Archival material: NYC edition

Photo by Rebecca Cooney for New York TodayA decade ago, which is essentially a lifetime ago, the New York Times had a web-only site about living in New York, and featured me in a weekly column about homes/apartments in the city. While I’m impressed that the article and accompanying slideshow are still online, I’m making an effort to gather up things like this and store them here for posterity, just in case.

[To be honest, I’m also just having a bout of nostalgia for the days when I lived alone an had a lot of space to myself for gathering treasure and doing cool stuff.]

So let’s take a little wistful trip down memory lane, past all the awful (and occasionally lovely) things that have happened since then.

Apartment Envy — July 2, 2001

Light-Speed Loft Renovation


Dan Rhatigan evinces a mixture of modesty and pride when he talks about the large number of superhero action figures he has amassed over the years. “I’m not a serious collector,” he demurs, when queried about the various displays throughout his loft in East Williamsburg. But in the next breath, the thirty-year-old graphic designer and computer technician betrays unmistakable enthusiasm as he points to a row of female warriors standing guard over the stove, saying, “They’re my kitchen goddesses — the super-powered women who look after me.”

For the record, the non-serious collection includes Spider Woman, Princess Leia, Dr. Beverly Crusher, Guinan and several X-Women, among others. A nearby bookcase is dedicated to a couple hundred of their male counterparts, too numerous to list. Overhead, the pipes and ducts on the ceiling serve as a sort of inter-galactic highway system for the conveyances that transport the action figure population. There is a scale replica of the Millennium Falcon, sharing airspace with a Fischer Price jet plane.

If Rhatigan himself were a superhero, he’d be Home Improvement Man — able to revamp shabby rooms at the speed of light. Good thing too, because by last May, two years after he’d moved to East Williamsburg from Fort Greene, Rhatigan’s loft had a couple of glaring problems. One was quite serious: Seeping moisture had caused some suspicious soft spots in the floors, and they were threatening to soon become actual holes. The other problem was equally pressing: The drab bathroom, with its ancient standard-issue medicine cabinet, was a depressing place to start the day. The two weak spots stood out in an otherwise beautifully arranged basement-level loft.

One Saturday, exhibiting his do-it-yourself powers, Rhatigan sped to the local Oriental Lumber store, ordered a large supply of plywood, and — in one sweaty afternoon — proceeded to singlehandledly install 192 square feet of new flooring. As he wielded his supersonic (well, cordless) electric screwdriver, he was encouraged to persevere by the thought that the small portion of floor he was patching was practically equal to the area of a standard Manhattan studio apartment. When done, the makeshift floor was sturdy, clean and appealingly raw-looking. He considered leaving it unfinished, but unfortunately the Nouveau Industrial effect was marred by ugly markings stamped on the plywood veneer at the lumberyard. So he opted for paint, a medium grey latex-based semigloss.

The next day, Rhatigan tackled the dreary bathroom. Ripping down the existing fixtures, he repainted the dirty walls a warm, saturated orange; “I wanted a creamsicle room,” he says. He put in pretty light fixtures and an antique wooden stand purchased for $15 at the Salvation Army in Bushwick. Over the sink, he hung a mirrored door that had once been part of a bureau or a cabinet. In place of the hated medicine cabinet, two school lunch boxes were bolted to the wall, the perfect size for storing shaving gear. Voila. A complete makeover in record time.

A month later, serving smoked gouda and green grapes to a visitor at the retro enameled kitchen table, Rhatigan explained that he was drawn to loft living because he needed a spacious setting to show off the knick-knacks, posters, photographs, movie marquee letters, pieces of antique lead type, found furniture and pop culture items he had been keeping stored in boxes for years. After 10 years of moving every year, from one small apartment to another, he wanted a place “where I could just unpack everything I own and work on making my little museum of junk.”

One quirky feature of the loft came about through serendipity. When Rhatigan first moved in, he realized that the ground level windows didn’t provide protection from car exhaust or passersby peering in from the street. He lined the glass panes with translucent white tracing paper, and inadvertently created a sort of permanent shadow puppet screen that has become an ongoing source of entertainment. Visitors ringing the doorbell or any passing figures from outside cast dramatically magnified shadows like film noir silhouettes. “Once, I looked up and saw a foot-long outline of a rat against the tracing paper.” Talk about your evil villains.

Aside from space, the other selling point about the loft was the built-in climate control. Rhatigan recalls first seeing the place two summers ago during a massive heat wave. Stepping inside the heavy stone walls he found an unnaturally cool haven — the air never gets above the mid-60’s, even on a 100-degree day, “I have no air conditioning issues at all,” he says. His very own Bat Cave.

[All photos below by Rebecca Cooney of the New York Times]

Rhatigan says of his couches “People melt in the furniture.”

The kitchen goddesses.

The kitchen.

Rhatigan took the black and white pictures on the right himself and put Christmas lights in a mass under his stereo as an “artificial hearth.”

Rhatigan, who collects pop culture items, has had the “Hairspray” picture ever since he was 16.

The creamsicle bathroom sports an “Incredible Hulk” lunch box, which holds shaving gear.

The closet subdivides the loft, which has no walls.

The rocking chair is the same chair in which his mother rocked all her six children.

Rhatigan says the steamer trunk (standing upright next to the bed) is from the 1920’s. He bought it at the Salvation Army in Bushwick and it has its original wooden hangers. The number “4” is an example of the typography he collects.

Rhatigan’s office area.

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