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From NYC to DC, 14 years of apartments

Curbed editor-in-chief Kelsey Keith reminisces about every New York apartment (and neighborhood) she’s called home

Kelsey Keith

Welcome! This week, for my inaugural Editor’s Notes, bear with me as I wax nostalgic about my most formative apartment experiences, following a big move to a new city. For those of you here for the shopping recs, skip to the end. Thanks for reading! —Kelsey

Last year, after I’d moved into my tenth apartment in what would be my 14-year-tenure in New York City, my dad joked I should write a renters’ guide for frequent movers. So I did. What I didn’t include was a rundown of all those varied apartments, which I genuinely loved, although you’d be forgiven for guessing they were shitholes given my rush to leave them.

It started with a summer 2005 sublet in an un-air-conditioned three-bedroom on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope. What I recall of it mostly entails sleeping on an air mattress (again, with no a/c), and proximity to the city’s first-ever “ghost bike,” which was installed on my block to memorialize a cyclist who had died after being hit by a car. Also: nonstop Wilco, and, at my going-away party, mint juleps because my roommates were fascinated by the fact that I was from the south. (Tennessee is not the mint-julep south, technically, but no one is too picky at that age.)

My first name-on-the-lease apartment was a converted two-into-three bedroom in Peter Cooper Village, courtesy of one roommate’s family, who had owned it since she was a kid. It was sprawling, had metal walls, and my other roommate had to walk through my bedroom to get to hers. (We are, believe it or not, still friendly.) The black webbed Risom-esque chairs I brought for the dining table stuck with me until approximately 2017.

Next, another attempt at Park Slope, and another three-bedroom, this one on 13th Street, but with two floors and two decks, including a private one off of my bedroom. I spent hardly any time here and told friends I didn’t love being “so far out” (lol). The real story is, I had a boyfriend who lived in Washington Heights, which leads me to apartment #4…

A sixth-floor walkup in the East Village with the boyfriend—and with the bathtub in the kitchen. Honestly very memorable! My first time cohabitating, my first time being featured on Design*Sponge. The latter was due to having wood floors painted black, which lead to another first: the first time I’d had a rodent stuck in wet paint as it dried (it was also, thankfully, the last time).

Circa-2009 apartment in Fort Greene. Just look at that radiator.
Circa-2009 apartment in Fort Greene. Just look at that radiator.
Kelsey Keith
Very casually perched on a B&B Italia sofa designed by Afra Scarpa in 1974, in our Bed-Stuy home.
Very casually perched on a B&B Italia sofa designed by Afra Scarpa in 1974, in our Bed-Stuy home.

After that, back to Brooklyn for the next near-decade: a shared brownstone flat in Fort Greene where I roomed with an industrial designer, and we painted the radiator a Wary Meyers-inspired gradient; my first solo apartment, a sublet from a friend in Bedford-Stuyvesant that got burgled the week before I moved out; up to East Williamsburg to share a really nice two-bedroom, rented from an incredibly nice man who owned the liquor store downstairs (hi, Richie!); a sweet aerie on Ten Eyck Street, whose sonic qualities I wrote about for a hyperlocal blog run by a now-very-successful food editor; and back to Bed-Stuy, with the love of my life, into the second floor of a brownstone that we painted and re-plastered and turned into a home.

During what would be my last year as a New York City resident, I returned to Manhattan. The love of my life was working in DC, and exasperation with the ever-worsening A train commute plus a desire to shed some stuff—and therefore be amenable to potential major life changes, including future moves—led me to Orchard Street. A friend passed along her roomy studio in a circa-1872 tenement to me, and I proceeded to get familiar with my new favorite neighborhood, the nexus of practical Chinatown and health-hipster LES. There, too, I enlisted a favorite trick: paint, this time in a beige-y blush from Farrow & Ball called Setting Plaster, and only on the ceiling.

I’m writing this now from northwest Washington, DC, where my now-husband and I recently moved into a full-floor, two-bedroom apartment on a leafy street. Its bona fides are undeniable (three fireplaces, built-in bookshelves, a bay window, central air, a washer/dryer, a dishwasher, yes I’m still going, a clawfoot tub, four generous closets, a parking spot, a 20-minute walk to work). But the real appeal, for us, is the feelings we catch when we’re there: The late-19th-century details feel time-tested and familiar; the slightly worn, patched wood floors evoke the families who lived here before, and the daylight and high ceilings recall our first home together, back in Bed-Stuy.

We are, of course, painting: Atrium White by Benjamin Moore for the living room walls and shelving, and I’m trying to advocate for (though likely will not prevail on) a deep green with notes of blue for our bedroom. For the guest bedroom, I’m veering toward warmer tones, like a marigold yellow or peach. (Any personally-vetted paint recs? Drop me a line; I’d love to hear them.)

Some other things I’m on the hunt for, post-move:

  • A decent stepladder, ideally one that doesn’t take up a lot of space when folded, or weigh a ton. My pick: Ultralight slimline 3-step ladder from Frontgate, in Lagoon, $103
  • Dining chairs, so we can invite new friends over for dinner. Our table is Danish teak, and I have a thing about not matching eras or materials, so we veered toward Italian-design-gone-country for our vibe. My pick: Vico Magistretti Carimate chairs for Cassina, bought vintage from Chairish, $700 plus shipping
  • Wallpaper appropriate for a bathroom with white beaded boarding and royal blue floor tile. I pulled a ton of samples, and we ended up picking something patterned but not overwhelmingly busy. My pick: Underwater World paper from Hygge & West, $155 per roll
  • An inoffensive but practical dish drying rack, preferably the exact size and style of Donald Judd’s, which you can see in his kitchen at 101 Spring Street. My pick: As-yet-undetermined. Help me out!

And one last thing while I have you:

Surely you’ve had a chance to listen to Curbed’s podcast, Nice Try? Our first season is all about the perpetual search for the perfect place—that’s right, utopias. Failed, imperfect, but always striving utopias. We’re five episodes in, and hit #3 on the podcast charts this week. Don’t sleep on it, folks! Subscribe/listen today.

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