Railroad Apartment in Tenement


Location Park Slope

Price $837.93 (rent stabilized)

Square feet 600

Occupant Pam Koeber (artist, decorative painter)

Oh my god! I have to confess, I painted some walls before you came over.

That wasn’t necessary. Light dusting would have been fine. Making a place a home, welcoming other people in, it’s hard for me. Though it feels really good afterward. I have a friend who’s messy, but she has people over all the time. It’s great to go there. But I have that expectation that everything should be perfect. I feel like I have a two-year-old in here, but it’s just me and two cats. The one pulls all the toilet paper off. The other starts throwing up all over. I was at my boyfriend’s last night, he lives in midtown, but I came running back in a cab at 4 a.m. I thought, Oh no, I left turpentine rags in the garbage. That could be dangerous. The other day, when I knew you were coming, I painted the hallway darker to separate it some from the other rooms. This is a railroad apartment, so there aren’t divisions between the rooms. I like making boundaries, but delicate boundaries. This mosquito net over my bed—I had it made in Bali. In summer it makes it warmer, but when you’re in bed, it separates you, so you don’t feel like you’re also in the hallway. I moved here three years ago. It was a dramatic cut down in space for me. I used to be in Williamsburg. I left—a breakup, a boyfriend, of course. He and I were each paying $200 rent, so you can imagine. I had complete economic freedom. We’d travel half of every year. The apartment was 4000 square feet. It was in a building that was in court for 25 years—the rent was frozen, that sort of thing where the only option for the landlord is to pay people to move out. We had wood heat, totally illegal. I was there for about five years. My boyfriend and I had separated a couple of times, and I think when I found this apartment, it was the moment I decided to leave the relationship. Getting the apartment helped me clarify the decision. There was an open house here, like 60 people. You go into compete mode. For the money, I had to jump on it. It’s a hideous block. It’s just ugly, barren, really icky.

I bet the people who work in the discount auto place on Fourth Avenue even think so. They’re trying to make a turnaround, put a big health club on this street. It’s a mix here, demographically, but it’s just starting to turn into a sort of thirtysomething, semi-creative thing. But you go over a few blocks and it’s such a rich area—I don’t mean money. I didn’t come from money. I grew up in Highland Park outside Chicago. Highland Park—it’s, um, it’s you know, it’s about money. We didn’t have so much, so I always felt on the outside. But being here, I wanted to be with more of a mix of people. Williamsburg bugged me, the whole scene is so hip, arty. I never felt the environment in Williamsburg gave me anything. I thought it was a drain. I was really happy to leave. My first month in New York, I sublet in Park Slope. It was definitely a very happy, comfortable area. When we lived in Williamsburg, we’d vacation in Park Slope—oh, it’s a beautiful day, let’s go to the park, see nature. It just always felt like a very nurturing environment. I’d love to sit and gaze out at the meadow, the expanse, people from all over: African people flying homemade kites, Jamaicans playing lacrosse. South Americans having a wild soccer game going. Though when I moved here, I went from having a 600-square-foot work space to a 600-square-foot apartment. That’s a rough transition. My work, I think, is more specific because of the move, more controlled. I think I spend more time on each piece because I don’t have all this space to spread out. I used to make bigger, more dramatic things. Now I’m making quieter, a little more time-consuming, and probably more reflective pieces. In a smaller space, it feels like a more intimate conversation.