Due Diligence

The author of "Good and Cheap" talks about her dream (brownstone) apartment, living in a Canadian building in NYC, and why you shouldn't give up on your housing fantasies

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Leanne Brown moved to New York City from Canada about three and a half years ago to earn a masters in food science from NYU.  While at NYU, the 30-year-old author set out to create a cookbook full of recipes anyone could make on a budget of just $4 a day to help those in SNAP, the federal government's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

A full cookbook, entitled Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day was just published by Workman Publishing in July. With every purchase, a book gets donated to someone in need.

Brown, who lives in Manhattan with her husband and her cat, Yoshimi, is working on another book with Workman. She's also looking to buy an apartment in Brooklyn. She talks about that, and much more, in this round of Due Diligence:

1..  What neighborhood do you live in?

Hell’s Kitchen.

2. Is this your dream neighborhood or is there someplace else in NYC you’d prefer to settle in?

We are looking at buying a place in Park Slope. I love Hell’s Kitchen, but it will be nice to get away from some of the serious crowds and tourists.

3. Do you own or rent?

We rent.

4. How’d you find it?

My husband (Dan) was on a flight from Canada (where we’re from) and ended up sitting next to someone who worked for the same company he had just started working at (Google) and they got to talking about apartments. The colleague told us about the new apartment he and his wife had just rented in a newly renovated tenement in Hell’s Kitchen. We checked out the other units and ended up taking one. We were dubious we were going to like living so close to Times Square, but the neighborhood west is awesome, we love it, and we love being so close to the park. We’ve been neighbors for two years now. The building only has four units and three of the four have Canadian tenants so we tend to celebrate Canadian holidays. 

5. What’s the one thing you love the most about it?

Our bedroom is quite large and has incredible light. It just feels so peaceful in there. Our back window looks out onto a little courtyard with an apple tree. 

6. If there’s one thing you could change about your apartment, what would it be?

I wish the kitchen had more light and there weren’t bars on our windows. 

7. In three words, describe the first apartment you've ever lived in.

Cheap grungy basement. 

8. Do you prefer old NYC or this NYC?

I never lived in the old NYC so I can’t say!

9. Tell us about the favorite apartment you’ve ever had.

We owned a condo back in Canada which we still rent out. It was a large lofty space in a converted hospital. Our condo was the chapel. It has huge windows and exposed brick and we renovated the kitchen to be this incredible wood and stainless steal modern space. Dan built a bathtub shower out of a stainless steel tub we had fabricated with posts and steps leading to the tub made of cedar and big glass doors. It was beautiful. I miss that place. It was just how we liked it. It was the perfect mix of older building with modern interior. Then we moved to NYC!

10. And the worst?

The first apartment! It was so cheap, but the landlord was not very responsive. At one point the hot water would not stop running in the bathroom so it was always super steamy in there. Then the doorknob to the bathroom broke so we couldn’t close the door. If you did you would be locked in the bathroom. One day Dan’s younger brother was visiting and he accidentally closed the door. He had to crawl out the window to get out. Of course there were also mice, and there was no lock on the front door of the building so sometimes people would sleep or pee in the closets. It was a great location though, and we have some pretty good memories.

11. Name one NYC service you couldn’t live without.

The practical side of me wants to say garbage pick-up and water! But if we assume those are available in ALL cities then I would say the subway. 

12. What’s your favorite spot in the city?

What an impossible choice! I spend a ton of time at Gotham West market because it has great food and it’s in my neighborhood. But I also have a major soft spot for the Battery Urban farm and the North Brooklyn Farms spot at the old Domino sugar factory in Williamsburg.

13. Which would you rather: Brooklyn brownstone or a penthouse in a shiny, new condo?

Brooklyn brownstone. No contest. It’s what we’re looking for in Park Slope. We're looking for a one-floor apartment there.

14. If you could live elsewhere, where would it be?

If we weren’t living here we would probably move back to Canada, but if I could really be anywhere … a mountainside in a lush Japanese forest is what I dream of.

15. Any advice for a recent New York transplant?

Give yourself time, and don’t think you can’t have what you really want (at least in terms of housing). There will be compromises, but figure out what you can’t live without and don’t compromise on that. A lot of people said there was no way I could have a kitchen with a full-size stove, enough counter space, etc. It was important to me to have a proper kitchen to cook in. I know a lot of people can just do take-out, but that was no way to live for me. Sure, we limited what we could look at because of wanting a proper kitchen, but I knew I couldn’t live without it. Figure out what that is for you. And then breathe deeply. Everything will be okay! 


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