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August 28, 2009

Race to renovate

ZwebenStandingStairs8-26Small.jpg Zweben inspecting his new staircase

 

Paul Zweben has never lacked for things to do. Formerly a chef at restaurants like River Cafe and Django, he juggled his cooking career with managing a growing portfolio of apartment buildings, picking up properties in spots like Williamsburg and Windsor Terrace. Today, having left his kitchen duties (although he can still be found in front of the stove at his restaurants from time to time) to take up ownership stakes in spots like Calle Ocho, BarBao and BLT Prime, Zweben has a docket that also includes working full-time as a real estate broker for Prudential Douglas Elliman, where he's partnering with his wife, Carolyn.

In other words, he's a pretty busy guy. Not too busy, though, to undertake a massive renovation of his Upper West Side apartment. Actually, make that apartments -- plural.

In 1996, Zweben bought a one-bedroom on the sixth floor of a Riverside Drive co-op building (for the retrospectively insane price of $240,000). Eight years later in 2004, he and Carolyn (who'd moved into the sixth-floor pad) bought the two-bedroom below them. For four years, they dreamed of combining the two units. The plan was to renovate both units and connect them via a staircase built within an old ventilation shaft running up the middle of the building.

Before anything could happen, though, the couple had to convince their co-op board to let them go ahead with their plans -- a process that involved, as Zweben puts it, an "intense" amount of paperwork.

ZwebenCloset8-26jpgSmall.jpg The first floor's future walk-in closet

 

With that hurdle cleared, they then had to buy their stretch of ventilation shaft from the building, since it was technically a common area. They got the 24-square-foot space for $8,000, or about $330 a square foot -- not a bad price, Zweben notes, for the Upper West Side.

In January of this year, work on the apartments officially got underway. The top floor one-bedroom is more or less finished, but there's still quite a way to go on the downstairs two-bedroom.

So how is Zweben holding up having added oversight of a contracting team to his to-do list?

"It's one of the most stressful things I've done in my life," he says.

Adding to the stress is the fact that the couple have plans to host family and friends at the apartment for Thanksgiving dinner this year -- meaning that everything needs to be wrapped up by mid-November. The dining room, by the way, currently looks like this:

ZwebenDiningRoom8-26jpgSmall.jpg

 

Because there's nothing quite so fun as renovation drama (viewed from a safe distance, of course), we'll be checking in on the Zwebens as things move forward, monitoring their apartment's progress from week to week. Thanksgiving is just three months away. Will they make it on time? Or will Zweben be basting the turkey in the kitchen of one of his restaurants?

ZwebenStaircase8-26Small.jpg The entryway and staircase

 

ZwebenKitchen8-26Small.jpg The kitchen, slated for a total makeover

 

ZwebenLivingRoom8-26Small.jpg The living room

 

ZwebenSecondBedroom8-26Small.jpg The second bedroom

 

-- Adam Bonislawski

(Photos by Imogen Brown)

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Paul Zweben, Licensed Associate RE Broker
pzweben@elliman.com
Carolyn Zweben, Licensed Associate RE Broker
czweben@elliman.com
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