Reel Estate

'The Affair' is about complicated relationships—and New York real estate

By Lucy Cohen Blatter | December 3, 2015 - 11:59AM

When a movie or TV show is set in New York City—and if the people making it are savvy—real estate becomes part of the story itself. In Reel Estate, we look at some of the more memorable domiciles to grace the screen.

Now that we're inching toward the end of season two of Showtime's The Affair, it's clear there's nothing to be jealous of when it comes to the interpersonal relationships of the four lead characters, Noah, Helen, Alison and Cole. But those characters' real estate holdings? Another story. [Note: Spoilers ahead. If you're not at least on season two, bookmark this page for later.]

This multimillion dollar Brooklyn brownstone becomes a point of contention.

The show's real estate porn starts directly out of the gate when, on the pilot episode, you see Noah and Helen Solloway's Park Slope brownstone (the two are played by Dominic West and Maura Tierney). The aspirational  real estate continues when the Solloways and their four children head to Helen's parents' Montauk house for the summer, which is just the kind of gorgeous estate you'd expect a famous author like Helen's father to have.

Helen's dad is a big-time author who lives in this gorgeous Montauk house on the water. His personality is less enviable than his house.

Helen's dad, Bruce Butler, is a bastard (and Helen's mom—oof!), and it's not quite clear why  the Solloways would want to spend an entire summer with the in-laws/grandparents from hell. Montauk is gorgeous and we get the appeal of getting out of the city for the summer but with these guys? No thanks.

Alison and Cole are the other couple on the show. Their bohemian-style house appears to have private beach access (!).

But the Butlers' estate isn't the only Montauk eye candy we get. There's also the house shared by Noah's future love interest Alison (played by Ruth Wilson) and her husband Cole (Joshua Jackson), shown above. In one of their first meetings, Noah, somewhat rudely, wonders how a waitress like Alison can afford a house like this (with what appears to be private beach access!), and she explains that it had belonged to her grandparents before Montauk became consumed by the ritzy Greater Hamptons Area. The transformation of Montauk from a sleepy fishing and surfing town to an extension of the Hamptons is a big theme during the first season.

In fact, one of the things that seems to attract Noah to Alison in the beginning and leads him to stray from his wife, Helen, is just how unpretentious Alison is. She's not a gentrifier like his wife (and himself, reluctantly). 

When Alison and Cole split up (because of The Affair), Cole stays in Montauk but chooses to live in a trailer parked outside the house he once shared with Alison. Despite pressure from his brother, Scotty, he refuses to sell the house, seemingly symbolizing his unwillingness to get over his relationship with Alison.  Or to at least broach the subject of selling it with her. (On the most recent episode, he sets fire to the house in what seems like the ultimate act of rage and grief and can only mean more challenges for Alison when it comes to closing with the seller she supposedly has finally lined up).

Another piece of Montauk real estate that serves as the basis of one of biggest storylines of season one is the Lockhart ranch, childhood home to Cole and his brothers. There are rumblings that the family has been given a $20 million offer on the ranch (again, Montauk isn't the sleepy town it once was), but as it turns out, the family matriarch has secretly mortgaged the place within an inch of its life. The family ends up with nothing. Secrets, and that infamous Lockhart curse, seem to extend to real estate.

Cole's family ranch in Montauk should make them a fortune -- it doesn't.

Frequently on The Affair it feels as though real estate is not only used to control and manipulate people (as in the case of Lockhart ranch), it's also used as a reflection of the problems in these relationships.

It's quite clear that Noah resents the house his wife's rich parents bought her via her trust (the house becomes an issue in mediation during the pair's divorce and Helen later tells Noah, post-divorce, that they should never have left their Harlem apartment for the house). In an interesting turn, though, Helen offers to sell her Brooklyn house to pay for Noah's legal fees when he becomes accused of a crime. (There's a psychoanalytic takeaway there somewhere, but we'll leave that to the experts.)

Before Noah finishes his (somewhat unbelievably) successful book and while he's in the process of getting divorced from Helen,  there's talk of him and Alison living in a fairly realistic post-divorce scenario Crown Heights two-bedroom that he describes as "not big, but nice.' (There's a nod to the ever-changing vibe of Brooklyn in one episode when Noah is told it'll cost him $1,200 for a night in a hotel with Alison. "What?! This is Brooklyn,"  he says. To which the hotel employee responds: "Is there really a distinction anymore?")

We've been here. 

Plus, we have to give the writers credit for accurately portraying the kind of NYC apartment Alison could afford while she waits for Noah to leave Helen. It appears to be a very small place in a walk-up. Alison calls it "tiny." We call it "standard."

Once Noah leaves Helen for real and as he and Alison apartment hunt in Crown Heights, the new couple make do with an insanely design magazine-worthy "cabin" in Cold Spring, which Noah's book editor hooked him up with. 

Alison and Noah's love nest/writing getaway.

Not a bad spot for your morning coffee between chapters, huh?

Of course, once Noah's book, Descent, takes off and he's officially the successful "bad boy" of literature (even Jonathan Franzen takes him out for drinks!), he gets a seriously swanky apartment with what looks like at least four bedrooms, shown below. It's modern and cold, representative of the icy turn his relationship with Allison seems to be taking. It's nothing like the warm, cozy brownstone he once shared with Helen and his kids. And interestingly Noah seems hesitant to turn his office into a nursery for the baby he and Alison are expecting.

When Alison's mother comes to visit for Thanksgiving she ogles their new apartment. But in a harbinger of not-so-great things to come between Alison and Noah, Alison's mother tries to dissuade her daughter from selling her house in Montauk and putting all her eggs in this one, loft-like basket, with Noah.  "Keep your grandparents' house so if, God forbid, this doesn't work out, you and your kid will have somewhere to go," she says.

We'd have to agree.


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