“Apartment Envy,” from newyorktoday.com’s real estate section, is an online version of the what-do-you-pay, how-did-you-find-it, what’s-wrong-with-it game New Yorkers constantly play. The weekly feature provides a keyhole view into the city’s apartments but also dishes the dirt you really want to know about them. Slide shows and videos show apartments as people actually live in them, complete with clutter, exercise bicycles, tacky art, and mismatched furniture. All this is supplemented by information you don’t usually see in shelter mags, such as rent, renovation costs, and square footage. The subhead often lists the vital stats right off the bat: “2,500-feet DUMBO loft, wood floors, 14-foot ceilings, rent under $2,500.”
The current column, on Dr. Robert Levy’s apartment, is a perfect example of the feature’s charms. You couldn’t quite describe his pad as kitschy—it’s too classy for that, with great bones and tons of light—but it’s almost cartoonishly gay in its decor. The apartment is filled with a checklist of stereotypical accoutrements: chaise longue. Topiary. Flowery chintz-covered armchairs. A trompe-l’oeil painting on the bedroom ceiling that would not look out of place in a New Jersey banquet hall. And as a clincher, the owner of the large Chelsea duplex poses for his photos in a white tank top and athletic pants, presumably to show off his gym-buffed body. No design magazine would let someone with such wonderfully bad taste flash the hash in their pages. Every place has a narrative: the two best friends who bought adjacent apartments and combined them into one. An apartment that seems haunted by the spirits of four servants who died while trapped in the elevator. A loft that was formerly a brothel that is now populated by international filmmakers. One apartment had no front door, stove, toilet, or hot water when the resident first moved in, but he has slowly turned it into a home. “I can’t believe I took it, but I was piss-poor,” he says. This kind of refreshingly anti-Architectural Digest tone is a trademark of the column.
Sadly, the column is currently in limbo. The feature has been scaled back from a weekly feature to a monthly one. (In fact, when I first inquired about the column, its creator, Laura Shin, a producer at New York Today, e-mailed me saying it had been discontinued because of layoffs and budget-cutting. She later told me this was not the case.)
Here are some of the gems that you’ll see in the archive: One column features a paralegal’s spare $964-a-month fourth-floor walkup in Hell’s Kitchen, decorated with IKEA furniture and pictures cut out of magazines. Another shows an apartment with a jerry-rigged shower in the kitchen. There’s a loft crammed with found objects and homemade artwork. And not a single vase of cut tulips in any of them.