This luxurious condo building, on Chelsea’s West 22nd Street, started life in 1880, back in New York’s manufacturing days, as a cigarette factory for the Kinney Tobacco Company.
Remember the good old days, when cigarette smoking was wildly popular? Well, us neither, because it was in the 1870s. During 1873 alone, the U.S. produced 28 million cigarettes were produced; by 1879, that figure was 371 million. One of the so-called “Big Six” companies that controlled the market was Kinney, and it was here, in this very building, where they produced up to 18 million cigarettes per week. (Fun fact: Kinney was one of the first companies to manufacture cigarette cards, included as a collectible in each pack. In 1910, its Sweet Caporal brand included a series of baseball players in its packs, including the Honus Wagner card, now worth in the millions and considered the most famous collectibles in all of sports.)
By the 1920s, manufacturing had moved south and this building became the showroom for the furniture store from which it got its enduring name, the Spears Building. In ’96, the building was converted into luxury condos, with just 30 units in its six stories, and one of the building’s several penthouses is now available at almost $7 million. Listed with Clayton Orrigo at Compass and sporting two bedrooms and 2.5 baths in about 2,200 square feet, the duplex unit isn’t huge but does offer an additional 823 square feet of lust-worthy outdoor space.
As with the best loft conversions, this one retains much of its industrial flair, with brick walls, ancient wood ceilings and naked pipes running nonchalantly overhead. There are twelve-foot ceiling heights, wood beams and columns, polished concrete floors, chic lighting, and quirky arches and recesses. A giant skylight add tons of natural light to the airy home.
The condo is owned by downtown power couple Brandon Ralph, a photographer and pioneering online creative powerhouse who founded the Code and Theory agency — the Observer once dubbed him a “Digital Designer Du Jour”, and Adriana Biasi Franchi, a model and interior designer. The couple, who also have a nice spread in the Hamptons and a larger penthouse, also in Chelsea, that they’ve unsuccessfully tried to unload several times, paid $6.3 million for the place in 2014.
Given the sophisticated interests and professions of the owners, the interiors are unsurprisingly filled with gorgeous art, including many black-and-white photos, plus high-end designer touches, such as the PITT cooking system where the burners are integrated into the countertop.
The first floor includes the great room, with woodburning fireplace, as well as a bedroom and small home office. Upstairs is the homeowner’s retreat, with a wall of glass decked out with motorized blackout shades, and a bathroom sheathed in polished concrete and travertine. Skylights brighten both the bedroom and the huge steam-shower in the bath. And, of course, there’s the private terrace, a rare and, if landscaped, high-maintenance luxury in the heart of Manhattan.
Full of contemporary art galleries and chic eateries, Chelsea is a world apart from its manufacturing past, with lots of trendy attractions for residents and tourists alike; the High Line, Chelsea Piers, Hudson Yards, and several parks. However, good luck trying to light up a Sweet Caporal in any of them nowadays; smoking is verboten in in all NYC parks, pedestrian plazas, and public indoor buildings!