THE HUMAN HABITAT:
Sharing Space in Brooklyn;
15 People, One Loft
By Colin Moynihan
In August 1993, Beth Rollins, Morgan Meis and five friends rented part of the second floor of a former factory warehouse next to the East River in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The 1,800-square-foot space with 14-foot ceilings, for which they paid $1,000 per month, had no dividing walls; the only source of running water was a slop sink. That fall, the seven slept on futons in the middle of the vast room. Five years and 36 roommates later, Rollins and company have expanded their empire to include the entire 5,500-square-foot floor, building a dozen sizable bedrooms (for which roommates pay $350 to $450 per month), a living room, a library, a darkroom, an exercise room, a laundry room, two kitchens and two and a half bathrooms. “This place is kind of like an open-admissions university,” says Rollins. “Anyone can come and hang out here.” To keep the house running, each roommate pays a particular bill or oversees some aspect of shopping or cleaning. They chip in money for staples and store individual items in marked plastic bags. The residents commonly borrow toiletries (and clothes) from one another and rely on a shared willingness to compromise rather than a formal code to settle disputes. A few surly sorts have been asked to leave, but Rollins has been surprised by how well her experiment in communal living has turned out. “People have been trained to live as couples or nuclear families,” she says, “but I’m really proud of building a community and life style that is different from anything else.”
Yumiko Yata, 25. Originally from Tokyo, she studies fashion at F.I.T. in Manhattan and hopes to become a designer. Former girlfriend of Jun.
Lesley-Ann Brown, 26. A Brooklyn-born friend of Morgan’s from college, she is a literary agent’s assistant. (No relation to Jason or Steve!)
Jennifer Bruski, 23. A recent transplant from Baltimore, she’s looking around for work. She moved in after becoming romantically involved with Toshi.
Dina Krasmann, 27. Newly arrived from Lisbon, she just landed an office job at an international recording label.
Toshi Yano, 26. He is an aspiring musician from Washington who works at the Film Forum in Manhattan. A friend of Morgan’s from college — and Jennifer’s beau. One of the original seven roommates.
Michael Chenevert, 28. A Detroit native, he moved to New York to pursue acting and has had walk-ons on soaps (“The Guiding Light,” “One Life to Live”); currently waits tables at a Mexican joint. Old friend of Lesley-Ann’s.
Jason Brown, 25. He is a Long Island-born graphic designer who set up the loft’s darkroom and “computer room.” Son of Doc, he is an electrical and plumbing whiz.
Benjamin Bomholtz, 28. A part-time chef who hails from Copenhagen, he shares a room with Lesley-Ann, his girlfriend. Hopes to head back soon to Scandinavia (with Lesley-Ann).
Jason Nunez, 22. Originally from Trinidad, this former mathematics prodigy currently works for an insurance company in Manhattan.
Jason Smalls, 26. A childhood friend of Morgan’s from Los Angeles, he freelances as a courier and graphic illustrator around the city.
Steve (Doc) Brown, 56. Jason’s dad, from Long Island, is on work release from prison and has a job at a home-supply store. Knows reflexology; hence his nickname.
Jun Takeshita, 30. Originally from Tokyo, he is a punk guitarist for a band called the Negatones. Works by day at a music store. Former boyfriend of Yumiko.
Morgan Meis, 26. Los Angeles-born, he is a co-founder (with his girlfriend, Beth) of the loft. Now a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy at the New School.
Jeanne Marie Bauer, 26. A Virginian (and high-school friend of Beth’s), she worked until recently as a legal assistant at Miramax. A temp for now.
Beth Rollins, 27. This Virginian was a co-founder of the commune (with Morgan) in 1993. “We got sick of living in the East Village, having a small apartment and paying high rent,” she says. (Photograph by Evan Kafka)