Quartet

Location Chelsea
Price $150,000 in 1997 ($900 maintenance)
Square feet 750 (two-bedroom co-op in 1906 building)
Occupants Wid Chapman (architect; senior faculty, Parsons School of Design); Rita Wolf (actress, O Jerusalem, Homebody Kabul); Kiran (fifth grade, Little Red School House); Anjeli (first grade, P.S. 9)

 

Your carpet is as smooth as that pan of wheat grass.[Wid] I won it in a raffle. The trouble was, it was from a commercial-carpet company. It was difficult to make a choice for a residential place. There was a carpet the color of the couch. But the color went too perfectly with the couch.

You met at a party because you recognized Rita fromMy Beautiful Laundrette [1985], in which she has this memorable scene where she . . .[Wid] You can see why! [Rita] It was 1990 when we met.

Do a lot of people recognize you?[Rita] The man who worked in Macy's cookie department saw me and screamed—ah, ah, ah. No one expected that the movie would be as big as it was. It was an everybody-changes-in-the-toilet production, made for British TV.

I just saw the film again the other day. The Uncle Omar character, his house is so permeable—little separation between home and his businesses. His managers are in his bedroom, women rubbing his feet. Now, let's see your house . . .[Wid] These pictures over here—my father, you know, is an architect. This building was an early project of his. This painting was done by my mother when she was studying with Albers at Yale. This is in Tuscany, an oil my father did. And here . . . [Rita] That's Ganesh, who is not a member of Wid's family. [Wid] This is a little painting my father did of their wedding day. My mother and my aunt are twins. [Kiran] I used to cry when I was young because I didn't know which was which. [Wid] We picked up this shield in Borneo. These prints are from the restaurant I designed, Tamarind. [Rita] It's the god Vishnu. He's the creator, destroyer.

Simultaneously?[Rita] It depends on his mood. The children have something to show you.

They are each holding a glazed tile![Kiran] We are studying immigration this year and we got a slab of clay and first we carved the Statue of Liberty and . . . [They explain.] [Wid] Now, this is interesting to me, these shelving units. Several years ago, I had these cheaply made. When I moved over here, I felt like they were another lifetime ago, and they didn't appeal to me. I put them in storage. Last month, I pulled them out. Kiran and I sanded and painted them. With urethane paint, you have to make sure you get the surface underneath very smooth. Urethane is very shiny. Now I'm pleased with them as a painted gray surface.

Who are the people with the dark glasses? [Rita] My parents. I was born in Calcutta. My dad has lived in London since the Second World War. He was a merchant seaman. He jumped ship. I grew up in the East End.

Tell about your storage space, a concern for everyone.[Wid] We started paying $75—Rita had moved a lot of her belongings from London—and one day we're paying $250. [Rita] A lot of stuff we thought we'd save for sentimental reasons, the children's things. No more.

Did you ever see Thomas Cole'sThe Voyage of Life painting, an allegory of the four stages of man? The first is a child in a boat on the River of Life. As he grows up, the boat fills with things. In "Old Age," the boat is empty. Worldly possessions no longer have meaning. As people get older, life seems less about objects. It is more the intangible, what people say to each other, how they laugh at dinner.[Rita] The children have something to show you.

They are holding these, these—small animals.[Together] Hamsters!

 
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