Division of Labor

Three-Bedroom Co-Op in 16-Story Turn-of- the-Century Building

Location:Financial District
Price:$330,000 ($1700 maintenance)
Square Feet:1870
Occupant:Julie Gaines and David Lenovitz (owners, Fishs Eddy houseware stores); Ben, 7; Susie, 2

Julie, not only is your building, which has mint green hallways, down the street from glamorous St. Paul's Chapel that's all pale pink inside with sparkly chandeliers and old crooked tombstones from the 1700s that say the people died of yellow fever, but you are also near City Hall where, if you didn't have to manage three stores and raise two children, you could listen to press conferences all day. That's all they do in City Hall— have press conferences. Blah blah blah. This isn't an easy neighborhood. You have to take a cab to buy pasta sauce.

Whoa. The original people in the building are real mavericks. It's been co-op since 1979. It's sort of unassuming. You could walk right by it. My father worked in the building when he was a teenager. We moved here a year ago. We looked at 20 apartments at least. This was the only neighborhood we could afford with this kind of space. For what we paid here, we could only get a one-bedroom in the Flatiron District. We've only lived in new doorman high-rises. My mother-in-law, who designed Po . . .

Julie Gaines and David Lenovitz with Ben and Susie in their Financial District co-op
Sandra-Lee Phipps
Julie Gaines and David Lenovitz with Ben and Susie in their Financial District co-op

Po? The restaurant! It's owned by Mario Batali. He's on the Food Network. We took the apartment because my mother-in-law was able to envision space. She saw that giant closet as a dining room.

The main room is so big and square, the ceiling so low. It was a painter's open space. We put about $60,000 into it. It would have been a lot more if we'd used a residential contractor. They were just way too high. I didn't want to be someone's whole life. Then we went to the guy who did our store. He just treated us like one of the rooms in his hotels. He did the Crowne Plaza. The quality was good. We went to a commercial supply lighting place. For the countertop, Dave went with the contractor to Brooklyn, to the granite yard. The hall carpeting is surplus from Radio City Music Hall. I got it in the commercial side of ABC Carpet and Home. The man said, We have a scrap piece.

You have so many pillows, afghans, table runners, rugs, lap blankets, and then all these paintings everywhere. Everything in them is so thick— the waves are thick, the barns are thick, the snowy roofs are thick. I've collected paintings since high school. I don't collect anybody recognizable. I guess you'd call them thrift-store, nonacademic. We're known for hanging these paintings in the store.

Our entire discussion brings to mind that there is less and less separation between commercial and residential, work and home. Not only in longings for industrial decor and commercial contractors but in how people live, especially in New York— holing up in old warehouses with rusty pipes or living in the cupola of a former insuranceconcern. Everybody seems to care more about work than anything else. Some people go to sleep holding their floppy disks in their arms. Maybe it is not so different from people a long time ago, like farmers, who ate their porridge next to the land they cleared, the cows they milked. Calves were born 24 hours a day. We would be an exemplification of that, the lack of separation. Because we're merchants. Dave's family lived upstairs of his grandmother's noodle store. Dave's from Huntington, Long Island, but he grew up in Miami Beach. I'm from Staten Island. When we're in Southampton, we live over our store. Here, Dave will come home with samples, plates, cups. They end up hanging around here forever. Our lives are so fast. Things get intertwined.

Your child is doing his mathematics homework with pieces of round glassware. They're color samples from a factory we buy from. When I'm home, our kids' nanny helps out at the store. We have her doing our gift baskets. I got her through our UPS man.

 
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