“When you look at Williamsburg, you hear about The Edge, right?” says Ryan Black. “You hear about Northside Piers—these projects on the waterfront that were built with an average unit size of like 850 square feet.” These residences were catering to first-time home-buyers, he says, and now the neighborhood is ready to move past that.
Black is here to make that happen, as director of development for XIN Development, a subsidiary of Xinyuan Real Estate Company—a Chinese developer publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange, and the corporation behind South Williamsburg’s most ambitious recent development. Meet Oosten: two acres of luxury condos nestled in the relatively undeveloped reaches south of the Williamsburg Bridge.
Located at 429 Kent Avenue, on a lot that used to hold the old Schaefer brewing company, “Oosten,” (meaning “East” in Dutch) is being designed by Piet Boon. To Holland-based Boon, the location is reminiscent of the north of Amsterdam—industrial, maritime—and his work on Oosten (in collaboration with architecture firm WASA Studio) and the building’s design reflects the Dutch emphasis on symmetry and simplicity. Although the sizeable development is not yet completed (construction only began last November after 12 months spent entitling the property), the Oosten sales gallery has just opened—discreetly—in a large showroom close to the site.
Boon’s focus on clean lines and a minimalist aesthetic is evident in the blown-up renderings on the walls and the model rooms on show: carefully curated kitchens, living spaces and bathrooms, created using Piet Boon-designed furniture (which buyers can choose to utilize in their newly purchased apartments). The glass doors at the entrance are overlayed with a wallpaper pattern created by Wythe Hotel’s wallpaper guru Dan Funderburgh; this too is available to the tenants, should they so choose. Scattered artfully around the space are aesthetically appealing, mostly local products (Mast Brothers chocolate, raw honey, ceramic birds) and attractive reading material (including a lifestyle magazine called ‘Burgh “sponsored” by Oosten).
Despite the Scandinavian-esque austerity and what Black calls a “higher level of finish” and a “stylistic design,” a glance at the Oosten model made this reporter think not of the Netherlands, but of ancient Rome. The formation of a rectangular dwelling surrounding a private interior courtyard was a staple floor plan of the villas owned by the Roman elite. Here, however, the slave quarters are replaced by amenities including—but not limited to—a fitness center (a la Roman gymnasium), an indoor lap pool, steam and sauna rooms, a coffee and juice bar, a children’s playroom, a library, and a shared roof deck with “Reflection Pool.” A total of 216 luxury residences (with 50 different floor plans available for purchase) will cluster around the central courtyard, ranging from 1BR, 2BR, and 3BR apartments to penthouses and townhouses.
According to Black, the courtyard is one of the development’s most remarkable features. “It’s huge,” he says. “It’s a large space and it really creates a sense of community inside the product”—although one might wonder whether the townhouse and penthouse dwellers may be too busy relaxing in their own backyards and private Jacuzzis to spend much time wandering through the commons. Both PH and TH also come with private parking.
“Every developer in Williamsburg is building the same thing,” says Black. “We built something different: larger units, higher level of finish, first international designer doing a property in Williamsburg. It’s a branded building, for sure.” The size, he says, was the biggest gamble the company took on this, their U.S. debut. Apartments have an average square footage of 1,450, ranging in price from the high $600,000s to upwards of $3.3 million, with capacity for around 500 residents in total. The courtyard measures 13,860 sq. ft, while 10,000 sq. ft will be given over to a non-profit art gallery. “This is a building that is not a high-rise, it is not repetitious,” Black says.
Even Piet Boon was impressed. “The scale was enormous,” the designer admits. “I’ve never seen such large apartments in New York.”
And as for the location, Black never suspected South Williamsburg would seem even remotely left-field for a luxury development. Although it is something, he says, the neighborhood needed—and the south offered ideal conditions. “If you look at what the community consists of,” says Black, “it’s upwardly mobile, it’s artistic, and it’s clearly—I mean look at the Wythe Hotel—there’s clearly a sense of style in this neighborhood. And that style, I feel, was lacking in a lot of other [residential] products.”
South Williamsburg is to rowdy North Williamsburg what the West Village is to Meatpacking, explains Black: only a few minutes away from all the action, but quiet, peaceful and convenient. After all, “Who wants to live on Bedford and North Eight or North Seventh?” He points to the nearby Gretsch building (boasting the highest priced sales in this market) and the artist-in-residence loft at 475 Kent Avenue as indicators of the area’s cultural and real-estate calibre, but adds, “If you’re a buyer looking for a very high-end product in this marketplace, with a heavy amenity mix, there’s nothing that touches this.”
And certainly, so far, interest seems to indicate that the gamble is paying off. When I stopped by the sales room, an eager broker with client in tow arrived without an appointment—only to be politely told by the lady at the front desk that sales are currently open only to VIP customers. According to Black, the soft-opening is a tool employed both in deference to their buyers—“there’s discernment there, and they deserve the opportunity to look at it and not feel the same sense of hysteria that you get when you do these huge buildings”—and to allow the team to “refine the offering” before opening to the brokerage community.
Un-phased, the broker in question promptly enquired about making two appointments: one for his client, and one “for an investment for myself.” Black, however, strongly resists the idea that Oosten will become a part of what New York recently called the city real-estate’s “Swiss bank account” complex. “If you’re looking at return, there are better places and better products to buy than luxury residential condos, right?” says Black. “If I were personally buying for an investment I would not be looking at a fully amenitized building that had common charges.”
Instead, he’s expecting buyers from America, Europe and Asia who will spend a large portion of their life in the building, even if they don’t work full-time in New York.
Oosten will be completed in 2016 if all runs smoothly. Meanwhile, the XIN group is “actively looking every day” for further development opportunities in both Manhattan and nearby Brooklyn.