Four Playpens, 3,500 Square Feet, $600/Month


Shelter, a column about New Yorkers and the places they call home, ran in this paper from 1997 to 2006. To relaunch the feature, which will run here online regularly, we’ve assembled five portraits of New Yorkers at home.

Location: Long Island City, Queens
Rent: $3,000 a month/$600 per person
Size: 3,500 square feet (industrial loft)
Occupants: Tanya Horo (musician), Tim Maybury (guitarist), David Benge (band manager/tour coordinator), Lani Terry (graphic designer)

The first thing people ask about the Sherlock’s Daughter loft is: How do you handle carnal affairs? A fair question, given that none of the bedroom walls reach the ceiling. The answer is: You don’t.

“You can’t bring partners here,” explains Tanya Horo, a Kiwi singer and actress who once played a nurse on New Zealand’s longest-running drama, Shortland Street. “If you do, you can’t . . .” She doesn’t finish the sentence. “We did have one incident when it was happening,” the Queens resident admits, alluding to a former subletter who shall remain nameless. “It was like, ‘We know you’re trying to be quiet, but we can hear everything.’ ” The early-20s offender had to be politely reminded about the tenuous acoustics of the place. “It’s a beautiful thing between you and the person you’re doing it with, but not to hear your friend doing it.” Especially the echoes.

Tanya is the soft-spoken frontwoman of Sherlock’s Daughter, a gentle lush-pop band that migrated to New York City from Sydney, Australia, last spring in pursuit of bigger stages. Initially, the group found this industrial building through a friend of the band’s manager, Tanya’s boyfriend, David Benge, and slept downstairs for about six months in a much grottier, moldier space. (“It was falling apart,” Tanya reports. “We had about a toilet, and that was it.”) But then two members quit the band—one member’s solo project got signed to a respected independent label, and another member was convinced that the world was ending (seriously: His parting e-mail said he was dreaming of fire)—so they went back to Australia. In October, Tanya moved up to the fourth floor with Benge, Sherlock’s Daughter guitarist Tim Maybury, and two other friends.

The Long Island City loft is a fantasy space, the sort of setting depicted in every movie that made you want to move to New York. At 3,500 square feet, the lumpy wood floor is so spacious that you could toss a Frisbee casually, run for the disc, and not crash into anything if both players had reasonable aim. It’s so expansive that the roommates sometimes ride bicycles around, circling the Last Supper–like dinner-table centerpiece, as Sydney native Tim is more than willing to demonstrate. So gloriously big that even though they constructed four sleeping chambers—”glorified changing rooms,” as David calls them, or “playpens” as Lani prefers—and a recording studio for Sherlock’s Daughter, there’s still so much open space that the roommates talk about dragging in a potted-plant forest, re-creating an Alice in Wonderland scene, or instituting a reception area by the hulking metal door. “The receptionist will be like, ‘Oh, Tim, Ben’s here to see you,’ ” says Tim, who earlier ran out of the bathroom in a towel. “And the receptionist will be like, ‘All right, he’ll be with you in a minute. Would you like a coffee, tea, beer?’ ”

“It’s such an incredible space, you just want to make it everything you’ve ever dreamed of,” says Lani, a freelance graphic designer who likes the loft so much that she doesn’t seem to mind that the roof above her room leaks. “You don’t know when you’re ever going to have so much space again.”

They’ve already instituted a guestbook. (“I would love a vodka,” Abbey, the first person to sign in, on January 18, 2011, scrawled.) They have a projection screen, which they’ve used for Tuesday dinner-and-movie nights, and have so far screened Fellini’s 1973 bawdy Amarcord, the 1977 Japanese horror film Hausu, and the new Sofia Coppola film, Somewhere. (“It’s pretty much just Australians,” says Tanya. “We’ve slowly incorporated Americans. When there are Americans here, we’re like, ‘Guys! This is a real American!’ “) They’re also contemplating throwing a one-off show here, or filming a Sherlock’s Daughter music video, or planting a garden on the roof. That is, if they get to stay through the summer: The landlord wants to redevelop the place into a flashy apartment complex. When that happens, all depends on the bureaucracy of permits, so the band might have to leave in anywhere from three months or two years.

“If we have to move into some smaller apartment somewhere and not have this, it’s going to be quite an adjustment,” says Tim solemnly, then apparently remembering why he’s even here in the first place. “We’ll just have to sell lots of records.”