Sunday, December 27, 2009

Brownstones

This morning Fellow Traveler and I are being quiet in the living room/dining room area while the rest of the family sleeps at the opposite end of the apartment.

We're in a brownstone -- for those of you whose experience of New York is limited to films and television, this is the real deal, with long stone stairways and black iron gating, that looks so picturesque when, say, the Law and Order cops are interviewing a witness in front of one.

When you open our doors, though, what you will find is not the sparkling modernity of a made-for-television set, but a real taste of old New York, circa 1890's.

Space, as always, is at a premium in this town. So our kids' living spills out of their rooms into the hallways, into ponderous antique dressers and dorm-style shelving units. The bathroom -- featuring a fin-de-siecle sink on clawed metal feet and a bathtub whose rim is nearly a yard high, necessitating the grandmas' summoning of all the dexterity they can manage to crawl inside -- is chiseled out of a corner in the hall, and is small enough that I can pretty much touch the opposite walls with outstretched hands. The kids' actual living space consists of one large room, divided up by sliding doors into a dining/living area, storage area and sleeping area, with a tiny kitchen/laundry off to the side facing the neighbors' back yards. Grandmas are staying in a small spare bedroom off to the side of The Kids' apartment that actually belongs to the landlord -- it's where he houses his son when his son pays a visit -- but that he has graciously donated to our extended family during all the new-baby visitation.

Logistics gets tricky in this patchwork of living areas. Grandmas have easy access to the bathroom from our room at the opposite end of the hallway...but we can't get into the kitchen without opening the door into The Kids' bedroom, which we are not going to do until they're safely up and dressed. Likewise, our coats are in a closet in the central part of the apartment, walled off by the two sets of sliding doors, and trying to get at them involves more noise than we can safely manage in the morning. The tininess of the kitchen -- just to give you an idea, in order for us to set up the crockpot for dinner yesterday we had to park the coffeemaker in the hall, and the top of the dryer also serves as stand-in storage space for cooking implements-- provided me with new insight into why The Kids live on takeout. Sometimes I sit here and wonder what it was like to dwell in these buildings with the large families of past generations.

Not that everything is cramped and crowded, though. We have very high, airy ceilings, and a nice bay window that's a great place to eat breakfast and people-watch. And the architecture is fascinating -- all the turned wood of the stairs; the elaborate moldings; the (closed) fireplace; the colorful surprise of a stained-glass skylight at the top of the stairwell.

The affable landlord -- a very entertaining guy, a Renaissance man whose knowledge base covers everything from deep-sea fishing to the more notable residents of Greenlawn Cemetery, and who could easily create a profitable sideline narrating tours of greater Brooklyn -- took us on a grand tour of the entire building yesterday, which he has been lovingly restoring for the past 25 years, repointing and renovating the basement and stripping the wonderful beechwood moldings section by section to rediscover their original honey color. He lives on the first two floors of the building.

The Kids are planning on moving to California in the next year, so this will be our last time in this place. Despite its logistical challenges, I think they'll leave with a touch of sadness.

4 comments:

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

Almost all older places of any kind have inadequate kitchens, always making me wonder how those women of old managed to cook from scratch all the time, before so much take out, frozen foods, and boxed food.

Songbird said...

I'm reminded (only in architectural terms, though) of the title character's visit to her son in "Olive Kittredge." Have you read it?

LoieJ said...

And I meant to say, "obviously designed by a man."

toujoursdan said...

You should see the kitchen in our brownstone. The building itself is 12,000 (yes thousand) square feet of space spread over 6 floors, but the kitchen can barely fit two.