In early March, Gabriela Vieira and Matthew Hargraves moved to a new one-bedroom apartment in Midwood, Brooklyn. The couple, both 25, had lived in an older building in Gravesend for the past few years. They were planning a big wedding in July and looked forward to upgrading to something more luxurious for the next chapter of their lives together.
The best part of their new home, by the way, wasn't the dishwasher or the private patio, although they've both been using them every day since the pandemic started. Instead, it was the courtyard of the building where a wedding for 10 people was held on July 18.
"It was the day I told everyone I was getting married," said Mr Hargraves, who intended to meet 150-200 people with Ms. Vieira before the coronavirus forced her to abandon those plans. "We planned to share it for so long. I didn't want to lose that day."
"It took a long time," said Ms. Vieira, who made friends with Mr. Hargraves in 2007 when they attended the same high school on Staten Island. They started dating in 2012. "Without the courtyard we would have been in my parents' backyard. Which is definitely not as scenic."
The couple were looking for a new home last winter. Mr. Hargraves in particular was keen to shorten his hour and a half commute to Midtown, where he worked as a dealer for J.P. Morgan works. But they didn't want to leave South Brooklyn because Ms. Vieira teaches seventh grade English at Marine Park. They also liked the area and the proximity to Staten Island, where their parents still live.
While searching StreetEasy, they came across the Vitagraph, a development that opened this year on the grounds of an early 20th century film studio. It was near the Q train that would cut Mr. Hargraves' walk to 45 minutes.
There was a gym in the building too, a huge plus for Mr. Hargraves, who went to a neighborhood gym after a long commute at the end of a 12-14 hour day at work. (Since the gym is closed, they took walks in the courtyard and Ms. Vieira did yoga on the patio.) And while the rent was much higher than what they paid for her spacious, if no-frills, one bedroom in Gravesend – $ 2,600 a month versus $ 1,600 a month – was relatively affordable compared to the cost of renting new buildings in other parts of Brooklyn.
"We looked at some apartments with similar amenities in downtown Brooklyn, but that was more for our money," said Ms. Vieira.
They decided to pay an additional $ 250 a month for parking so they wouldn't have to drive around looking for a place when they got back from family dinner at 11:00 p.m., which is not uncommon.
They were so excited – and distracted – by the movement that the pandemic outbreak was barely noticeable. "I said, 'Great – a two week quarantine – we'll take care of everything," said Ms. Vieira.
$ 2,600 | Midwood, Brooklyn
Gabriela Vieira, 25, and Matthew Hargraves, 25
Occupation: Mr. Hargraves is a dealer with J. P. Morgan; Ms. Vieira is an English teacher in a middle school in Marine Park, Brooklyn.
A building with a few advantages: Little did they know how useful the dishwasher, private deck, and washer and dryer in the unit would be. Or that the courtyard of the building would be the location of their wedding.
Meeting the neighbors during a pandemic: "We were starting to see the building fill up, but we didn't really get the chance to sit down and talk to people," said Hargraves. "The people are friendly, but there was a lot less neighborly conversation."
After it became clear that both of them would work at home for months, Mr. Hargraves set up a workstation in the living room with multiple computer monitors. Ms. Vieira works in various other locations in the apartment.
"The only time it gets tough we both have meetings," she said. "But as a public school teacher, I didn't have a desk at work, so I'm used to being creative."
They had debated whether to get a two-bedroom bedroom (Mr. Hargraves' preference) or a bedroom with a terrace (Mrs. Vieira's).
"As you can see, we have a terrace so you know who won," said Hargraves, adding that he was pleased with her decision. “The two bedrooms were beautiful, but I see them out there every day, eating, reading, napping. The terrace was definitely worth every dollar. "
"I just love being outside and not feeling cooped up," said Ms. Vieira. "I usually go to the beach or hike in the summer."
They've spent so much time at home that they've also done a lot of things they might not otherwise have: coloring an office, learning how to put up shelves (Ms. Vieira's father would have joined before the pandemic), and expanding her cooking repertoire through out the five or six standbys they'd gone through before dinner.
"We've never been particularly fond of cooking," Ms. Vieira said, adding that they were happy to make good use of the high-end appliances in their new kitchen, even though they still haven't figured out what to do with it the second sink.
Before moving in, they made a list of all the restaurants they wanted to try in their new neighborhood. You have just worked your way through, with al fresco and takeaway meals.
The research was also useful in planning her small wedding in July. For example, they knew they could call ahead to order at Di Fara Pizza, the Midwood store that draws crowds who wait for hours to get a slice of pizza. But the rice balls they served as starters came from an old favorite: Bassett Caterers on Avenue X in Sheepshead Bay.
They were sitting on their sofa looking out over the courtyard as they desperately tried to plan a small wedding reception when they realized the courtyard would be a perfect place for it. "We felt we had nothing to lose and we emailed management," said Ms. Vieira. "The facility manager responded within an hour and was thrilled to honor the request."
On the morning of the wedding, Ms. Vieira put on the $ 100 dress she bought online for the occasion. In their one bedroom apartment, it was difficult to maintain the "first sight" tradition of the groom not seeing the bride until she walks down the aisle, but somehow they managed it.
Her guests, who had been quarantined for two weeks before the ceremony, all came to help. Ms. Vieira's brother-in-law took photos, a cousin took charge of zooming around 60 guests who weren't there in person, and their mothers set up the chairs and the flower arch that Ms. Vieira had built for the occasion.
The couple are still planning a big wedding in New Jersey next summer if the pandemic allows, but they're glad they decided to get married in a small ceremony this year.
"It was really the only day at that time when everyone came together without being socially distant," said Ms. Vieira. "It's strange to say that our masked wedding felt normal, but just to have everyone together and celebrate at a time that feels very dark and gloomy …"
"It was a big deal," said Mr. Hargraves. "Our wedding next year is definitely something I'm looking forward to, but I think both days will always be special."