From a Brooklyn Railroad Flat to a Three-Bedroom With Doors

For many years, Jen Brenneman’s two-bedroom railroad apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, was just perfect. She moved into the space with her two young sons in 2015, after separating from their father.

She loved that the apartment was large, with lots of natural light. And she loved that she could see everyone at all times.

“When we moved in, my sons were 2 and 6,” she said. “At those ages, you need to be able to make sure no one is eating soap or rubbing glue into the couch.”

Six years later, Daniel and Jed, now 8 and 12, no longer need constant supervision. Indeed, they would prefer not to be within her — or one another’s — sightlines at all times.

The railroad layout was also terrible for working from home, which Ms. Brenneman, a director of learning and development for a tech company, has been doing since the beginning of the pandemic. In the long line of rooms, there was just one glass door between the bedrooms, which offered little in the way of privacy or sound muffling.

For much of the past year, all three worked together in the kitchen area, resulting in a cacophony of Zooms. After school, Jed would play Xbox in the family room, and his shouts would carry through the tunnel of rooms to the opposite end of the apartment.

And those were at least happy shouts. Not infrequently, Ms. Brenneman would be interrupted by the sounds of combat between her sons. “They’re just very aggressive and physical,” she said. “It can be a hard age difference.”

The fighting, she believed, was tied to the way Covid had disrupted routines that previously provided space and structure. Not only was everyone at home a lot more than they had been before, but the boys’ schools, after-school programs and extracurricular programs were constantly stopping and starting because of the pandemic.

“I thought if each had their own rooms, they’d have a measure of control and that would help,” she said.

Around the beginning of the year, she started looking at rental listings and realized that prices had fallen during the pandemic and she could now afford a three-bedroom nearby for what she was paying, $2,500 a month. And if she bumped up her budget to $3,000 a month, she could get things she really wanted, like a washer and dryer and outdoor space.

Hoping to get a better feel for what was available, she went to an open house for a three-bedroom a few blocks away in January.

A newly renovated floor of a three-unit house, the apartment wasn’t much larger than her old one, but the layout was what they needed: three separate bedrooms, all with real doors, as well as a good-sized living room and kitchen. The apartment also had a washer and dryer and shared a backyard with the two other units in the building.

But at $3,300 a month, it was several hundred dollars over her budget. The landlord was also looking for a February 1 move-in, and her lease wasn’t up until April.

A few days later, however, the agent called, offering her the apartment for $3,150 a month with a March 1 move-in date.

“I was like, ‘Now that’s something I have to take seriously,’” Ms. Brenneman said. Still, after six years in their old apartment, it felt strange to take the first place she saw, so she scheduled showings at two other apartments. But the first was taken by someone else before she had a chance to visit, and she could tell from the photos that the second listing wasn’t as nice.

“I thought, ‘Why do I need to look at 17 apartments? Maybe it can be easy,’” she said.

Her sons, she added, were not hard to please. “These clowns will take anything with a door. They were like, ‘This is amazing!’”

$3,150 | Greenpoint, Brooklyn

Occupation: Ms. Brenneman is the director of learning and development for a tech company.
On the wish list: A new coffee table, now that her sons are old enough not to jump off it onto the sofa. “My old coffee table was a $20 tank I bought off Craigslist,” she said.
The new layout: “It was hard to anticipate the relative differences in space versus privacy,” she said. “But I thought more doors would ultimately be better.”
Staying in Greenpoint: “Not changing neighborhoods felt essential,” she said. “The move needed to be a stress relief, not a stress add.”

Her concerns about taking the first place she saw dissipated when everyone told her what a great deal it was. “Even my old landlord was like, ‘Well you have to move, you can’t pass that up,’” Ms. Brenneman said. (She tried unsuccessfully to find someone to take over her lease on the railroad apartment, and wound up paying rent on both places for March. But because she found the new apartment without a broker fee, she figured it all evened out.)

The location was also ideal: a few blocks closer to her younger son’s school and right around the corner from the new Greenpoint library.

They moved in at the beginning of March. Not changing neighborhoods, schools or school commutes made the transition easy.

And having three bedrooms has made life easier.

“I feel like they both get to flex a little bit,” Ms. Brenneman said, adding that the boys have seized on the opportunity to make their rooms their own. Jed has added an art desk and a gaming desk to his room, and Daniel bought free weights and a resistance strap for a home gym.

Ms. Brenneman has enjoyed being able to work from a desk in her room, rather than doing everything from the kitchen table. There is a dishwasher and air-conditioning, and they no longer have to drag a huge bag of laundry to the laundromat every two weeks.

But the backyard may be her favorite feature.

“I’ve always wanted to be able to sit outside, drink my coffee and read the newspaper,” said Ms. Brenneman, who had been making do with a beach chair on the fire escape at their old place. “Before, we lived close to Transmitter Park, and I used to think that we could go and sit in the park in the mornings, but by the time we mobilized, it was always three hours later.”

She has some sadness about leaving the old apartment, which was more charming, with higher ceilings and better light. She already misses quirky details like the fireplace mantel surrounded by very convincing fake brick.

“The new place is so new that it’s very sterile,” Ms. Brenneman said. “It’s not a cool apartment. It’s very much a middle-aged family apartment, a soccer-mom apartment.”

Still, she added, it is very much the apartment they need right now.

“It gives everyone a lot more autonomy,” she said. “The phase where my kids needed me all the time is now closed. They still need me, but in a different way. And this apartment feels very representative of that.”

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