By W.A. Muller
Stephen Alton knew from a young age he wanted to be an architect. In high school, Alton – the founder of Stephen Alton Architect, a New York City-based interior architecture and design firm – began work at a family-owned architecture firm taking photographs of nearby Vanderbilt University, a longtime client of theirs, in Alton’s hometown of Nashville, Tenn.
Alton has come a long way since. His eponymous architecture firm is hard at work on the interiors for luxury developments around Manhattan including 400 Park Avenue South. SAA is responsible for myriad successes at residential buildings such as The Touraine at 132 East 65th Street, The Clement Clarke at 140 West 22nd Street, The Atlas at 66 West 38th Street and New Gotham at 520 West 43rd Street. These triumphs, among others, have made SAA the go-to for a slew of big-name developers including Gotham Organization, Toll Brothers City Living and AvalonBay Communities.
“Architecture counts,” Alton said. “The interior of a building should strengthen the architectural concept. That’s how I define my group in terms of what we do.”
After attending the Rhode Island School of Design, Alton started his own firm and believes that each building should be uniquely designed to build upon its brand. He explained that interior architecture is a key part of a development because, when properly done, the little details in a luxury development can make all the difference when selling multi-million-dollar units.
“Branding is critical. It’s what sets your project apart from your neighbors’ and gives a unique quality to your building. For example, we like to do the front door handles of the building first, because it’s one of the first things a person comes in contact with,” Alton said. “There are unique details or components that create a memory or interest in an apartment and that is going to separate you from your competition and make people want to rent or buy your unit — a countertop that has a specific type of carving on it, a backsplash that might meet the countertop. Sales people call it whistles and bells.”
New developments, even ones that now sell for upwards of $3,000 per square foot, can be very genetic, and there’s often very little a developer can do that hasn’t been done before to make it unique, Alton said. He uses design techniques that, although pricey, can attract the sophisticated luxury buyer.
His most recent project to hit the market, 400 Park Avenue South, is already making waves for its hand-crafted design and aesthetic. Stephen teamed up with longtime collaborator Toll Brothers City Living on the project for whom Alton has designed Northside Piers II and The Touraine.
“It’s extremely exciting because Christian [de Portzamparc] is the designing architect,” Alton said. “It’s so unique, not only in terms of buildings in Manhattan, but in the world. It’s a very different concept of a building. We really get to do something exciting and interesting with the design to look carefully at what the building represents and the context of the building.”