Ex-Bankers Upgrade the Good Life as Violin Pools BeckonMax Abelson
What’s ambitious about Jay Dweck’s bathroom isn’t the television by his whirlpool tub or the screen that will face his toilet and bidet. It isn’t the wide nook in his shower for a third TV and one more across from the sink, or his plan to have each turn on automatically when he’s nearby.
It’s that Dweck, a former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley executive, wants to sell fellow bankers on renovations like the one at his $4.8 million house an hour’s drive north of New York in Bedford Corners.
“I always have visions and dreams of things you can do, and this is a realization of something,” Dweck, 58, said near his violin-shaped pool, where about 5,600 fiber-optic cables light up like multicolored strings. “The idea is to improve quality of life using technology.”
The company he registered last month, Live Better Systems LLC, will have competition from Wall Street veterans working to make the good life better. In a year when Thomas Piketty’s book on swelling inequality sold out on Amazon.com, the former bankers don’t see their upgrades as indulgences for the pampered, according to interviews with half a dozen of them. They call them innovations that will spread.
“We’re launching this brand and launching this movement,” Paul Scialla said before a tour of the $50 million penthouse his company, Delos Living LLC, is selling with posture-boosting cork floors, purified air and antimicrobial coatings in New York’s East Village. “There’s so much attention focused on the environmental impact of buildings, and we didn’t think there was enough focus on the human.”
Scialla, 40, was co-head of U.S. interest-rate products cash trading at Goldman Sachs last year when he and his twin brother Peter left the firm’s partnership pool to expand Delos. It’s bringing “curated environments that optimize health” to Las Vegas hotel suites, Philadelphia dorms and Los Angeles offices, according to a website that describes lighting built around circadian rhythms and Vitamin C-infused showers.
The two apartments the company has sold in its five-unit building on East 11th Street went to actor Leonardo DiCaprio and author Deepak Chopra, both Delos advisory-board members. Scialla said the company and affiliate International WELL Building Institute do more than house celebrities, and that he left Goldman Sachs when he envisioned the potential social benefits and financial rewards.
“If we can scale this and get this to as many people as we can through real estate, that’s a real big win,” he said, citing hospitals and affordable apartments as options, along with housing for Haitian orphans the company has pledged to build. “Anything with four walls and a roof can be infused with this thought.”
Last month, former Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. vice president Monica Kirchner also cited mass appeal, or a version of it, after she began selling the first websites that end in .luxury instead of .com.
Kirchner, whose Beverly Hills, California-based Dot Luxury won an auction for rights to the domain, said her target audience spans “ultra-high net worth all the way into just your middle income.”
Her firm’s website skews to the former with a photograph of a grinning woman on a yacht. “Welcome to .Luxury,” a greeting below says. “We’ve been expecting you.”
Other former bankers working on what they call boutique projects are more explicit about selling to their own kind.
Serge Marquie, who ran corporate equity derivatives at Goldman Sachs and left last year, said the firm he started with his wife, Sally Wilkinson, is selling rights to Napa Valley wines before they’re bottled to “bankers, hedge-fund guys.”
The wealth chronicled in Piketty’s best-seller “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” creates business opportunities, according to Wilkinson, a former UBS AG economist. The number of people with at least $100 million increased 62 percent globally to 37,104 compared with 2003, according to a March study by property broker Knight Frank LLP.
“There’s incredible inequality, but there’s also incredible demand at the high end of the market,” Wilkinson said. “That’s just a reality of the world we live in.”
She and Marquie described the business as a way for them to make an impact.
“Capital can be useless, or it can be very beneficial,” Marquie said. “And it is important that people who have the capital are making it as useful as possible.”
Dweck, a former head of equities strategies for Goldman Sachs, said innovating brings him happiness. The pool, inspired by a Stradivarius he once owned, has a hot tub as the violin chin rest and two thin koi ponds shaped like a bow. He wants to use programming skills he honed on Wall Street to coordinate underwater lights with music piped through speakers.
“Let’s say I play some violin piece,” he said, comparing the effect to Guitar Hero. “I can just make it so that it’s like the strings are being played in the appropriate place.”
Live Better Systems can aid others once he’s ready to work with clients at year’s end, Dweck said, even if they can’t afford a $1 million Stradivarius pool.
“Anything that shouldn’t require volitional thought should just happen by itself,” he said. “If we can automate it away, we should.”
Dweck’s plan is to program his televisions to turn on when triggered by motion sensors, microphones or wireless access points that connect to mobile phones. He wants systems for heating, security, 24 TVs, 140 speakers and 90 automatic shades to learn the tastes and habits of their users.
The renovation of his stone-and-shingle house -- whose reverse-osmosis filtration makes his shower water “like bottled water” even if it lacks the Delos vitamins -- will cost $3 million, he said. He estimates he’ll spend an additional $3 million fixing up grounds that include the pool, a baseball field, an outdoor kitchen and a movie screen.
“Lots of people have that money,” he said. “They’re willing to spend it on, to me, much more frivolous things.”
Last month, before the tour of the Delos penthouse, Scialla showed the Manhattan Meatpacking District loft he shares with his brother. It, too, features a television in the bathroom. There’s also a signed poster of Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street,” two pianos and Delos features including cork floors and blue-shaded lighting to boost morning energy.
Across from the kitchen’s industrial-size juicer and a shelf of wheatgrass were two bottles of Patron tequila.
“Well,” Scialla said, “it’s all about balance.”