The Story of a Gay Breakup, Told by Art and Real Estate

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Photo: nytimes.com

The wonderful thing about the New York Times "Home" section is that many of the pieces in it are not so much about the real estate, gardens, or interior decorations that appear in the pictures, but actually about the kooky characters that inhabit them. (Also, it has the fruitiest sensibility of any of the sections, including "Sunday Styles.") Today we get an example of one of these stories, with the tale of young Bradford Shelhammer and Ben Dixon, a pair of cute gays with impeccable taste who own an apartment and a lake house together that are filled with lovely furniture and artwork. The problem is, the couple — who had even set a date for their wedding — broke up and don't want to sell, so they are left in a limbo of primary-colored pants and chairs from the Dutch design collective Droog.

There are a lot of sad things about this, many involving real estate taxes, but they are most encapsulated by the following anecdote, which is told by Shelhammer in an audio slideshow accompanying the piece (another priceless aspect of the "Home" section). In it, he discusses a pair of silhouette paintings, pictured above, that he created of the couple:

When they were in our city apartment, they were facing each other, and it was quite adorable — we were staring at each other. And it wasn’t until we went to the house for Ben's birthday — which was the day we were to be married — that my friend Sandra remarked to me: 'The portraits of the two of you are facing opposite directions!' And they had been hung that way last year, and I don't know symbolically what that means, but it shook me.


See, last weekend, it was Dixon's birthday. It was also, as Shelhammer noted, the weekend they'd planned their wedding. (You used to be able to follow the progress of their engagement on the website "IHeartBenford.com" but that's long defunct.) Since some people had already bought tickets, Dixon held a big party at the lake house, and Shelhammer even came along to help host. The Times went along for the ride, to capture the awkwardness.

Part of the reason why they broke up, Dixon told the paper, was because Shelhammer would always blog about everything. "For me," he said, a vacation or a party was "real just for the two of us. It seemed like Bradford often needed to put it online for it to be real." Proving his point, a little, Shelhammer took to his blog today to review the Times piece, and to do some feeling:


And while some will see this story as sad, and yes, it can be very sad, still, it is indeed the opposite. It is a story about a shared love, of each other and of design. It is a story of how things change and how friendship remains. And it is a story of how life is rarely perfect. Not perfect, but beautiful and evolving,[sic]

Two hours north of New York City, right off the Taconic at mile marker 67, sits a little piece of my heart. It lives in a colorfully kitsch playhouse and it will always be where I've felt the most home. My mother always said I had an explorer's heart and I pick up and live wherever the wind, and my desire, take me. I've never really had a home. Not growing up. Not in my twenties. But there among those trees and on that lake remains my home. Hopefully, sometime sooner than later, Ben and his friends and me an my friends and his boyfriend and my boyfriend can all come together for a weekend there. Laugh all you want. I know we'll get there.

We'll farmstand hop and make elaborate meals and drink good wine and play Wii Fit and watch Hitchcock and Auntie Mame. I have hope of getting there. And so does he. In good time.

Shelhammer wrote that the Times approached the couple to do the story, not vice versa. We'll never really understand why people agree to open themselves up to this kind of coverage, really. But then again, we also don't understand how to own a home and fill it with tastefully chosen, distinctive furniture and artwork. Perhaps the two are related?

After the Breakup, What About the Lake House? [NYT]
on changing directions, finding home, and the gray lady [BradfordShelhammer]