The Studio-Apartment Couples of the Pandemic

Marnie and Desi would have had a difficult 2020.
Photo: HBO

“We have what I call ‘camp rules’. When one person falls asleep, the other falls asleep. This is the fires being extinguished, ”said John Spangler, who began sharing his 425-square-foot Chelsea studio with boyfriend, Alejandro Mendez, during the pandemic. For many, maybe even most people, sharing any living space with a partner over the past year and a half has been an unwelcome exercise in forced intimacy. But the most claustrophobic COVID-19 dating experience of all? Sharing a studio in New York City, a one-of-a-kind room where everything from the other person’s work calls to pandemic workout routines has become a must.

“In many ways we felt trapped,” said Ashleigh Orlando, who spent the pandemic at a Dumbo studio that she and her husband, Jonathan, bought in February 2019, around the time they were spending the night. most of their waking hours at the office. “Before the pandemic, we literally never worked from home. We would never have bought the apartment if that was the case.

The Orlando’s had originally planned to buy a one-bedroom, but were drawn to the studio’s generous size – 925 square feet – and its large windows with views of the East River. They also liked that unlike most of the one bedroom rooms they had reviewed, there was no odd layout since it was a single room. They considered fencing off the sleeping area but decided not to. Without interior walls, they had room for things like a large dining table, which they could never fit into their one-bedroom rentals. “Then the pandemic happened and we were basically working on either side of the dining room table,” said Ashleigh, whose job is in finance. “I had to do all of my performance reviews in the apartment, which is really hard to do with someone else in the room.

Walking the dog – one of the only things they didn’t have to do in close company – provided one of the few breakouts. Ashleigh started to savor her groceries, cook and clean a lot more. “I would immerse myself in it, put on headphones and I was like, ‘Don’t even talk to me. “Jonathan had his time alone by staying up late after Ashleigh went to bed at 10pm (no camp rules in their apartment.)“ It was really tough, ”she said. “Fortunately, I can sleep with the lights on.” As for the other strategies, “we probably could have done better,” she said. “We just drank a lot of wine. And we loved it The Sopranos, so we watched it over and over again. We tried to do things like that which brought us joy. And yes, a lot of wine.

Judging by the number of requests, the last place anyone (even singles) wanted to live during the pandemic was a studio. Between December 2019 and December 2020, the average price of a studio in Manhattan fell 18.9%, from $ 2,838 to $ 2,301 per month, according to the brokerage Douglas elliman. This is a higher percentage than for any other type of apartment. Brokers spoke of rent-stabilized studios that had languished in the market for months. “For a while the studios were really not going,” said Caleb Funk, a Bond New York realtor, who added that it was not uncommon to see listings on the Upper East Side for less. of $ 1,500 a month last year. “We had so many voids.”

Affordability was part of what convinced Cole Burden and Caleb Dicke to live together in a 284 square foot Harlem studio. During the pandemic, the landlord lowered the rent for the apartment, where Dicke had lived alone for several years, to $ 1,500 a month. “It was hard to know what was going to happen with the finances and what even New York would be like,” said Burden, actor, singer and producer.

“We knew the studio was too small for both of us,” said Dicke, actor and dancer. (Technically, there were three of them, since they adopted a cat, Vivien Marie, during a visit to Dicke’s family in Ohio.) “But also, we liked it. There is a huge window and the bathroom shower has a window. It was small, but we saw the sky: beautiful sunsets, the moon every night. We called it “the tree house”.

They learned each other’s schedules. They took turns walking or going up to the roof when one of them needed to make a private call. Burden got rid of most of his clothes. “Before, I had three closets. Now I have like one outfit, ”he said. They decided they liked living in a small space so much that they even started a business, Simplify NYC, to help others do it well by decluttering and getting organized. Yet after a year they were ready for more space. “Cole likes to stay awake and watch TV. I was working on an HBO show and started my day at 3 a.m. to arrive on call time at 4:30 a.m. It was like we needed another room, ”Dicke said.

A studio Is have extra space, and that’s the bathroom. “We called it my office,” Mendez said. On Zoom calls, “my coworker would see the tiles in the background and be like, ‘Oh, are you still at the office?’ When everything was still closed, he had to defend his thesis at the same time that Spangler had a bad dental infection. “I didn’t want to be sick behind his doctorate. defense, ”Spangler said. “So I took a four hour bath. Their apartment has a roof terrace, and they took full advantage of it. They also tried to resolve disagreements inside the apartment, instituting a no-storm rule. Mendez said it made him open up more: “Before, I wasn’t the kind of person to talk. Living in a small space, you get by. People said, “You have to live in a bedroom. It’s healthier for your relationship. But it has really helped in some areas of our life. Even so, this winter tensions were high. “We had done all the vacations there; we would go up on the roof in blankets in the snow. We were exhausted, ”Spangler said. They ended up taking a stay at a Times Square hotel. “I don’t think I’ve ever paid attention to square footage for a hotel before, but I was like, ‘We’re getting a suite. “”

The Orlandos are out for good: they put their studio up for sale in January. In May he hadn’t sold and Ashleigh thought maybe they should stay. “I was like, ‘We held on for a year and a half,” “she said. “But my husband was like, ‘I can’t do this one more day. “” It sold out soon after that – they received three offers in one weekend – and the couple moved into a two-bedroom rental in Jersey City. “I miss the city but not the apartment,” Ashleigh said.

Last March, Burden and Dicke started looking for one and two bedroom apartments with Funk, Bond’s real estate agent. He showed them a two bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side for around $ 2,000 a month that he thought they were going to jump on, but nothing was going to suit them until they checked out another Harlem studio. At 600 square feet, it’s about twice the size of their last studio. But it’s still a studio.

“It was actually more expensive than the two-bedroom Upper West Side, which was gorgeous,” Burden said. “But it’s a luxury building, and we just liked the space more. We are drawn to this life of Polly Pocket. I was a celebrity assistant and was in a lot of multi-million dollar houses in this city. Entering it, you don’t necessarily feel like you’re seeing your $ 5 million. I think that’s where we’re going as a society. And we love doing this job so much. He pauses. “We could also be sadistic.”

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