Hey, did you know I currently live in Manhattan?
Shocking, I know. Everyone I tell is always like “… Manhattan? But I thought, well, I just assumed …”
Yup. But that is about to change. I have my own little piece of the American pie in Williamsburg on South 2nd. Hey, it’s on the other side of the BQE, the un-cool (ungentrified) side. But it’s a seven minute walk from the L Bedford stop, a 15 minute walk from the main drag in Williamsburg (where I spend all my time anyway), and a 25 minute walk from any warehouse party in Bushwick. The street is quiet. And most importantly, there are windows in every single room of this humble little one-bedroom. The southern windows spill golden light into the living room and bedroom. A small window is in the bathroom, and another window lets me chop my vegetables by natural light instead of fluorescents. There is a view over the rooftops, with nary a brick wall to keep me from seeing the lights at night. I can sneak out on the fire escape and up to the roof to see the Freedom Tower across the East River. It will be my heaven.
But I need to acknowledge something. I’m going to be perfectly real with you guys. I am a gentrifier.
This slice of Williamsburg has held out against gentrification so far. There are a couple bars, a few little restaurants. But no boutiques. There are men and women who chill in their fold-up chairs on the street, lazily patrolling the neighborhood while they sip on sodas. The other night my boyfriend and I on a whim got our palms read by a nice woman named Tracy a block over. The list of tenants in my walkup are almost all Hispanic, and judging by how the last names repeat several times, many of them are families that have colonized almost entire floors. I met a nice mother and her adorable toddler one day on my floor, and she told me her mother lived next door. And that I had moved into her brother’s old apartment.
Am I allowed to say, as the gentrifier, that I like all of this? I like how cozy the neighborhood feels, that many of the people know each other in the building, even though I don’t speak their language. (I’ll be leaning on my boyfriend to help me. Maybe I should just take Spanish lessons …) I like the idea of waving hello to the old guys chilling at the bodega on the corner. I love that I can actually line dry my clothes, like everyone else does in the building, by clothespinning them to a line out my window. Oh yeah, and the low price of my apartment was a perk. It allowed me to get a humble little space, with money left over to make it mine.
I realize the downside to all of this. That as a gentrifier, developers might include me in their calculations for the return on knocking down a building and putting in a condo. That landlords might think of me when deciding to raise the rents. But that is the calculus of buying in New York. I’m in the second wave, right after the starving artists. Not starving, but not flush enough to afford an apartment in Manhattan or Williamsburg. I want to park myself here for a long time, get to know the neighborhood, instead of flipping the apartment for a profit. That’s certainly not in my plan. I hope I can be forgiven for being the other.
So, how am I going to make this apartment mine? My reno includes:
- Ripping out and putting in a brand new kitchen.
- Ripping out and putting in a new bathroom.
- Ripping out and putting in new hardwood floors.
- Putting a closet in the bedroom.
- Soundproofing the living room.
Here are the before pictures:
The bathroom was done with the cheapest materials possible. The tin tub was starting to rust around the drain. And weirdly, the toilet is under the medicine cabinet mirror, and the sink under the window. Which mean you have to lean over the toilet to do your makeup or just look at your face. Which is kind of icky.
The living room is large, but has a wall separating it from the kitchen. Blocked light = no bueno. Let’s open it up! Oh, and hey random cable stapled to the wall.
The bedroom and living room have parquet floors, but the rest of the apartment has fake wood floors. And where is the bedroom closet?
There’s a very long hallway leading into the apartment. It needs lots of lighting to brighten it up and make it feel a little less like a dungeon.
The kitchen looks nice from far away, but get up close and you see the wear and tear on the cabinets. Random pipes sticking out of the floor and wall need to be dealt with. And the fridge is occupying a lonely awkward spot on the wall with all the grace of a 13-year-old nerd at the Homecoming dance.
I am incredibly lucky to have some resources at my disposable that make this affordable. First, shout out to my mom, the kitchen designer, Mrs. Leesa Johnson of Annapolis. She’s getting me a massive discount of the kitchen cabinetry and will design the heck out of the little space to fit in a dishwasher and combo washer/dryer unit.
Second, my wonderfully talented boyfriend, Illich Garcia, who is an architect. He’s been working tirelessly to perfect a blueprint of the new space that takes into account the new closet, and even places furniture inside the living room to make sure everything fits nicely. He’s also in charge of the soundproofing, and has taken that job very, very seriously. By the time he’s done, we could turn it into a club and no one would be the wiser. (Not that we will, but he’s not half-assing it.)
I’ll be giving you updates on how the renovation is going, including all the places and brands I’ve sourced sustainable and non-toxic materials and–eventually–furniture and decor.
Here’s the first stage: ripping it all out. I think it looks better already!
See how much bigger the apartment looks now? Beautiful.
I know what you’re thinking: “Oh! Exposed brick walls!” Yeah, I would love that. But the envelope of the building is not properly sealed and moisture will come in. So that is out of the question. But there is a solution to that, which I will post about soon …
What about the waste? Good question! I took pictures of everything and emailed it to Build It Green, an NYC salvage warehouse with locations in Queens and Brooklyn. They told me that I did not have enough materials for a free pickup, but told me they would be happy to take the range, the fridge, the kitchen sink and the vanity. So I had my contractor take everything over. Everything else, sadly, was not salvageable and had to go to the dump. I’m really sorry, you guys. I even tried putting it all up on Craigslist for $100, but the guy who contacted me failed to show up! Nobody wants parquet floors, or particle board cabinets, or any of the downmarket, old items in the apartment.
Anyway, I can’t wait to share my journey with you guys. There are so many exciting things coming up! And if you have any suggestions for companies and brands I should check out that are sustainable, ethical, and non-toxic, please let me know in the comments!