The Gray Area


Location: Soho

Rent $1,000 (sublet in rent-regulated building)

Square feet 220 (tub ‘n’ kitchen in tenement)

Occupants Joshua John (general contractor); Vlada (clothing designer; owner of Vlada)

How does this sublet work? [Joshua] I pay $1,000. The guy I pay, pays $264. Scandalous! He sits in Portugal. I’m sort of his retirement fund. The Portuguese have a tremendous presence in the neighborhood—the M & O grocery on Thompson. Living on the top floor of my building, the sixth, everyone complains. My father has never visited. I’m 33. Dora down the hall, who’s got to be close to 90, can barely move up and down the stairs. It takes her a half-hour either way. I got this apartment before September 11. It hadn’t been touched in 30 years. There was a greasy stand-up shower, couple of valves. Floors, ceilings had rotted. I tore everything out, clandestinely. Then I spent September 11 down at the Trade Center. I spent a week digging with the fire and police departments. Then I went back to work, and renovated my apartment at night.

You made the tub ‘n’ kitchen concept modern—it’s all concrete. It was the only way to stop the roaches. See those little recessed cavities in the shower? I was really irritated by the lack of space in the apartment. I actually hollowed out spaces between the studs. If I were to take my finger and run it against the surface, it would go into the neighbor’s apartment.

I’ve never lived in a legal situation my entire time in New York—15 years. First I was on Mercer. I paid $170 for a 1,200-square-foot loft, which I built from materials I found on the street. They were all gray, illegal situations. I grew up in Riverdale, a small house. During the late ’70s, when we were getting beat up everyday, my parents decided to move to Westchester. My brother and I were ostracized for our Led Zeppelin T-shirts and hair down to our shoulders. My father is director of brain research labs at NYU. My mother’s a psychologist.

Fifteen years ago, I moved back from living in Europe. I worked in a law firm for a couple of months. I hated it. It was a music law firm. My boss told me the goal was to screw the artist. At some point I realized I was the artist. I had a friend in architecture school. He’d grab me late nights to build his models. I was his slave. He was at Cooper Union. They are so passionate there. It’s very hard to get in. They give you a home test. It’s really merit based.

The questions are really diabolical: Draw the inside of a line on a plane. Document the one object in your home that represents your life. Then I went to architecture school at Columbia and there was a professor going on, with these run-on sentences about Wittgenstein. I couldn’t stand that elitism. I was also working full-time. I had to make a choice. Somebody offered me the opportunity to design a five-story building on Mercer Street.

Then I had to sleep on the floor of some office when I was evicted from one of my buildings. My girlfriend at the time didn’t enjoy it very much. We probably don’t want to mention the old one. I met Vlada in a bar. I had spent the day running around with friends giving them the ins and outs of real estate. They were wealthy, uptown kids who were going to impulse-buy an apartment for $1.3 million, a year and a half ago. I spent the day giving my opinion on all these places. At the end, we went out to dinner at Lombardi’s on Spring. The bill came, my friend’s husband started coughing. Why? He was cheap. I ended up picking up the check and I was pissed about it and I ended up going to meet a few friends in a bar and I got there and I was talking to this woman. I was very unfriendly. By the end, we were happy.

Vlada, where are you from? [Vlada] Azerbaijan.