NADINE KAM / NKAM@STARBULLETIN.COM
Furnished Quarters can provide a home away from home in cities from Florida to New York City. In fact, the hardwood floor of 142 East 49th is better than the Pergo at home.
Need room to roam? Try Furnished Quarters
Its apartment rentals offer more space than a hotel, at roughly the same price
It started with the smoking.
He smoked, I didn't, and for a nonsmoker, staying in the same hotel room as a smoker is a miserable experience. Unlike staying at home, where you can find sanctuary in another room, there's no escape from the tar and nicotine fumes in a single room.
So about 10 years ago, we graduated from the hotel to the suite hotel, like a condo away from home where we'd have a living room, bedroom, bathroom and sometimes a kitchenette. The kitchenette is essential in cities like Seattle and Portland, Ore., blessed with wonderful farmer's markets. I found suites from $90 to $120 per night.
It was a different story when I searched for accommodations in New York City, where an average hotel room -- I'm not talking about closet-size rooms like at the Paramount -- runs about $250 per night. For 10 days, we were looking at paying $2,500 in hotel fees. Tack on the city's hotel room tax of 13.62 percent, plus occupancy tax and 8.62 percent state tax, and we were looking at more than $550 in taxes for the length of our stay, about the cost of dinner for two at Per Se, and I prefer food to taxes.
Looking at a bill greater than a monthly home mortgage, I thought it might be possible to simply rent an apartment. I searched Web sites for short-term apartment rentals, but based on photos, they often looked like the owners were trying to make a little extra money by vacating the premises for brief rental periods -- their clutter and bad taste still in place.
Nicer accommodations offered by corporate specialists required a six-month stay. No can do.
Then I discovered Furnished Quarters. The company, with properties in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Florida, is one of several offering short-term apartment rentals with a minimum stay of four days.
In Manhattan, Furnished Quarters operates 36 properties in just about every area you would care to stay, from Chelsea to the Upper East Side.
Facilities vary greatly, and you will pay more for buildings with fitness rooms and doormen. Otherwise, they have all the amenities of a rental property, including local phone calls (up to $35), basic cable, mail delivery and coin-operated laundry facilities.
The Web site, at www.furnishedquarters.com, offers photos, detailed descriptions and floor plans, allowing you to steer away from bad feng shui and apartments where kitchens open to bathrooms.
We chose a central property, at $250 per night, at 142 East 49th St. (no longer available), around the corner from the likes of the W Hotel, Ritz-Carlton and Saks Fifth Avenue and within walking distance of the Museum of Modern Art and its hot new restaurant.
It was also within walking distance of Grand Central Station, which was important because we had considered leaving our stuff in place while taking the train to Boston or Connecticut for a couple of days.
NADINE KAM / NKAM@STARBULLETIN.COM
Even non-fashion fans will understand the fuss over designers when taking in the breathtaking, intricate designs of Alexander McQueen.
At the time, we paid no taxes for the accommodations. Since then, more short-term apartment rental companies have appeared, and the loss of tax revenue wasn't lost on city officials. Now, you will pay a reduced 5 percent hotel room tax if you stay in an apartment for less than 180 days (six months).
New York also imposes an occupancy tax of $1 to $4 per night for hotel rooms that can also apply to short-term rentals. It's best to check these things while you're making your plans, because taxes are always subject to change.
When applying for an apartment stay, privacy could be an issue. While hotels only want to know that you have a credit card, Furnished Quarters -- like any apartment rental company -- checks credit histories and asks for your Social Security number, a copy of your driver's license and other personal information I didn't care to give them. Yet, for the size of their accommodations and convenience, a dinky hotel room no longer seemed to be an option.
There were many rules to consider. The main one is that cancellation within 14 days of arrival will lead to paying the entire rent due. You'll be charged for one night's stay if you cancel prior to 14 days of arrival. So be certain of your plans prior to making any commitment. Also, a lost key will cost you $100.
Another problem was the late check-in time, 4 p.m., and key pickup in yet another building, at 6 p.m. Our flight was arriving before 10 a.m., which meant we had a lot of time to kill, with luggage in tow.
I was desperate for a key alternative -- in Portland, Ore., a staffer met us at our apartment at 10 p.m. -- but none was offered. Since then they started offering overnight key delivery, though I don't know if the service is offered for Hawaii, since overnight service takes two days.
At the time, I considered hiring a courier service to pick up our luggage at home and deliver it to our New York doorstep, but imagined the hassle involved with waiting and timing and decided against it. Next time, I'd probably choose a doorman building for the convenience of having someone stow our luggage until check-in.
After having lunch in Midtown, and with hours to kill, we decided to hop the Gray Line Sightseeing bus. For adults it was $49 for hop-off, hop-on privileges. We must have been too tired to care, because obviously, with our luggage, we wouldn't be getting off and could have paid a lot less.
At first the overview was great. Even if you've visited the city several times, the bus ride is a quick refresher, allowing you to get your bearings, particularly if you never stay in the same place twice. Last time I was there, I had stayed in Soho, a great place for shopping freaks.
By the time key pickup time came around, the boyfriend was thoroughly exasperated, but that's the danger of being with a writer. All the mishaps just become part of life's great comedy.
And even he ended up loving the apartment.
"Can we buy this place?" he said as we left, saying goodbye to our apartment and its hardwood floors, placing our keys on the table, per instructions.