Thursday, February 4, 2010

Bloomsbury Beginnings: New York City

Manhattan, 1989
My very first apartment was in a huge renovated warehouse on Horatio Street in the West Village. I had been offered a copywriting job at a big New York ad agency and given two weeks to relocate from Chicago. The rent for my studio was a stratospheric $1225/month, much more than I had any sense paying given my new salary, but I had promised my mother I would live in a doorman building and besides, everything else was right. The streets on that side of town were still paved with cobblestones, the historic meat market was across the street and I'd be able to see the sun sink over the Hudson River every night if I stuck my head really far out the window. What could be more perfect?
(My first New York apartment, 1989)

The only photo I still have shows a section of the wall that ran along one side of the apartment. Having zero decorating budget, I hung my mother's vintage zebra-print Abercrombie and Fitch raincoat on a hook -- instant art! -- and propped a print of the Mona Lisa on the ground (I taped some sunglasses to her eyes and felt awfully clever). The rest of the apartment hewed closely to "Bright Lights, Big City": a futon couch, a glass-topped trestle table, a Truffaut poster and two black steel-and-leather Wassily chairs that I had been coveting since high school. After paying the first month's rent, I was so low on funds that I survived on fried rice, frozen grapes and popcorn until my next paycheck, supplemented by nearby restaurants that offered free food during happy hour.

Although this apartment is not at all my aesthetic now, I still consider it an important marker in helping to shape my future personal style. For the first time ever, I was living completely on my own and had total rein to express myself. This space reflected exactly who I was at the time: a platinum-blonde with a closet full of black clothes and a passion for Andy Warhol, Edie Sedgwick, The The and everything Bauhaus.

I didn't live there long. A few months later, I met some friendly girls down the hall with a 2,000 square foot loft and an empty bedroom for $800/month. I moved in, loved the feeling of having spare change in my pocket and over the next three years embarked on four more moves, always on a quest to keep lowering my rent. Along the way, my style kept metamorphosing. It wasn't until I ventured across the East River that I found the most space for the least price and met two people who would awaken in me the first sparks of a Bloomsbury life.

Up next: Beauty and Decay in Brooklyn

29 comments:

Dash said...

The The! Brings back a few memories.

Blue said...

I look forward, as I frequently do, to the next installment. Did you ever make parkin?

Blue said...

Oh yeah, The The - I'd forgotten and I remember I wore out a cassette listening to them.

columnist said...

It's fascinating looking at photos of one's early abodes. I came across some of mine recently. They're not bad, but the overriding deficiency was always a lack of cash to do the things I wanted to do. Good training, I suppose, to never take things for granted, whatever one's circumstances.

Helen said...

Oh I love stories about folks' first places! Mine was a two bedroom I shared with six of my (literally) closest pals. I couldn't afford/wasn't interested in real curtains so I tacked up printed sheets from the Salvation Army and held them back during the day with hair clips. Our living room had a turquoise vinyl couch we found on the side of the street and a lava lamp.

Sorry to change the subject but I came across this and thought you should see, if you weren't already familiar...

http://thejailbreak.com/2009/11/10/olympia-le-tans-book-bags/

ArchitectDesign™ said...

An autobiographical series of posts -I can't wait to read the others! I think everyone remembers their first apartment fondly but with a bit of ackward embaressment: "I really did that?!". It looks pretty fantastic though, love that raincoat!

French Fancy said...

That coat on the wall looks so good. My first (shared) apartment in Notting Hill was very sparse so I put two Japanese kimonos on the wall. As you say - instant art.

Laura [What I Like] said...

I'm so thrilled for the rest of this series! I paid about the same for my first place in New York...although I was one of four roommates and there was certainly no loft involved...

Kathy Gillespie said...

I too lived in the West Village in the early 80's and have very special memories of that time and place. I was newly married and it was a magical adventure. Living on the 11th floor of a loft building on Hudson Ave we had a clear view of the river and could watch the QEII leaving for England every Sunday night, all lit up in full regalia.
What I miss the most?...the butcher, the green grocer, the cheese shop, the bread shop all in one block along Bleeker street.

Paul said...

I love that photo.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I remember not being able to afford weekly fresh flowers..... a tragedy in my book.... so I plopped a feather duster in a vase. You know, it looked pretty good. At the time.

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Blue: The parkin recipe keeps staring at me mournfully. Soon, soon...I'll let you know.

Columnist:Yes, it was all about more dash than cash in those days...and still is sometimes!

Helen: How genius were you to use hair clips to keep the curtains back?! Love it. And the vision of that couch: cold in winter, sticky in summer, right?

And that link... amazing. Thank you.

Architect Design: I'm sure your abodes have been nothing less than the height of sophistication, whatever your financial circumstances.

French Fancy: Oooh, I bet those kimonos sound like quite the piéce de resistance. xx

Laura (What I Like): It's crazy how rents keep going up and up and up...

Kathy Gillespie: You're bringing back wonderful memories....I remember those shops well. Your apartment sounds pretty spectacular. It was a great time to be in NYC, wasn't it?

Pamela Terry and Edward: You just made me smile so wide reading that.

Anonymous said...

That wall looks very familiar to me. Did you live at 95 Horatio (aka The West Coast bldg)? I was there in the mid to late 90s and have fond memories of leaning out of my window to enjoy a ciggie and the setting sun after pigging out on Moules Frites at Florent (insert lip smack here). Of course, this was on the days when the meat market was closed as the stench from the butchers' remnants sutck in thopse cute cobblestones was unbearable, especially in the summer!

katiedid said...

I remember living in some horrid places until the design bug really took hold in my mid-twenties. I hope we get to see the progression of your Metamorphosis! :)

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Anonymous: Your sleuthing powers amaze me -- that WAS the building indeed! How funny...was Jacques the doorman still there? I used to trip home over the cobblestones after dancing at Nell's and then a late-night meal at Florent. Here's to happy times at the West Coast, darling! xx

Daniel-Halifax said...

i CANNOT wait to read about when you lived where my great great uncle was shot!! sigh...loved it!

VictoriaArt said...

Always so interesting to hear about someones starting points in life!
It shapes us and creates the background music to now!

My first place was a 250 year old tiny little ferry house on the river Elbe in Dresden - Loschwitz, with an almost as old streetcar rambling by every 15 min to shake the house in it's bones...
No pictures, no camera, just memories!

XX Victoria

Anonymous said...

Well, your clues made it pretty easy since I picked the bdlg for pretty much the same reasons. Jacques was there, and so sweet to my mother when she came to visit! I loved living there, but did loathe all of the obligatory tipping at Christmas since there were SO many doormen and handymen.

M said...

LOVE seeing the beginnings, Lisa! Thinking we need to add that shot into the you-know-what to explain your history o' style.

xxx

Victoria said...

I love this post and look forward to the next installment.

Kathy Gillespie - Zitos is gone; Rocco's is still there; Murray's is expanded.

Angie Muresan said...

That is so cool! I love reading about first places, and seeing photos of first places. My first place was full of pine country looking things. Good thing I didn't spend a lot of money on them as my tastes quickly changed.

Anonymous said...

You might just be humble in attitude, but that's a great shot. Really.
The brick, the print, the coat. I like all of it. Marcel Breuer was an excellent start for you, but you've always had a aesthetic eye.
-S

Visual Vamp said...

I think I know that building!
I lived on Horatio Street in 1979!
Love the photo! Wish I had some of my first apartments. But it was way before this current era of documenting everything ha ha.
xo xo

pve design said...

I am going to dig for some photos of my humble abode and this brought back memories of scraping to make ends meet. I love your NY beginnings.
pve

Bart Boehlert said...

Hi Lisa, that brick wall looks exactly like MY first apartment, one block away on Jane Street. Looking forward to your Brooklyn story as I think Brooklyn may be in our future.
BB

Jessica Claire said...

can't wait to hear more!

plaisirs simples said...

oops! looks like this was your first apt...not the one in williamsburg...regardless, love hearing others NYC tales....

A Super Dilettante said...

Oh my dear, this is just like a little apartment where Sue, Johnsy or Behrman lives in O. Henry's story. I like reading the story of how you started. You are my inspiration!

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