Loft in former spice warehouse


Location DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass)

Rent $1350 (market)

Square feet 1600

Occupant Anne Arden McDonald (photographer; dealer in Czech photos and antique clothing)

While we sit here on the roof deck of your two-story loft looking out over the East River, Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the world-your boyfriend from the Czech Republic is downstairs in a chair-I just want to say the buildings are so exciting here in DUMBO, all tall and wide and close, and there’s that huge looming Manhattan Bridge and its blue underbelly. The streets are so empty, with old trolley tracks like industrial ghosts. A lot of the buildings like this one were spice warehouses. Boats would come in and unload cumin, cardamom, pepper. I just helped paint Smack Mellon, the new alternative artist space down the street. We took an air gun and blasted five inches of nutmeg off the beams. I heard the spice Columbus was looking for was nutmeg, but it was also a drug. I heard people snort it. It makes you very sick but very high.

The neighborhood is really changing. Mr. Walentas-he’s the big developer in DUMBO and all his shirt cuffs are embroidered with “No guts, no glory”-renovated the tallest factory building here, one of the early reinforced-concrete loft buildings, erected by a corrugated box entrepreneur. Mr. Walentas made it into condos with a marble lobby. He’s renovating others. He wants to build a hotel and a skating rink. Who has time to ice skate? Artists have enough to do. Plus now the streets will be clogged with people who got overexcited in the hotel bar and then went to the gift shop. Who is your landlord? Josh Gutman. He owns the other half of DUMBO.

How long have artists been in the neighborhood? I heard there are 500! Over 20 years. I’ve been here five. I found out about it from my cousin, who was down here 15 years before me. She said there used to be packs of wild dogs running around. She found one tied to the Con Ed plant and it was shot through the head. She’s a painter. She went back to Tennessee. My friend is living in her loft now. I said he could come live there when his place in the meatpacking district burned down.

Your roof garden is lovely, all in pots. You’re here just about the time the garden is decaying. I have tomatoes, roses, lavender, lamb’s ears. Have a raspberry. I love Jacob’s walking stick, its shape. It’s never direct.

Like the Southern landscape you’re from. In Georgia. I grew up in a Southern conservative family. The landscape in the South gives you the feeling it could take over.

Your neighbor’s roof deck is so Asian, so minimal. We have opposite sensibilities. They’re clothing designers. We have this intense building-six photographers. We’ve had four pregnancies this summer. We never had one before.

Let’s go inside. So your living area and kitchen are on the second floor. A spiral staircase leads down to your bedroom and studio, which is full of your collections of 19th-century suitcases, high-button shoes, Victorian postmortem baby photos, shelves with skulls and bones, boxes full of pale gold antique Christmas ornaments and clay marbles, and all the things you use in your work like the sculptures made from baby dresses that you dipped in beeswax. Looking at your mysterious photographs, I see you have a preoccupation with moody ruins, crumbling rubble. Yes, abandoned spaces. They are kind of like walking into a church. It’s spiritual because it feels like a place that’s died. All the activity’s gone. I’m attracted to that. I have a mood. The place has a mood. We mix.