Oct 01, 2010

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Michele Kleier Talks About High Ticket Rentals


NEW YORK—On New Year's Eve, Chris Del Gatto moved into a large two-bedroom at one of the city's poshest addresses, on Fifth Avenue just north of the Plaza Hotel. He's putting the finishing touches on a some $200,000 renovation, a sum which included the hiring of designer Matthew Yee to select new furniture, rugs and décor to compliment his growing art collection.

It's a lot of money to redo a rental.

Dark and intense, impeccably dressed in a Jay Kos suit and a green Ferragamo tie, Mr. Del Gatto, 40, said he would have spent more on the redo if he owned the apartment, but he still wanted to make the place his own. He refuses to buy for now. "I'm not in a rush. It's a strategic thing. I have a lot of friends who could buy anything they wanted but they're waiting," he said, adding that many residents in his building stay for long periods, 10 years or more. Mr. Del Gatto declined to disclose his rent, but management company Urbana Properties says apartments that size rent for $12,000 to $14,000 a month.

Michele Kleier, president and chairman of Gumley Haft Kleier, says she's seen a lot of wealthy fence-sitters these past few years. "They always think the market is dropping," she says, adding that it isn't unusual for such people to invest a lot of money renovating rental units. She has one client who has been paying about $30,000 a month in rent since 1998—it's only in the last month that he has started to seriously look for something to buy.

It's a comfortable fence that Mr. Del Gatto is sitting on. The rooms are large with high ceilings, big windows and sweeping views of Central Park. Chocolate brown and ivory paint on the walls set off furniture with an Art Deco feel, with blue and silver silk covered dining chairs with a square cut out of their backs and Deco-style silver side tables in the living room. A jewelry reseller who convinced people there was no stigma in selling their old jewelry, Mr. Del Gatto says he came to love Art Deco through the old jewelry he buys. "I think Art Deco is the apex of jewelry design," he said.

Mr. Del Gatto keeps a bedroom for his kids—a son, 10, and daughter, 8, who visit once a week. It has a turquoise rug, and light-blue wallpaper designed by the artist Rob Wynne with lavender flies; twin beds have their initials embroidered on the pillows. The kitchen, wedged between the dining room and the hall that leads to the bedrooms, is small but immaculate, with white appliances and a refrigerator stocked with vegetables and fruit juice.

Reflecting Mr. Del Gatto's vocation, there are jewel-like touches throughout: A dangling gold-flecked brass and Murano glass chandelier above a round table in the entryway looks like glass necklaces hanging from gold chains; a Marilyn Minter photograph features a gold-adorned eyelash; an intricately detailed Art Deco bedroom set in the master bedroom that belonged to his late father has ringed pulls that look like gold earring hoops. The overall effect is "sensitive masculine," says designer Mr. Yee.

Appearances are important to Mr. Del Gatto's business model. At his company's offices in cities like New York, Hong Kong and Palm Beach, clients head to plushly appointed private rooms to sell their jewels to buyers—a different experience from the cash-for-gold pawnshop-type experience or the high-commission public auctions that traditionally dominated the secondhand jewelry market. "Chris just makes you feel really warm and comfortable," says model Veronica Webb, who has sold jewelry, including diamond bracelets and a big diamond pendant, to Mr. Del Gatto's firm three times to raise money for art and travel.

Mr. Del Gatto didn't grow up on Fifth Avenue. Born and raised on the Lower East Side, he skipped college and became a licensed gemologist at 17, eventually becoming a partner in a diamond manufacturing firm. Realizing there was no luxury brand to which the public could sell their diamonds and jewelry, he started buying and selling estate jewelry, attending auctions and getting to know dealers from around the world. He launched the company, Circa, named after the term used when describing origin, in 2001.

Mr. Del Gatto started sponsoring polo matches five years ago. Then he became a player himself. With no horse riding experience, he jumped into the sport in 2004 and now plays on and owns the Circa Team, which is on the Hamptons-Argentina-Palm Beach circuit.

Despite his investment, Mr. Del Gatto doesn't spend much time awake at home. He even keeps his watch collection, all purchased used, at work (there are 11 now, including Rolexes, Patek Philippes and Breguets). On weekends, Mr. Del Gatto decamps to his other rental, a four-bedroom house in the Hamptons, right near the rented stables for his nine horses.


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