Who: Marie Estrada
Where: Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Style: Light-filled artist's loft
While this Brooklyn loft is a mere 485 square feet — which may feel like a palace for some city dwellers and tiny to suburbanites — the measurements fail to capture the many perks that come with its location in the famous 475 Kent Avenue 11-story building in Williamsburg. For one, it's on the top floor, facing east, offering views of Williamsburg and a sliver of the Williamsburg Bridge. There's the magical rooftop, where residents gather most nights and weekends to take in 360-degree views of the city, especially at dusk. The building also has a rich history: first, as the La Rosa & Sons Macaroni Factory starting in 1911, and then later emerging as an artists' colony of sorts into the early 21st century.
"What drew me to this space was the light, because in this building every apartment has huge walls of windows," says resident Marie Estrada, who has lived in the building since 2008, originally sharing a 2,000 square foot loft with roommates, then going solo in this space since 2012. "But what actually kept me here was the community. I know all my neighbors, we have known each other for a while, and we have all these parties and BBQs."
The building is not only Estrada's lifeblood for the friendships that were born there; these same relationships support her financially as well. Over rooftop meetups, she and friend and future business partner Hagai Yardeny would develop the idea for — and eventually launch — MÔTÔ SPIRITS, their rice-infused whiskeys and specialty spirits business, in 2016.
With its mostly bare white walls and worn and beautifully cracked cement floor, Estrada's corner loft is the classic artist's dwelling circa the late '90s, which is actually when three artists first took over the building. It's not about luxurious items here, but more thoughtfully collected mementos — from hand-me-down furniture (including fun finds left behind by past Kent residents) and curio from Estrada's and friends' various travels, to a large collection of books. Her newest purchase is her Nectar bed, which is simply made.
Natural light floods the space through its unadorned large windows on two sides, making the loft feel airy and dreamlike (also helped by the 16-foot ceilings). When you live on the top floor without a neighboring facing building, privacy is not an issue, which is why the windows are curtain-free. "For me, what's important is not necessarily the size of the space but the lighting," says Estrada. "Most of the spaces I've lived in tended to be larger, and yet I think this is my favorite place that I've ever lived in." She also loves her "fabulous" original cement floor, which "has so much character and is easy to clean."
Though she's been here for many years, Estrada tries to keep her belongings to a minimum, not just because of the apartment's size. "I'm not very fond of tchotchkes and keeping things," shares the entrepreneur, pointing to the shelf of items to the right of her door, which includes artwork by her niece and nephew in Los Angeles. "What happens is that my friends tend to give them to me, or I get presents from when they travel. There are certain things that, for me, are sort of meaningful … and that's what my apartment is like."
In her fairly large bathroom, she has a white vintage shelf, different Muji pieces, and an IKEA mirror, from which hangs a clown atop a Mozart marionette, both gifted by family members. Next to them is her bathtub and shower sans curtain: "I live by myself so I don't have to hide from anyone." She also points out a set of clear Gaultier 2 perfume bottles that seemingly float on the wall: "I kept them because after the perfume was gone, I filled them with any sort of fragrance that I wanted," she says. "They have magnets!" And they conveniently cover up chipped paint on the cabinet.
Outside the bathroom, the opposite wall is what Estrada calls "the wall of shame" or "wall of things that I do in my life," while explaining how she designed the loft's layout: "I like to basically keep things in blocks, visually color-wise and also in terms of organization." The sports she enjoys are represented by a mounted Faith skateboard on the wall and Volka Yumi skis and a bag of Lynx golf clubs leaning against a low IKEA bookshelf. She says these sports are things she's "not great at," thus, they're on the wall of shame. Her bicycle is also here because, in true city living, her three previous ones were stolen when left outside.
Two more bookshelves against the wall, a wood one made by a "crafty neighbor" and a black metal one from Crate & Barrel, are packed with books, which makes sense as Estrada used to work in publishing: "So much of what's in my apartment centers around books and where I'm gonna keep them." Some people organize their closets by color; Estrada organizes her books that way, noting it's not about always knowing where things are. "It's more about discovery." What's amusing to hear is how some books shift placement over time because of her curtain-free windows. With all that natural light, the book spines' original colors fade. "So there's been a tendency that poem books that used to be on a different shelf have been moved because they've faded to pink," she shares, laughing. "But really, I just think that visually, it keeps [me] organized."
As Estrada moves through the room, she points out the many pieces of furniture she inherited from friends or found in the building: the mirrored freestanding Ikea wardrobe by the bathroom, vintage upholstered chairs (on loan), and a mirror that serves as a tabletop. "I brought stuff in because I was so busy, but then I was thinking to myself that there are some things that don't necessarily need to be purchased, they have character," she recalls. "And this building sort of provides [what I need]. I found this mirror downstairs in the mailroom, and this is what often happens. I just think, I can use this." Underneath the mirror is the 15-QT stainless steel waterbath canner that she used for an earlier food enterprise and now serves as a storage bin. Her one-of-kind couch is covered by brightly colored afghan scraps stitched together by her mom that Estrada has layered to a beautiful effect.
On the mirror table and in her kitchen, she has low-maintenance plants such as succulents and air plants to fit her busy lifestyle. "There's a lot of light in this apartment," she shares, "so the plants that have managed to survive are those that come from where I'm from, Southern California, and don't need a lot of watering." Ever resourceful, atop the white IKEA kitchen cabinets that she had to buy from the previous tenant, Estrada uses a wine rack that she purchased in Park Slope to also store her cookbooks.
Against the far wall, beneath the windows, are a turntable and wood-carved caribou bookstands from the Philippines, as well as one of her most prized possessions, an old chessboard. Instead of using the actual chess pieces, she replaced them with "little things that come into my life," including glass, wood, paper, and ceramic creatures of various sizes, some broken. "For me, nothing is really about perfection," stresses Estrada. "I love things that are slightly imperfect."
With gentrification and the building's changing ownership, the makeup of the residents and her neighborhood has changed over the decade-plus she has lived here, but Estrada doesn't plan on leaving anytime soon. She likes that her friendships, entrepreneurial spirit, and love for Brooklyn converged nicely. (The MÔTÔ SPIRITS distillery is just two miles east, 20 minutes by bike.) "Going as a brand, living in Williamsburg, all of these things happening in my neighborhood — also recognizing the irony that my distillery is in the same location where I used to live — and seeing the transformation," says Estrada, "is like everything has come full circle, but in a positive way."
Author and book editor Teena Apeles is a collector of vintage pieces and untold stories. She writes about art, culture, design, activism, and history, and edits books on an even wider range of subjects. One of her favorite projects was the anthology Dear Seller: Real Estate Love Letters from Los Angeles, a unique exploration of the lives and homes of Angelenos, for Narrated Objects.