Backyard Greenhouses Are Growing On Homeowners
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Backyard Greenhouses Are Growing On Homeowners

These glass outbuildings offer functional yet beautiful space for gardeners and plant aficionados,

By Melissa Feldman
Thu, Jul 8, 2021Grey Clock 4 min

Known for blistering summers, the Pacific Coast of British Columbia also grows chilly when the planting season arrives. Emily Yewchuk’s desire to construct a greenhouse took hold when seedlings monopolized her kitchen and dining room just as the pandemic hit in March 2020.

“Being home all day long really gave me time to get a lot done in my garden and in my yard,” says the 34-year-old mother of three. Ms. Yewchuck and her husband, Tim Yewchuk, 41, built a beginner’s greenhouse last year at their 6,000-square-foot, five-bedroom, four-bathroom home situated on an acre in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island. Then she realized she wanted a larger greenhouse to accommodate planting, photography and entertaining.

Her second iteration, the Cottage Model by BC Greenhouse Builders, was erected this past February. It is 192 square feet and 12-feet high and cost roughly $20,000. That cost included extras, like additional ventilation, double storefront doors, pressure caps and hardware, but didn’t include the installation and the concrete foundation.

“I learned so much about what worked and didn’t work with my first greenhouse,” says Ms. Yewchuk, “that when it came to designing the second, I knew exactly what to change.”

Historically, elaborate, ornate greenhouses were fabricated for high-society households while more utilitarian versions were operated by commercial agriculturists. Today, home gardeners and plant aficionados alike are building and maintaining them in their own backyards. According to Angela Drake of BC Greenhouse Builders, the Surrey, British Columbia-based manufacturer and supplier of Ms. Yewchuk’s greenhouse, the company’s website traffic increased over the past year by 177%. More than 75% of that growth was driven by U.S. customers, she says. Maintaining the structures is easy, but ”what is challenging is the learning curve of growing and maintaining the temperature, humidity and sun exposure. It is a science experiment and will take a full year to understand the changing seasons,” says Ms. Drake.

“When the garden goes dormant in the winter, the greenhouse comes alive,” says garden connoisseur and decorator Bunny Williams, whose Falls Village, Conn., property hosts a 25-foot by 50-foot, metal-framed greenhouse purchased 25 years ago from W.H. Milikowski (now Griffin Greenhouse Supplies) for under $10,000. Ms. Williams’s three-bedroom home is surrounded by a studio, converted barn and conservatory, and multiple gardens all situated on 22 acres of land she’s accumulated over 30 years. “It’s more of a commercial greenhouse that I’ve tried to make as attractive as possible,” she says about the greenhouse’s wood borders and trim. “It functions beautifully.”

It is the challenge of procuring and growing exotic varieties that keeps these enthusiasts hooked year round. For Ms. Williams, who is in her 70s and maintains an interior-design practice and home in Manhattan with her husband, John Rosselli, who is in his 80s, the greenhouse became a place of solace during the pandemic as she dug, clipped and propagated her plants.

More recently, it has become a showplace for all the rare specimens she tended to during lockdown, including auriculas, one of her favourites. Ms. Williams acknowledges that her horticultural habit is a luxury. “I don’t buy expensive art or jewellery. I’ve become a plant collector,” she says. The collection includes orchids, succulents, passion flowers and geraniums. “I always say, a house is one thing, you can dust it once a week and it’s fine, but anything living requires daily care.”

Horticulturist Deborah Munson, 63, is head gardener at Twin Maples, a pastoral property in Salisbury, Conn., built by Douglas Thomas and her late husband Wilmer Thomas in 1996.

With views of the Litchfield Hills, Twin Maples incorporates a 40-acre wildflower meadow, with grounds based on a formal footprint and a Georgian-style house, designed by the late decorator David Easton. Encircled by both a reflecting and a swimming pool, terraces and formal gardens, the custom greenhouse is anchored by flower and vegetable gardens.

Mrs. Thomas and Mr. Easton chose handmade brick from North Carolina for the walled gardens to match the exterior of the main house. A metal pergola marking the entrance to the greenhouse was produced by Battle Hill Forge, in Millerton, N.Y. By September, the structure will be enveloped in sweet autumn clematis, fragrant and in full bloom.

Somewhat taller than a conventional estate greenhouse, Mrs. Thomas’s 1,040-square-foot version was built by Frank Jonkman and Sons Ltd. (now JGS Ltd.) with Agritechnove Inc., consulting engineers who assisted with the automation and computer system that controls and regulates heating, ventilation, shading, irrigation and misting systems. Separate warm and cool zones as well as a potting shed and exterior cold frames, a protected box structure in which roots grow and seeds germinate, were also incorporated. A weather station positioned on the roof monitors wind speed, direction, temperature and humidity as well as ambient light levels.

When the pandemic hit, interior designer Thomas O’Brien and his husband, designer Dan Fink, hunkered down in their Long Island home in Bellport, N.Y. In 2015, the couple built a walled garden and greenhouse there. The garden wall is made of Glen-Gery brick, which cost $25,000. The customized 114-square-foot Straight Eave Greenhouse by BC Greenhouse Builders cost $8,700.

“My greenhouse is not big. But I wanted to make it special. It’s incredibly useful,” Mr. O’Brien says about the traditional lean-to with cross-country frame, which is essentially a backyard model painted in a chic shade of dark green.

“I wanted it to feel vintage and classic,” he says. The greenhouse details include an antique black slate sink discovered in Bar Harbor, Maine, and a custom wood-panel door, also painted green. A mix of roses, palms, figs, peonies, sunflowers and herbs sourced from Peconic River Herb Farm in Calverton, N.Y., are just a few of Mr. O’Brien’s favorite plants.

“Because we were home all winter, I was able to be there daily throughout the season,” Mr. O’Brien says.

Kathryn Herman, a 57-year-old landscape designer, built a greenhouse on her property in Fairfield, Conn., in 2016, at a cost of around $324,000. “Greenhouses have a different smell, temperature, light and humidity than that of being outside. When you step into one, you are in a totally different environment, which makes them magical,” says Ms. Herman.

The customized greenhouse sits near the garage at the back of a 6-acre property, which she and her husband, Ron Herman, 58, purchased in 1998 for $950,000. The main house is 4,000 square feet with four bedrooms and 5½ bathrooms while an additional 2,000-square-foot guesthouse was also created for friends and family.

Ms. Herman’s 500-square-foot metal-framed Alitex greenhouse is equipped with Wi-Fi, warm and cool sections, and a heating system with sensors that monitor the temperature and never allow it to rise above 80 degrees.

“It’s all about ventilation,” says Ms. Herman. The greenhouse automatically opens and shuts the roof vent. Meanwhile, the motorized sensors gauge the climate best suited to her plants. “Air circulation is so important, so plants don’t become diseased,” Ms. Herman says. Positioned on an east-west axis, the length of the building gets southern exposure, while the built-in cold frames also get maximum sun.

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Private club memberships and luxury cars are some of freebies on the table.

By SHIVANI VORA
Mon, Aug 15, 2022 6 min

When Ryan Wolitzer was looking to buy an apartment in Miami Beach late last year, several beachfront properties caught his eye. All were two-bedroom homes in high-end buildings with amenities aplenty and featured glass walls, high ceilings and an abundance of natural light. But only The Continuum, in the city’s South of Fifth district, came with a gift: a membership to Residence Yacht Club, a private club that offers excursions on luxury yachts ranging from a day in south Florida to a month around the Caribbean. Residents receive heavily discounted charters on upscale boats that have premier finishes and are stocked with top shelf spirits and wine. Mr. Wolitzer, 25, who works for a sports agency, was sold.

“The access to high-end yachts swayed my decision to buy at The Continuum and is an incentive that I take full advantage of,” Mr. Wolitzer said. “It’s huge, especially in my business when I am dealing with high-profile sports players, to be able to give them access to these incredible boats where they experience great service. I know that they’ll be well taken care of.”

Freebies and perks for homeowners such as a private club membership are a mainstay in the world of luxury real estate and intended to entice prospective buyers to sign on the dotted line.

According to Jonathan Miller, the president and chief executive of the real estate appraisal and consulting firm Miller Samuel, they’re primarily a domestic phenomenon.

In the U.S. residential real estate market, gifts are offered by both developers who want to move apartments in their swanky buildings and individuals selling their homes. They range from modest to over-the-top, Mr. Miller said, and are more prevalent when the market is soft.

“When sales lag, freebies increase in a bid to incentivize buyers,” he said. “These days, sales are slowing, and inventory is rising after two years of being the opposite, which suggests that we may see more of them going forward.”

Many of these extras are especially present in South Florida, Mr. Miller said, where the market is normalizing after the unprecedented boom it saw during the pandemic. “The frenzy in South Florida was intense compared with the rest of the country because it became a place where people wanted to live full time,” he said. “Now that the numbers are inching toward pre-pandemic levels, freebies could push wavering buyers over the finish line.”

Kelly Killoren Bensimon, a real estate salesperson for Douglas Elliman in Miami and New York, said that the gifts that she has encountered in her business include everything from yacht access and use of a summer house to magnums of pricey wine. “One person I know of who was selling a US$5 million house in the Hamptons even threw in a free Mercedes 280SL,” she said. “They didn’t want to lower the price but were happy to sweeten the deal.”

A car, an Aston Martin to be exact, is also a lure at Aston Martin Residences in Miami’s Biscayne Bay. Buyers who bought  one of the building’s 01 line apartments—a collection of 47 ocean-facing residences ranging in size from 325 to 362sqm and US$8.3 million to US$9 million in price—had their choice of the DBX Miami Riverwalk Special Edition or the DB11 Miami Riverwalk Special Edition. The DBX is Aston Martin’s first SUV and retails for around US$200,000. It may have helped propel sales given that all the apartments are sold out.

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An Aston Martin came with the sale for some buyers at Aston Martin Residences in Miami’s Biscayne Bay. Aston Martin Residences

The US$59 million triplex penthouse, meanwhile, is still up for grabs, and the buyer will receive a US$3.2 million Aston Martin Vulcan track-only sports car, one of only 24 ever made.

“We want to give homeowners the chance to live the full Aston Martin lifestyle, and owning a beautiful Aston Martin is definitely a highlight of that,” said Alejandro Aljanti, the chief marketing officer for G&G Business Developments, the building’s developer.  “We wanted to include the cars as part of the package for our more exclusive units.”

The US$800,000 furniture budget for buyers of the North Tower condominiums at The Estates at Acqualina in Sunny Isles, Florida, is another recent head-turning perk. The 94 residences sold out last year, according to president of sales Michael Goldstein, and had a starting price of US$6.3 million. “You can pick the furniture ahead of time, and when buyers move in later this year, all they’ll need is a toothbrush,” he said.

Then there’s the US$2 million art collection that was included in the sale of the penthouse residence at the Four Seasons Residences in Miami’s Brickell neighbourhood. The property recently sold for $15.9 million and spans 817sqm feet. Designed by the renowned firm ODP Architects, it features contemporary paintings and sculpture pieces from notable names such as the American conceptual artist Bill Beckley and the sculptor Tom Brewitz.

But it’s hard to top the millions of dollars of extras that were attached to the asking price in 2019 of the US$85 million 1393sqm  duplex at the Atelier, in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighbourhood. The list included two Rolls-Royce Phantoms, a Lamborghini Aventador, a US$1 million yacht with five years of docking fees, a summer stay at a Hamptons mansion, weekly dinners for two at lavish French restaurant Daniel and a live-in butler and private chef for a year. And the most outrageous of all: a flight for two to space.

It turned out that the so-called duplex was actually a collection of several apartments and a listing that went unsold. It did, however, generate plenty of buzz among the press and in real estate circles and was a marketing success, according to Mr. Miller.

“A listing like this that almost seems unbelievable with all the gifts will get plenty of eyeballs but is unlikely to push sales,” he said. “Empirically, it’s not an effective tactic.”

On the other hand, Mr. Miller said that more reasonable but still generous freebies, such as the membership to a yacht club, have the potential to push undecided buyers to go for the sale. “A nice but not too lavish gift won’t be the singular thing toward their decision but can be a big factor,” he said. “It’s a feel-good incentive that buyers think they’re getting without an extra cost.”

Examples of these bonuses include a membership to the 1 Hotel South Beach private beach club that buyers receive with the purchase of a residence at Baccarat Residences Brickell, or the one-year membership to the Grand Bay Beach Club in Key Biscayne for those who spring for a home at Casa Bella Residences by B&B Italia, located in downtown Miami and a residential project from the namesake renowned Italian furniture brand. The price of a membership at the Grand Bay Beach Club is usually a US$19,500 initiation fee and US$415 in monthly dues.


The Grand Salon at at Baccarat Residences Brickell in Miami.
Baccarat Residences

Still enticing but less expensive perks include the two-hour cruise around New York on a wooden Hemmingway boat, valued at US$1,900, for buyers at Quay Tower, at Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York City. The building’s developer, Robert Levine, said that he started offering the boat trip in July to help sell the remaining units. “We’re close to 70% sold, but, of course, I want everything to go,” he said.

There’s also the US$1,635 Avalon throw blanket from Hermes for those who close on a unit at Ten30 South Beach, a 33-unit boutique condominium; in Manhattan’s Financial District, a custom piece of art from the acclaimed artist James Perkins is gifted to buyers at Jolie, a 42-story building on Greenwich Street. Perkins said the value of the piece depends on the home purchase price, but the minimum is US$4,000. “The higher end homes get a more sizable work,” he said.

When gifts are part of a total real estate package, the sale can become emotional and personal, according to Chad Carroll, a real estate agent with Compass in South Florida and the founder of The Carroll Group. “If the freebie appeals to the buyer, the transaction takes on a different dynamic,” he said. “A gift becomes the kicker that they love the idea of having.”

Speaking from his own experience, Mr. Carroll said that sellers can also have an emotional connection to the exchange. “I was selling my house in Golden Isles last year for US$5.4 million and included my jet ski and paddle boards,” he said. “The buyers were a family with young kids and absolutely loved the water toys.” Mr. Carroll could have held out for a higher bidder, he said, but decided to accept their offer. “I liked them and wanted them to create the same happy memories in the home that I did,” he said.

The family moved in a few months later.