Living in Brooklyn Heights: Sarah’s Room of Her Own

December 11, 2012, Washington, DC: I don’t remember the exact moment we met, but I’m fairly certain it took Sarah Baker and I less than 10 seconds to become friends when she arrived in San Francisco. Despite our nearly one foot difference in height, we had a lot in common: a common dear friend; failed dreams of becoming a gymnast; a love for eating bagels while sitting on the sidewalk and watching the neighbors stroll by; and a tendency for everyone we know to call us by both our first and last names. Sarah Baker had moved to San Francisco after spending several months in Australia; I’d lived in Australia just a few years prior. She had a great enthusiasm for traveling and exploring the City By the Bay. She had a sister named Kate.

We soon shared an apartment too, which brought about a shared experience in cluttered living. The three of us who lived there had a lot of stuff, and many of Sarah Baker’s belongings happened to be purple and glittered. We decorated the refrigerator with alphabet magnets and hung an inflatable green alien in front of the window overlooking Polk Street above the washing machine.

Safe to say we’ve come a long way since. Today, Sarah Baker — dear friend, former roommate and loyal blog commenter — is featured here as an example in streamlined living.

Since leaving San Francisco, Sarah Baker has been on the move: She moved to Chicago, then onto Seattle. She put her belongings in storage thinking they’d be there for seven months and left them there for four years. She moved to New York City where she lived in shared apartments in Williamsburg and the West Village and a women’s dorm in Midtown.

“This is the eighth time I’ve moved in four years — and that included three cities,” Sarah told me over the phone last week while walking from work to dinner down a crowded Manhattan street. “I think I was really, really needing a place to call my own.”

She found it this this summer in Brooklyn Heights.

“My apartment itself is great,” she said. “There’s a ton of light. There’s also one step, so it separates the kitchen a little bit. I say, I’m gonna go up stair or down stair. I like that part.”

“Because it was so small — it’s only 350 square feet — I really wanted it to be efficient. I had a friend who’s an interior designer help me with it. I paid her a little bit and we also bartered for babysitting. She got a trunk as a coffee table that could hold blankets and linens. She also had these two stools upholstered at the end of my bed that open. That’s been a great way to store things.”

“It’s amazing how little you need,” she added. “I’ve been trying to keep it decluttered. You would be so impressed knowing how I’ve chosen to live in the past.”

Her neighborhood is also a departure in some ways from what she’s used to. After living in the heart of Sydney‘s Bondi Beach, San Francisco‘s Russian Hill and Manhattan’s West Village, Brooklyn Heights offers Sarah a sliver of repose and calm.

“They’re aren’t a ton of restaurants and bars, which is fine,” Sarah said. “I’m used to living somewhere that’s super dense in that respect, and there isn’t that as much. It caters more to families. It doesn’t feel as much like New York. If you want something at midnight, it’s kind of hard to find.”

“I’d rather live in this kind of area and go out in another,” she said. “My apartment backs up to a church so no one can see in, and there’s a little courtyard. You can catch a ferry to Governor’s Island and Williamsburg. There’s a new kid’s park. There’re doing a ton of development in Brooklyn Bridge Park.”

Still, there are other elements of the new neighborhood and apartment that remind Sarah of her many homes. She held on to the beloved old farm table she picked up in Chicago; though big for the space, it makes the room look deceptively larger. She’s also reminded of her travels and former neighborhoods by her proximity to water.

“The past two apartments I’ve had, I’ve had outdoor space — I kind of took it for granted,” she said. “I could leave the door open while I was inside, I could go outside and drink my coffee. But I now live three blocks from the Promenade and I use that as my deck. I go down there and drink my coffee and eat my bagel. For being not really water cities, I’ve actually lived by the water a lot.”

By now, Sarah Baker has lived in New York City longer than anywhere else except her original hometown of Columbus, Georgia — and yet she doesn’t necessarily consider herself a nomad.

“I don’t really think of myself as roamer,” she said. “I am, but it’s not really a way I’ve identified myself.”

“For a long time, I was living in other people’s apartments and now I have a place of my own. The neighborhood is calm and safe, and it has trees on the streets and it’s quiet. But I also just like the fact that it’s mine. I feel much more settled.”

Brooklyn Heights Promenade, December 2012

Photo Credit: Sarah Baker

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