A Bed and an Easel Under One Roof features Max Estenger, one of our Spring 2016 artists here at MOCA Tucson. Read the original article from The New York Times here.
He lived in three different apartments in the same Midtown West neighborhood — first in a small walk-up building where the rent soared, then in another walk-up made uninhabitable by adjacent construction, and later in an amenity-filled high-rise with a Hudson River view. He rented his apartment there at the height of the recession, receiving two months’ free rent. Recently, the price rose substantially.
Last winter, he started hunting online for a small industrial building in theBronx. His budget was $400,000 to $500,000. But what he saw cost more than $1 million, and often had a retail or commercial tenant on the ground floor, a further deterrent.
Switching gears, he thought that he might find a suitable house in the Bronx. He was not interested in a fixer-upper, but much of what he saw that was in reasonable shape, he said, was “overdesigned” and “a little fussy in a bad way.”
In Morris Park, he liked a six-bedroom two-family house with an attic, a garage and a backyard. He could see himself taking over the whole house for himself, his artwork and his guests. The yard would be an asset, he said, because “you can go out in the back and spray paint.” He bid the asking price, $489,000.
However, Mr. Estenger discovered that the attic was unheated and the electricity was outdated, with the tenants relying on power strips and extension cords. Paint flaked from a ceiling.
“I was playing hardball in terms of making demands after the inspection,” he said. “It seemed too much of a fixer-upper, and I didn’t have the stomach for that.”
He withdrew his offer, and the house later sold for $504,000.
He then decided to check out some of Brooklyn’s farther reaches. He contacted Sherri Polin, an associate broker at the Corcoran Group, who was listing a two-story brick house with a basement for $459,000. It was inFlatlands in southeastern Brooklyn, a neighborhood of which Mr. Estenger had never heard.
It was a “lovely single-family 1960 frozen-in-time house,” he said, with an open living area, unlike most similar houses. The house “opened my eyes to the fact that Brooklyn had some places that were still affordable,” he said. “And then I discovered there are a lot of places in Brooklyn that are not accessible to a train, and that place was not. You had to take a bus.”
That was a deal-breaker for him, and he moved on. The house later sold for $445,000.
Ms. Polin helped Mr. Estenger continue hunting in Brooklyn. “I appreciated his enthusiasm,” she said. “Not everyone is so willing to explore neighborhoods that are not on the most-wanted list.”
He did not like most of the layouts he saw in the borough. Interiors were often carved into many little rooms, seeming “very dinky and very constrained,” he said.
Such houses exist “all over Brooklyn and Queens,” Ms. Polin said. “You’re not going to get an open floor plan unless it’s renovated.”
Mr. Estenger soon spotted a listing in another Brooklyn neighborhood new to him, Cypress Hills, in the East New York section. He went to the open house in a snowstorm, one of the few who showed up.
The 1935 house, nondescript outside, had been bought by developers last year for $170,000. They redid the inside “in a radical way,” Mr. Estenger said, leaving the ground floor mostly open, and relisted it a year later for $525,000.
This house, two stories with a basement, had three bedrooms and four bathrooms, and a minimalist, contemporary aesthetic. The interior had white walls, recessed lighting and plain tile, “not inlaid tiles with flowers in them.”
“It had an exceptional feel,” Mr. Estenger said. “I couldn’t have really done better myself.”
Mr. Estenger bought the house for $526,000, gave up his art studio and arrived in late spring. He customized the place a bit, enclosing the open staircase to create more space for artwork, and replacing the ornate hand rail with a white tubular one.
He added walls made out of salvaged wooden planks to the master bedroom and one of the bathrooms, and created some additional walls and closets in the basement. Outdoors, he replaced the chain-link fence with a wooden one, cleared the weeds and broken concrete, and planted trees. He spray paints out there.
Mr. Estenger is still setting up his studio, where he will work on paintings to be shown in February at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tucson.
His neighborhood has a “burgeoning community of artists along with lots of small children,” he said. He has seen people carrying bags from Dick Blick, an art supply store. A gallery and nonprofit arts collective, Norte Maar, moved to Cypress Hills from Bushwick over the summer.
Mr. Estenger has a quick walk to the J train, which he finds more crowded than the subway in Manhattan.
He had heard Brooklyn would be noisy, but his only complaint has been racket around the holidays. “Firecrackers go on too long, like a month after July Fourth, which is annoying,” he said.
Beyond that, Mr. Estenger said, “my whole experience in Brooklyn has been 9.5 out of 10.”