Director Baz Luhrmann To List Manhattan Townhouse
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Director Baz Luhrmann To List Manhattan Townhouse

The 19th-century property is Anglo-Italianate in style and is to fetch approx. $27 million.

By Katherine Clarke
Fri, Mar 4, 2022 11:47amGrey Clock 4 min

Australian writer and director Baz Luhrmann and his wife and creative partner Catherine Martin are listing their New York home, a 19th-century townhouse with a bold, colourful interior, for $27.2 million.

The 8.5-metre wide Gramercy area property dates to the 1850s and has views over Stuyvesant Square, one of the city’s oldest parks. Anglo-Italianate in style, the house has stately proportions, with four rows of round-arched windows, a panelled cornice and a patterned cast-iron balcony that runs the width of the house.

Mr. Luhrmann, director of films including “The Great Gatsby” and “Moulin Rouge,” and Ms. Martin, a costume designer and his frequent collaborator, purchased the property for their family for $13.5 million in 2017 and completed a multiyear renovation project. New Yorkers for over a decade, they had planned to live there full-time, but the pandemic threw a wrench in the works, keeping them on the Gold Coast of Australia, where they have been working on the biographical film “Elvis,” starring Tom Hanks, for the last two years, Ms. Martin said. Meanwhile, their two children have reached around college age and the couple is on the verge of becoming empty-nesters.

“We just thought, ‘This is ridiculous.’” Ms. Martin said of their decision to list the home. “The house has been empty for nearly three years. And somebody should be enjoying it. But it’s breaking our hearts.”

It isn’t the first time the couple, who have a passion for historic homes, have been reluctant to sell a piece of real estate even long after it was practical. They finally sold their Sydney home—an Italianate mansion dating to the late 1880s and listed on the State Heritage Register—roughly six years ago, after not living there for almost a decade. “We left it empty for almost 10 years, not having the heart to sell it,” Ms. Martin said. “But there’s also a time when you have to allow a space to have another life.”

The couple fell in love with the New York home five years ago after losing out in a bidding war on a previous house they rented on MacDougal Street downtown. Ms. Martin said they were awed by its generous proportions, the ceiling heights and the light that poured in from the park, as well as its outdoor space. It was close to the school their children were attending at the time and the proximity to Union Square was convenient for transit links around the city. Spanning roughly 8,500 square feet with six bedrooms, it had plenty of space for the four of them.

They completely redid the house in their own vivid aesthetic, filled with rich colours and crazy patterns. Ms. Martin said the goal was to take the essence of a Victorian house and adapt it for modern living.

A fan of contrasting different styles, colours and patterns, Ms. Martin, an Oscar winner for her work on “The Great Gatsby” and “Moulin Rouge,” transformed a shabby white entryway into a much more dramatic introduction to the house, with dark wood floors and walls and a red wine coloured runner. For the family room, she chose blood-red and emerald coloured furnishings and statement patterned wallpaper, one of many wallpapers in the home that she personally designed. An entertaining space known as the White Room is the polar opposite, with mostly white and beige furnishings and dramatic 16-foot ceilings. Ms. Martin said it was designed to be a more “adult” room for entertaining and cocktails.

The couple also bought out a tenant who had been living on the building’s top floor for more than 50 years, negotiating her move to another place in the neighbourhood. That floor was then transformed into Mr. Luhrmann’s creative space, where he wrote a lot of “Elvis” and hosted meetings and readings, Ms. Martin said.

The couple have incorporated pieces they held on to from their moviemaking adventures into the home. In Mr. Luhrmann’s study, there is a Hawaiian shirt that was worn by actor Leonardo DiCaprio in “Romeo + Juliet” and a top hat worn by the actress Nicole Kidman in “Moulin Rouge.” The property also includes a screening room.

There was more practical work, like fitting a new energy-efficient boiler and HVAC systems.

Ms. Martin said she and her husband will look for another property in New York that is geared toward empty-nesters, something they can easily lock and leave as they plan to travel more. She said they might be willing to sell some of the furniture, which she describes as having been chosen specifically to complement the space.

Listing agent Steve Gold of the Corcoran Group said the market for single-family mansions has been particularly active in Manhattan over the past year. There were 130 townhouse sales in Manhattan that closed for $5 million or more in 2021, a record high, according to the Corcoran Group’s research.

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House values continued to fall last month, but the pace of decline has slowed, CoreLogic reports.

In signs that the RBA’s aggressive approach to monetary policy is making an impact, CoreLogic’s Home Value Index reveals national dwelling values fell -1.0 percent in November, marking the smallest monthly decline since June.

The drop represents a -7.0 percent decline – or about $53,400 –  since the peak value recorded in April 2022. Research director at CoreLogic, Tim Lawless, said the Sydney and Melbourne markets are leading the way, with the capital cities experiencing the most significant falls. But it’s not all bad news for homeowners.

“Three months ago, Sydney housing values were falling at the monthly rate of -2.3 percent,” he said. “That has now reduced by a full percentage point to a decline of -1.3 percent in November.  In July, Melbourne home values were down -1.5 percent over the month, with the monthly decline almost halving last month to -0.8%.”

The rate of decline has also slowed in the smaller capitals, he said.  

“Potentially we are seeing the initial uncertainty around buying in a higher interest rate environment wearing off, while persistently low advertised stock levels have likely contributed to this trend towards smaller value falls,” Mr Lawless said. “However, it’s fair to say housing risk remains skewed to the downside while interest rates are still rising and household balance sheets become more thinly stretched.” 

The RBA has raised the cash rate from 0.10 in April  to 2.85 in November. The board is due to meet again next week, with most experts still predicting a further increase in the cash rate of 25 basis points despite the fall in house values.

Mr Lawless said if interest rates continue to increase, there is potential for declines to ‘reaccelerate’.

“Next year will be a particular test of serviceability and housing market stability, as the record-low fixed rate terms secured in 2021 start to expire,” Mr Lawless said.

Statistics released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics this week also reveal a slowdown in the rate of inflation last month, as higher mortgage repayments and cost of living pressures bite into household budgets.

However, ABS data reveals ongoing labour shortages and high levels of construction continues to fuel higher prices for new housing, although the rate of price growth eased in September and October. 

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