Three-Story 1929 Brick Row House

 Location Jackson Heights
Price $19,500 (in 1929)
Square feet 3000
Occupants Mary Ferrera (retired fashion designer's assistant); Richard Saja (art director, DCA Advertising)

You live together! You're not like Harold and Maude or anything?
[Richard] No! Mary's my grandfather's first cousin. Technically she's my third cousin, but I call her my aunt. I'm 35. [Mary] I'm 88.

The eave over the door looks like it's made out of gingerbread. The pink-and-green flowered sofa is lovely.
These are the summer slipcovers. [Richard] We haven't changed over for winter yet. [Mary] See that planter . . . [Richard] It's a jardiniere. [Mary] My father made it. He was a woodworker. [Richard] From Italy. [Mary] All the Europeans brought culture with them. They had a . . . [Richard] . . . a craft! [Mary] I've lived here ever since the house was built, 1929. It was all country around here. A man was in business with bees down the street. He had honeycombs. We'd do our homework under the trees.

Mary Ferrera and her third cousin Richard Saja in Jackson Heights
photo: Abigail Feldman
Mary Ferrera and her third cousin Richard Saja in Jackson Heights

Alice in Wonderland!
Gradually, everything changed. There were Quonset homes on Northern Boulevard. Then it became a business area, apartment houses. My friends are gone now. Seventy-fourth became an Indian neighborhood. I more or less snubbed it. Now I've changed my mind. [Richard] I think I had something to do with that. [Mary] These people are immigrants. My people were considered immigrants 90 years ago.

The hall upstairs is red.
[Richard] Her mother wanted walls that looked like roses. [Mary] Don't look in my room. We had a flood. [Richard] She has a tenant upstairs who's in her nineties. She's been here 50 years. The tenant was watching the Olympics and left the water running in the bathroom sink for three days. [Mary] I was so stressed. Look in the guest room. This is the desk my father made us when we were children. I had beautiful parents. [Richard] This is my room. I'd say I have 3000 CDs. And Nest magazine, the complete set. [Mary] My sister died 10 years ago. She lived here with me. Neither one of us married. Both of us intended to get married at one time. It just didn't turn out. We were happy with what we had. We didn't turn out to be bitter old maids. [Richard] Not at all. Mary's very busy. She just went to Atlantic City. She used to be a designer's assistant. [Mary] They gave me the sketches, I draped the fabric. I worked with Pat Sandler, Frank Massandrea. The boys are all dead now, AIDS. We worked on Seventh. Once I worked for Elsa Schiaparelli. I had to run after the models and hold up their gowns.

When did Richard come?
[Mary] Three years ago. I was crossing the street. A taxi ran right into me. They made me a knee out of my hip. [Richard] It was just the time I was moving out of a house. It seemed ideal—I could come and help her with things. It just settled into a more permanent relationship. I was born in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. I came to New York in 1983. [Mary] He lived with us part of the summer as a child. My sister and he were pals. She took him everywhere. [Richard] The Guggenheim, the Marvel Comics office. I brought my little portfolio.

How do you get along?
[Mary] We manage to have dinners together every night. [Richard] Well, when I'm home. I have a pretty active social life. A lot of my friends come here to stay when they're in town. Sometimes back-to-back. [Mary] I think he's comfortable. I don't interfere with his life. [Richard] She tells me, The weather is cool, put on a coat. [Mary] Once in a while he doesn't listen. As a rule, we don't get into one another's hair. But if I need Richard, I think he'll be there. There's one thing about us. We both love that thing that's on the floor. [Richard] The cat.

 
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