Tropical Brownstone


LOCATION Bedford-Stuyvesant

PRICE $249,000 in July 2000

SQUARE FEET 3,300 [1890s three-story brownstone with garden apartment]

OCCUPANTS Rasheida Maharaj Ellis [health care administrator, City of New York]; Adrian Ellis [attorney]; Indi [17, Edward R. Murrow HS]; Ariel [eight, P.S. 107]; Elan [two, Bean Sprouts School]

What? [Maxi] Hello. I love you.

I love you too. May no more words pass your beak. How old is the parrot? [Adrian] I don’t know. When did Raj die? He was the old parrot. [Rasheida] Raj passed away when Ariel came around. She just kind of withdrew.

Is the nanny here? No, she’s playing netball. [Adrian] In Florida.

You moved here in March 2003. You also own another brownstone, a few doors down [$203,000 in October 2000], and originally lived in that one, and before that, a co-op in Clinton Hill after you met at a party eight years ago. When you moved here, was everything in perfect shape? [Adrian] [He looks pained.] It was a gut renovation job, inside and out. The only things original are some of the floors.

The parrot is screaming for me. Did you have pets growing up—when you lived in one of three brownstones that your grandmother owned? [Rasheida] My brothers and I were deprived. Adrian had dogs in Jamaica. He was born in Birmingham, England. [Adrian] They moved to Long Island when I was 16. I went to Texas, Rice University, because of the climate. I detest cold weather.

This house is so warm and tropical, the thick gold light, dark wood. [Rasheida] The colors of the rooms match the personalities. It’s the same warmth we feel in the neighborhood.

I stopped at Crystal’s Brownstone Books down the street. She works with the Brownstoners of Bed-Stuy. Her husband has the antique store. Then there’s Mirrors Café. The owner was an Essence editor. She has a bed-and-breakfast nearby. Everybody is so happy on the street today. It is the most glorious summer afternoon in the history of the world. When I got off the subway, I saw that old field house with the red-tiled pagoda roof and the houses along the park—the gray stone one with the pink flowers, a combination that always gets me. I think it’s from childhood, a longed-for opulence. [We go on a tour.] This is our burnt-orange dining room, the butler’s closet. [We look out the window.] Our landscaper disappeared. We’re very upset. We’re going to have a gazebo in the back. We love to cook outdoors. Adrian makes angelfish, Chilean sea bass.

What is the music playing? Wait. [She leaves and comes back.] I should be in Paris.

Why Paris? No, I said, I should be embarrassed. It’s calypso music. I should know. My family is from Trinidad and Tobago. [We walk upstairs.] This is our library, the Red Room. We have every children’s book in the world. Here’s Indi’s room, the Blue Room. This is the vanity area where they [Indi and Ariel] fight every morning. Ariel is a competitive skater. These are all her medals. She skates at the same rink as Sasha Cohen.

Look at the fish around the top of the bathroom! I came home from work one day. The girls were so upset. The bathroom’s so plain, they said. I bought the fish appliqués. My father did the tiling. Our bed is from one of the antique stores on Atlantic Avenue. We bought a lot of the fireplaces in Bed-Stuy from dealers. This painting we got from an artist. When my mother first saw all the colors in the house, she said, “It’s like a carnival in here.”

What’s her aesthetic? Everything should make sense. Downstairs is the nanny’s room. [Maxi] I love you. Hah hah hah. [Adrian] On the rest of the block, some of the houses didn’t need the kind of rehab that we had. I’d say rehab was about $200,000 to $250,000. In between our buying and possessing it, the house was stripped completely—carvings, everything. We saw it happening. We were living in our other brownstone down the street. What are you going to do? Such is life.