At Kirkman Lofts, a former soap factory in DUMBO, Brooklyn that was recently converted into condos, northern-facing units overlook a Con Edison power plant.
Rather than detract from sales, the maze of steam pipes and machinery — and the stunning bridge and skyline views beyond it — have been a draw for creative types that see beauty in all things industrial. “It’s a sculpture garden,” joked Roberta Benzilio, director of Brooklyn sales at Halstead, the firm tasked with marketing the building.
She’s heard rumors that a portion of the plant may one day be replaced with an extension of Brooklyn Bridge Park. But for now, it remains a familiar fixture for buyers, many of them longtime residents of the neighborhood looking to upgrade. “They’ve been watching the building for three years,” Benzilio said.
When sales finally launched in the middle of April, the crowd of artists and architects jumped at the chance to call one of DUMBO’s most unusual conversions home. “One month later, we were 30% sold,” said Benzilio, who secured buyers for two of the building’s 45 units — which range in price from $555,000 to $2.4 million — over the phone.
Portions of the seven-story building, including the lobby, penthouses, and rooftop terrace, are still under construction, and won’t be finished until the fall. But that didn’t matter to prospective residents, who were more interested in what had been around from the beginning. “The industrial relics are neat,” said Benzilio.
Rather than gut renovate the redbrick factory, which is located at 37 Bridge Street, just blocks from the East River, developer Baruch Singer carved studio through four-bedroom units within and around the building’s massive steel silos.
The rust-colored vats, which are six stories high and once stored lard and other soap-making materials, protrude into the hallways, making for an eye-catching welcome to each unit. “You can see the character is unique by floor,” Benzilio said.
In the lobby, Singer, who is best known for renovating rundown rental properties in places like Harlem and Washington Heights, preserved trolley tracks once used to transport packages of soap out of the factory.
Some historic details require a trained eye — or ear — to pick up on. “The windows are really special,” said Benzilio. Sunlight streams in through individual glass panes, rather than a large sheet melded onto a grill. And original slabs of cement beneath the building’s oak floors, coupled with updated soundproofing, block out noise almost as well as the modern QuietRock coating the walls.
“Every space honors its history with preserved design elements while providing modern luxury accents our forefathers would have appreciated,” Halstead’s website boasts.
Yet in a style that’s become synonymous with much of gentrified Brooklyn, even brand-new fixtures resemble the old. A team of artisan carpenters in Red Hook crafted birch cabinets for the building’s open kitchens, and slate window sills were shipped in from a small firm in Pennsylvania.
In a further expression of made-in-America pride, a model unit was decorated with an oversized flag, as well as an eclectic mix of folksy and edgy furnishings.
A motorcycle, also draped with stars and stripes, stands in a corner next to a stack of old-fashioned suitcases. “No, the motorcycle doesn’t come with every unit,” Benzilio joked. In a handful of apartments, bedrooms are in the process of being fitted with reclaimed barn doors.
Contrary to what all the nostalgic fixtures might suggest, the building didn’t make a leap overnight from abandoned manufacturing plant to luxury development. Beginning 15 years ago, it was rented out to artists and small businesses.
“There’s less and less artist space,” Benzilio said of the neighborhood, which is now dominated largely by white-collar professionals more likely to buy, rather than create, the paintings and sculptures on display in local galleries.
In the blocks closest to the water and east of the Manhattan Bridge, away from the bars, cafes, and specialty shops along Front and Water Streets, including the acclaimed chocolate purveyor Jacques Torres, the neighborhood’s remaining industrial properties are undergoing residential conversion.
By the time the scaffolding and construction equipment disappear, an extension of DUMBO’s trendy retail scene may begin to emerge.
A new restaurant, called Bridge and Water, is opening near Kirkman Lofts, Benzilio said. And Jay Street, which has a natural food market and other retail options, isn’t far away. But because so many buyers have lived in the area for years, the focus is less on location than the units themselves.
“We’re selling two a day,” said Benzilio. “There’s a litany of people coming through.”