Studio Apartment In Mid-19th-Century Brownstone


Location Brooklyn Heights

Rent $875 (rent stabilized)

Square feet 500

Occupant Shelley Roberts (associate director of public relations, New York Philharmonic; singer)

A startling thing happened to you one day in 1990. You took a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and you saw a world you never thought existed. “How did I not know about Brooklyn Heights?” I asked myself. The aesthetics grabbed me right away. The air was different, the pace was different—especially after having lived most of my adult life on the Upper West Side. I remember that walk that day. I was dating then, this man, maybe it was autumn. We talked about living together. We walked over the Brooklyn Bridge and, well . . .

But you and the man didn’t end up living together? No, but I moved to Brooklyn Heights three months later anyway.

I get delirious in this neighborhood, walking by all the pink and brown houses built by the Pierreponts and everybody, with the thick green trees that are almost black, and looking at the people through the windows, underneath their twinkling chandeliers. Are the women wearing tortoise hairpins, passing their tight black lace gloves over the pale rose damask cushions, and thinking about having chicken dijon for dinner? Then that promenade where you can walk with an ice cream cone on a summer night and see a hundred thousand gold and silver lights in Manhattan and watch the boats go off to the isles beneath the sea. Norman Mailer’s house is on the promenade. My friend once saw him wearing a porkpie hat with a feather and eating two eggs over easy on Montague Street. He goes to my old gym. I take my work to the promenade and I sit. It’s my backyard. The Brooklyn Heights Association plants tulips in the spring. I love being in nature. I think I was born in the wrong place, the Bronx. Though we grew up on a leafy street, 174th. I have three sisters. My father was a mechanical engineer, but he got another degree from City University when I did and went on to teach sociology. My mother was an art historian. My father moved us to the Upper West Side. Then I got married.

Your decor is very pastoral—parchment lamp shades, pine and oak dressers, peachy, leafy colors, and pale brown wicker. I’m going to redecorate soon. I want to go light with everything. My landlord bought the building in 197l and turned it into multiple dwellings. He has a wonderful sense of interiors, aesthetics. Scenes from The Age of Innocence were filmed upstairs. My landlord is about getting good people in the building. He wants stable people. It’s not just about filling space.

So even if you had a personality reversal and moved to Hell’s Kitchen, your landlord wouldn’t be advertising this? No! I found it through a friend. You don’t see moving trucks in the neighborhood. When people come to Brooklyn Heights, they want to stay.

Brooklyn Heights was the first landmarked district ever! You know, I always notice how intelligent everyone looks at the Court Street subway stop, lawyers in bow ties and thin women holding cellos—apparently it has been that way since the beginning. The book The Great Bridge quotes a Massachusetts reporter in 1869: “A more intelligent body of people one would rarely find. A phrenologist would praise their intellectual development where there is a look of cheerful hearty satisfaction on most of their faces as if they relished life and were seldom troubled with the blues.” But anyway, you said you sing in your apartment these days, mainly Schubert—though in the old Manhattan days you wore leather in an all-girl rock band and then there were the cabaret years but now it’s songs like “Danksagung an den Bach,” which means “Thanks to the Brook,” and “Auf dem Wasser zu Singen”—”Singing on the Water.” Nothing feeds my heart like the German lieder. They are very freeing and extraordinary. My neighbor loves them, too.