-home sales follows other recent bullish indicators such as rising new-home sales, robust home-builder activity and a flood of mortgage applications.
Driving sales are apartment renters seeking more space, young families moving to the suburbs, and wealthy city dwellers looking for second homes, brokers and economists say. At the same time, the supply of houses for sale remains low, with the pandemic making potential sellers cautious about letting people tour their homes.
“The housing market is hot, red hot,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for NAR, an industry trade group. “As we are coming out of the lockdown, we see this backlog of buyers…trying to take advantage of the record-low mortgage rates.”
Even with the jump in home sales, monthly activity remains well below levels that were seen before the spring lockdowns. June sales marked an 11.3% decrease from a year earlier. Many potential buyers remain on the sidelines, concerned about job security or the health risks related to visiting homes.
Sales of previously owned homes, which make up the vast majority of U.S. housing stock, were particularly strong last month in the West and South. Mr. Yun said activity was higher in small towns and suburbs than in urban centers. Compared with a year earlier, sales increased for homes between $250,000 and $500,000, while declining for lower-priced and higher-priced homes.
Rising home sales could boost the economy, as builders ramp up construction and new homeowners splurge on furniture and renovations. But a resurgence in Covid-19 cases and continued high unemployment could weigh on demand in the coming months. The housing market typically accounts for between 15% and 18% of the U.S. economy, according to the National Association of Home Builders.
The housing market has been a rare bright spot for what’s expected to be an exceptionally weak second quarter for the economy. Gross domestic product is expected to contract at a 35.3% annual rate in the second quarter, according to data firm IHS Markit. That would mark the sharpest quarterly deterioration in records dating back to 1947.
Home sales had been in a two-year rut headed into 2020, weighed down by perennially tight supply and historically high home prices. Even solid U.S. economic growth and low unemployment couldn’t get sales moving.
The housing market showed signs of finally busting out when activity surged at the start of the year. February existing-homes sales hit their highest monthly pace in 13 years. But they hit a wall a few weeks later, after widespread lockdowns kept buyers indoors, prevented real-estate agents from showing homes in some places, and prompted some sellers to pull their houses off the market.
Now, the major question is whether June’s strong sales pace can continue through the summer. In week ended July 14, about one-fourth of American adults missed their latest mortgage or rent payment or had little confidence they can make the next payment on time, according to a Census Bureau survey.
Homes typically go under contract a month or two before the sale closes, so the June data largely reflect purchase decisions made in April or May.
Some agents and brokers are optimistic that the usual spring demand has been pushed to the summer, and that momentum is building. The spring is normally the busiest season for home sales, as buyers with children want to move into new homes before the school year starts.
“We were in a strong housing market before, and we’re going back to it again,” said Jerry Howard, chief executive of the NAHB. “Even in places where the virus is peaking, there is still interest in home buying.”
Some of the hottest markets in May, which would be reflected in the June sales data, were Phoenix, Nashville, Tenn., Jacksonville, Fla., and Austin, Texas, said Danielle Hale, chief economist at Realtor.com. News Corp, parent of The Wall Street Journal, operates Realtor.com.
In the Phoenix area, some homes on the market are getting 20 or more offers, said Kelly Khalil, an agent with Redfin Corp. The number of homes for sale is limited, and buyers are worried about missing out, she said. “I’m starting to feel like by this time next year, we won’t have any houses under $400,000 in our hotter markets,” she said.
Economists warn that growing Covid-19 outbreaks in some parts of the country, including Arizona, Texas and Florida, could slow the market’s gains. Some buyers from New York and California are delaying their trips to Miami to shop for homes due to concerns about the state’s rising case count, said Danny Hertzberg, an agent with Coldwell Banker Realty.
“It felt like we were gaining momentum week after week, month after month, and all of a sudden there’s a little bit of a pause,” Mr. Hertzberg said.
Other housing indicators suggest a more bullish mood is emerging. A measure of U.S. home-builder confidence rose in July to pre-pandemic levels, the NAHB said last week. Housing starts, a measure of U.S. home-building, also rose 17.3% in June from May, the Commerce Department said last week. Pending new-home sales rose to a record in June, Meyers Research said on Wednesday.
For Liz Morrison and David Mahaffey, the attraction of low interest rates outweighed concerns about the pandemic.
The couple started touring homes in May and closed on their first house in Plano, Texas, in June. “It did feel scary. You never know when something’s going to go wrong,” said Ms. Morrison, 27 years old. “But I really was attracted to the low interest rate to save money over time.”
The average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage fell to 2.98% last week, the lowest level on record, said mortgage-finance giant Freddie Mac. Mortgage applications for home purchases rose 19% from a year earlier in the week ended July 17, the ninth straight week of year-over-year increases, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s seasonally adjusted index.
But limited inventory could make it harder to find a home. There were 1.57 million homes for sale at the end of June, up 1.3% from May but down 18.2% from June 2019, NAR said.
The 1918 flu outbreak gave us the powder room. What will COVID-19’s design legacy be?
A pandemic is temporary, but its impact on residential design could last for generations.
“Security” became the buzzword in building design and construction following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Stronger reinforcement, increased fire safety, and heightened security are baseline expectations in an office building since the tragedies at the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Architects expect COVID-19 to leave its legacy on building design, from new forms of apartment living to suburban single-family homes, long after a vaccine is discovered.
“There’s a lifestyle change happening. It’s been three months since shelter-in-place orders came out,” said Liz Morgan, creative director at Portland, Ore.-based JHL Design. “That’s plenty of time to change habits, so there’s just going to be more attention to home design — period.”
The longer quarantines and operation restrictions last, the more people will rely on their homes as mission control for daily life. But a kitchen counter as a home office, or free weights shoved into the corner of a guest bedroom masquerading as a gym, are only stopgap measures.
As corporate teams warm to the idea of working from home, heightened short-term health measures are becoming protocol — think of the health equivalent of a TSA screening at the airport. As social distancing remains in the back of everyone’s mind, home expectations will adjust, Morgan said.
“It also depends on someone’s means and how much space they have,” she added.
Dedicated spaces for home offices or gyms are among the more talked about home design changes, but these can still be achieved with dedicated areas in smaller spaces like a studio apartment.
Improved air filtration systems as well as pivoting away from synthetic materials like glues and certain padding under flooring may appeal to buyers with compromised immune systems or asthma. A recent study of home buyers found that 66 percent would spend another $1,000 on their home if it included a whole house air filtration system, according to Mollie Carmichael, principal of Meyers Research. That’s up from 56 percent least year. Homeowners or potential buyers will probably also crave flexible space or indoor/outdoor rooms to boost their access to natural air.
More elaborate design changes include adding a “drop zone” or transition space from the outdoors to inside like a mudroom.
“People are going to have to have places to keep things that haven’t been sanitized and where you can sanitize materials,” Morgan said.
More than half the home buyers in Gazelle Global Research’s America at Home Study, which was conducted in late April, said they wanted features like germ-resistant countertops and flooring, touch-free faucets and appliances, a better-equipped kitchen for cooking, and more storage for food and water.
Kerrie Kelly, a design expert for Zillow, is predicting an uptick in smart-home features. “Touchless faucets and bidets are only the beginning,” Kelly said. “Just wait until the floor tile takes your temperature and the bathroom mirror checks your vitals. Exciting new products are on the horizon when it comes to keeping a clean, safe, and healthy home.”
More than 30 percent of those surveyed in the America at Home study wanted amenities like touchless home entry, a home office, and an adaptable space with flexible walls. In research Zillow released on June 22, Katie Detwiler, vice president of marketing for Berks Homes, said buyers will see the return of doors. “Open floor plans are changing. People are feeling like they need more privacy, so we’ll see more doors — especially for home offices — more insulation for noise control, and separate spaces to keep the kids busy while parents work,” Detwiler said. “More people will work from home in the future — period. There will need to be space and privacy to accommodate that.”
“A home office has been part of the plan for a number of our builders over time, but not everyone has asked for one over the last 10 years,” said Donna Tefft, director of marketing and sales at The Pinehills — a 3,200-acre residential development in Plymouth. “Recently, potential buyers are asking for not only one at-home office but two.”
The Pinehills is home to nearly 2,500 families, with an expected build-out of 3,000-plus homes. Buyers are flocking to the development 45 miles south of Boston because of its outdoor spaces and 10 miles of walking trails, Tefft added, but they are also looking for new amenities within their own home.
To accommodate two home offices, various home builders in the Plymouth development are weighing whether to convert loft spaces or finish walk-out basements to accommodate two offices in future homes. More recently, prospective buyers of homes in development have asked about fitness facilities and even “getaway spaces,” or go-between areas to take a call that aren’t open environments like a living room or a bedroom.
While many of these amenities were under consideration precoronavirus, the pandemic has throttled forward the planned rollout.
“One of the consultants we work with says disruptions like this amplify changes already underway,” said Tony Green, the development’s managing partner.
Any changes to building and home design stemming from COVID-19 would be the latest chapter in centuries of architectural responses to public health crises.
Wide front porches and increased ventilation gained popularity following three cholera pandemics in the first half of the 1800s. Carpeting and upholstery in bathrooms became far less fashionable later that century as scientists began to understand how germs and disease are spread.
Powder rooms surged in popularity following the flu pandemic of 1918, according to City Lab, Bloomberg’s urban life publication. Similar to Morgan’s prediction that mudrooms could gain in popularity as a drop zone because of COVID-19, powder rooms were billed as a way to sanitize quickly upon first entering a home.
Pandemics have a history of shaping residential design, but it still may take awhile for COVID-19′s legacy to permeate the Boston housing market. Projects currently underway or on the cusp of breaking ground have been in the planning and approval process for months, if not years. But some building infrastructure changes, such as increased air filtration and improved HVAC systems, have already been adopted into various municipal building codes in Greater Boston and in major metropolitan areas around the country, those interviewed for this story said.
It may take time for a contemporary post-pandemic legacy to emerge.
“All these things are being considered but, really, for our area, this only erupted in early March. People are still figuring things out,” said Frank DiCenso, a vice president at Bridgewater-based Callahan Construction Managers. “If we have this interview in three, four, or five months from now, I’d bet we see some changes.”
It’s simply a matter of when, not if, changes arrive to design, Morgan said.
Social-distancing measures in phased economic reopenings have led to temporary barriers in commercial properties like offices and restaurants. While health and safety concerns made those responses more immediate, it could take months for home design to shift.
“It’s kind of like asking a designer how long until the next big fashion cycle will come around,” Morgan said. “With home design, some people are still concerned with having a contractor come inside, so it’s hard to predict when this will all manifest.”
Coronavirus quarantines have many people rethinking the interiors of their homes this spring. DIY projects were tackled, and rooms reorganized. Now that summer’s here, why not give the same mini-makeover to backyards and outdoor spaces?
You’ll feel less cooped up if you bring some indoor style outside, even if it’s just to a tiny balcony or front porch, said New Jersey interior designer Anna Maria Mannarino.
“You’re expanding the real estate really by bringing the indoors out,” Mannarino said.
Here, she and two other design experts — Connecticut landscape architect Janice Parker and Houston interior designer Lauren Rottet — share advice on how they create stylish outdoor spaces that can accommodate a range of activities, from cooking and socially distant entertaining to relaxing and working from home.
Comfort and coziness
Even the smallest outdoor space probably has room for one or two comfortable chairs and a bistro table, Mannarino said. If you don’t normally keep a table outside, Rottet suggested bringing out a small folding table when you want to dine or work outside. Add a crisp linen tablecloth, she said, and even an inexpensive card table will look special.
Layering the space with pillows and a throw blanket for evenings adds a cozy vibe. Choose pillows and cushions in an outdoor-friendly fabric like Sunbrella, which needs little care to stay looking and feeling good throughout the seasons, Mannarino said.
“And I would definitely add an outdoor rug if you have the space to do it,” she said.
If you don’t want to buy an outdoor rug, Parker said, just bring out a throw rug from inside to use on a sunny day.
Sounds and scents
The sounds of rippling water or birdsong can be great antidotes to rumbling traffic or barking dogs. Parker suggested buying an inexpensive tabletop fountain, and bird feeders to attract songbirds.
“It’s a great time to get into bird-watching,” she said, “because they do seem to be more abundant than in the past.” (Get a squirrel-proof feeder if you want to make sure the food actually goes to the birds.)
There’s an even simpler, virtual option, Parker pointed out: When you sit outside, play recordings of chirping birds or rippling water from your phone or other device.
Pleasing scents will also elevate your outdoor space. Buy a potted lavender plant, Parker said, or flowering plants like nicotiana (also called “flowering tobacco”), which “are iridescent in the evening and have a wonderful scent.”
Many grocery stores are selling potted plants, and “you don’t have to fuss with re-potting them,” Parker said. If they come in plain plastic containers, simply wrap the container in a bit of burlap or other fabric to make it more attractive.
For something more dramatic, Rottet said, potted citrus trees look and smell lovely. Or add a pencil cactus or other succulent in a tall planter; it can withstand summer heat while functioning like a sculpture in your outdoor space. When summer ends, fill the planter with a hardy flowers like pansies, which might even last through the winter.
No time or resources to add plants this year? Floral or lavender candles are another option, Parker said.
Dining and cooking
A gas grill can be an asset if you’re cooking outdoors a lot. But Rottet also recommended the Big Green Egg charcoal grill. “It’s not a huge commitment,” she said, “because you can roll it into a tight little space.”
If you have a grill and would like to create more of a kitchen around it, add an outdoor table or console that can serve as a work surface and perhaps has some storage, Mannarino said, “so you’re not just walking over to a grill and holding a tray in your hand.”
Want to create the feel of an outdoor bar? Add a rolling bar cart, or, even more simply, fill your biggest salad bowl with ice, Parker said, and bring out a selection of cold drinks.
Sunshine and shade
If you’re working outside, you need shade to see the screen. Retractable awnings are helpful, as are large outdoor umbrellas that stand alone or fit into an outdoor table. (They also let you spend more time outside, if it’s raining.)
In the evening, Rottet said you can expand the feeling of even a small backyard by wrapping strands of small white lights (available in outdoor-safe versions that are battery-powered or solar-powered) around your trees.
Lanterns with lit candles inside are lovely outdoors after the sun goes down, though LED candles can be a more practical choice on a breezy night.
A fire pit will also brighten up your outdoor space, and warm it up this fall and winter.
Rottet created one for her Houston home using a large concrete planter that can withstand heat.
But as Parker pointed out, you don’t have to buy anything to have a fire pit. It might be fun to create one the old-school way: Dig a wide hole in the ground, she said, contain the space safely, and build a campfire “Boy Scout style.”
The changes you make to your outdoor space don’t have to be elaborate, she said. “Just get out there. Take your chair from the kitchen table if you need to. Take your coffee cup and go.”
The Pier 4 complex includes two buildings, one an office building and the other a condominium building. Designed by Elkus Manfredi Architects, the office building is a striking addition to the architectural landscape of the Seaport District as visible from the water and the new Seaport District neighborhood.
The building’s waterfront prime location determined the design of an iconic building that would have high visibility from the Harbor, from the city and within the Seaport neighborhood. The building’s modern glass and steel exterior provides two distinct and different signature façades one facing the harbor and the other facing the city.
The West façade, facing Boston, has a more subdued gesture. It opens up to the city with a convex façade and having its three main features, the main entrance, a trapezoidal cut-out terrace at the fourth floor facing the Institute of Contemporary Art museum, and an open to the sky Penthouse terrace. All of these moves are located in a staggered rhythm creating movement towards the water.
The East Side, facing the harbor in a more intimate way, have these two story undulating triangular moves that shift and slide between each other, creating a constant movement that changes though out the length of the day. At night, the underside of the waves is lit up continuing to show this same effect causing a reflection on the harbor and the pedestrian walk below.
To achieve an oversize dimension of the glazing units (IGU) without the use of visible horizontal mullions, an intermediate transom or ‘kiss mullion was introduced. This allowed uninterrupted sleekness to the curtain wall surface.
The office lobby is located in the center of the building creating a public corridor from east to west serves as an important element in the public access requirements of the building, creating permeability through the building.
Elkus Manfredi Architects has been central to the redevelopment of Boston’s Seaport District since 2010. That year, with its initial project One Marina Park Drive, the firm set a high architectural standard for mixed-use buildings in the area. Elkus Manfredi’s next District project, Liberty Wharf, was completed in 2012. Liberty Wharf is a lively waterfront restaurant/office complex that strategically reinstated a missing section of Boston’s famed HarborWalk and has been recognized with a number of design awards, including the Preservation Achievement Award of the Boston Preservation Alliance. Elkus Manfredi has since played a substantial role in ongoing urban planning, and architecture in the Seaport: in a three-square-mile area, the firm is responsible for over six million square feet of new and re-purposed space, including retail, office, life science, hospitality, and mixed-use.