How much can be done with 250 square feet?
Gray Burton lives in mini-Versailles
Champion hoarders, this is what to show your wives
Astonishing item tomorow in the Real Estate section p4 where Constance Rosenblum in Living Small, Decorating Large details the remarkable studio apartment of one Gray Burton, 25, who says he is delighted to pay $1350 a month for a tiny studio apartment on Ludlow Street directly above the Darkroom, a nightclub of some sort which sends up floor pounding rhythms and noisy revelers in the street to lull him to sleep.
Burton is happily ensconced amid glittering bric a brac and furnishings fit for a royal palace, which he has somehow jammed into a space of 250 square feet, which arithmetic indicates is a rectangle of 16 x 16 ft, or equivalent. “Oh it’s small”, exclaimed his grandmother, who slept on the couch with the skinny whippet Milkshake also in residence, while his parents, visiting at the same time, slept in his bed, while he curled up under the oak table.
Burton is a skilled cabinetmaker who put together a large mirror from Ikea mirror tiles and a frame he made, and built a pair of end tables from walnut, ash, cocobolo and padauk, steam bent into curly multicolored strips like taffy.
So what does the future hold for Gray? Presumably he will get claustrophobia at some point, but when? Where will his collecting find storage space now, if it continues? He deserves a larger place, no doubt about it.
For the moment, though, he stands supreme as having proved that even a tiny Manhattan studio can express a fantasy of over the top glitter, and that hoarding can be sublime.
Living Small, Decorating Large
By CONSTANCE ROSENBLUM
AS a child growing up in Hillsborough, a historic community in the heart of the North Carolina tobacco country, Gray Burton slept in a lime-green bedroom beneath a bright purple comforter. Mardi Gras beads dangled from the headboard and African masks stared balefully from his walls. (His older brother, who went on to become a professional fisherman, outfitted his room with the stuffed remains of the turkeys, deer, ducks and bobcat he had shot.)
During Mr. Burton’s years at the Rhode Island School of Design, from which he graduated in 2008, his apartments in Providence were more notable for his collection of chameleons than for glitz. But soon after moving to New York four summers ago, he began creating a remarkably vibrant environment in the 250-square-foot space on Ludlow Street that he rents for $1,350 a month.
“Phenomenal, no?” said Mr. Burton, who is 25 and a publicist for Gilt Groupe, a Web site that caters to luxury-seeking bargain hunters. “I’ve been here nearly three years, and I still can’t believe what a great deal I have.”
The space, on the second floor of a century-old tenement, retains its original molding, not to mention what appears to be the original shower, and the location places Mr. Burton in the throbbing heart of the Lower East Side club district. His apartment sits directly above the entrance to Darkroom, and down the block are Pink Pony and Max Fish, a celebrity magnet whose patrons have included Lady Gaga and Jake Gyllenhaal.
“I never go to those places,” Mr. Burton said. “But up here in my little crow’s nest” — he invariably describes his apartment this way — “I feel the energy. When I go to bed, I can feel the beat of the club downstairs.” The sound of revelers milling outside his window lulls him to sleep.
When Mr. Burton arrived, the apartment resembled a bare white box. But like a squirrel hoarding nuts for the winter, he had been preparing for this moment for years, stashing furniture and decorative items in his parents’ house and in friends’ apartments, and carting family heirlooms from place to place. He also shopped obsessively, trolling eBay and secondhand stores for crystal goblets, bone china, candelabra, chandeliers and much more, all the while awaiting the perfect setting in which to showcase his acquisitions.
“When I moved here from Williamsburg, where I’d been renting an apartment,” he said, “I literally pushed a cart over the Williamsburg Bridge about 20 times in a week to move all of my breakable crystal and china, because I didn’t trust movers.”
Entering his apartment is like stepping into a Fabergé egg. Call it shabby chic, call it bohemian elegance, but whatever name you choose, visitors invariably blink and catch their breath, dazzled by the glitter.
Many pieces come from the John Derian Company in the East Village, a decorative arts shop where Mr. Burton worked shortly after moving to New York. The store is the source of wall hangings of skeletons made of Mr. Derian’s signature decoupage; a butcher block so heavy that five people were needed to lug it up the stairs; and an armoire from Eastern Europe. Its owner likes to think that the initials M and B carved on either side of the doors stand for Mr. Burton.
EBay has yielded especially rich treasures, among them Baccarat crystal goblets for every drink imaginable — port, old-fashioned, Scotch, Champagne, red and white wine — that light up a cabinet in the living room. Shelves hold an impressive collection of flow blue china, made by 19th-century English potters and named for the way the glaze blurred or “flowed” during firing.
From Mr. Burton’s parents back in North Carolina came a chest that was a wedding present and the plump red armchairs from their sitting room. His beloved Aunt Sue, his partner in antiquing who died last year, was a special inspiration. He has the miniature blue teacups that sat on her sun porch and her set of Lenox china — dinner, lunch and salad plates for 12 — in the delicate blue autumn pattern.
Lighting is a particular passion. Mr. Burton is proud of his flickering Edison bulbs and describes himself as obsessed with his chandeliers and candelabra. “I’ve always been a candle person,” he explained. “And I spent $1,600 for a Baccarat candelabra — a month and a half rent.”
A black iron candelabrum was a gift from Aunt Sue, who bought it with him in North Carolina and stored it for a time in her house so as to hide the purchase from his mother.
Along with high-end pieces, the décor includes oddities, among them a fox skin mounted near the door (someday, perhaps, to be made into an overcoat for Milkshake, Mr. Burton’s Italian greyhound puppy); a weathered steel rug beater as handsome as a piece of sculpture; and a ball of red fluff that he snagged in Macy’s when it fell off a woman’s hat.
In making this minute space work, it helps that Mr. Burton is flexible. He brushes his teeth in the shower and uses the one dollhouse-size sink for both shaving and washing dishes. It helps, too, that he is immensely handy. He enclosed a checkerboard of reflecting tiles from Ikea in a wooden quilting frame to create a mirror that seems to double the size of the living room. He made the dust ruffle that hides the stuff under the bed. He combined an old board and a typewriter stand to create a bar atop a radiator.
A skilled cabinetmaker, he built a pair of end tables from walnut, ash, cocobolo and padauk, steam-bent into curvy multicolored strips that look like pieces of luscious taffy.
Mr. Burton’s apartment has proved surprisingly elastic. “Oh, it’s small!” his grandmother exclaimed when she and his parents paid a visit in December. But she gamely shared the couch with Milkshake while Mr. Burton’s parents slept in his bed beneath throws made of Indian saris, and he curled up under the oak table that was a gift from his boyfriend, a onetime Goldman Sachs banker turned talent agent.
Mr. Burton’s grandmother remained a presence even after she headed back home, thanks to a photo of her wearing a jaunty red beret and another of her with her twin sister. The two wear matching shirtwaist dresses they had made themselves. And his parents are still bragging about their son’s apartment to friends in Hillsborough. “My parents said that knowing me, it was everything they expected,” he said.
A “shirtwaist dress” is a blouse with buttons down the front.
So here we have a prize specimen of hoarding done in a manner which serves as an example to all subject to the syndrome (most people who live for more than a few years in New York City without a house to put things in ie a small apartment not built to accomodate the life of a grown up) that they can quote to others who complain that they are following in the steps of the Collyer brothers.
To them of course their collection is a museum of objects whose value may only be apparent to the knowledgeable ie them rather than scornful wives who think only of how they will throw things out when they (their husbands) are not looking.
Steve Hartman of CBS News did an amusing On The Road clip on February 24th this year (2012) when he went over the mementos he had kept in his basement with his pretty new wife whose automatic Throw It Out attitude was predictable, and undented by the fact that he discovered that a Toledo Mud Hens football jersey he had acquired in 1986 was worth money, owing to the success of the Oscar nominated movie Moneyball with Brad Pitt wearing the same number 26 and name Billy Beane, a failed player who went on to become the Oakland A’s general manager and “changed the whole philosophy of the game”.
His wife Andrea was unimpressed, however, so that even though he had the jersey farmed he still had to keep it down in the basement.