10 Years and Counting: Her Coronary heart Belongs to the Higher West Aspect

10 Years and Counting: Her Heart Belongs to the Upper West Side

A framed poster-size pennant rests on the mantel above the fireplace in Lily Kaplan’s studio apartment. The rectangle of felt is a reproduction of a vintage book cover for Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own.” It’s a focal point for the space, but more so it’s emblematic of what the home means to Ms. Kaplan.

She’s been in the apartment since May 2021. “A risky time to move,” she said. “In the months before you could get great Covid deals, and then they were fading.”

But when her roommate decided to leave their shared two-bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side, Ms. Kaplan didn’t have a choice.

Most of her friends were either downtown or in Brooklyn, but she didn’t want to leave her neighborhood. She had been on the Upper West Side for nearly a decade; it was the first place she landed after arriving from Newton, Mass., to attend Barnard College — and she was attached.

“I get a lot of grief from my friends and colleagues for living up here,” she said. “My friends joke that I’m 28-going-on-70.”

Having always lived with roommates, it was the first time she set out to find a place on her own. She was settling into herself, building a career at Imagine Entertainment — developing books and print journalism into documentaries — and she felt ready.

Initially she assumed living alone might mean giving up her beloved neighborhood, and she focused her search on the less expensive destinations that had lured her friends — but she couldn’t resist peeking at Upper West Side listings. She was surprised when possibilities emerged and even more surprised when she found “the library.”

“Everybody’s apartment in the building has a name,” she said. “Mine’s the library.” That’s because her studio apartment in the brownstone where she lives was, presumably, the library when the structure was a single-family home. She has neighbors in “the master bedroom” and “maid’s quarters.”

In addition to the (nonoperational) fireplace, Ms. Kaplan’s studio has remnants of bookshelves throughout and a bench seat at a bay window, overlooking the street — perfect for reading.

She was struck by the space the first time she walked in. “It was Nora Ephron — right away,” she said. Which means a lot, coming from the person who professes to have seen “You’ve Got Mail” somewhere in the neighborhood of “a trillion times.”

There was so much light coming through the tall windows framing the bench seat, the original dark wood shutters and ornate trim. “I was drawn to the place, which I never expected because in your first solo apartment in New York we’re always ready to concede so much — in so many different capacities.”

Still, Ms. Kaplan focused on balancing her gleeful reaction with clear thinking. “I didn’t want to be impulsive,” she said. “In the past, with roommates, their opinions can be powerful. If they’re swaying one way or another, it can inform the way you feel.”

It was a big decision and one that she would have to make on her own.

After a few days of going back over the details, her initial enthusiasm was confirmed — and she was grateful to have had the time to apply the extra scrutiny. “I knew I loved it, but it was so shocking to me that I found someplace that I felt this way about,” she said. “I thought this is too good to be true.”

$2,250 | Upper West Side

Occupation: Head of Development, Documentaries at Imagine Entertainment

Favorite Projects: Two films that Ms. Kaplan worked on and is particularly proud of are “Julia,” a biopic about Julia Child, and “We Feed People,” about the chef José Andrés and his disaster relief nonprofit, World Central Kitchen.

Seasonal Discoveries: Ms. Kaplan recently experienced her first full spring in her apartment and made a gratifying discovery in early April: “I can see a tree fully blooming from my bed. So now it’s an even happier place to be.”

But it was true: She had finally found a room of her own — the significance of which went beyond the artistic implications for a creative person like Ms. Kaplan. There were practical ramifications too. “I was anticipating feeling lonely or feeling scared to live alone,” she said, “especially as a young woman.”

Part of the decision to sign the lease was not just her instant affection for the apartment but also the nature of the block on which she would be living. “I think it’s important to take into account the feeling of the street outside your building, knowing you’re going to walk alone a lot at night. You have to ask yourself: Are there other people around? Do you feel like you could protect yourself if you needed to? — whatever that might mean. These things take on a new meaning when you no longer have roommates.”

Ms. Kaplan said she’s done much better at living with these considerations than she anticipated. “Because I live alone,” she said, “I can dictate the rhythm of each day.”

She also decided single-handedly how the apartment would look and feel. The walls are filled with artwork from women who’ve inspired Ms. Kaplan, from well-known names to family members. There are the stained-glass windowpanes from her mother and six quilted squares from her grandmother alongside a drawing of Joan Didion by the artist Joana Avillez, and another drawing by the graphic novelist Leanne Shapton. “Shapton’s work has been totally unaffordable to me,” Ms. Kaplan said, “but I emailed her once and asked if she had any scraps and she sold me a draft of a drawing, which was really, really nice of her.”

The world outside Ms. Kaplan’s new home was already familiar since the Upper West Side is the only neighborhood she’s known since the age of 18. She has her laundromat, her favorite cafe and market — and now she has good neighbors too. “Everyone’s been so friendly,” she said, noting that she received a rooftop dinner invite within a few weeks of moving in. “I’ve gotten to know my neighbors and I feel like it’s part of the magic of this building.”

There are several fellow young professionals in the building and that helps contribute to Ms. Kaplan’s comfort. “When you don’t know anyone and you only have one set of keys, you’re sort of screwed,” she said. “It’s important to feel that there’s someone you can look to for help, if you need it.”

Ms. Kaplan said the move into the apartment signified a new phase in her life — a transition to adulthood. “I never realized,” she said, “despite having lived in New York for 10 years, that you could want to spend time at home. That’s not a sensation I’m used to feeling in the city.”

Working from her apartment during the pandemic, she does a lot of reading at her window seat, a lot of video calls too, and sometimes she stares down at the action on the street long after the Zoom session has ended. The light hits just right and she’s grateful for where she is.


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