Cooped up at home these last four months, many New Yorkers have found themselves longing for larger apartments. But Kayla Oberlin and her partner Inbar Madar, who moved from a two-bedroom in Bushwick to a studio apartment in a Williamsburg high-rise late last fall, are not among them.
“Honestly I don’t miss it,” said Ms. Oberlin, 30, of the couple’s old two-bedroom. “It was a railroad apartment and despite being relatively large, it was pretty dark.”
“We used the second bedroom as storage and office space,” she continued. “It was easy to give up that square footage for more light. This feels really big and open.”
Even after months of working — and doing pretty much everything else — from home, “we’re not suffocating,” said Ms. Madar, 28. They also share the space with their cat and dog.
Ms. Oberlin and Ms. Madar started looking for a new apartment last fall, a few months before the lease was up on their Bushwick place, where they’d been for the last few years. “It was a great space but we were living above a bar and a lot of tourists were coming constantly to the area for graffiti tours,” said Ms. Oberlin, who had previously lived in a shared apartment in the same building. “We were looking for a slower pace.”
The Williamsburg waterfront, close to a number of their favorite shops, music venues and cafes like Mogador and Reunion, seemed like an ideal spot to relocate — vibrant but not quite so raucous. One of the places they checked out was the new mixed-use tower One South First, developed by Two Trees Management Company, which opened last September at the site of the former Domino Sugar Refinery.
The couple liked a studio apartment there so much they decided to break their lease. Their landlord agreed to the early departure as long as they found new tenants, which wasn’t hard as they’d been paying $1,950 a month.
“What we really liked about the apartment was that it’s considered a studio but there is a separation between the living room-kitchen and the bedroom,” said Ms. Madar. It was also one of few units in the building that had both that studio layout and a view of the Williamsburg Bridge and East River.
And though the rent was a significant jump from their previous place — $3,900 a month — they felt comfortable with the increase because of all the building offered. Before the coronavirus shutdown, Ms. Madar reasoned, they’d be able to save money on gym membership.
They were also excited about the restaurants that were slated to open in the building’s retail spaces: Roberta’s Pizza, OddFellows Ice Cream and Other Half Brewing Company. They liked that there would be a 2,800-square-foot co-working space in the building and that Prose, a custom hair-care brand, planned to move its office there.
Ms. Madar, who is a brand manager and Ms. Oberlin, who is in customer relations, met while working at a skin-care company; they now work at different luxury hair-care companies. They speculated that, maybe if the right opportunity came up, one or both of them might work from their own building in the future.
They had no idea, of course, that in just a few months they’d be working from their building whether they liked it or not: Ms. Oberlin from a standing desk in the bedroom area and Ms. Madar in the living room area. (Ms. Madar has also made use of some of the shared lounges in the building.) Or that the opening of the restaurants downstairs would be delayed and the building’s gym would be closed until the government allows fitness facilities to reopen.
But they’ve found the space a pleasant place to quarantine, almost surprisingly so. They may be largely confined to two-ish rooms, but at least the view is expansive.
$3,900 | Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Kayla Oberlin, 30, and Inbar Madar, 28
Occupation: Ms. Oberlin works in customer relations for a hair-care company and Ms. Madar is a brand manager for a different hair-care company.
The kitchen: where they’ve been spending a lot more time than usual, has more counter and storage space than the one in their last apartment.
For Ms. Oberlin’s 30th birthday: Ms. Madar managed to hide 30 presents around the apartment, although she did have to ask Ms. Oberlin to sit in the hallway while she set up the birthday hunt.
“The view is sort of an extension of the space in here,” Ms. Oberlin said. “Sunsets and sunrises are really beautiful. It’s nice to wake up with the sun, and our schedules are better because we’re not fighting the darkness. It’s definitely alleviated our mental space.”
“You can take a five-minute break just looking out the window,” said Ms. Madar.
They also walk in Domino Park, which is right in front of their building, but only in the mornings, when it’s less crowded. The social-distancing circles painted on the park’s turf help with that, but as Ms. Oberlin pointed out, “The park is pretty strict about where dogs can and cannot be and the AstroTurf is one of the only areas in that park where dogs are allowed, so I personally would not sit on it.”
They’ve also found a good alternative to the closed gym: the stairs in their 45-story building.
In the future, however, they might consider upgrading to a one-bedroom. It’s not that they need more square feet, but another wall would be nice.
“Right now we have the TV in the bedroom. The living room has only one real wall and it’s the couch wall, so we’d be under it if we put it there,” said Ms. Oberlin. “We often think, ‘If we just had one more angle…’ ”