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Max Touhey for Curbed NY

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At Astoria's Graffiti House, street art is both inspiration and marketing tool

Artists from the Welling Court Mural Project had a hand in decorating this luxe Queens rental

In the past few decades, many neighborhoods hugging the East River in Brooklyn and Queens have landed within the hands of developers eager to turn them into the next hot neighborhood—witness the changes to Williamsburg since it was rezoned in the early aughts, or Long Island City’s transformation from barren industrial area to high-rise city.

But a bit further north, Astoria has, despite developers’ best efforts, managed to maintain its diversity and (relative) affordability. Prices in the low-key Queens neighborhood have been rising, but it hasn’t become overdeveloped in the same way that, say, the LIC waterfront has. But a string of new developments could soon change all of that. Curbed recently got a peek inside one of those: Graffiti House, a high-end rental close to the waterfront that launched leasing last month.

The building itself is relatively benign, with a humble limestone facade set against the surrounding low-rise residences and graffiti-tagged garages. Rising just seven stories, it’s clearly the newcomer on Welling Court. But Graffiti House isn’t just a catchy moniker, and the location—just down the street from Ad Hoc Art’s Welling Court Mural project—helped inform the building’s design.

The idea is for Graffiti House to function as what Aki Development, the firm behind the project, is calling a “rotating art gallery.” By commissioning many of the artists behind the Welling Court Murals—including Daze, Crash, and Lady Pink—what would have been just another bland luxury rental instead became a lively continuation of the art found beyond the building’s four walls.

White walls serve as mini galleries filled with paintings that tenants and guests can purchase, while murals in the parking garage transform the space a continuous art display. Even an elevator shaft is populated with art—a vertical installation, experienced as the glass-backed elevator travels up and down each of the building’s floors, showcases nine distinct paintings, one on each landing.

The pieces throughout the building will change annually, with the artists returning every June to repaint over their original work, just as its done with the Welling Court Mural Project. It’s part of a larger trend among developers to incorporate work from local graffiti artists into their buildings, as a way to lend street cred and potentially attract the so-called “creative class” of younger residents. (Jerry Wolkoff, the Queens developer who demolished 5Pointz in order to build high-rise rentals, wants those buildings to have dedicated graffiti walls, for instance.)

Every one of the 28 rentals is a one-bedroom, one-bathroom, with prices ranging from $2,544 to $2,933 per month. “We try to provide a condo level experience in a rental building,” explains Jeffrey Harris, the founder of Voyeur Real Estate, which handles leasing for the development. That shows in the features found throughout the units, including custom kitchens with Caesarstone countertops, spa-like bathrooms, and private balconies on every apartment.

Fitness center overlooking the muraled parking garage.

Building amenities are in line with those typically offered in many new luxury developments, including a sleek fitness center (with views of the murals outside) and storage rooms, along with a rooftop deck offering panoramic views of Manhattan and Queens. While it’s still a work in progress, eventually shrubs and plants will cover the roof deck, along with an outdoor kitchen and grill, movie screen, and a shower.

There is one challenge, which may be part of why Astoria has yet to become as gentrified as some of its surrounding neighborhoods: public transportation. This particular development is about a 15 minute walk from the closest subway stop, and current residents rely heavily on buses to get around.

However, that may improve with the arrival of the city’s new ferry service, due to launch this summer, which will stop practically in Graffiti House’s backyard. “It’s been a big draw for a lot of people in the area and for people who work on Wall Street or Midtown East, it’ll get them there in under 40 minutes,” Harris notes.


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