Narrative resonates with luxury real estate buyers, says Brown executive Harris Stevens


Caroline McDonald has spent her career working with very beautiful things. Before moving into luxury real estate, she was fully immersed in public relations, media and marketing for the worlds of art and luxury fashion. At Saks Fifth Avenue, Ms. McDonald got inside the heads of Chanel, Dior and Burberry consumers as she crafted corporate communications.

Now, Ms. McDonald is Executive Vice President, Head of Marketing and Brand Strategy at Brown Harris Stevens Development Marketing. She brings to market some of New York City’s newest and most sought after luxury real estate buildings.


By 200 Amsterdam, the 52-story Art Deco-inspired building on the former Lincoln Square synagogue site, connected the building’s developers to Lincoln Center and the Central Park Conservancy. Given its proximity to the world-renowned cultural institution and city park, Ms. McDonald is confident of attracting lovers of the performing arts.

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At 393 West End Avenue, a 16-story antebellum building on the Upper West Side, Mrs. McDonald is tasked with marketing the building. She is targeting a different set of buyers, one that is perhaps more family-oriented but enjoys many of the same amenities that the neighborhood offers.

We chat with Ms. McDonald about the nuances of luxury real estate marketing and how storytelling personally defines luxury for her.

Mansion Global: What are some of the parallels between luxury goods and luxury real estate? How do you bring buyers to life?

Caroline MacDonald: It’s a matter of the story behind the brand. In luxury goods, there is a lot of brand vision and narrative behind all the revered luxury brands. That baggage is what I have transferred to real estate development. Real estate is an amazing industry in Manhattan. It is a wealth of knowledge and my part has been to congratulate the highly esteemed team that I work with, with my background in luxury being an expert in that storytelling part that I experienced working with globally recognized luxury brands all over the world.

MG: What sparked your interest in working in the luxury realm, first with luxury goods and now with luxury real estate?

CM: Since I was a child I have loved stories and the art of developing a narrative. The world of luxury is a master of this trade. They are the modern storytellers of today and I have always been inspired by the stories behind these experiences. They often intertwine mythology, religion, literature, art, music, and even scent into a seamless package that transcends. For luxury real estate, the same marketing formula is key and even more essential now, since we are talking about a person’s home or space that will soon be inhabited. My goal is always to inspire and drive emotion that will connect with the beautiful residences we represent.

MG: What are your values ​​at work?

CM: When I was at the University of Virginia there was a saying: “Work hard. Play hard” and that has been my adopted motto. In the modern world, it’s hard to uphold this mantra, as we can be working anywhere at any time (and often are), but I think it’s important for creative inspiration to have a complete escape from their work world, even if it’s for a few hours of your weekend. For me, that is being outdoors and disconnected from city life. The other important value at work is collaboration. It takes so many kinds of training and experience to bring a building to life. From the developers to the architects and designers, to the special teams that market and sell our spaces, I truly value the unique knowledge that each of my colleagues and collaborators brings to the table and what makes a project a reality.

MG: What were the highlights of bringing 200 Amsterdam and 393 West End Avenue to market?

CM: 200 Amsterdam is obviously at the higher end of the luxury market. The building is unique in the neighborhood; it stands out in terms of its views and luxury offerings in terms of amenities. It is a first level property. 393 West End Avenue is a conversation that brings that classic pre-war style to life, and we’ve modernized it by incorporating CetraRuddy to bring the interiors up to date and more contemporary.

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MG: What does it mean to bring some of the city’s most notable condominium developments to market?

CM: It really is a beautiful process that we went through. We have a complete team, from the sales team to the architecture team and our development partners. The marketing piece is that we all come together and see how we are going to essentially differentiate the project in the market. That is the key piece of luxury. It’s how we find that differentiation and how we’re going to separate it from other developments coming to market. How are we going to make it a unique life experience for the buyer? That is the most exciting part.

MG: What does the narrative aspect of amenities involve in turning browsers into buyers?

CM: Our amenities are an important part of the luxury pie. What will draw buyers to each building is similar to what would draw them to amenities. They both have outdoor space which is important post Covid. The intimate nature of 393 West End’s amenities intentionally makes it feel like an extension of your own home. We built these fantastic banquet nooks with sliding doors that can be closed. If you are going to work from home, or if the children and adolescents need to do their studies, you can isolate yourself from the comfort space or escape from your home to a different environment. At 200 Amsterdam, we added “Zoom rooms” which have been extremely popular. They are in a completely closed space. 200 Amsterdam has a larger footprint, so there are more service floors.

MG: Where do you find inspiration for your work?

CM: I find inspiration for my work in multiple cultures and media, particularly art, fashion, interior design, music, and inspiring destinations around the world. I am truly a sponge to see how others live and I am inspired by the global art of living life to the fullest. I am also very inspired by the natural world and how to intertwine nature with the luxury of living. When it comes to media, I continue to value print and physical experiences juxtaposed with digital, which brings us so many different worlds every day.

MG: What is your personal definition of luxury?

CM: True luxury is very emotional and immediately connotes a story or a vision in your head. Modern luxury can satisfy desire, whether it be comfort, joy or indulgence. The feeling you get when you walk into a beautifully designed space with the bones of the architecture you love, the contemporary pieces of interiors, the feeling you get when you experience breathtaking views. Those are all emotions that have been put together and carefully crafted, right? You can get that from a fine, buttery-smooth Italian leather glove. You can have this luxurious feeling. It comes in so many different physical forms, but the same emotional part is the common thread.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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