nw3 to nyc

Observations on moving my family across the Atlantic

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Pools in the sky

What a great idea, a swimming pool on the top of a high rise building. Not something you’d see much of in the UK, but here in New York I thought there would be loads as it gets very hot in the summer. A funny piece by Gerald Eskenazi in this week’s New York Observer tells me that there are only 15 outside residential pools in New York. I am surprised.

How about something like this in the middle of NW3? Not sure the locals would approve!

blog pic 24

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Laundry levels

Level 1: you have a washer dryer in your own apartment. You are smug in your ability to wash whenever you like.

Level 2: you have a washer dryer in your building, probably in the basement but you don’t have to wait long because there are lots of machines and the facility is well run.

Level 3: like level 2 but you live in an older, less well run building and have to get up at 5am to beat the rush and get your stuff washed and dried before the masses descend.

Level 4: you have to save up all your laundry and hoik it to the laundrette in a canvas draw string bag with your name on a label and leave it with the person behind the counter and collect it later, paying by weight.

Level 5: you put your own laundry in the washing machine, move it into the dryer and watch the paint dry and thereby waste an entire morning of your life.

These are the New York laundry levels.

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Let there be light

One thing I’ve noticed since I’ve been in New York is the light. I never really thought about it in the UK, but here in New York the sheer volume of high rise development has had a massive impact on light. It’s almost as if there is light poverty here. If you are lower down in a high rise apartment building you pay less rent and you get less light because you are surrounded by others. You are more likely to be looking across at another high rise building and for that you pay less. Conversely the higher up you are the more you pay and there is a premium for being at the top, in the penthouse. Purpose built apartment buildings tend to be at the end of streets, abutting the avenues, this then serves to create a light corridor along the many avenues going from north to south along the island of Manhattan. Pause whilst crossing an avenue and look south and then north you can see a remarkable feat of town planning with the straight, straight avenue forcing your eye skywards, seeking the light. The Manhattan town house, a 4-6 storey building, probably built around the beginning of the 20th Century, would have been the peak of housing achievement but now, I’m not so sure. Surrounded by other buildings – there is little free space here and if there is, it’s being built on – the reduction in light levels is huge. With a town house you generally get a small garden and the ones we saw when we looked for somewhere to live were so overlooked, so dark, it was just not worth it. Go closer to Central Park then the buildings seem to reduce in size, there is, I believe a real push from those living in the affluent neighbourhoods near the park to ensure that development is sympathetic and that means low rise. We didn’t appreciate the value of the light before we arrived but now that we’re here, living pretty high up, it’s great to bathe in the luxury of light.

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Property porn

I’m not sure how well used this phrase is in the UK and probably not at all here in the US. Property porn refers to the free glossy magazines that come through the letterbox showing all the amazing houses and flats that are completely unaffordable to normal people but I can’t help looking. I loved Fabric, a North London property magazine, with its lifestyle pieces, bought in articles with film stars and ridiculously priced property. I loved the Ham & High’s property supplement on a Thursday. My guilty pleasure at breakfast, leafing through the glossy pages, spotting properties I recognised in NW3 and choking on my tea as I saw the crazy prices. A mere £15 million for a house nearby, in its own one acre plot with a recommendation from the estate agent to knock it down and build your own – for that much money!? Anyhow, my replacement for this void in my life since moving to New York is the Real Estate section of the New York Times on a Sunday. It’s not glossy but it does a good line in what it calls “Big Ticket Sales’. Today’s is a mere $24.75 million (£15.3 million). A bargain as it was originally on the market at $32.75 million (£20 million) in 2008. Blimey. It is accompanied by a “Warmly renovated in homage to blue” – a stately six-story Upper East Side town house for a snip at $29.99 million (£18.6 million). I love the quote from the agent at the end of the article. “All the triple mint house have been sold out. There is not much inventory. That’s we can basically name a price”. But compared with the soon to be marketed penthouse on East 79th Street, which will offered at $50 million (£31 million), it’s a bargain and at least you get a whole house.

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Air, store, sea

It’s been a few years since we moved house, so moving to NYC was a great opportunity to declutter and reduce our stuff to a manageable amount. Well, thats what I thought before the packers arrived. Normally you get rid of the crud and pack the rest. Job done. Moving temporarily overseas means deciding: air, store, sea. Storing is pretty easy, we have a high rise flat in NYC so no need for garden stuff. Store. Anything electrical that likes a lot of power won’t work in the US, so store that. Box of CDs not opened in 3 years? Store – you never know (well, actually they will go the same way as my tapes, stored for years before being unceremoniously dumped in the tip) we might use them again. Unlikely. And various miscellaneous stuff we can’t quite part with but has no place in NYC. Air is hard. What does 70 cubic feet look like? A 3 seater sofa apparently. I have been eying mine up for weeks, imagining what I can’t do without for 2 weeks as the stuff being shipped takes 4-6 weeks to wander across the Atlantic. Turns out it’s a big pile of stuff that is thrown fairly randomly onto the 2 seater sofa in a ‘just in case’ approach to packing. I’m not sure I did a very good job there. And the rest gets packed beautifully by the 3 packers who have spent 2 days conscientiously wrapping everything in brown paper. And they are quick. I have put stuff down, thought ‘I’ll get that in a bit’ and it’s gone. Packed. I may have to confess to R that his jeans are somewhere safe and should arrive in January. And I’m pretty sure the rubbish bag is in there too.

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3.5 bath

A big difference between us and the Americans is our attitudes to toilets. We think it’s a bit of a novelty to have a separate toilet and the height of sophistication to have an en suite bathroom. In our search for an apartment in New York we discovered that every bedroom seems to require its own bathroom – maybe an American law dictates this? So instead of using the space for something useful like a study, they litter bathrooms out of fear of a moment of unnecessary grubbiness. Wandering around what felt like the millionth apartment, I thought I’d get used to this American phenomenon but no, it’s another bathroom! Ah well, at least it’s not another closet (that’s a cupboard to us).