“I want one like this,” the shopper said, pointing to a photo of New York’s Apple Store on Fifth Avenue, with its iconic glass cube-shaped entrance surrounded by a cylindrical elevator. But he wanted to replicate that design in an unlikely location: his three-story home in the Hamptons. And it was up to John Ray to figure out how to do it.
Ray runs Rocky Mountain Elevator Products, a specialist in high-end custom elevators. He estimates that it took around 4,000 hours of CAD design work to design a replica. “It was a lot of bespoke work, because of the round glass walls and curved doors too – we had to hand make the tracks to bend to the curvature of the shaft,” he explains . The total budget for the project exceeded $1 million, but the client didn’t blink: he wanted his elevator to be as lavish as the house itself.
Ray has been working on residential projects like this for nearly 30 years, typically in homes of 10,000 square feet or more. He has just completed work on an Oprah Winfrey property in Colorado, where he is based. The vast majority of Ray’s projects — about 80 percent, he estimates — are for two-story houses.
“People have always thought of elevators as utilitarian, but we can turn them into a moving piece of art,” he says. Ray’s focus is not just engineering, but also aesthetics, a key priority for residential work. After all, these elevators won’t be sequestered in some shaft.
When a new owner wanted to finish the sculpted home inspired by Charles Deaton’s flying saucer – famous for its appearance in Woody Allen’s 1973 comedy Sleeper – he called Ray to complete the unfinished elevator. Deaton had designed a concrete shaft where the elevator would rotate as it ascended, so the openings at each landing were in a different location. Ray designed a system from scratch that could work within these constraints and cost around $250,000.
But Ray’s work isn’t limited to free-standing family homes – one current project is for a 37-story apartment building in New York City. His client spent nine figures on the top three floors of this skyscraper and now wants to install a personal elevator that will work in this cut-out triplex. “There are unique challenges, as there’s no way to dig a pit in the ground below, so the elevator has to land low to the ground,” he says. “We’re still designing what it will be, and we haven’t quite figured it out yet.” (Nor, of course, what it will cost.)
There are other ways to build VIP elevators that are less complex and expensive, thanks to a concept known in the industry as destination dispatch. Simply put, in computer-controlled high-rise elevators, hierarchies can be created to ensure that the most important residents can always be counted on for immediate ascent and descent. “If you’re the penthouse owner, every time it would register your call, and unbeknownst to others, an elevator would voice you and bypass everyone,” says Jim Fortune of Fortune Shepler Saling, a tower consultant who has worked on projects such as the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
One system that uses destination dispatch is Otis’ Compass 360; it was initially intended for commercial buildings, but is now being increasingly deployed in high-rise and high-end residential projects, says Lucien Wedzikowski, the company’s senior manager.
The ability to program these elevators in different ways has unlocked an array of new features, he adds; Take NFC, the short-range wireless technology found in most smartphones. It could be used to encode a resident as a priority VIP, summoning an elevator as they enter the building to wait when they have passed through the lobby.
However, it’s not always just an emergency, says Wedzikowski. “Panoramic shafts, with high-speed elevators in glass shafts that start going really fast? They can cause dizziness in some people, so we created a coded feature for those people” and adjusted the elevator speed accordingly. “You can code whatever you want.”
Such innovation will likely be more important than ever, says Jim Fortune, as the world reshapes its workplaces in the wake of the pandemic and residents begin to live in taller buildings — those at the top, of course, will pay. a premium for their penthouses and expect a pronto lift at all times.
“People don’t come back to work the same way in cities like Seattle and Chicago, so offices are being converted into high-end apartments,” Fortune says, but commercial elevators often run much faster than those in high-rise buildings. . “In an office building, people won’t tolerate such a long wait as they would in a hotel or condominium. People in an office are always in a rush, and they start to get angry after 30 or 35 seconds. In a condo complex, he adds, the average interval can range from 40 to 45 seconds – a crucial difference of 10 seconds.
Renovation of all kinds is now a driving factor for the elevator industry, according to Mike Burke of California installation specialist McKinley Elevator. “We are in a renovation phase. More and more people are trying to stay at home, ”he says, nodding both to an aging population that needs an alternative to stairs and to economic conditions that make it more difficult to find. a new house and more expensive to finance.
John Ray agrees. “Almost everyone goes there with something splatter,” he says. “In the 1970s and 1980s, people didn’t want you to realize they had an elevator because it might make them feel like they looked drunk. Now it’s ‘Look at my luxurious house, I even have an elevator!’ ”