Like a cherry on top of a limestone and marble sundae, a Manhattan penthouse is a coveted symbol of urban privacy and luxury, a concrete, steel, and glass manifestation of success. There are fewer neighbors to reckon with up there, less street noise, more natural light and ideally, a bit of outdoor space. And for many, the quintessential Manhattan aerie also offers a 24-carat laundry list of premium features such as private elevator access, prodigious square footage, both inside and out, and knock-your-knickers-off views through vertigo-inducing floor-to-windows.
However, not every deep-pocketed buyer in the market for a deluxe penthouse in the Big Apple wants or needs an ostentatiously excessive amount of space, not to mention an acre of glass that requires a full-time window cleaner. For those, there’s a pint-sized penthouse with a detached guest suite set amid expansive planted terraces atop a boutique co-operative loft building between busy Union Square and debonair Gramercy Park. (To be fair, the windows here might be easier to clean than something wrapped in floor-to-ceiling glass but admittedly, the copious terrace plantings require a heavy duty amount of effort, presumably by a gardener, and a great deal of expense.)
Recently listed with Mary Ellen Cashman and Susan Wires of Compass at $5.75 million and described in marketing materials as “a little compound in the sky,” the one-of-a-kind residence is being sold by luxury fashion executive turned Broadway and film producer Mark Lee. Lee’s credits as a producer include the award-winning play “The Inheritance” and a trio of documentaries about cultural luminaries Diana Vreeland, Cecil Beaton, and Terrence McNally. Tax records indicate Lee, who served as CEO Barneys and Gucci, and also held prominent positions at Jil Sander and Giorgio Armani, acquired the penthouse in late 2018, in a $4 million off-market deal, from another luxury fashion veteran, longtime Ralph Lauren executive David Adler. It was Adler who created the bespoke sanctuary, though Lee made a few tweaks here and there.
Surrounded by two-levels of lush, meticulously maintained gardens and decks that comprise about 1,300 square feet, the picayune compound comprises two pint-sized structures that together measure about 1,300 square feet. In the larger structure, there’s a one-bedroom/one-bath apartment with an open plan living space that showcases casement windows, beamed ceilings and antique wide-plank barn-wood floorboards. The white-washed brick fireplace in the living room is bookended by cushioned window seats and the TV is concealed in a built-in cabinet. Open over a large island to the dining area, which in turn does double-duty as a library thanks to a full wall of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, the kitchen’s four-inch thick marble counters were reclaimed from Independence Hall in Philadelphia.
Ample storage space in the bedroom includes built-in nightstands on either side of a custom leather headboard and a walk-in closet that contains a stacked washer/dryer, while the penthouse’s lone bathroom has been cleverly divided to create a powder room for guests and an adjacent shower space for the resident(s). Outside the kitchen, a bluestone dining terrace enveloped in lush foliage and crisscrossed by overhead strands of lights separates the main cottage from a snug one-room cabin that houses a guest room and office space.
Soaked in natural light during the day and bathed in the red glow of the W Hotel’s neon sign at night, the upper level terrace is a verdant oasis of mature trees, hydrangeas and fragrant rosemary and lavender. In addition to dining and lounging areas and an outdoor television for al fresco movie nights — there’s a second outdoor television opposite the table on the lower level dining terrace — there are sweeping city views that include a number of the classic silo-shaped water towers that cap untold numbers of buildings in Manhattan.
Now in his late 50s, the dapper fashion exec cum producer, who rose to be CEO of the venerable fashion house Yves Saint Laurent in 1999 at just 36 years old, has long maintained a bicoastal lifestyle; Lee also owns a pristine midcentury modern residence scooped up back in 2013 for exactly $4 million and snuggled privately behind high hedges in an especially posh part of Beverly Hills.