This is Just A Thing

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This Is Just A Thing An ethnographic study of East Harlem through material possessions.

By Sam Bennett


In the months of February and March 2017, I had the opportunity to begin what I hope is a lifetime of work. I developed a methodology to discuss a person’s things in their home. What was quickly revealed was the openess and depth that came from talking, looking, and touching a thing. A shy, tight-lipped woman unfurled lengthy, intimate stories of her mom while holding a stainless steel bowl. A paralegal quietly confessed wanting to redecorate the home he grew up in as his non-english speaking mother sat and watched TV in spanish. And at another apartment while I was packing my bag to leave, an artist pulled out the last remnant of his wife, a framed packet of Forget-Me-Knot seeds that were found deliberately placed in her desk drawer, waiting to be found, waiting to be remembered. As the ForgetMe-Knots were a gesture of immortality, this book was created as a piece of evidence. Evidence that these people and these things existed, at this time, and in this place.

These are not just things.




4 1

13 12 10



16 8










The Things We Keep Questionnaire


1) Books


2) Big Screen TV


3) Cell Phone


4) Cross


5) E-Reader


6) GH3 Camera


7) Hammer


8) Kirby Origami Cranes


9) Magnets


10) Metal Bowl


11) My Camera


12) Picture of Beth and I


13) Pre-Selfie in Pretty Frame Made By 10-Year Olds


14) Rolls of Thread


15) Stone Pot


16) Tool Box


With Thanks



The Things We Keep Questionnaire Home Description 1. How would you describe your house? Describe both the physical components and the atmosphere. 2. What does home mean to you? 3. Where do you feel most at home? 4. What rooms are in your home? 5. How often are you at home? Name up to 5 things that are most special to you. Answer questions 6-14 for each. 6. What thing is most special to you?1 7. Why is this thing the most special to you? 8. How long have you had this thing? 9. How did you acquire this thing? 10. Where do you keep it in your house? 11. How often do you interact with this thing? 12. If you could attach one word to it, what would it be? 13. What would it mean to you if you couldn’t have this thing? 14. Is it important to you to pass this thing on? If so, who would you pass it on to?

1 Special = Has some meaning, value, memories, importance, or feelings “attached” to it for the person.


Conclusion Questions 15. What do all these things taken as a whole, mean to you? 16. Out of all the things, which is most special? 17. Is there anything that was special in your life that you no longer possess? 18. Do you have special things in other places besides your home? 19. What are your most private or personal things? Either ones you have already mentioned or others? 20. Are there any things you want to get rid of, but for some reason can’t? What is preventing you from doing so? 21. How long have you had it? 22. How did you acquire their thing? 23. Where do you keep it in your house? 24. How long did it take for you to choose your special things?



“We live in a tiny studio in East Harlem, that we have sort of hacked together a whole bunch of different uses out of. We first moved to New York about two years ago and lived on the Upper West Side and had a tiny apartment there and was a lot more expensive and we didn’t know the neighborhood, so it was sort of a safe, expensive bet and then we got to know this neighborhood and it felt comfortable to us. We both grew up in Southern California in the East side of Los Angeles, which very much feels like this - a latino neighborhood. And you get bang for your buck that way, because some people are scared to live in a neighborhood that is filled with brown and black people, but we aren’t bothered by it because we’re brown people. We feel like we are getting a pretty good deal. And even though it’s a studio, we had less square footage in our previous 1-bedroom apartment. That’s sort of the twisted logic in New York real estate. So we have a little more space than we had then. We are trying to have a cozy lived-in sort of environment, but the reality is that we have a chaotic environment. We have a lot of different things tucked into corners. We have an office in the kitchen. We’ve got a woodshop in the living room, but that is actually our bedroom...I guess that’s what a studio is. We’ve got a library and changing room all packed into the corners of the house.”

Gerry / February 19th, 2017 / 1:00 pm Male. 35 years old. Latino. UX Intrapreneur for Department of Education. Rents. Studio. Moved in 1 year ago. Lives with wife. 13


“I spent a long time in my childhood in foster care, and so home doesn’t have a lot of the sentimental associations as it has for some people. I have moved around a lot and even since we’ve been married, we’ve moved around a lot. So home is more about function than it is about that, because what I think people typically think of as home, we sort of think of as our family and sort of carry our home with us. The idea of a place that’s yours, a place that is safe and comfortable and yourself, isn’t really the walls and the roof so much as it is our marriage and our little subculture of two. Whereas the home as in the doors and the walls and the furniture and stuff is more function. It’s more like - what do we want to do in this space? I want to build a bookcase, so we have a woodshop. I want to keep all of my files, so I have an office. It’s more functional. I guess, it’s complicated. I feel most at home in bed/TV/hearth area - whatever you would call this seating area. I pause a little bit, because I think the kitchen is more of what home is, because it is where you prepare food, and we have a morning ritual of cooking breakfast and talking. I guess it is this space, the kitchen, and then the rest of the world.”


Books, c. 2000-2015. Measured in its entirety: 4’ W x 6’ H x 1’ D. Made of paper (wood). Origin unknown, collected from multiple locations.

These are just books. A collection. Organized and grouped by theme. Startups. Philosophy. Literature. History. Christian thinking. Art. Placed with intent. To project. To converse. A touchstone. Ever changing. A reflection of him, to them.

These are just books. 16

One word to attach to it: Identity 17

Placed in public space / Living room. Kept as a form of self-identity. 18

Placed on multiple shelves / Organized in groups / Facing out towards foyer. Looked at and used a few times a week. 19

Kelvin / February 8th, 2017 / 2:35 pm Male. 36 Years Old. Nuyorican. Bartender. Rents. 2-Bedroom apartment. Moved in 10 years ago. Lives with brother.


“I have lived in the same group of buildings all my life, but lived in three complexes. Started living on the 6th floor, moved down to the 1st floor, and now I live on the 7th. 6+1=7! I think that will be the last stop. After that I think I will be gone - somewhere else. Venture out! My mom and dad were born and raised in Puerto Rico and came here. My mom was in an abusive relationship before my dad, and he came into her life and made sure she didn’t have to deal with that anymore. I have five sisters older than me. I am the youngest and only boy on my mom’s side. Since my mom passed, things have started to go a little rocky wth the famuly as far as my sisters. That is their world and I don’t try to get involved. I just try to keep the family together. That’s the Capricorn in me. The neighborhood has changed a lot, and it’s a good thing. It is safer and more community involvement. Kids have things to do. It’s not like it was before where you just met up outside and hung out. There are more programs. And I don’t mind it, I think it is good. It was time for that change. I’m definitely for it. In my home, everything there is valuable to me. From the sneaker to the shoe tie and back is mine, so it is valuable. It belongs to me. I work hard. Everything this is top of the line. But the most valuable thing there is, believe it or not, a cat named Smokey, a Russian Blue. You can’t leave it. You got to take care of it as much as you take care of yourself.”


Earl’s Beer And Cheese / 97th St. and Park Ave.

“This place is a little hole-in-the-wall. I knew a guy who worked here, so I started as a dish washer and then I worked my way to bartender. It’s been 4 years now. I started keeping napkins that customers sketched on and pinning them to this wall. I remember where they sat and what we talked about. The people is what makes this place special.”



Big Screen TV, c. October 2016. 43.5” W x 27” H x 9.5” D. Made of plastic, glass, and metal. Manufactured in South Korea.

This is just a big screen TV. 4K baby. 4K resolution. 4 times sharper. 4 dollar signs. 4 sports. 4 ESPN. 4 documentaries. 4 real. 4 him. 4 ever.

This is just a big screen TV. 24

One word to attach to it: Hard work 25

Placed in public space / Living room. Kept for accomplishment and enjoyment. 26

Set on top of console against the wall. Watched daily. 27

Griselda / February 8th, 2017 / 5:45 pm Female. 40 Years Old. Mexican. Grocer Owner. Rents. 1-Bedroom. Moved in 10 years ago. Lives with daughter.


“In the neighborhood, the biggest changes have been the amount of churches closing. There are less families and more young singles. The oldest botanica, Justo closed last year. It had been there since 1938 and the owner had to move because of rent hikes and then passed away soon after, mostly likely from depression. The funeral procession went passed the old location and then down 116th for the community to pay their respects.�


El Tepeyac Grocer / 102nd St. and Lexington Ave.

“I realized I had been working too much, when my 3-year old Delilah started calling the store “home.” She got in a fight with her cousin at the store saying, ‘Get out of my house.’ I looked at her in shock. She had been spending too much time here. I knew I had to make a change. Now I work here in the afternoon and take a break in the evening to spend time with her, then I go back to work until we close at 2:00 am. I have been working here for 16 years. Our family took it over in 1998 and reopened it as El Tepeyac Grocery in 2000.”



Cell Phone, c. 2015. 6.25” H x 3” W x 0.25” D. Made of plastic, glass, and metal. Manufactured in Songshan Lake, Dongguan, China.

This is just a cell phone. A life line to her other home. The bodega. Her livelihood. Gotta keep track. Gotta know what’s going on. With the customers. With the help. With produce, the guacamole, the beer. Always the beer. So she can stay at home. Her real home. Just a little bit each night.

This is just a cell phone. 32

One word to attach to it: The future 33

Placed in private space / Bedroom. Kept for necessity. 34

Placed on nightstand against the wall / For the moment. Texted on, chatted on, watched on, scrolled on, researched on daily. 35

Damaris / February 8th, 2017 / 11:45 am Female. 65 Years Old. Puerto Rican. Retired Nurse. Rents. 2-Bedroom. Moved in 10 years ago. Lives with daughter and granddaughter.


“I live in 1990 Lexington, that big building.

There is an addiction center near by, but

there are security guards in the building. I have been living in there for 10 years. It is a two-bedroom and I live with my daughter and her it’s cluttered. My daughter says I got a problem, but I says no I don’t! We just finished painting. What an ordeal that was, because we had so much stuff! It’s hard to decide what to get rid of. We finally threw out a piano we had had for years that was never played anymore. I have a folder that is full of cards and I noticed that I put in there a whole bunch of people that have passed away. So I decided after I come back from vacation I am going to just keep one thing from each person. I also have some shoes that are old, but they are actually brand new that I have never worn. I want to let someone else enjoy them. My grandkids send me cute cards with cute little things inside, but they are 9 or 10 years old. How much can I save? I treasure things. Anything that my kids have given me that are handmade. My son is 35 and I have a painting he did when he was little, I still have that. I like pictures on my walls, but we decided we were going to hang them up selectively. I use to keep Christmas card photos on my wall until the following December, but I’m not going to do that anymore. I am only going to hang up the pictures of my kids when they were babies and my grandkids.”


Cross, c. 2008. 12� H x 6� W. Made of wood and metal. Origin unknown.

This is just a cross. It hangs above the door frame. The entrance to the home. Home to a religious woman. A classic Puerto Rican. A daily reminder of her faith. And not just in this home, But in the one before it, And the one before that one. A reminder again and again. In a place, in a place, in all places. The other three placed on her wall in her bedroom. Handmade by her children in years past. To be passed on to them.

This is just a cross. 38

One word to attach to it: Puerto Rican 39

Placed in public space / Entry way. Kept for religious reasons. 40

Hung on wall / Above door frame. Seen daily. 41

Ana / February 8th, 2017 / 10:32 am Female. 64 years old. Puerto Rican. Retired. Rents. 1-Bedroom. Moved in 14 years ago. Lives with husband.


“I’m a homebody.

I keep to myself. I love to ccok at home and read, be with my

husband. My kids take me out to Applebee’s and Outback Steakhouse on Frdays. They’re nearby. The neighborhood use to be different. I use to live on 119th and I remember the block parties. It would be impromptu. People would bring food and liquour and we would just hang out.”


E-Reader, c. 2013. 6.5” L x 4.5” W x 0.25” D Made of plastic, metal, and glass. Manufactured in Tucheng, New Taipei, Taiwan.

This is just an e-reader. It only sleeps when she sleeps. It travels throughout her home. On the nightstand. Squished in the seam of the recliner. Or waiting on the kitchen counter. Its screen illuminates with salacious words. Atypical for a granny? SEX. That’s what she wants to read. Don’t give her that Fifty Shades of Gray bullshit. Give her something real, something raw.

This is just an e-reader. 44

One word to attach to it: Sex 45

Placed in private space / Bedroom. Kept for enjoyment. 46

Placed on nightstand against the wall / For the moment. Read daily. 47

Thomas / February 12th, 2017 / 10:00 am Male. 31 years old. White. Documentary Filmmaker. Rents. 1-Bedroom. Moved in 8 months ago. Lives with girlfriend.


“We live in a 5th floor walk-up in Harlem, in a really nice building that is really well taken care of and clearly cared for, which I find unique to the city. We have big windows with a kitty-corner living room, with a lot of light. Tall ceilings. The tiniest kitchen I have ever seen in my entire life. That’s a problem. Otherwise, it is really nice. The bedroom is big enough for the bed, but not much else can go on in there. There is only enough room to walk to the bathroom. But it’s a beautiful, well lit one bedroom.”



“I truthfully am still trying to figure out what home means to me. It’s a lot about feeling like my time is my own. I think that that’s home. I’ve gotten to a point recently where I’ve really, truly feel like that is a lot of places right now. I’m very, very lucky. It feels like that at the house I grew up in. It feels like that here, in this apartment. But whether I am staying at a friend’s house or here, if my time is my own, it feels like home...I think. I’m deinitely most comfortable in the living room, on this bench, facing the window, back to the door.”


GH3, c. 2013. 3 3/4” H x 5 1/4” W x 3 1/4”. Made of plastic, glass, and metal. Manufactured in Japan.

This is just a GH3. Superficial? Maybe. This second hand tool. But man, it was researched. And used. Man, was it used. It did everything he asked. And did it well. It captured the rhinos, the last of their kind. ... It stays in its case now. Quietly veiled in dust. That Lakipia dirt. What a fucking beast.

This is just a GH3.


One word to attach to it: Responsibility 53

Placed in public space / Living room. Kept as a reminder of an experience. 54

Placed in zipped-up case / On the ground / Against the wall / Between a bench and console. Rarely used. 55

Carmen / February 8th, 2017 / 10:47 am Female. 65 years old. Puerto Rican. Rents. 1-Bedroom. Retired NYU Employee. Moved in 3 years ago. Lives with grandson, but kicking him out by December 2017.


“I have a huge 1-bedroom apartment.

It has a huge bedroom and huge living room, but

I want to do a lot with it. First, I want to kick out my grandson. He isn’t even paying rent. And he is always eating my food. Where’s my money? I am going on a cruise to Puerto Rico in December, and when I get back he’s gonna be gone. I want to add an island to my kitchen and set up a little bar in the living room. It will be a mix of dark gray with silver and gold accents and a baby blue wall. I want to add wood blinds too. My bedroom is eclectic and has a queen four-poster bed. In Santurce, I lived in a shack behind my grandmother’s huge house, among the roosters and pigs. I remember my grandmother punishing me by forcing me to kneel in rice. She was so mean to us. My father built her house and then moved to the States to start a new life. Whenever the Airmail envelopes with the blue and red stripes came, we knew it was money. I moved to East Harlem in 1957. Third Avenue to Pleasant Avenue was Italian, and Park Avenue to the West side was black. There was heroine and prostitution and a crooked cop named Jackson. As I got older I drank a lot, and eventually became addicted to cocaine. I remember watching Scar Face and mimicking Michelle Pfieffer. I didn’t feel anything at first, but I couldn’t go to sleep and ended up cleaning the whole kitchen. One time I woke up in the bathtub, my nose bleeding, my family shaking me, telling me I got to get to work. There were 12 people living in my apartment at the time and I was the only one working. I said I’m not going to work. I am going to rehab. I have never touched the stuff since. I still drink though. I sometimes sneak off on the bus to Bryant Park late at night sometimes and drink. No one knows that. I don’t keep anything sentimental. It is too painful to remember. I can’t even go to the block where my parent’s died. I remember my dad dying in the hospital and my mother never forgiving me for signing the ‘Do not resuscitate,’ but they were his wishes. The last time I saw my mom, I was bathing her. She was dying. And she said go get the powder. She had this powder she wore for special occassions like weddings and stuff. I said, what for? She pointed to the corner of the bathtub, saying my father was here, holding out his hand asking her to come. I said, what are you talking about? And pushed her hand down and she swatted me on the wrist. I had to go to work later that day and my sister took over for me. She called me at work and told my mother had died. I can’t think about it anymore.”


Hammer, c. 2013. 13” H x 5.5” W x 1.5” D Made of wood and metal. Origin unknown.

This is just a hammer. Not placed in a tool box. Not used on a nail. Just kept waiting. Waiting in a drawer. In case. In case she wakes to a sound unknown. To footsteps unwelcomed. To the knob turning. To the drawer opening. To the hand grabbing. To the arm swinging. To the bad bitch knocking that nail.

This is just a hammer. 58

One word to attach to it: Intruder 59

Placed in private space / Bedroom. Kept for protection. 60

Placed in nightstand against the wall / Inside drawer. Never used. 61

Natalie / February 19th, 2017 / 8:00 pm Female. 31 years old. White. Non-Profit Director. Rent. 2-Bedroom. Moved in 7 years ago. Lives with husband and another couple. 62

“I have lived here for 7 years with my roommate. I just got married, so Caleb lives here too and my roommate has a boyfriend and he lives here too. My roommate and I found the place on Craigslist in July when it was 105 degrees. We walked in and it was he biggest apartment we had ever seen in New York. It was light and airy. We have windows in all directions, North, South, East and West, so we get a great cross-breeze. As soon as we saw it, we said we’ll take it! Signed the check for a deposit right there. It has a huge common space, an enormous living room, and dining nook. We were not even for sure how to use all this space. We have two big bedrooms, one bathroom, and an actual proper kitchen. It was all white when we moved in, and my roommate who was unemployed at the time wanted to bring some color and life into the space, so we looked at the furniture we had and spent a lot of time at the paint store and picked this teal and gray as our accents for everything. We just wanted to make it more fun. We added some art to the walls too. We love it in the summer. We one time left the windows open over night and a bat flew in. It was really scary!”


“Home is wherever I am. I have been really good at adjusting wherever I am. I lived in Madrid for a semester in college, and it quickly became very normal. But the longer I live in this apartment, the more I can’t imagine living anywhere else. This is the longest I have lived anywhere, besides my parents’ house, which is an interesting thing, because most New Yorkers move a lot. But this is rent-stabalized, so I am not going anywhere.”


“I feel most at home in my bedroom, in my bed. It is really comfortable. We got a nice new comforter for a wedding present, which helps.�


Kirby Origami Cranes, c. 2013. 3.5’ H x 4” W x 3” D Made of origami paper, thread, and metal sequins. Made by hand in Washington DC.

These are just Kirby origami cranes. 1,000, no 5,000, no 12,000, some crazy number were folded. By Lynn and others. Many others. Around the world. People from Kirby’s past and present. To honor her and comfort them. A symbol of hope and healing. The cranes were strung at her mom’s house, 25 at a time. Paper bags filled with dots and stripes were mixed with thread and sequins. Hanging in the house. The house in the neighborhood they grew up in. The house they watched chick flicks in. And then in the hospital. As the birds watched her fight. Watched her die. Sat shiva. Only 28 years here on earth. But the cranes, they’re everywhere now. Scattered around. Hanging. Looking. Reminding.

These are just Kirby origami cranes.


One word to attach to it: Peaceful 67

Placed in public space / Living room. Kept as a reminder of a person. 68

Hung on wall 7’ high / Near window. Looked at monthly. 69


“My friends describe it as a cross between a museum and a church. This is my childhood home, and I have lived here on and off in my adult life. I have lived in Boston and North Carolina, but I think this place is tranquil and peaceful. I live in the ghetto, but I don’t find that word offensive. We are a group of hard working people, but I see the neighborhood changing as inevitable.”

Neftali / February 18th, 2017 / 2:00 pm Male. 31 years old. Hispanic/Latino. Paralegal. Rents. 3-Bedroom. Moved in 26 years ago. Lives with brother. 71


“Home is place to be you. Where you aren’t guarded and feel safe. I feel most at home sitting on the couch, watching TV.”


Magnets, c. October 2016. Range of 1.5”-3” W x 1.5”-3” H x 0.5” D. Made of polyresin and ceramics. Manufactured in China.

These are just magnets. He took a trip. This trip was his unicorn. His version of winning. Amsterdam. London. Barcelona. Paris. Places his parents have never seen. His childhood friends have never seen.

These are just magnets.


One word to attach to it: Unlimited Possibilities 75

Placed in public space / Kitchen. Kept as a reminder of a place. 76

Placed on the fridge / Group together / Holding nothing. Looked at daily. 77


“I live in a fairly small apartment building that was renovated about 10 years ago. It has an elevator which I am thrilled to have. It is a 2-bedroom and has the biggest bedroom I have ever had, even compared to California. We have a kitchen and bathroom and a dishwasher. It is a subdued atmosphere.�

Sophie / February 12th, 2017 / 11:00 am Female. 30 years old. White. Transgender Legal Defense Lawyer. Rents. 2-Bedroom. Moved in 3 1/2 years ago. Lives with roommate. 79


“Home is just a place that I can go that I feel safe. That is the most straight forward sort of way to describe it. I spend the most time in my bedroom. It’s almost like two rooms, it’s so big. I also feel in some ways I experience more inner tormoil in my own private space than in other spaces. Maybe there? It definitely is the most private.”


Metal Bowl, c. 2003. 9 3/4” Diameter x 6” H. Made of stainless steel. Origin unknown, most likely made in the US.

This is just a metal bowl. Inherited from her childhood home. From the kitchen where her mom cooked and baked. The most simple of recipes. Tollhouse cookies, Baker’s one-bowl brownies, the basics. But all so delicious. Now she whisks the eggs. Sifts the flour. Folds the dough. Remembers her mom. In her old kitchen. In her current kitchen.

This is just a metal bowl. 82

One word to attach to it: Safety 83

Placed in public space / Kitchen. Kept as a reminder of a person. 84

Placed on top of the fridge / Moved to counter when in use. Used a couple times a week. 85

Katie / February 5th, 2017 / 9:05 am Female. 28 years old. White. Photo-journalism graduate student. 1-Bedroom apartment. Moved in 8 months ago. Lives with boyfriend. 86

“I live in a 1-bedroom, 5th floor walkup, 9 units total. It is sunny and has big windows. It is comfortable for us. It has exposed brick and the remaining walls are white. All the rooms are shaped oddly. The bed can only fit one way in the bedroom. The apartment is filled with lots of whites, browns, and reds, with muted tones. This is my first real home as an adult. It is the most invested I have been when it comes to decorating. I wanted to make it cozy. We have our very own couch and table! There are pictures on the wall of places we have traveled. Books fill the shelves.�

Lavender / February 5th, 2017 / 9:05 am Female. 27 years old. White. Photo-Journalism Graduate Student. Rents. 1-Bedroom. Moved in 8 months ago. Lives with boyfriend. 87


“Home has been Thomas for three years. We have made our home in weird places. The last place we had just an air mattress in a tiny room. Home is wrapping up in a blanket with books and tea and pictures on the wall, in the living room.�


DSLR 5200 Nikon Camera, c. 2013. 5” W x 4” H x 3” D. Made of plastic, metal, and glass. Manufactured in Ayuthaya, Thailand.

This is just a DSLR 5200 Nikon Camera. Sitting on a wood table that was once in her grandfather’s house. Her most expensive treasure. But it doesn’t normally sit. It works. Works for her all the time. Empowers her. Makes her comfortable. To capture the truth with her eyes and hands. To tell the stories of others. It’s a machine to record. Everyday. Everywhere. As it sits on the table, she gazes into the lens. And sees herself.

This is just a DSLR 5200 Nikon Camera.


One word to attach to it: Me 91

Placed in public space / Living room. Kept as a form of self-identity. 92

Placed on table centered against the wall / For the moment. Used multple times a week. 93


“It’s a friendly, warm, inviting place. Lots of exposed brick, lots of books, and a couple animal heads. There’s lots of love here.”

Brian / February 19th, 2017 / 11:00 am Male. 38 years old. White. Surveillance. Rents. 2-Bedroom. Moved in 2 years ago. Lives with wife. 95

“Home is a place I can be myself. I am my at home in the kitchen. It is mine!�



Picture of Beth and I, c. 2009 . 13” W x 11” H x 4” D. Made of wood, paper, and metal. Frame origin unknown. Photo made in Virginia, USA.

This is just a picture of Beth and I. It was our wedding day. Taken in Virginia. And moved where I’ve moved. The happiness. The fun. Replayed daily.

This is just a picture of Beth and I. 98

One word to attach to it: Love 99

Placed in public space / Living room. Kept as a reminder of an experience. 100

Placed on wine crates / Hung against the wall / Nestled in between. Looked at daily. 101


“We have a two-bedroom apartment in East Harlem, on the first floor, on the back of the building, so fairly quiet. We don’t get a lot of natural light in the morning, but we do in the afternoon, because the back of our building is west facing. We love it. It’s our favorite apartment that we’ve lived in of the three that we’ve lived in since we’ve moved to New York eight years ago. We love the apartment itself. We love the exposed brick walls. We like the fairly high ceilings. We like the way it’s laid out. This big open space is both of the kitchen and living area. We really like having two bedrooms and feel pretty spoiled that way, although the last place we had was a four bedroom and it was cheaper. Giving that up was a little hard. We had that for 4 1/2 years and the rent never went up and then suddenly they were going to double it. And the way they were doing it was really shady and definitely not legal, but we decided not to get involved in that in any way. And also we were considering moving back West. We had intended to move to Denver and only live in New York for a couple years when I was doing grad school and then the next thing you know we stayed. This place happened by accident. A friend of ours found a vacant apartment in this building, and Brian went and saw it and liked it okay, and then Brian saw this one and he loved it. He said, Hun, I think you’re going to really like it. I have a little bit of hard time letting go, but at the same time I love change. I have lived in various places, but every single place including each dorm room in college still has a very special place for me. So yeah, I get attached. I really love this apartment though. I love it! We also like it for its location. The Urban Garden Center is right across the street, so I say good morning and good evening to chickens everyday. And there’s La Marquetta, an open air market and there’s a place right next door to us called Eddie G’s Kitchen that just recently closed, which is very sad. We use to eat there at least once a week. We are close to trains. We like our neighbors. Lot of people have been in the area for a long time - generations. It’s homey, lived in. A lot of people say - oh my gosh, I love your place. We host a lot of parties. We want the space to feel comfortable. We like a combination of old and new. Maybe it’s partly the objects we have. Maybe it’s the way they’re in their space, but we like our place and we are glad other

Beth / February 19th, 2017 / 10:00 am Female. 38 years old. White. Publisher Relations Manager. Rents. 2-Bedroom. Moved in 2 years ago. Lives with husband. 103


“Home means a safe space. Any place would be home with Brian. I guess it’s the place I can be myself completely. In our apartment, I would say I feel most at home everywhere. I couldn’t say one place. The beauty of New York apartments is that they’re small enough. We spend equal amounts of time in every room. Spend a lot of time in our bedroom. A lot of time in the living room watching TV, listening to music. In winter, we like to put in the Instant Fireplace DVD. We spend a lot of time reading. Brian spends a lot fo time in the kitchen. He does the majority of the cooking.”


Pre-Selfie in Pretty Frame Made By 10-Year Olds, c. 2007. 8.5” W x 6.75” H x 4” D. Made of ceramics, paper, and metal. Frame and photo made in Montana, USA.

This is just a pre-selfie in pretty frame made by 10-year olds. This was before she knew what selfies were. They had been dating for a while. And his kids made the frame. Painted their names. Writing “aishiteru” in the center. Japanese for I love you. She loved him. She loved them. She loved that visit.

This is just a pre-selfie in pretty frame made by 10-year olds. 106

One word to attach to it: Brian / Love 107

Placed in private space / Bedroom. Kept as a reminder of a person. 108

Placed on night stand / Centered amongst candles / Against the wall / Near the window. Looked at daily. 109


“It some ways it was incredibly the same, and in other ways, very, very different. There is more gentrification now than there was in in 1984. Well, I stood out more then. You’d get in a taxi and they would say, “Are you sure you want to go to that street? Are you sure that’s the right neighborhood? Are you sure you got the right address?” You had to have darker skin to come up here. It was mostly Puerto Rican neighborhood, but not exclusively. In the mid-to-late 80s and 90s, it was crack. When I moved it was a neighborhood with a lot more abandoned buildings than there are now. For example, across the way you can see empty spaces, but before most of the street was abandoned. This side was for the most part inhabited, except for the building next to me. In the fall, when it got cold and the junkies would go inside to shoot up, fires would break out in the building next door, and I was always worried that this building was going to burn down too. Things like that use to happen. So it was much wilder back then. I had an infant and toddler and when crack was at its worst, which sometimes seemed a little crazy. So it was interesting, but crazy. My step-daughter who is twenty-five and works up in Harlem, she gets a lot more comments about being a woman and the color of her skin, and I don’t get that anymore. And I know that has a lot to with getting older, because when I moved into this neighborhood I was in my twenties and people say things to you that they don’t say when you’re older. They talk about what you are doing...they’re much ruder when you’re young. It’s the switch from “Hey baby!” to “Excuse me, are you a teacher?” When that happened to me, I went okay, I’m aging. It’s interesting because sometimes I would say, “Oh the neighborhood’s gotten so much better, but actually there is another factor too, which is how old you are. And that’s why I mention it, because to me the neighborhood is much calmer, less in your face, but I’m also not in my mid-twenties or early-thirties anymore. It’s a different world. People are always social in this neighborhood. That has not changed. I think it’s shifted when I first moved here. Everybody was on the stoop and on the street all the time. Maybe less so in the winter, but basically culture was really visible. Everything happened on the street. And still does a lot, but not like it did then. So that’s also part of the shift I would say. People say hello to each other if you know people. It doesn’t always happen in other neighborhoods, but it’s always happened here.”

Anne / February 19th, 2017 / 3:00 pm Female. 57 years old. White. Dean of School of Design. Owns brownstone. Lives on top two floors - loft with 2-bedrooms. Moved in 32 years ago. Lives with husband and step-daughter. 111


“I would describe my house as a big loft space with a lot of people coming and going. The joking phrase that people tease us about is that it is an aging hippie commune, because we all have dinners upstairs, downstairs. There are only two apartments, but there is a number of us here so lots of people coming in and out. I have a friend who uses the studio, since I’m working most of the day. She’s up there writing. I have another friend who is in the film business. Sometimes he’s off on shoots, sometimes living in Brooklyn, and sometimes here. We also have a garden, so in the summer time it’s pretty darn great. I would say that home is about community and refuge. I feel most at home in the kitchen, in bed, in the studio, in the garden. It’s hard to say exactly where!”


Rolls of thread, c. 1984. Grouped together: 30’ W x 4” H x 7” D. Made of thread and cardboard. Found in abandoned sweat shop in New York City, NY.

These are just rolls of thread. Found at a time of change. They were just lying there. Waiting. Waiting to be trashed. Waiting for her. She took them home and slowly hung them. One nail at a time. It was all she could do. Lined them along the window.

This is just a rolls of thread. 114

One word to attach to it: Joy 115

Placed in public space / Living room. Kept as a reminder of an experience. 116

Hung in a line / Along the wall / Aligned with the top of the old windows. Looked at a couple times a year. 117

“I was in Rome for 19 years. I won the Rome Prize for design and my wife had died a few years before leaving me with two small children. I had a fellowship at the American Academy in Rome for a year and after 8 weeks I realized this made more since instead of moving back to New York, because it allowed us to not feel like we were living in a cementary, because everything reminding us of someone missing from our family. It was like a way to start. It forced us to see ourselves as a complete family of three, because we lived in a country where we barely knew the language at that point, and we had to really count on each other. It was actually a brilliant move of mine, but it was based on being slightly desparate, and was a great place to raise children, as you can imagine. But my children are grown now and I thought it was time to move back.�

Keith / February 19th, 2017 / 4:05 pm Male. 66 years old. White. Artist/Designer. Rents. Lives on bottom parlor floor. Studio in basement. Moved in 3 years ago. Lives alone.




“My home is warm, textural, and fluid. I love feeling comfortable in my home. As an artist, the beauty of light, materials, and proportions are all important. The air circulation is very important. I am glad I only have two doors, the front and the bathroom. I think each area is sort anchored and feels part of a bigger space, so even though the dining room is not huge, or the kitchen’s not huge; it doesn’t feel closed off. It doesn’t feel small. I love having a back yard. It’s an astonishing quiet neighborhood. I don’t think there is a lot of wasted space. There isn’t a lot of space here to waste. So I really enjoy all of it.”


Stone Pot, c. 2004. 12” W x 6” H. Made of soapstone and copper. Made in Italy.

This is just a stone pot. A thank you from a friend. The culmination of a month. Of staying. Of making. Making then and making now. A meal to share. It’s most beautiful thing in the world.

This is just a stone pot.


One word to attach to it: Earthy 123

Placed in public space / Kitchen. Kept as a reminder of a person. 124

Placed on the bottom shelf / Centered / Moved to the stove and dining table. Cooked and served with a couple times a week. 125

Rose / February 19th, 2017 / 3:00 pm Female. 30-something-years old. Latina. Industrial Design Graduate Student. Rents. Studio. Moved in 1 year ago. Lives with husband.


“Well, I wouldn’t say house, it’s my apartment, it’s my home. It’s relaxed, always a little messy. There is no way it’s ever going to be super tidy, because we are just not like that. As much as I want to organize and keep things tidy, things pile up. We are mess magnets. But that’s okay, because it feels relaxed. You could keep your feet up if you wanted to. And I hope that it feels comfortable for people. That it’s not too stuffy or dark or intimidating. Growing up, my mom’s living room always felt so cold. My mom and brother have always loved dark apartments. They have black and gray leather furniture, black metal, and a glass rectangular coffee table that would cut your shin open if you’d bump into it, but that is what they wanted and they loved it. I am completely the opposite. I don’t have a color scheme because I am not that coordinated, but we have a lot of creams. It’s eclectic, uncoordinated and chill. Not my mother’s home! It’s got a nice big kitchen that we’re able to fit an office into. Actually, it’s more like we can sneak an office into it, because you can’t really see it right away. That’s my favorite part. We love the kitchen because it’s got a lot of space and its got a gas stove, which means a lot to me. I like to cook tortillas on it. It means a lot to me that we have windows in every room in the house, even though they are small and they don’t get a lot of light, the little bit of light that we get is actually pretty awesome. We have a huge foyer, which is hilarious. It is kind of like a landing pad where we throw all of our stuff in the hallway. It doesn’t helo us to be neater, but it works as our swing space. So when we have guests, we lock the bikes outside and we have our guests stay in the foyer, which is hilarious, but really works for us. Our living room is actually our bedroom and we hang out in here and watch TV after we eat dinner. We eat either on our bed or the make shift couch that we have. We get lots of daylight, except I have blackout windows right now. I need to change those! And favorite part, across the way between the two buildings is a church and you can see it from the window and on Sunday you can hear the bells ringing.It’s really cool. It’s one of the first things I noticed when I walked in here. The closet space is meh, but we made it work. And our dog loves to bark at the neighbors when they walk by. That’s our apartment.”



“Home is wherever my husband and dog are. It’s just a place where I can go and unwind and share loving moments with the people I love. For me, it’s really my husband. The three of us will sit on the bed and watch TV together. We’ll snuggle and it’s like this is home, and we are just watching TV in bed, and that could be anywhere. There is a certain amount of safety and love. Food is good too. I feel most at home in the bed, because it is a studio and we end up hanging out in the bed, so it becomes a couch.”


Tool Box, c. 2016. 30” W x 48” H x 24” D. Made of wood, metal, and plastic. Made by hand in Connecticut.

This is just tool box. Made of adventure. Made of confidence. Made by hand. Hands of a woman in room of all men. She was behind the whole time. By herself for the first time in years. But they were all so kind. So open. The odd man out no more. Her fears subsided. To make something to love. Something beautiful. Something technical. A reminder to put yourself out there.

This is just a tool box. 130

One word to attach to it: Confidence 131

Placed in public space / Living room. Kept as a sign of accomplishment. 132

Placed near the corner / On the floor / Next to the woodshop. Used and touched a few times a week. 133

With Thanks

A sincere thank you goes to the people who participated. They opened their home to a complete stranger and spoke openly about their lives. It moved me. So thank you Griselda, Katie, Thomas, Amy, Ana, Carmen, Darmaris, Kelvin, Anthony, Beth, Brian, Abram, Xiomara, Lynn, Anita, and Kevin.

Many of these people I would not have met without help from others. There would no research without these introductions. So thank you Xena, Sarah, Thomas, Dierdre, Tim, Soma, Das, Lynn, Luz, and Jonsara.