Last fall, the galvanizing issue for students at Indiana University wasn’t the perennial griping over a shortage of parking spaces or overcrowded classes. In fact, student attention was focused in a rural Mississippi county, more than 500 miles away from the sleepy hills of southern Indiana.
Protest erupted on the campus when the school’s investment body announced it was selling 6,000 acres of Mississippi land that had been willed to it to a corporation planning to build a hazardous waste landfill and incinerator. The facility, designed to take in up to one-tenth of the country’s hazardous waste, is located in a county with a population that is 70 percent African-American and where 42 percent of the citizens have less than a ninth-grade education. At the predominantly white Indiana University, rallies have drawn more than 100 students. And even the usually complacent student senate passed a resolution opposing the land sale, saying it would contribute to environmental racism.
Across the country, other campuses are also shrugging off the 1980s shroud of apathy.
For example, last year, students from Texas A&M, Galveston successfully blocked the siting of a copper smelter on land owned by the University of Texas system. In coalition with community groups, the students fought the corporation’s application for water and air permits, forcing state environmental boards to examine the smelter’s potential for pollution more closely.
At MIT, 3,500 students held a 24-hour vigil during the Persian Gulf War, the biggest demonstration in the school’s history.
And at the 3,600-student University of Richmond in Virginia, the last three years alone have brought a student-initiated recycling program that has reduced the school’s waste stream by 20 percent and new student groups on such issues as animal rights and gay and lesbian awareness.
“The University of Richmond has always been the antithesis of what springs to mind when you think of Berkeley,” says senior Greg Asay who heads the campus environmental group, GREEN. “But if all this activism is happening here, it’s happening everywhere. ”
Brian Trelstad, a 1991 graduate of Harvard University, takes issue with the propensity to slap a label of non-questioning self-absorbtion on the 20-something generation, “We’re not Generation X. We’re generation why?” he says.
What’s turned the tide against apathy? “The right wing tried to assault campuses with their agenda, and they failed. We’re seeing a backlash of more than a decade of conservative policies that in the end have alienated many students,” says Tom Burke of the Progressive Student Network.
Students’ assessments of rising activism are also backed up by the statistics. For example, a 1990 survey of nearly 200,000 college freshmen found record numbers of students participating in demonstrations during the last year. At 39 percent, the number is more than double those in the late 1960s of 15 to 16 percent, according to the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, which has conducted the annual survey since 1966.
And while rising tuition, abortion rights and racism are all rallying points for college students, the environment ranks as one of the top issues on campuses across the country.
Eight out of ten undergraduates in a 1989 National Wildlife Federation survey cited the environment as one of the top three “problems facing the United States today.” And 88 percent say the federal government is not doing enough to control pollution, according to the 1990 freshman survey.
This survey also found that 34 percent of freshmen think it’s “essential” or “very important” for them to become personally involved in programs to clean up the environment. This number jumped from 26 percent in 1988 and 16 percent in 1986. According to the National Wildlife Federation survey, 34 percent described themselves as active with environmental issues.
In the quarter century since the 1960s student protest movement bloomed on campuses, issues have become more complex and strategies to find the answers more sophisticated. Environmental Action Magazine itself was founded by the organizers of the first Earth Day in 1970 as a means of communication primarily to college students staging teach-ins across the country. Denis Hayes, who was Environmental Action’s first director and CEO of Earth Day 1990, says he sees some striking differences between the student movements of the 1960s and the 1990s.
“By the late 1960s, both the civil rights struggle and anti-war movement were exclusionary – the former had become a black power movement that shunned white participants, and the latter was caught up in an |I am more radical than thou’ trap,” he says. “The 1990s student environmental movement seems more accepting of diversity – perhaps having learned the ecological lesson that different folks have different niches.”
Widening the definition of environmentalism to encompass social justice issues has made environmentalism more appealing to a diverse range of people, including labor activists and students’ rights advocates, says Carry Eskridge, a member of the Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC), a four-year-old network with groups on 1,500 campuses. (See page 17.)
“Earth Day 1970 got a lot of people together and gave them information,” says Dana Hollish, an organizer with the National Wildlife Federation’s campus outreach group, Cool It! “We’ve now moved beyond that information phase. We’re doing more leadership training, more organizing for action.”
Brian Trelstad, program director for Campus Green Vote, sees current activism updating 60s voter registration drives. His group, formed last summer, held trainings in September to teach campus leaders how to register voters, hold campus forums and organize students around environmental issues.
“Everything can be traced back to the accountability of elected officials,” Trelstad says. “There’s been a culture of disinterest, but by making the environment a high-profile issue, students have real potential to make a difference in this election.”
An estimated 14 million college students comprise about 8 percent of Americans eligible to vote. At the same time, only 36 percent of the people between 18 and 24 voted in the 1988 election. With a massive registration effort, students could control as much as 20 percent of the vote, Trelstad says.
Still, Robin Templeton, director of the education advocacy group Education for the People, fears that some college-age youth have been irrevocably disenchanted by the electoral process. Templeton says rough economic times have forced a dichotomy between youth today, those who can afford to go to college and those who have little access to higher education.
There are other stumbling blocks to involvement as well. As tuition costs have spiraled, students, whose time a generation ago may have gone into social and political causes, are now spending more hours a week working to make ends meet, Templeton points out. This coupled with chronic underfunding of progressive student causes by foundations has hobbled the real potential for activism on campuses, she says.
Still, the important measure of college activism may not merely be what happens in four years on campus, but how this work shapes life post-graduation. More than 30 schools now include a pledge in their graduation exercises that calls for graduates to consider the social and environmental impacts of any job they consider.
Initiating recycling programs and fighting environmental racism won’t just stop once students depart the ivory tower, Cool It!’s Dana Hollish reasons. Hollish, who graduated with a business degree from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. last year, holds herself up as an example.
Active in 13 different committees on campus, from the Students for the Environment to the Student Union Board to the Women’s Leadership Council, Hollish tackled a dizzying array of issues. And while she admits she may have been a bit more involved than some of her former classmates, Hollish contends her peers are emerging from schools ready to work for social change.
College activists who a few years ago might have felt isolated struggling to solve global problems from their dorm rooms have found an effective ally in the Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC), a network linking student groups with their counterparts across the country and worldwide.
SEAC began in 1988 with a tiny advertisement in Greenpeace magazine for a North Carolina conference of students interested in forming a movement based on environmental values. Four years later, with a full-time staff of seven at its national office and the involvement of 15,000 students across the country, the network has grown to provide the youth environmental movement with an ongoing base of support, as campus groups often dwindle into extinction when their members graduate.
SEAC-affiliated groups have established recycling programs at 900 universities in the United States, lobbied successfully against the James Bay hydroelectric project in Canada, set up environmental oversight committees at their universities, and engaged in a boycott of one of Ohio’s worst polluters, British Petroleum. In October 1990, a national SEAC conference featuring Earth First! founder Dave Foreman, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Robert Redford and United Farm Workers President Cesar Chavez drew 8,000 students to the campus of the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana.
The nationwide SEAC network is divided into 17 regions, each with a representative on the National Council. Proposals for the organization’s campaigns originate with local groups and regional committees, and are then submitted to the National Council for a vote. This decentralized approach allows SEAC to remain responsive to issues its members are most concerned with, rather than dictating policy from a remote national office. With this local focus in mind, SEAC decided not to hold a national conference this year, but rather to concentrate on organizing on a local level. The network, which obtains its funding from membership dues and foundation grants, provides its members with advice, contacts and issue updates, in addition to a newsletter, ThreshoId, published monthly during the school year.
The growth of SEAC has outpaced any of its founders’ expectations, according to Alec Guettel, one of the organization’s original members. He attributes the network’s phenomenal success to student’s dents’ passion for social change, even in the absence of generous funding.
“We have no money or experience, but we have an almost unlimited volunteer base and enthusiasm,” he says.
At first SEAC focused on traditional conservation issues such as recycling. Recently its mission has been expanded to take on social justice issues such as access to health care and education, the impact of poverty, and racism as a factor in pollution. Guettel says this change reflects many SEACers’ belief hat the definition of environment should include all living environments, whether urban, rural or wilderness.
“The range of issues SEAC deals with has been broadened, which has made us a lot more politically salient and effective,” he explains.
Says SEAC development coordinator Ana Micka, “To turn that commitment [to environmental justice] into action we added positions on our board to ensure that people of color represent 50 percent of the National Council. If you’re working on environmental justice you should have cultural equality in your organization first.”
In tackling multi-cultural social justice issues, SEAC groups have lobbied against the U.S.-Mexico free trade pact, which many students see as a direct threat to the health of workers and the environment on both sides of the border. SEAC activists were vocal in demanding more commitment to environmental protection for citizens in both the North and South from participants at the Earth Summit. And some groups have participated in the 500 Years of Resistance campaign to publicize indigenous peoples’ struggle for autonomy.
SEAC’s international arm, Action for Solidarity, Equality, Environment and Development (ASEED) cooperates with European Youth Forest Action to educate eco-warriors in lobbying, policymaking and direct action strategies. The network cooperates with campus groups in 53 countries worldwide.
Guettel says one of the most surprising developments in SEAC’s evolution has been the growth of environmental groups in high schools. Last spring SEACers organized conferences for hundreds of nascent teenage activists, who have established 600 environmental groups of their own in high schools nationwide. SEAC’s New York office receives calls daily from high school students interested in working with the network.
Micka says SEAC’s aim is to create a powerful student movement based on the ethic of building a sustainable society.
“We’re working to change the idea that uninhibited economic growth is the way for international economies to head,” she says.
This renaissance of student activism has prompted Forbes magazine to compare SEAC members with the youthful radicals of the 1960′s group Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and to complain that SEAC is more interested in “bashing capitalism” than in protecting the environment.
But the 1,500 campus groups represented by SEAC vary widely in their positions on the political spectrum, Guettel says. Radical student activists and their more conservative peers are sometimes at odds over the tactics needed to bring environmental concerns to the political forefront.
“There are people in SEAC who voted for Bush in 1988 who are just into recycling, and there are people in SEAC who’d like to throw eggs at the presidential limo … It makes us healthy having that kind of political tension,” he says.
According to Carry Eskridge, a student at the University of Houston, SEAC has allowed his group, Students for Environmental and Resource Protection, to obtain organizational materials and the lessons of other groups’ experiences.
“The greatest thing about SEAC is the morale that’s created by knowing we’re not alone working on these issues. We learn from each other’s mistakes, failures and successes,” he says.
Eskridge says that many students in the United States, especially in the western states, are resistant to being subsumed under the banner of a monolithic national environmental group. He emphasizes that SEAC assists small groups without forcing them to compromise their individual agendas.
Adam Berrey, outreach coordinator with SEAC, is optimistic that the student activists of today will become tomorrow’s leaders of the movement for environmental and social justice, noting that many SEAC organizers have continued their environmental activism after graduation. He is confident that ten years from now, the friendships, goals and principles forged during SEAC’s evolution will continue to flourish.
“This is a generational movement. In ten years this generation will still be working together. We’ll just be ten years older.”
Dramatic moments on PBS’ “Antiques Roadshow” are not uncommon. This one, however, stands out because it involves the inimitable Keno twins (suffice to say, the incident was re-shown on “Oprah”). A no-nonsense older lady has brought along her antique Federal card table of luxuriant chestnut hue. The brothers beam at her. She bought it more than thirty years ago for $25 at a garage sale. The twins gasp, beam harder, jittery with restraining themselves. Aged 42, identically blond, dressed in impeccable Savile Row suits, they might be scarcely 14, so clear is the filament of enthusiasm shining through. Leslie Keno hoists off the half-moon tabletop and points to the crumbling label beneath. Maker: John Seymour, the renowned British craftsman who immigrated to Boston in 1789. Now, his twin, Leigh, kneels down in impassioned wide-eyed homage to the table. This is a style of performance unique to the Kenos, a kind of celebration, and once seen, it’s never forgotten. “You get the feeling of Aladdin with the treasure,” says Aida Moreno, executive producer of “Roadshow.” “They’re full of boundless curiosity, discovery and erudition.” Leigh points, caresses and intones: figured mahogany top with lozenge-and-dot sand-burnt inlay, tapering bellflowers on the veneer front, topped by a bowknot so delicately done, tapering legs, spade feet.
Infused with the Keno intensity, the nomenclature becomes a kind of poetry and the object takes on high romance. You may not like the object, but you end up loving it. “When we first saw [the table], my heart went thump, thump, thump,” says Leigh Keno to the table’s owner. “Feel it, you can feel it right now,” he says and yanks the woman’s hand to his chest. “It was one of the most exciting moments of our lives.” By the time he tells her the table might fetch up to $300,000 (it subsequently went for more than $500,000 at auction) the scene is complete–perfect television. In the process, we have seen the Kenos’ great strength: an unerring knowledge of the material and an uncanny ability to bring out the inner life of the object.
The Kenos are the superstars of the antique American furniture trade–that the accolade sounds so odd tells you how rare is their achievement. Sure, they are at the top of their profession: Leslie Keno is senior vice-president and director of American furniture and decorative arts at Sotheby’s, and Leigh runs the top-drawer Leigh Keno American Antiques on Manhattan’s Madison Avenue. (Leigh is also cochairman of the vetting committee at this month’s prestigious Winter Antiques Show, where he has a prominent booth.) Still, they have become household names in a field that scarcely bestows popular recognition, let alone stardom. So much so that Warner Books recently acquired Hidden Treasures, their upcoming memoir of antiquing adventures (coauthored with Joan Barzilay Freund), for a seven-figure sum.
“They have definitely brought glamour and attention to our field, and we all benefit from the reflected glory,” says Dean Failey, senior director of American collections at Christie’s and the former boss of Leigh Keno. “They’ve achieved unprecedented recognition. Of course, being twins doubles everything instantly. These days, we all wake up wishing we could clone ourselves.”
Others, however, wonder if such closeness doesn’t have its liabilities, and point to potential conflicts of loyalty. After all, the Kenos have to compete for clients and objects. How, for instance, do they keep secrets from each other? The twins resolved the matter emphatically between themselves a long time ago. “When you’re that close to somebody,” they say, phrases tumbling out of each of them interchangeably, “you know exactly what not to ask him. You learn to separate. You have to do it all the time. Or else it becomes impossible.” An obvious example: they lead separate private lives. Leslie is married to Emily, a former Sotheby’s colleague who hails from an old Louisiana plantation family, and they have a daughter, Ashley. Leigh is still single but has a two-year-old son, Brandon, who can occasionally be spotted playing among the table legs at his father’s gallery.
Still, much of the time, the Kenos seem to be in eerie sync–to the extent that one can irritate the other by completing the other’s thoughts. Most of the time, though, their pitch-perfect, tag-team blend of affability and flashing humor comes across as charm. “We get lots of letters, especially from kids saying that they always watch the show and love to collect. It’s a responsibility, because we’re ambassadors or educators in a way,” says Leslie Keno soberly–along with, he’s quick to add, “all our colleagues on the `Roadshow.’” Leslie is perhaps the more circumspect of the two, though they are exuberant, athletic and outgoing in equal measure. Says brother Leigh precisely on cue, “And we get recognized in the remotest places–like the general store near Klamath Falls, Oregon, where we went fishing. I was even recognized by a cop at a toll plaza recently. It took him awhile. At first, I thought he was going to arrest me”
The Kenos like to downplay their celebrity, and perhaps they are wise to do so. It’s probably no accident that their core profession, unlike the field of contemporary art, for example, has not fostered heroes. Rather, the more tradition-bound world of antique American furniture puts a premium on self-effacement underpinned by scholarship, expertise, discretion and the trust of clients. Yet it’s not easy for the Kenos to hide their glamour. They fly-fish all over the world; they collect outstanding objects, from furniture to Old Masters to vintage cars; on pretzellike racetracks they compete in gorgeous 1950s racecars at speeds of up to 120 mph. (Leigh’s is a 1959 Lola Mk I; Leslie’s is a 1958 Lotus Eleven.) They can be as eloquent on the latter subject as on any Cadwalader table. “Our cars date from the last years of truly aesthetic design in racing–before corporate money and high-tech took over. They were still designing from the imagination, so the cars are like beautiful sculptures. You just love to be in them.”
Like their charm, the Kenos’ connoisseurship seems so ingenuous and unfettered that it suggests youthful beginnings. And in fact, the twins began studying, collecting and dealing early in their preteens. Their parents, Ron and Norma, who still live in Mohawk, New York, where the twins grew up, dealt in Americana and encouraged them to do the same. Ron Keno taught art at the high school and taught the twins how to look deeply at objects. He also collected and restored antique cars. Says Norma Keno: “We often took the boys out of school to go to antiques shows. We’d tell the principal straight out. He wasn’t happy about it, but by their teens the twins knew all about Nantucket baskets and early stoneware, had absorbed a great deal of history and learned how to take care of themselves. The Munson-Williams-Proctor Museum of Art near here was already exhibiting their stoneware collection when they were kids. They sold it before going to college” Indeed, the proceeds paid a substantial sum of the Kenos’ college tuition.
The twins regard their parents with great pride. But they were also very independent as children. They remember searching high and low for collectibles. “We would look for wrought-iron door handles and barn hinges and the like in old ruins. We soon noticed that, for some reason, lilac bushes still grow where the doorways used to be. So we knew where to look.” The twins kept meticulous notebooks with precise drawings of all their varied objects. They, and their possessions, separated for the first time when they went to different colleges in the late ’70s–Leigh to Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, and Leslie to Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts–though, upon graduation in 1979, they moved back in together in New York City.
Within weeks of arriving in town, the Kenos launched their careers in auction houses, Leslie at Sotheby’s and Leigh at the William Doyle Galleries. “In college, we made up our minds that it would be American furniture. We catalogued the furniture collections of our respective colleges and organized the exhibitions. We had so much fun that by the time we came to town we knew.”
Each attained daunting levels of success and responsibility at an astonishingly young age. Leslie was made director of Sotheby’s American furniture department at the age of 26, in the early ’80s. Tom Lloyd, his immediate boss at the time (now an architect), remembers that Leslie “had extreme passion–it was in his blood. You can’t fake that, and it won over everybody.” Simultaneously, Leigh worked his way from Doyle’s to Christie’s (for two years) to opening his own gallery by 1986. “So many times” says Leigh, “we were on the phone to each other at 3 A.M., the only two people still working at Sotheby’s and Christie’s.”
Less surprising than their swift, irresistible rise, perhaps, is that the Kenos’ brand of high-energy enthusiasm, which would seem ill-suited to the mandarin environment of their particular field, consistently won them converts and scored coups. For some years, Leslie Keno’s role at Sotheby’s has involved, among other things, traveling the country in an endless round of diplomacy, often visiting the homes of highly private, old-money families with distinguished furniture, arguing the virtues of selling through Sotheby’s when the time comes. Leigh treads similar terrain as a private dealer. Unrestrained youthful ardor could easily have derailed the Kenos’ upward trajectory early on. Yet to the contrary, according to insiders, the Kenos’ simultaneous presence may have saved the market during critical periods of transition through the ’80s and early ’90s. Says H. Richard Dietrich Jr., one of the country’s foremost collectors of (among other things) Colonial American furniture, and whose own Dietrich American Foundation lends pieces to the Philadelphia Museum and the Department of State: “The Kenos appeared just when a whole older generation of dealers, whom we all depended on, began to fade in the mid ’80s, and just when there was a dizzying upsurge in auction prices. Many of us were turned off, but the Kenos were a stabilizing force. They were trustworthy and dependable and easy to get to know. Auction houses had no tradition of advising and cultivating individual clients–at least not in our field. The Kenos gave that to the auction culture.” Leslie’s superior, William W. Stahl Jr., Sotheby’s executive vice-president, claims that the auction house has dominated the market share in American furniture chiefly because of Leslie.
Certainly, since their appearance, the Kenos have never been far from many of the headline-making sales of American pieces. In Leigh’s early years on his own, he bought pieces for Dietrich’s foundation collection and for Dietrich’s personal collection, an immense responsibility for one in his 20s. His purchases included, in 1987, the record-breaking ($2.75 million) Cadwalader Chippendale carved-mahogany easy chair–which Leslie had uncovered. In 1994 at Sotheby’s, Leslie hosted the grand sale that featured William du Pont’s Philadelphia Chippendale furniture. Based in Delaware, a trustee of the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library for more than twenty years, and possibly the country’s leading collector of William and Mary and Queen Anne American furniture, du Pont remembers Leigh’s contribution too: “I had a very unusual balloon-seat side chair from the collection that I knew wouldn’t do well at auction. It was beautiful but eccentric. Leigh found just the right private buyer for it”
Another of Leigh’s memorable coups came out of a New England family of three siblings in the early fall of 1997. They had lent an inherited table to the Yale University Art Gallery. “It was a Captain Brintnall Chippendale mahogany tray-top tea table;” says Leigh, “made by John Godard in Newport circa 1765–with the most beautiful open-ball and open-talon feet. The family was about to give it away, probably to Yale, at the appraised value of $200,000, because its top was said to be a later replacement.” Leigh, who was called in by a mutual friend, disagreed. He remembers phoning one of the owners with his reappraisal: “I told him the conservative estimate would be $3.5 million. There was an intense silence, and I thought I could hear gulping. Maybe it was me. I was just acting as appraiser. I said nothing about taking it on. He asked to call me back. When he did, his voice was almost a whisper, and he asked if I could find it a home at that price. I said absolutely.” In January 1998, it was the centerpiece of his Winter Antiques Show booth and sold on the first day for $3.65 million.
Leslie for his part pulled off a momentous coup for Sotheby’s at the beginning of last year. He effected a sale, in the January 1999 auction, at the highest price ever paid for any single piece of furniture in Sotheby’s history. It was the Nathaniel Appleton Queen Anne carved-mahogany secretary bookcase, and it cost the anonymous buyer $8.25 million. “The French owners wanted an appraisal. I’d seen photos and I knew it was good. I went to Paris, and it was just tremendous, the Mona Lisa of furniture. All the mounts were silver, stamped with the silversmith’s name, the great Samuel Casey. The whole piece was made of plum pudding mahogany, the rarest and finest, including the parts usually made of secondary woods, like the inner sides of shelves and the bottom. This was built as a masterpiece in the 1740s, no expense spared, and owned by the Reverend Nathaniel Appleton of Cambridge, Massachusetts [whose portrait hangs at Harvard University]. The French owners were his direct descendants, so the piece had a clear family history too.”
Still, says Leslie, he had little time in Paris and couldn’t see the piece fully. “It had one great flaw: the proportions seemed wrong–it looked too short.” When it finally arrived at Sotheby’s in New York, only days before the sale (French tax laws had delayed its arrival), they took a thorough look. Infrared photography showed the signature of Christopher Townsend, a patriarch of the famed Newport cabinetmaking family. They also found brackets that had held detachable feet. “The feet had fallen off down the years,” says Leslie, “so we quickly had replacements made, just for display purposes. And suddenly the piece looked perfect–the height, the ball feet that completed the domes and curves of the whole. Harold Sack [the veteran American furniture dealer] sat and stared at it for an hour. It was the greatest piece he or I had ever seen.”
In the meantime, Leigh has etched the Keno name into the history of his field, coauthoring (with Alan Miller and Joan Barzilay Freund) a series of groundbreaking articles in the scholarly magazine. American Furniture. The articles showed that a highly important style of Queen Anne chair hitherto attributed to New York and Newport, Rhode Island, and noted as such in top collections, including the Metropolitan Museum’s, had in fact been made in Boston. According to Brock Jobe, a deputy director at the Winterthur, “Leigh’s work unlocked one of the most important mysteries of 18th-century American furniture. The finest `case furniture’–cabinets and tables–came out of Boston at that time. Leigh simply asked the question that no one else had: Why didn’t the chairs come from Boston, too?”
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PLYWOOD DEMOLITION CHUTES AND GREEN DUMPSTERS have become fixtures on the American landscape. From San Francisco to New York, from Newport to Houston, homeowners are renovating perfectly livable interiors as if their lives depended on it. What were once considered luxury spaces–commercially equipped kitchens, wine cellars, package-wrapping rooms–are, for some, basic necessities now. And while people in different parts of the country have slightly different ideas about must-have renovations, most must have luxurious kitchen and bath space, and lots of it.
In Newport, Rhode Island, architect Jim Estes says his firm is renovating “white elephants” from top to bottom. “There’s a big emphasis on expensive kitchens, which a lot of these houses never had,” he observes. “We’re going well over $200 a square foot and sometimes over $500 for bathrooms.” Also in Newport, Brian Arnold, of B. R. Arnold Construction, reports a demand for home elevators. “I have an older clientele,” he says, “and they need their guests and all their luggage lifted. “A basic three-floor elevator costs around $40,000. Need a lift higher than that? “It’s another five grand a floor,” Arnold estimates.
Renovated kitchens are also big, literally, in Houston. Realtors and builders there say country kitchens have gotten larger and fancier, with commercial stoves, pizza ovens and separate islands for two or more cooks. Just putting in granite countertops can cost $20,000. Outside San Francisco, both kitchens and master bathrooms are soaking up a good share of the money. “The kitchen doesn’t have to be huge, but it has to have a big Sub-Zero, two dishwashers, exotic woods,” says Nan Allen, of Pacific Union Realty in Tiburon, California. Bathrooms feature “slab marble, slab limestone, slab everything.” Renovations, Allen says, are running higher than new construction: median prices are about $150,000 for kitchens, $75,000 for baths.
With new construction starting at $70 a square foot, according to the National Association of Home Builders, and the average new kitchen coming in at 180 square feet–or, doing the math, $12,600–what could possess people to spend nearly twelve times that amount for old, renovated space? Tynes Sparks, of Tynes Sparks Building Corporation in Houston, who is currently building a 9,000-square-foot addition to a 1930s mansion in the city’s River Oaks section, may have part of the answer: “She likes the house, there’s nothing new she’d like better, and she’s not going to move,” he says of the owner. “Her husband and I are just doing what we have to do to make her happy.”
In Aspen, meanwhile, the emphasis in gourmet kitchens and spalike bathrooms is on pricey materials: alder, cherry and maple molding, paneling, doors and floors; ornate stone sinks; tumbled-marble floors. How pricey? “Oh God, I’ve heard rumors of people spending $1,000 a square foot,” exclaims Brian Hazen, of Coates Reid & Waldron, an Aspen real estate and property management company. This being Aspen, where celebrities and business moguls entertain on an ever-grander scale, media rooms and home theaters are also in demand.
Meanwhile, in New York City these days, standard rooms in renovation plans frequently include wine closets and package-receiving rooms. Robert Bray, of Bray-Schaible Design in Manhattan, has designed wine areas to store from a dozen to 10,000 bottles. In a 5,000-square-foot apartment on the Upper East Side that cost $2.5 million to renovate, the firm designed a 14- by 14-foot package-receiving room to handle what Bray calls “the continuous unwrapping of stuff coming in and wrapping of stuff going out.”
Do homeowners get their money out of renovations like these once it’s time to move on? “People recoup the money if they keep it simple” notes Kathryn A. Korte, senior vice president at Sotheby’s International Realty on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. “If they do something too excessive or too contemporary, it’s harder.” And yet, who’s counting? “Some people here want what they want,” observes Hazen. “They don’t really care if they get their money out of it three years from now. They want to enjoy it while they’re in it.”