From Chinatown to Chelsea: Spending more to live by herself in a studio

By Kelly Kreth  |
September 10, 2021 - 1:30PM

"The south-facing, large window is my favorite feature and the area in general is quieter and good for working from home," says Wachira Leangtanom about her new studio apartment in Chelsea.

Wachira Leangtanom

Wachira Leangtanom was living in a small walk-up in Chinatown with a roommate. She appreciated the area's convenient location and she loved the many nearby restaurants and grocery stores, but the apartment was small, dark, and it was difficult to get deliveries, problems that the shutdown magnified. With her lease running out, she decided to strike out on her own in Chelsea. Here’s her story.

I came to New York City after earning my graduate degree and have lived here for nearly four years. There were a lot more career opportunities in NYC than in my hometown of Bangkok. Now I work as an architectural designer at a mid-size firm.

I was living with a friend in a walk-up in Chinatown—we lived on the second floor. The apartment was considered a two bedroom, but it was really a one bedroom split into two, small rooms. Even though our place was small, I liked how convenient the area was—close to grocery stores and public transportation. I took the J train downtown to my office—just a seven-minute walk from my building. There was a laundromat about a block away.

[Editor's Note: Brick Underground's series “Transitions” features first-person accounts of what it’s like to move from one New York City neighborhood to another. Have a story to share? Drop us an email. We respect all requests for anonymity.]

There are many good restaurants in Chinatown: Spicy Village, Wayla, and Nyonya. There are so many good options for sweets and bubble tea. Bibble & Sip has amazing cream puffs. I particularly enjoyed meeting friends for dim sum. I loved ordering pizza from Scarr's. My favorite stores were Hong Kong Supermarket and Deluxe Food Market. The area is also really close to Soho for shopping and the LES for going out at night, and I ran along the East River for exercise.

But there were drawbacks to the area. The building didn’t have an intercom system and only USPS had the key to the front area, so it was extremely hard to get anything delivered. The apartment faced the HVAC outside so there wasn’t much sunlight, which became increasingly hard to deal with during the lockdown.

My lease was about to end so I wanted to explore a new neighborhood. I saw about four or five places via StreetEasy, which lead me to Danielle Jernigan, an agent at Keller Williams NYC, to help me find a place.

I ultimately chose a studio in Chelsea in a four-story walk-up. I really like the view and the building is usually nice and quiet. The space is similar in size to my last one but my rent has increased by $250 a month. I got a month free as a concession.

I’m not saving as much money as before, but I think it is worth it to get a private space with much nicer amenities. The south-facing, large window is my favorite feature and the area in general is quieter and good for working from home. I especially appreciate having an intercom now so getting deliveries is easier.

Thankfully moving during the pandemic wasn’t too bad—the only difference having to wear a mask and follower stricter protocols when entering the building.

One weird drawback: I don’t like the front doors downstairs because they’re a bit heavy and the self-closing time is a little fast. They always end up closing on me! 

Groceries are a bit more expensive and the stores in the area have a different selection than what I’m used to, so I have to go to multiple places to get everything. Gristedes is the closest one, but sometimes I walk to Trader Joe’s two avenues away. I like getting coffee at Intelligentsia. Milk & Hops is a nice beer spot for hanging out with friends. La Bergamote has nice French desserts.

My building is close to Hudson River Park, where I go running now and my commute remains ok thanks to the 1 train, which is fairly close by. It takes longer than my previous commute but is not too terrible.

My friends have visited my apartment and seem to enjoy it and the new area. There are many brunch spots nearby and also many galleries/museums and flea markets for antiques browsing we can all go to together.

I haven’t made new friends or connected with many neighbors, but I did have a funny encounter in my building. One day I thought I heard someone knocking at the door, so I opened it. There was my neighbor’s dog, just standing there. The owner had already gone upstairs! Didn’t meet the neighbor, but certainly met the dog!

I am unsure whether I will stay here for a very long time, but for now I know I made a great decision in moving here.



Kelly Kreth

Contributing writer

Contributing writer Kelly Kreth has been a freelance journalist, essayist, and columnist for more than two decades. Her real estate articles have appeared in The Real Deal, Luxury Listings, Our Town, and amNewYork. A long-time New York City renter who loves a good deal, Kreth currently lives in a coveted rent-stabilized apartment in a luxury building on the Upper East Side.

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