Wall Street Journal

Developers Scour the Earth for Rare Condo Finishes

To woo a limited pool of luxury homebuyers, it takes hardwood sourced by Benedictine monks and brick found only in one region of Denmark.

Dan Cobleigh flew to Carrara, Italy, last year with a mission: find the best statuary marble money can buy—for the kitchen countertops in his firm’s condo project in downtown Manhattan. He found Cave Michelangelo, a marble quarry widely recognized as the source for the Renaissance artist’s “Pietà.” Sculptor Franco Barattini, the quarry’s owner, noted that the stone is used for monumental statues and other works of art, and seemed less than impressed by the real-estate developer. “One expression that was translated to us was ‘pearls before swine,’” says Mr. Cobleigh. After a friendly dinner that included a translator and a select vintage of Galatrona wine, the two came to terms: $3 million of creamy Calacatta marble for 16 kitchen islands and backsplashes, association with Michelangelo included. The devil is in the details for developers, who in a packed luxury condo market are competing over a limited number of qualified buyers.
For builders with projects already in the pipeline, that means scouring for the rarest materials to woo buyers and to justify top-dollar prices. “There’s tremendous effort to pull out all the stops and try every idea,” says appraiser Jonathan Miller.
Then there’s a green-gray variety of Petersen brick made only in the Sønderborg region of Denmark. “Going to Denmark in the dead of winter for 48 hours wasn’t the first thing on my [to-do] list,” says Jeffrey Gershon, head of Hope Street Capital, who made the trip to buy 25,000 square feet of the material. The coal-fired brick, colored by the natural mineral composition of the Danish clay, completed the look for his 33-unit Brooklyn condo project, The Hendrik, where prices range from about $1.7 million to $4.5 million.
Appraisers say fancy finishes can move buyers.