They had room to spare for their massive Manhattan homes. So they built two houses.


When Michael Holtz and Megan Genwaldi were walking their Havanese dog named Bagel on the Hudson River Greenway along Manhattan’s West Side Highway, they often heard people talking about their apartment.

“Is this a kids club?” and “What is there?” are common questions. The doorman regularly turns away strangers who ask to visit their house in person, believing it to be a kind of public resting place.

The reason for all the interest is what they call “tree houses”: a two-winged wooden structure that spans the 22-foot-high living space with a spiral staircase and lattice seating. It is highly visible from the street through the huge floor-to-ceiling windows of their compact units in the famous Richard Meier-designed building known as 165 Charles.

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Inside the apartment are what they call “tree houses”: a two-part timber structure designed in part by architect Andrew Hyde, director of New York-based firm No Architecture, in part to reduce the room’s size.

Dorothy Hong for The Wall Street Journal

When Mr. Holtz, the 56-year-old founder of luxury travel agency SmartFlyer, bought four units on the second floor of the building for $9.9 million between 2005 and 2008, he wasn’t sure what to do with the space.

Seen by some in the New York real estate market as a chain fin, due to the plethora of apartments in high-end buildings he’s bought and sold over the years, Mr. Holtz has tried to sell his four units at 165 Charles multiple times: once for $14 million in 2011, for 12.9 $1 million in 2013, and then for $14 million again in 2015.

“I had some strong offers, but I never wanted to give them up,” he says.

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In 2017, he hired architect Andrew Hyde, director of New York’s No Architecture firm, to create a design for what ended up being a $4.5 million project to combine two apartments into four bedrooms, four bathrooms, and a 3,500-square-foot area. The renovation eliminated the wall separating the two apartments, leaving a cavernous main living area that included the kitchen, dining room, and sitting room.

Mr. Holtz says his primary goal for the reconfiguration was to create more sense of scale. Before the treehouses, he said, he was sitting in half of what is now the living room on the sofa, watching TV on a big screen, feeling like a little person in a huge space. “I knew there had to be something here, but I didn’t know what,” he says. It was a bit like a basketball court.

The idea of ​​building a tree house arose in part from the limitations of the permit: New York City rules did not allow them to add more square feet to apartments, including a loft or any other type of structure with a platform floor. Since treehouses have only nets, which are considered “soft spaces”, and the entire structure can be moved, it is considered as furniture, which is mobilized with the authorities.

Treehouses also double as a sculpture, trimming the space, adding verticality without being heavy and dark, says Mr. Head. The top of the lattice seating areas offers a view of the treetops that line the West Side and Hudson Highway and buildings in New Jersey.


Hyde’s distinctive architectural approach is the flexible spaces. His work, which includes private residences, museums, and other buildings across the country and the world, tends to have what he calls a “matrix plan”: rooms that circle a central area and can either be closed into separate rooms, as sleeping spaces for the night, or remain open for use as offices and lounges during the day. Such a design is not only more efficient, but also helps to connect occupants and create a more shared lifestyle, he says.

“The idea of ​​bedrooms in the central hallway that you don’t fully use is outdated,” says Mr. Head. “This was an opportunity to eliminate that.”

Walking through the front door, the first room on the right has a sofa, TV, and thick pocket doors that form a wall when closed. This is what Ms. Jenwaldi calls the CNN room because this is where Mr. Holtz watched CNN nonstop during the early stages of the Covid pandemic.

A corridor by the windows leads to a guest bedroom, which has a wardrobe and a bathroom. When there are no guests, the room doubles as an additional working room for Mr. Holtz, as it opens onto the main room – via a sliding wall at the end – where there is a large open kitchen and breakfast table where Mr. Holtz usually works when he is at home.


Treehouses occupy a large part of the main living area, with a dining table underneath. At the other end of the main living area from the kitchen is a revolving bookshelf and TV, which can be rotated to close another bedroom, which Miss Jenwaldi, now an account manager at a New York-based business management firm, uses as an office. Behind that room is the master bedroom, which also opens onto the CNN room via the main area via a pocket door.

Rooms have light colors of Douglas fir, large windows with subtle shades, and mid-century modern furniture. The main rooms are filled with plants (all Ficus plants because they are able to withstand the tint on the windows meant to protect artwork).

The idea of ​​building a tree house arose in part from the limitations of the permit: New York City rules did not allow them to add more square feet to apartments, including a loft or any other type of structure with a platform floor. Since treehouses have only nets, which are considered “soft spaces”, and the entire structure can be moved, it is considered as furniture, which is mobilized with the authorities.

Dorothy Hong for The Wall Street Journal

Three Richard Meier-designed buildings lie along the West Side Highway; On the right are 165 Charles.

Dorothy Hong for The Wall Street Journal

Mr. Holtz grew up in what he calls “an ordinary Long Island home” in Oceanside, New York, where his father worked as a patent attorney. Considering that he might want to become a patent attorney, Mr. Holtz studied engineering at Washington University in St. Louis and graduated in 1987. But instead of attending law school, he went to work on Wall Street and then at an upscale travel agency in New York.

In 1990, Mr. Holtz founded his own travel company. He met Mrs. Ginwaldi, who is 35 and used to work as an account manager for a Phoenix-based travel company, at an industry event in Paris in 2016. The two married in late 2019, and after a few months had completed an apartment that had been renovated enough to live in – Just before the outbreak of the epidemic. “We used wedding favors,” says Ms. Ginwaldi, who grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan and majored in business and communications at Arizona State University. She jokes that since Covid meant Mr Holtz wasn’t involved in the usual travel frenzy, they could have had a “normal relationship”. The pandemic-related supply shortage has delayed completion of the project until earlier this year.

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Since starting his travel business, Mr. Holtz has been buying and selling apartments in New York, usually in new or iconic buildings. His highlight was a three-bedroom apartment on the 66th floor of a building called the Park Imperial at 230 West 56th Street, which he bought for $2.985 million in 2003 and sold a year later to Sean “Diddy” Combs (aka Puff Daddy) for $3.82. Million dollars. In 2008, Holtz sold a 2,520-square-foot unit on the 14th floor of 15 Central Park West for $8.5 million he had purchased a year earlier for $4.86 million.

Despite his repeated attempts in the past 10 years to sell his units at 165 Charles, Mr. Holtz says renovating his apartment, where the couple live full-time when they are not traveling, and the time he spent there during the pandemic, has changed his stance. Thinking of moving, right now. “We plan to stay here,” he says.

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