The Artful Lodger

c pompeovidyarthi The Artful LodgerJake Bronstein and his girlfriend, Kristina Hoge, were lounging around on a flowery retro love seat in the living room of their South Williamsburg apartment on a recent Thursday evening, drinking Miller High Life out of frothy beer mugs and enjoying a cool breeze that was blowing in from their backyard. Their dog, a young Collie–German Shepherd mix named Cash, was lying on the floor next to their wide-screen TV, chewing on a bone.

It’s an impressive space they live in, and one that is decidedly “grown-up” for a neighborhood teeming with party-loving youths who share messy apartments four or five to a lease. They have two floors. High ceilings. Terrace off the master bedroom. Brand-new everything, including granite countertops in the kitchen. By any measure, their domestic life is one that any young couple living in New York City would envy, with the exception, perhaps, of one small detail: They have a roommate.

His name is Juan Carlos “J. C.” Villars, and he was sitting on an adjacent couch with his legs kicked up on an oak-colored coffee table, a stubbly faced fellow in a dark blue dress shirt and jeans fiddling alternately with a set of hex head wrenches and a controller for the Nintendo Wii.

Mr. Bronstein, 31, a marketing consultant in dark-rimmed glasses (you might also remember him as a former editor-at-large at FHM magazine, or from Road Rules season four), and Ms. Hoge, 27, a pretty event manager for Lincoln Center who wore her brown hair clipped up, said that they couldn’t imagine ever not living with Mr. Villars, 32, an engineering project manager—even if, one day in the not-so-immediate future, marriage and kids entered the picture.

“We talk about not moving, and we talk about not imagining J. C. leaving,” said Mr. Bronstein, who’s been close friends with Mr. Villars for more than three years, longer than he and Ms. Hoge have been dating. “So I think, by transitive property, that all adds up to getting married and still staying with J. C.”

“We’ve joked about it, and none of those things seem like a reason why we’d wanna get rid of him,” Ms. Hoge said with a laugh.

“I can’t even imagine how I’ll ever get there, quite honestly,” Mr. Bronstein said. “How I’ll ever get beyond … this.”

 

‘A LITTLE FAMILY SITUATION’

Living with your significant other and his or her buddy might seem very “college,” reminiscent of a time when everyone you knew was broke and used to sharing a communal bathroom. But this is New York, where people in their 20s and 30s routinely prolong certain aspects of adolescence, even as careers and 401(k)’s and dinner parties come into play. Where (even in this slightly more sluggish market) the quest for an apartment that elsewhere would be considered merely “livable” can lead one to consider all sorts of unconventional arrangements. And increasingly, where everyone you know is broke.

Mr. Bronstein and Ms. Hoge said they wouldn’t be able to afford as nice a place without Mr. Villars, and he—call him an Artful Lodger—agreed that he wouldn’t be able to do so without them, either.

Brooke Craft, 25, who’s currently studying massage therapy at the Swedish Institute in Manhattan, has found herself in a similar situation.

After graduating from SUNY Oswego in 2005, Ms. Craft and a friend moved into an “uncomfortably small” Upper East Side apartment—both bedrooms of which, she said, could barely accommodate a full-size mattress and a dresser.

So this past spring, when Ms. Craft and her boyfriend, Izzy, 27, who works for a financial firm in midtown, signed a lease on a spacious two-bedroom in Long Island City, she had no problem with his best friend, Dre, moving in to help split the roughly $2,400 rent. Likewise, Dre, a 27-year-old grad student, jumped at the chance to get out of his cramped quarters in Stuy Town, where, Ms. Craft said, he’d been sharing a single bedroom apartment with not one but two other people.

“It’s kind of like a little family situation,” Ms. Craft said. “It’s not like I’m married or have kids. We’re just having fun being in New York and having a great time living with each other.”

Then there’s Dan Lopez, 26, a production coordinator for Time Out New York who spent three years sharing a two-bedroom in a Crown Heights elevator building with his friend Evan and Evan’s girlfriend, Amy, who both work with him at the magazine. 

“It was kind of a prolonged college thing, but it felt more like living with family,” Mr. Lopez said.

Evan, 30, and Amy, 25, ended up getting married a little more than two years into living with Mr. Lopez, but they enjoyed his company so much that they didn’t mind sharing their first 10 months of marital bliss with him. Likewise, Mr. Lopez wasn’t fazed by the awkwardness one might expect would come with having married roommates: the uncomfortable feeling of being the third wheel; witnessing the inevitable bickering; and the awkward reality of having to hear your housemates, well, doing it.

In the fall of 2008, Mr. Lopez parted ways with Evan and Amy, sensing it was “just the right time to move on,” and got an apartment in Williamsburg with some people he knew through work. But when his boyfriend moved into town last month, they wanted to live together, so they found a place back in Crown Heights, which the two of them are now sharing with another couple for the summer. It’s downright sitcom-worthy!

“We’re a close group of friends, so you can always make light of it,” Mr. Lopez said of the current arrangement. “I think it works well having two couples. You can relate to each other.”

 

THE JAPANESE SCREEN

But surely there are downsides to living with someone in addition to the person you are sleeping with?

“I can only think of the downsides,” said a Harlem-based writer The Observer agreed not to name so he wouldn’t have to diss his former roommates on the record. “They do indeed gang up on you. They got a dog; what could we say? They shared a room, the largest, but seemed to think of each other as one person and not two people who should split things equally.

“Not a good idea to live with a couple,” he concluded.