Photographs by Dean Kaufman
Once autumn fades, and the sun slumps, its full glide becoming visible through the southern-facing windows of “the loft,” the twelve residents on the third floor of a defunct garment plant will start to arm-wrestle. “We generally save up our grievances till the winter,” jokes Chris, a chef, on a recent crisp evening. “I’ve been mostly doing one-arm curls.”
His playful machismo nods to the loft’s roots. Back in 2003, six twentysomething guys rented out 4,800 dust-caked square feet in Bushwick and began to build. Among the concrete pillars and rust-crusted pipes, small scrap-wood and drywall rooms started shouldering up next to one another, leaving the most possible space for a vast common area, a wood shop, and a band practice room. “Shit was just, like, everywhere,” says Shah, one of the founders, now 38, “which was initially part of the appeal.” The expanse became a near-anarchistic shantytown dreamscape dubbed “Mancamp.” Soon, half-drunk, sleepy-eyed trips to the concrete nook that “miraculously had a toilet” doubled as encounters with a loftmate wielding a katana. They lived big on the cheap—an appealing strategy for many young adults nowadays. It beats a Lilliputian childhood bedroom.
The loft’s current crew: age 26 to 39. There are four chefs. A filmmaker. An actor and stoner-rock musician (Shah, the only pioneer left). And several other artists/musicians with day jobs. There’s Megan and Ethan, who tore through the wall separating their rooms after they began dating. Plus another couple, Chris and Jill. And the oldest resident, Jim, fell for Lili, 32, during one loft Thanksgiving; they now share a room, and she’s pregnant with their child—whose imminent arrival will bring about their departure.
The rent is cheap ($600 per person and $800 per room-sharing couple); the temperature, a challenge (two hulking, costly gas heaters try to fend off the winter drafts, but body warmth, everyone agrees, works better); the vibe, no longer quite so Mancamp. There’s now a noise curfew, designated (if oft-ignored) cleaning days, and an indoor garden. It’s practically adult. They share know-how, job opportunities, and a washer-dryer.
“This sounds so lame, but I just feel like there’s been a lot more sensitive, open communication,” says Shah as a loftmate pretends to pour a beer over his head. “There’s no sarcasm. No dick-waving.” But at the end of the day, there are still twelve people living in one apartment, and “sometimes you’re like, I envisioned soaking in the tub and having a quiet night, but there’s noise rock in the common space,” says Megan, whom the original loft boys nicknamed Wendy Mom. “So you put in your earplugs, and you share.”