Studio in Brownstone Row House

Location Upper West Side
Rent $427/mo. (rent-stabilized)
Square feet 460
Occupant Eileen Newman (executive director, Film/Video Arts)

The birds are chirping like mad on your block. Just look at the orange tulips on your table, wreaths made out of twigs. It's like the country in here. People always say that. You know, I had a house in the country and a lot of what was in there is in here. I lost the house in a divorce, right before my 50th birthday. It was in Greene County. It overlooked the Hudson. But the upside is I got this apartment. I had it written into the divorce agreement that his name would be taken off the lease.

Is that common? I don't know. Who in New York is married? Though once I did meet a man who walked away from his Soho loft.

Eileen Newman nesting in her Upper West Side studio
photo: Sandra-Lee Phipps
Eileen Newman nesting in her Upper West Side studio

Your apartment is soooo cheap—$427! Doesn't everyone glare at you? Not the people who have seven-room, rent-controlled apartments on West End for $300. You see, my ex-husband got this apartment about 23 years ago. The rent must have been in the two-hundreds then. When I came here about 20 years ago, the neighborhood was horrible. There was one Red Apple Supermarket, one Chinese restaurant. All the buildings across the street were burned out.

But in keeping this apartment, you get the past, all the memories of your marriage, the way the light comes in the window, the shape of the stairs. Of course, most everyone in New York lives with the past because they can't afford to move. You could say an apartment is like a theater space. When people fall in love with new people, a new production moves in. The super is the stage manager. I don't know who runs the box office. This place is now almost unrecognizable. As soon as my husband started to talk about leaving, I started to rip it apart. As for early romantic times, those memories get replaced with romantic times with others here. I put my stamp on my neighborhood community. The parking lot attendant kisses me, Hello darling. My daughter visits—she's from my first marriage, in Long Island—she says, Can't we just get the car out of the lot without having a whole relationship? I say, No. I don't even have a car anymore. We still kiss. Then there's the dry cleaner who writes poetry in Chinese.

Do you see yourself here forever? Sometimes I think it would be nice to live in a building with an elevator. I do wonder about myself struggling up three flights of stairs at 70. It's pretty small here. When my daughter visits, it's her, her husband, two huge dogs, and me. We just do it. The space doesn't matter as much as being together. . . . I'm from Brooklyn originally. We lived on a maritime base near Sheepshead Bay. Then we moved to Queens, Floral Park.

You have greeting cards on the mantle, hanging pots and pans. You have a wonderful sense of home. There's this new book, Home Comforts, 884 pages on the art and science of keeping house—it's written by a woman who is not only a wife and mother but a philosopher and lawyer, too! Anyway, there's an analysis of dust and dust mites, notes on peaceful coexistence with microbes, how to care for an opal. Initially upon reading it, I was all full of irony and lifted my nose, but it must be said the book is deeply engaging. It makes the small matter of living, the tedious, seem very, very important. Just reading about the electrical cord and where it travels—no staples, no crossing walkways!—is suspenseful. So if one's professional or romantic life should shrink a bit, there is a big world of floor wax and padded hangers and tap-water temperature to get lost in. It's very soothing. Last summer I had two relationships back-to-back. Then I spent July training for the marathon, but then I broke my foot. I would just sit in this apartment and read in that ungodly heat. I was invited to places, but I just needed to nest.

 
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