Creating a photoshoot-ready space takes more than just the right furnishings, terrific lighting, and a great eye (though those are of course prerequisites). Getting a room to that gleaming level of pristine clean takes a special type of attention—and some pretty magical help. Enter New York’s Little Elves, the delightfully named company that has been the secret ingredient for designers, photographers, stagers, and chic homeowners for years now. These are the folks you call when you need to get a place ready for the judgiest visitors, ready for buyers, or ready for your broker. And these elves can make a dramatic yet discreet difference to homes of all types, all while leaving not a trace of fairy dust—or, you know, actual dust—behind.

To learn more about this unique business, we spoke with president Sabrina Fierman about how it all got started, how they chose that fanciful name, and how they work with designers and the owners of high-end homes. See what she had to say below, and get to know more about the company called the “Best House Cleaner” by New York magazine.

New York's Little Elves
Photo courtesy of New York’s Little Elves

First and foremost, tell us about the name New York’s Little Elves. How did you choose it, and how did you launch the business?

Founder Barbara Fierman, Emeritus Chief Elf and my mother, started the company quite organically. Our nanny, when he wasn’t busy with her children (my brother and I), needed more work, which she organized within our doorman building. As she had trained him to be a meticulous cleaner and helper, that was what he did. The other residents were thrilled, word spread, and soon more help was needed. He brought two friends, and before she knew it, my mother was managing three cleaners full time! She imagined silent cleaners going in stealthily, and leaving everything spotless. In that way, the Elves were born. When we started cleaning for the interior design community, initially through the Kips Bay Decorator Show House, things really took off.

You were named “Best House Cleaner” by New York magazine… congratulations! Tell us about your services and how you got to this level.

In one word, trust.  By working with interior designers and decorator show houses, we gained a reputation for attention to detail, working under pressure, and a comfort level with specialty and delicate finishes and precious furnishings. Designers learned not only to trust us but to rely on us to make their work shine by turning a dusty job site into a livable home. We also answered the phones, showed up, and demonstrated flexibility with endless schedule changes and high-pressure environments. In New York’s demanding environment, designers and residents learned that they could trust us.

New York’s Little Elves President Sabrina Fierman. Photo courtesy of Sabrina Fierman.

You work with many of the top interior designers and stagers, and also do post-construction cleanup. Tell us a little bit about that process.

During a renovation, dust is circulating throughout the residence and settles everywhere. To eradicate this dust, the scope of work for a post-construction cleaning includes dusting ceilings and walls, cleaning floors, and detailing every inch of the residence in between the ceilings and floors. That means even pulling cabinet drawers out and cleaning the drawer mechanisms and runners. To provide accurate estimates and explain the process, we like to meet on site for a walk through. This allows us to bring everyone on to the same page regarding costs, time, and results. Once on site at the start of every cleaning day, the team is outfitted with hospital booties and tools of the trade and whatever else we need to get the job done, like dust cloth-covered chopsticks and q-tips to get into small spaces.  

We like to start at the far end of a residence, start up high (ceilings and ceiling coves, crown moldings and upper shelving areas) and work our way down and towards the residence’s exit. Oftentimes however, we are working alongside other trades such as wallpaper hangers, electricians and plumbers, A/V techs, and carpet layers. So we stay nimble and work with and around them.  

Many clients have us back for a second cleaning following the furniture installation. This is a touch up cleaning that addresses settling dust, fingerprints left behind by trades finishing up punch lists, dust created by movers and unpacking, and recleaning floors because many trades don’t wear booties and leave footprints behind!

New York's Little Elves
Design by Dufner Heighes, built by SilverLining. Photo: Nikolas Koenig.

What kinds of services are interior designers usually looking for pre-installation? What are some of the biggest challenges they face, and how do you address them?

Designers are looking to install furnishings into clean, dust-free environments. They may also be installing window treatments and need dust-free glass. Sometimes they need help with bed making, which can be a laborious and time-consuming process for them and their staff. Some projects are “turn-key,” meaning all the cookware and many personal items need to be unpacked,  dusted, and put away. New York’s Little Elves helps regularly with all these services.

The biggest challenge designers face with achieving all of this in time for a client’s first night in the home is generally working against the clock. Contractors sometimes run late and past deadlines while clients are clamoring to sleep in their new home. We often will clean while contractors are completing punch lists, movers are bringing furniture in, A/V technicians are programming electronics, and organizers are unpacking toiletries. It is the worst possible environment for cleaning, but it all still must get done! Designers are usually the ring leaders of this chaotic and stressful circus. While we are there to clean, our supervisors are experienced in providing a calming, problem-solving role. 

Similarly, what kinds of things do interior designers look for in terms of cleaning as opposed to the general public? How do you get apartments and homes magazine shoot-worthy?

Most of the general public looks at cleanliness from a macro perspective. Does the room look clean? Often rooms do look clean until you zero in on micro areas, such as baseboards that can be dusty, or hardware that shows fingerprints. Designers are looking at the macro and the micro environment. Not only how does it all look from the doorway but also how it looks on close inspection, e.g., corners, windowsills, under furniture, the floor under an area rug, and hardware on doors and cabinets. Does the chandelier sparkle? Are there fingerprints, footprint impressions in the rug, dust on shelving or even doors?

We often clean prior to photography shoots. Cleaning techniques and the scope of work tend not to vary much. It’s all in the details, and we focus on the details. Dirt shouldn’t factor into it at that point, because it just shouldn’t be present!

New York's Little Elves
Design by Dufner Heighes, built by SilverLining. Photo: Nikolas Koenig.

Of particular interest to our audience is the way you clean antiques and unique pieces of furniture. How do these kinds of items need to be handled differently?

We advise that “less is more.” Most antiques require only gentle dusting, with no product. When wood polish is requested, we ask clients to provide their own polish, because everyone has their preference and it can be very particular. Some only want to use lemon oil, others prefer Guardsman’s polish, and some will bring out the Pledge. Antique furnishings may have brass or other metal fixtures or accents which need to be accounted for when selecting cleaning solutions.  

On occasion, we consult with auction house specialists on their best practices for unusual surfaces. And for residents with housekeepers who can become easily intimidated by high-end homes, we offer to train clients’ housekeepers. It’s critical to know what not to use as much as what to use and how often.

You’ve also expanded your services to South Florida, which seems like a great idea these days (especially given how many New Yorkers have flown south in the last few years). How are the needs there different?

South Florida residents call us in for post-construction cleaning. The needs are not much different. There is a lot more humidity, which is good for dust (it doesn’t stay in the air as long because it clumps together, is heavier, and falls more quickly,) but bad for mold growth. Residents in humid climates need to guard against mold growth. So do city dwellers whose bathrooms don’t have windows. This is the case with so many New Yorkers, and why so many have mold and discoloration on their bathroom grout.  

Last question, from a New Yorker who lives in a small apartment: Any must-know tips for keeping a space super-clean in a place like Manhattan?

Keeping an apartment clean in New York City can be a Sisyphean task. We all live in close quarters with our pets, kids, neighbors, and never-ending construction whether it be across the street, the hallway, or on the other side of the wall! Keeping clean here is as much about decluttering as it is about cleaning and dusting. The less clutter, the easier it is to dust. I always advise clients to do a major decluttering before a deep cleaning. And to keep the home clean, keep clutter to a minimum. This requires constant vigilance. I also recommend HEPA air purifiers run 24/7 in bedrooms, particularly for anyone suffering from allergies or respiratory illnesses. This will help remove dust from the air, and less will settle over time.  

Other tips: Don’t cook, don’t have children, and don’t have pets! Haha!

Lead image: Design by Eve Robinson. Photo: Marco Ricca.

August 30, 2023

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