Every Monday, the chef Daniela Mass shows up at Beth Fisher’s Upper East Side apartment with grocery bags full of ingredients like spaghetti squash, salmon, sweet potatoes and Swiss chard. In the Fishers’ kitchen, she prepares three four-person meals for Ms Fisher and her husband, along with snacks. The weekly cost for a visit by Eat Well Food by Daniela, Ms Mass’s service, is $300.
Ms Fisher, 56, who is a marketing executive, also works with Laura Solin-Valdina, the owner of the wardrobe makeover company NYC stylist. For the past year, Ms Solin-Valdina has organized and curated Ms Fisher’s outfits at the rate of $350 per hour (with a 20-hour minimum).
“She cleaned out my closet, updated my wardrobe and brought 10 department stores to my apartment,” Ms Fisher said. “It was rack upon rack of clothing. It was transformative.”
Ms Fisher is trading time for money, and she is part of a growing number of people who invite human service providers into their homes to help them with time-consuming, errand-like tasks that require skill and focus. “I don’t want to spend my time shopping online or at the stores,” she said. “I would rather spend time connecting with family, staying fit, or reading. Having someone shop for you whether it’s clothing or food is very efficient and cost effective. And both do a better job than I could.”
Many people in the city joke that what makes them real New Yorkers is that they never leave their apartments unless they have to. It’s getting easier to do just that, especially for those with money.
Once the province of the ultra-rich, employing an array of personal helpers has begun to filter into everyday life for many New Yorkers of means.
Grocery and meal delivery services like FreshDirect, Amazon Fresh and Seamless have become all but normalized in much of the city. But bespoke house calls are a different beast altogether, delivering actual people to perform actual services. These can include massages, yoga classes, facials, hair treatments, manicures, blowouts, makeup sessions or even time with a professional cuddler.
For $300 a week, Ms Mass shops cook and prepare three meals for four people, along with snacks. Her client, Ms Fisher, said she can make the food last for almost that long.
For $300 a week, Ms Mass shops cook and prepare three meals for four people, along with snacks. Her client, Ms Fisher, said she can make the food last for almost that long.CreditHiroko Masuike/The New York Times
“At home, they’re not fighting with the masses; my clients don’t want to wait to see a size or colour, or interface with a salesperson who is going to upsell them,” Ms Solin-Valdina said. “When we do our fittings, we have a tailor on hand, and fit clients in their home, with their lighting, so they don’t see the harsh lighting of the store’s dressing room.”
Marie Douat is a shirt designer who often makes house calls before or after typical office hours, between 7 and 9 a.m. or 6 and 10:30 p.m.
“My customers work a lot. They want a different experience,” said Ms Douat, who owns DOU.K, the company behind the custom shirts. Her clients are lawyers, financiers and entrepreneurs who spend between $300 and $900 on a single shirt. Last year she had 50 customers. Within the first three months of this year, she has already surpassed that number.
“They like that I’m just focusing on them and talking about their life, that there isn’t another customer,” Ms Douat said. “Then they can go back to work once I leave.”
To be sure, these services are still a luxury; they are not exactly mainstream. Many busy urbanites who have bigger budgets than windows of free time are rethinking how they want to use that time, said Dr Pam Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, in Newport Beach, Calif. “The only way to get more time is to be intentional about how we use it, which is what people are doing.”
Privacy in the age of transparency is also a factor, said Ellis Monk, assistant professor of sociology at Harvard University. “There’s this idea in the age of social media that privacy has become a rare commodity,” he said. By purchasing at-home services, “they are buying privacy and exclusivity simultaneously.”
They are also buying human contact. Carried Away Chefs charges $500 for a cook to prepare three four-person meals in a client’s home. But last year, the company added a stay-and-serve offering, where for a $200 surcharge chefs remain in the home to present the meals. The feature has proved popular; it has increased revenue by 20 per cent, said Kate Homes, founder and chief executive of the company.
In-home services “dovetail really well with New Yorkers who have to negotiate everything — subways, taxis, people. We all dream of having everything done for us,” said Don Grant, a media psychologist and addiction specialist.
And although Dr Grant may not make house calls, other mental health experts do (at a steep price, of course). House Call Psychiatrists is a network of board-certified and licensed psychiatrists in Manhattan who, for $1,500 an hour ($2,000 on evenings and weekends), will send one of their professionals to your home, office or hotel room. Its clientele is a mixture of high-risk patients and wealthy individuals who prefer to stay put in their homes.
But convenience comes not with just a price tag but a social cost, too.
“These can absolutely have a negative impact on our sense of connection with others,” Dr Grant said of constant home visits and services. “There’s a loss of value of community. We are social animals,” he continued, who have become “disengaged and have lost the art of small talk.”
Dr Rutledge shared some concerns as well. “If you have tendencies to be a hermit, you can support all this by cutting back on the interactions that give you discomfort,” she explained, replacing many of them with house call or delivery services.
But tell that to a busy, overextended New Yorker with Greta Garbo-esque sensibilities, especially when the results are positive. Ms Fisher, for example, has a whole new wardrobe to show off the 20 pounds she’s lost, which she attributes to having hired her at-home team.
“Having a stylist is like a having a shrink or doctor, but is a lot more fun,” Ms Fisher said. “It’s a treat and an indulgence, but I’ve still accomplished something that adds value and another dimension to my life.”
Meanwhile, in an old-fashioned but nonetheless dramatic turn of events on the Upper East Side, the members of the Bolster family have actually been eating the same meal — at the same time — since hiring the services of Carried Away Chefs.
“Most nights we are four people ordering from four different restaurants,” said Brian Bolster, 47, a married father of two teenagers, who works in finance. “The joke used to be: You know it’s dinner time when you hear a knock at the back door.” For the past month, instead of myriad takeout orders, the family has used a personal chef, which has had a unifying effect on them.
The togetherness is even happening with leftovers. “My daughter texted last week and said she and her brother just heated up the prepared food and ate it together. I don’t know the last time they did that. I’m still trying to picture what that looks like in my head.”