A surprise for two “creatives”: an artists’ loft in the East Village
“It was a very lax process.”
It’s not something you usually hear in stories about finding the perfect apartment. But for Amanda Paulsen and her partner, Peter Zusman, that’s what happened – a viewing with a brief conversation, and the next day it was all set.
âAt first, I felt like it was too good to be true,â Ms. Paulsen said. “We called it our ‘Covid deal’, but then we found out that the guy before the pandemic had the same rent.”
They knew something else had to happen when they signed the lease to pay $ 3,200 per month for a sunny 1,000 square foot loft on C Avenue in the East Village, with a backyard and a basement. “When we first saw him, we were trying to cover up our reactions, trying to face him,” Zusman said.
They wore masks which helped, but it was still difficult because the deal just kept getting better. âAt first it was ‘Oh, by the way, there’s a basement,’â Ms. Paulsen said. “Then it was ‘Oh, by the way, utilities are included’ – she kept adding these nuggets of information.”
The woman who showed the apartment was Romina Herrera Malatesta, photographer and the only other tenant in the three-story building. As a friend of the landlord, Alexis Borges, she was accused of finding tenants for the first floor, and she immediately liked Ms. Paulsen and Mr. Zusman. âThey seemed to have good taste and style – and they’re cute,â she said. “Most importantly, they help keep the building a creative space.”
Ms Paulsen, 39, is a jewelry designer who for several years has soldered in a basement in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. Mr. Zusman, 53, is a painter who previously lived in a 300 square foot apartment with around 200 canvases. Most artists looking for a workspace they can also live in were kicked out of the Manhattan real estate market decades ago; Mr. Zusman and Ms. Paulsen know they’ve come across a rarity.
âThe history of this building is the work of artists,â Ms. Paulsen said. “Romina and the owner are working to keep it that way.”
Ms Herrera Malatesta and her late partner Christophe Kutner, also a photographer, once used the first floor apartment as a studio. Until Mr Kutner died in 2016 from liver cancer, they occupied the entire building. This was the place where they settled – with Lou Lou, Mrs. Herrera Malatesta’s 15-year-old daughter – and it was the place where they made their art.
Lou Lou and his mother have adjusted to life without Mr. Kutner, but he’s still part of the space he shared with them. Ms. Herrera Malatesta works through her archives, organizing not only Mr. Kutner’s work but also her private collection – over 1,000 images in total. âShe was such a special person,â she said. “I’m trying to keep her memory alive.”
It helps to know that there are two other artists downstairs who understand how much the building means to her. As Ms. Paulsen said, âThis is her baby. “
The first floor, where Mrs Paulsen and Mr Zusman live, was renovated before they moved in – with refurbished wood floors, white walls, modern appliances – but the rest of the building has remained largely intact for decades.
The second and third floors, where Ms. Herrera Malatesta and Lou Lou live, have several fireplaces (one still works), vintage light fixtures, and antique furniture shipped from France. âIt looks like a bohemian palace,â Ms. Herrera Malatesta said. âI don’t know how many photoshoots we did. Every corner of the building has been featured in a magazine.
$ 3,200 | Lower East Side
Amanda Paulsen, 39; Peter Zusman, 53
Occupation: Ms. Paulsen is a jewelry designer and the founder of Mana Made; she also works as an arts management consultant. Mr. Zusman is a painter and wholesale wine representative.
The research method: âI tried the StreetEasy thing, but it didn’t go so well,â Ms. Paulsen said. “Just a lot of generic places in high rise buildings.” She eventually turned to the Listings Project, which she describes as “a truly magical space – you get the good, the bad, and the weird.”
Favorite neighborhood spots: Mr. Zusman runs along the East River; Ms. Paulsen searches for the community gardens that dot the neighborhood. “And we both love to eat oysters at the Summit Bar,” said Ms Paulsen, whose father was a clam harvester.
Ms. Paulsen hopes the building’s rich history will spur new artistic growth for her and Mr. Zusman.
His first successes in selling jewelry were at craft shows and pop-up shops. Then came in-store placements and wholesale orders. Now, she sends her design molds to a large-scale jewelry maker in Midtown Manhattan and another in Los Angeles, and longs for her own storefront.
Mr. Zusman, who said he had “every conceivable job day,” continues to work as a sales representative for a wine distributor when he’s not painting. âI fell into it a few years ago,â he said. âWhen it happened, I was like, ‘Where has my whole adult life been?’ For me, it’s the perfect symmetry with being a creative.
Many of his patrons are within walking distance – ârock ‘n roll bars trying to improve their wine gameâ – and he enjoys spending time getting to know the locals. Despite the influx of real estate capital over the past decades, he believes in the artistic richness of the Lower East Side.
âThere are still artists here,â he says. ” We cling. “
But Mr. Zusman admits he’s one of the few painters on Avenue C who can get out of bed and go straight to work. âAnytime I get inspiration, I don’t have to take the metro or drive to my space – and by the time I get there, I’ve lost all inspiration,â he said. -he declares. âI like to wake up in the middle of the night and jump out of bed. I like this immediacy.
It is perhaps fitting that one of New York City’s almost extinct features, the spacious artist’s studio, endures in this particular building.
Before Mr. Zusman and Mrs. Paulsen – and before Mrs. Herrera Malatesta and Mr. Kutner – two other artists lived in the building: David McDermott and Peter McGough. Known as McDermott & McGough, the performance artist duo presented themselves as two dandies who concluded that WWI had ruined the world by ushering in modernity, and therefore insisted on living as if it was the late 19th century.
When Mr. Borges bought the building from the men in the 1990s, the only electricity was a legally required light bulb in the hallway; there were no outlets. Mr. McDermott and Mr. McGough, who were part of the 1980s art scene, used a cooler as a refrigerator and the fireplace for warmth. Mr. McGough wrote a memoir about his life in the building during those years: âI’ve seen the future and I’m not going.
Fortunately for Ms. Paulsen and Mr. Zusman, traces of this vintage New York survive.