One-Bedroom Apartment in 1870s Building


Location Cobble Hill, Brooklyn

Rent $900/mo. (rent-stabilized)

Square feet 600

Occupants Suzanne Dreitlein (Web designer); Frank Dreitlein (field technician, Cablevision)

How can you live with such a cat? It’s like a mountain lion, the anxiety. [Frank] The hissing drives me up a wall. One day, she got stuck in the closet—I opened the door, her claws dug in my arm like a tree branch. She tore the meat off me. The other cat’s Baxter. He’s my cat. He’s very good. [Suzanne] Frank and Baxter sleep together. I got Chloe after my previous cat died, so I’d have a cat to sleep with. But I have scars, too. This morning we decided we’d find someone to give her to. The tranquility of the home is very important.

The continuous whsssh sound from the BQE right outside your window is like the ocean. Your 1870s red-brick building complex was built long before there were cars. Maureen in your management office thinks it looks “like a castle.” Those circular narrow stone stairs on the outside! Running down is like fleeing the palace in the night even if you’re only going to the subway. These buildings were financed by Alfred Tredway White, who, after visiting the London slums, decided working people should have a “chance to live decently and bring up their children to be decent men and women.” Let’s take a deep decent breath. These low-cost, floor-through apartments—188 units—with good ventilation at reasonable prices, $1.93 a week back then, were the first limited-profit housing in America. Today, they’re rent-stabilized, about $900 for a one-bedroom. Maureen didn’t know what a three-bedroom would cost because “no one will leave. They told me they’re dying here. Forget a waiting list. The last time there was any vacancy, the apartment went to the super.” In ’98, I was subletting a studio here. I wasn’t supposed to. The management found out but they said, Seeing it’s Christmas, we’ll give you your own lease. After two years of asking for a bigger apartment, we got this. Frank and I met over four years ago. [Frank] At Detour on Long Island. [Suzanne] It’s this dumpy club. A guy I went to high school with runs the place. We’re in that clique, gothic. [Frank] But friendly, family. [Suzanne] We used to go to more clubs when we were younger. I’m 26. Frank’s 25. [Frank] I grew up in Amityville, Long Island, a couple of blocks from the house in the movie. As far as the ghosts and goblins, you know, that’s all fiction.

You’re kidding! [Suzanne] We have a sofa coming in May. We’re excited. Now we can sit together and watch movies, have people over and crash. I like being able to offer that kind of hospitality. We ordered our couch from Ikea. We love Ikea. Finally we don’t have to have hand-me-down furniture. I run into more people I know at Ikea. It’s a bonding experience: What did you get? Oh, we got that!

Ikea in New Jersey is so crowded on weekends. You get roughed up just reaching for a dish towel. That checkout line. Someone standing there for an hour disconsolately holding a tea kettle. We go to the restaurant and always have meatballs. Spinach salad’s my favorite thing. [Frank] I like the spinach salad too, with the egg.

Everything’s so public. When you wait for your furniture to come out, you’re sitting with 100 other people. They yell, “Sheila S.” Everybody looks and knows Sheila S. bought Tundra. I’ll never forget Bernie B. got Nartorp. [Suzanne] We got Ivar, that’s the organizer. Our table’s Bjorksele. [Frank] A bitch to put together. I like Bubblor. That’s the shower curtain. And Svengi . . .

Who’s he? When you go to sleep, do they talk to each other? Who did the paintings on the wall? [Suzanne] That’s my art. I gave it up. You can only have so many hobbies. Eventually we’d like to live in the Long Beach, Long Island, area—get a little cottage and decorate it with turn-of-the-century casual furniture, shabby chic, but finished and tidy, not falling apart.