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Lockhart Steele

Vox Media's editorial director on the flowered sofa that defined his early days as a New York City-dwelling blog impresario

"I’ve often talked about how I started Curbed from a one-bedroom walkup apartment on the Lower East Side, but I haven’t talked a lot about the apartment itself. There’s a reason for that.

Despite various attempts at prettification over the decade that I lived there, the place was a dump. A very tidy dump, mind you, in only the way that a dingy apartment belonging to a tidy person can be. But still a dump. This reality was brought home to me in my ninth year of habituation, the year of our Lord 2010, when a reporter from the New York Observer asked if I’d participate in a recurring feature called "How Do You Live?"

Having a stranger into your home with the explicit idea of surveying it, pressing you with questions about it, and then sharing his findings with the world does something to sharpen the mind about one’s home. (So too did the fact that finding an angle to photograph to make the place look not-awful was no easy task. You wouldn’t know it from the cropped photo, but I’m standing right next to the hallway door; were someone to open said door, I’d be slammed into the television behind me.) The lede of the resulting story got right to the point: "You may expect Lockhart Steele, fashionable founder of the Curbed network of blogs, to have a pretty swanky pad. Wrong!"

And yet everything I remember about that apartment fills me with joy. The single wall painted a deep red, a gift from two traveling Australians I met in India who stayed on my floor during the blizzard of February 2003. An office desk seized from a failed company I’d started during the dot-com boom where I sat to write the first-ever blog post for Curbed in May 2004. And a floral-print sofa that arrived some time in 2001 that came to not only define most of my years in that apartment, but also the me of that era.

I got the sofa from my parent’s place in Massachusetts. They were selling the house I grew up in that same year, and a bunch of non-heirloom-quality Steele family heirlooms were up for grabs. (One of them I still have: a faux-antique armoire, painted with schooners on the high seas and featuring, in huge letters on each door, the word BOSTON. This armoire is arguably the most Boston thing ever. If you are from Massachusetts, you totally get me on this. If you’re not, you would have smashed it into kindling years ago.)

But back to that sofa. At the time it arrived at my Rivington Street walkup, "gently used" would have been a kind description. Festooned with a pattern of green-and-yellow palms, the sofa gradually drifted into greater disrepair until such point about five years in that the fabric tore free of two cushions, exposing the fill underneath. I couldn’t get rid of it. The sofa became such an emotional touchstone that my business coach at the time used it as a metaphor for my inability to move on (or "grow up") with a variety of issues in my life. When the time finally came, about two years before I finally moved out of the apartment, disbelieving friends held a last-night wake for the thing.

Inasmuch as I grew up in Massachusetts and still care for that state, it was Rivington Street that finally made New York City my home. I live in a nicer place now, in a less-gritty neighborhood, but I still think about that dumpy apartment, that beloved sofa, and the network it spawned.

For Home Sweet Home, Curbed talked to 30 engaging personalities across a range of industries to learn about where they grew up and what home means to them. Follow Lockhart Steele on Twitter and Instagram.

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