Real Estate

Her Choice: Love, or the Lease on a Beloved Studio. It Took Some Thought.

It was a quirky apartment, and the people who fell in love with it fell hard. Lauren Wood was one of them.

With its arched entryway, the long, narrow Williamsburg studio used to be a passageway for horse carriages. There were pieces of history everywhere — a tin ceiling, an original door knob — and a cobblestone backyard with bright green ivy climbing the wall. “The backyard was the reason to be there,” Ms. Wood said. “It was insane.”

Ms. Wood knew that she and Mr. Brown wouldn’t be able to fit into her beloved studio. They needed an apartment with more space since it was the two of them and they both sometimes work from home. Credit…Amir Hamja/The New York Times

When she saw the apartment in the summer of 2021, she knew she wanted to live there, but it was outside her budget. Still, she was determined to make it work — she had, after all, fallen in love.

The family that owned the three-story building with four units had just moved upstate and was looking for help with a few chores. So, Ms. Wood did some leaf blowing in the autumn, she took out the trash twice a week and signed for packages whenever called upon. In exchange, she received a monthly $200 rent deduction for what felt like the perfect apartment.

“It was cool in the summer, cozy in the winter, and had enough space to store my books,” she said.

Even the imperfections somehow felt right. The radiators hissed in a gentle way that didn’t disturb her sleep and the creaky wooden stairs in the building reminded her of the old house she shared with college friends in Ann Arbor, Mich. She even found a way to make peace with the stray cat in the backyard, especially since he kept the rodents away. “I wouldn’t get close to him because he would hiss,” she said, “but I left him treats and we respected each other.”

It was important to the couple that Ms. Wood have an opportunity to put her mark on the look and feel of their place. “Lauren loves making an apartment feel like a home.” Mr. Brown said, “so we’re trying to emulate that in our new apartment.” Credit…Amir Hamja/The New York Times

It was the backyard that deepened her sense of attachment to the place. On Sunday evenings, she could hear live jazz coming from Ammazzacaffè, a restaurant that was cater-corner to her tucked-away spot. When a friend showed her an online review of the restaurant, it referenced a fact that left Ms. Wood astonished: Betty Smith, the author of “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” grew up in the apartment above the restaurant.

“I first read ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn’ in grade school, and felt connected to the main character, Francie, in a way I still have a hard time explaining,” she said. “It has always felt like she’s taken thoughts directly out of my mind and put them down on the page.”

Throughout her life, Ms. Wood has noted several shared connections with the character of Francie — an early love for the library, similar family dynamics, even attending the University of Michigan.

Suddenly there was a very immediate connection by way of her backyard: “In the book, Francie describes sitting on her fire escape, looking over the backyards and she often describes a cobblestone backyard with horses in it. That had to have been inspired by the backyard that came with my apartment. Rereading the book with my own neighborhood in mind suddenly felt surreal — the streets in the novel lined up exactly with my everyday walks. Somehow, the pull I had felt to the apartment all made sense.”

The new apartment, which is in a former church rectory, has several notable features including elaborate brickwork and a small perch from which to enjoy the outdoors.Credit…Amir Hamja/The New York Times
Credit…Amir Hamja/The New York Times

It wasn’t, however, only the apartment she had fallen in love with. There was also Derick Brown, her boyfriend of six years.

To his credit, Mr. Brown came along first. “We met in 2016, working as pages for ‘Saturday Night Live,’” he recalled. “We were basically shoulder to shoulder for 70 hours a week so we got to know each other pretty well.”

Ms. Wood said it was meaningful that, from the very beginning, “we knew how to deal with each other at great moments of stress.”

They enjoyed a friendship for a couple of years, then started dating in 2018. Mr. Brown watched Ms. Wood settle into her beloved studio. “She was very intentional in that space,” he said. “It was about creating a home, creating an oasis for herself, and she found that. Every piece in the apartment had a fun story and meaning for her.”

$4,200 | Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Lauren Wood, 29

Occupation: Advertising video producer

On the proximity of friends: Ms. Wood initially moved to Williamsburg during the Covid pandemic, when she and several friends considered the benefits of living close to each other. “We wanted to be able to walk to each other’s apartments,” she said. “We realized how important the day-to-day, stopping by someone’s place or going on a walk was to us.”

On landing the new apartment: After viewing six apartments in one day, Ms. Wood knew the minute she stepped into the last one that it was right for her and Mr. Brown. “To get the place,” she said, “I had to pull aside the broker at an open house and wire transfer a months’ rent. Everyone else is wasting time testing the water pressure, and I’m thinking I’ve already got my deposit in.”

Earlier this year, with a mix of great hope and trepidation, Mr. Brown raised the possibility of moving in together, just as both of their leases were coming up for renewal.

Ms. Wood is both grateful for the experience she had in her last apartment and in the new home she’s sharing with Mr. Brown. “It was time for us to live together,” she said.Credit…Amir Hamja/The New York Times

“It was a very hard decision for me because I did love the space I was in so much,” Ms. Wood said. “Romantic decisions that seem like they should be emotions-and-feelings-based, like deciding to move in with someone, often come down to ‘when is your lease up’?”

In considering whether or not to let go of the apartment, she came to realize that, in many ways, she had found herself there.

“I took a month to think about it,” she said. “It had to be a very individual decision. It was giving up a piece of myself, voluntarily. I asked myself, ‘What kind of person do I want to be in this decision-making process?’ I decided that I want to be the kind of person who makes decisions that result in action, not inaction.”

So, in July, Ms. Wood moved into a two-bedroom with Mr. Brown. “It was time for us to live together,” she said, smiling.

Their apartment, a converted church rectory, is just a short walk from her old place. The streets still feel familiar, and there’s still occasion to pass Ammazzacaffè and Betty Smith’s old apartment.

They’re finding the feel of the new place together and, for the first time, enjoying the luxury of a home office and a dishwasher.

“Lauren loves making an apartment feel like a home so we’re trying to emulate that in our new apartment,” Mr. Brown said. “I just want to make sure she feels happy and doesn’t feel like she’s leaving behind an apartment that she loved but that she’s excited about the new home we’re building together.”

Once again, Ms. Wood’s thoughts turn to her favorite novel — particularly the ending.

“Francie moves away and we don’t know exactly where she ends up or what becomes of her,” she said. “It’s a part of the story I’ve always struggled with. I feel like so much of your 20s is asking the question, ‘Is this where I’m supposed to be? Is this what I’m supposed to be doing?’ But I know now that I’m in the right place.”

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