In 2011, Jad Abumrad, creator and host of the syndicated radio show and podcast, Radiolab, won a MacArthur grant, better known to the admirers and envious as the Genius Grant.
Fittingly, Mr. Abumrad used a portion of the $ 500,000 prize money to build a studio on the top floor of the house in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, which he shares with his wife, Karla Murthy, a documentary filmmaker, and the couple's sons. Amil, 11, and Tej, 8.
"It actually costs a lot of money to do something soundproofed," said Abumrad, 47. "I couldn't afford full soundproofing, so I have a studio that is mostly soundproofed. I can still hear the kids screaming in the background. "
To exacerbate the problem, Mr. Abumrad also failed to put a lock on the studio door – no, he cannot begin to explain his thinking – "so my children rush in and interrupt every recording."
Wait a minute. Inadequate sound insulation? No castle and children at large? So much for this to be a brilliant scholarship. "A so-called genius scholarship," sighed Mr. Abumrad. "Yes I know."
Before the pandemic, he was able to avoid such distractions by using the facilities of the WNYC, which produces his show. Nowadays he prepares himself for the barge: He works full-time at home on "Radiolab", a show that is celebrated for its clever mix of story and sound, as well as on a new show for Apple Music to be named.
But there is a distinct advantage. Since Mr. Abumrad is on site, he doesn't have to worry about the consequences of Ms. Murthy's hobby, which is now almost under control: moving the furniture.
"For a while it was a joke that every time I got home the living room got a whole new look," he said. “A couch would be against another wall. Not only would things be reorganized so I would hit my shin, but huge furniture that was on one floor would now be on another floor. "
"Karla is quite a small person," he added, "but throughout our relationship she has been able to move 300-pound objects up and down stairs."
Jad Abumrad, 47, and Karla Murthy, 47
Jobs: He is the creator and presenter of the Peabody Award-winning radio show and podcast "Radiolab". She is a documentary filmmaker.
A divided house: “One of the things we tried to do was make the bedrooms smaller and the common areas bigger,” Ms. Murthy said.
The two met as freshmen at Oberlin College, Ohio, but only became a couple last year. After graduation, they moved to Brooklyn and initially lived in separate apartments. Their first joint residence was an illegal sublet on the top floor of an industrial building in Williamsburg. Friends called it "the K and J Party Palace".
"We'd have large gatherings where people could share their work in progress," said Ms. Murthy, 47, whose first documentary, The Place That Makes Us, about the efforts of community activists to rebuild Youngstown, Ohio (Mr. Abumrad served as executive producer), will air on PBS next year. “Jad would share early versions of electronic music compositions. I would try art video ideas. And our friends would share everything from puppet shows to short films and music. "
The couple bought their home in Fort Greene, a mid-19th century Italian brownstone, in 1999 with the help of Abumrad's mother Nada and father Naji (a doctor whose friendship with Dolly Parton spurred the star to earn a dollar) to finance Moderna's coronavirus vaccine).
“Half of the beams had been cut and the house sagged towards the center. It was a complete dump, ”said Abumrad. But here and there there were some of the original plaster moldings. It was a favorable sign. The slim, curved mirror hung between the windows in the living room.
"The mirror immediately made us fall in love with the place," remembers Abumrad. "Somehow we were deeply connected to the original state of the house, to the past."
Since purchasing the house they originally shared with Mr Abumrad's cousin and a friend (there's still an apartment on the garden level that visitors can crash into), the couple have planned two renovations. The first, some sort of guerrilla rehab that required multiple nightly trips to the Home Depot, was done cheaply. The second in 2013 was more extensive and thoughtful, including creating Mr Abumrad's studio, an office for Ms. Murthy, a washroom and bedroom for her second son, who had just been born. They blew out the back wall of the kitchen and installed a huge picture window overlooking a deck and a birch tree.
"You only look out the window when you have breakfast and you feel like you're in a tree house," said Abumrad. "It's almost my favorite thing in the house."
As a final touch, they extended the room-high table that runs along another kitchen wall.
"When we worked with the architects they said, 'Since you already have this, we should just expand it' and we really liked that idea," said Ms. Murthy. The expanded interface offers plenty of space for the kids to do math homework and for the adults to list tasks and schedules, and sketch their ideas for stories.
The decor is in part a nod to the couple's past. After Renovation # 2, "We wanted to find some pieces of industry that remind us of the early Williamsburg days in the attic," said Ms. Murthy. Hence the breakfast table. But the couple also wanted to honor their legacy.
"Jad is Lebanese and I'm half Filipino and half Indian and we wanted the room to reflect our cultures and the mishmash of who we are," Ms. Murthy said.
There are family photos on a stand and on the wall. Vintage National Geographic magazines are stacked on the Yamaha post (everyone in the family plays) near a wooden Levantine box and Hindu statues.
The curved wicker chairs called to Mrs. Murthy because they reminded her of the furniture in her children's home. She found a Crate & Barrel leather sofa in a colonial Indian print fabric. "We didn't want something to be too fussy," she said, "because we have two boys and because a lot of people come here."
The K and J Party Palace appears to be alive and well in a new location.
"We have had so many baby showers, wedding showers, weddings, birthday parties, and fundraisers from our friends here," Ms. Murthy said. “We want this home to be suitable for anyone who needs it. It should be a welcoming place for everyone who comes. "
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