Eric Demby embodies what has become a quintessential New York type: the Brooklyn family man. The 38-year-old co-founder of the famed, fantastic Brooklyn Flea sports thick-rimmed glasses, an extensive record collection and an adorable 1 year old. In May, Mr. Demby, his wife Liza and his daughter Loe moved into a newly bought, newly built condo in Prospect Heights. We stopped by to check it out.
How did you find the place?
Our daughter Loe was born June of 2009, when we had already lived in a one-bedroom rental on Pacific Street for six years. We loved it there, but it was too small. From the time she was three or four months old she got the bedroom and we were literally sleeping on an air mattress in our living room. We did it for nine months. You don’t know what it’s like to inflate and deflate a mattress every night. It really is dehumanizing—it’s hard to describe. You’re so tired and you’re like, ‘I have to inflate the bed before I go to sleep.’
We started looking in the fall of 2008, right when the market started to really turn. We looked for a while, we saw a couple places that we kind of liked, but there were various issues with them, so we didn’t end up following through on our offers, and then when the market really turned that winter, everyone pulled everything off the market and we stopped looking for a while.
What was the actual question?
How did you find it?
We had a real estate broker. We looked like hell. My business partner at the Flea is Jonathan Butler from Brownstoner, so I had all the tips and referrals I needed; it was just that we were picky. But, basically, we found it through a real estate broker, Joan Goldberg, from Brown Harris Stevens. She was really helpful with us, she’s awesome, she’s been living in Brooklyn for 30 years. This was a new building; we were the first people to move in.
What are the top five things in the apartment you can’t live without?
I’m not a materialistic person—I was born on a farm in a community in Maine in the woods, and we didn’t have indoor pluming and stuff—so I’m sort of predisposed to be suspicious of creature comforts.
But the things that I love the most are my records and record player. That’s my little version of the man-cave over there. I’m also a long-time, amateur, not-very-good DJ. I start playing records at seven in the morning, and put on my headphones after Loe goes to bed.
We’ve also got really nice art from our friends. A couple pieces from this guy, James Gallagher, who’s married to my oldest friend, Pam Morris. He’s a really interesting collage artist. That photograph over there is by a friend, Kate Glicksberg, who shoots for The Times a lot. We’ve only started buying art that costs more than $100, not that any of it costs much more than that. We’re at that stage when our friends are becoming more talented and known, so we like to help them. It’s not the first time anyone had that kind of story.
The terrace is really something we treasure. There’s so much sky. It’s not just light, it’s sky. There’s something about really looking at the sky, like in the mornings, you can see the changing colors of the sky; at night the skyline is beautiful from a distance in a different sort of way, and you can see planes flying. I’m kind of a nature boy, I grew up on a farm, my DJ name is Treeboy—even though I’m a very urban person I really like to have a sense of the natural in my world a lot. So, even though it’s an apartment with central air and we barely even open the windows, it somehow feels connected to the outdoors in some way.
You can actually see the Empire State Building and the skyline. That, for me, is a real symbol of achievement. I lived in New York for 20 years, I started my own businesses three years ago, and I’ve been wanting my own apartment for, like, a decade.
Even though we’re on an off street on Prospect Heights, which is pretty deep into Brooklyn, there is some feeling of arrival when I stand out there. It has this view combining the sort of mishmash Brooklyn rooftop thing with the skyline of Manhattan. It feels like I’m a real Brooklyn guy, but also that I’m not someone that dislikes Manhattan since I left it. I really just love New York, and I feel like my life is really about New York. It’s not just like, ‘Oh, I want to live here and work here’—it’s like my flea market is based in Brooklyn, I used to be a journalist, I wrote a lot about New York, it’s like I’m really a part of it.
The other favorite thing is that we feel settled. After renting for 20 years and wanting to own something really hard-core for the last five years, it’s, like, ‘O.K., I finally worked hard enough, and my wife worked hard enough, to own this little piece of New York.’ That’s a feeling I get every time I open the door. That was five.
Which thing in your apartment has the best back story?
These were my dad’s Advent speakers. He got them in the late `60s, when he moved up to Maine. He moved up to Maine from New York. My dad was really into music; he composed classical music, was active in the jazz scene in New York and Chicago in the late `50s and early `60s, and was really into Dylan when he first started. He was a big influence in my life, and a lot of my records are from his collection; and my appreciation for sticking with records, and my focus on music and on how it makes me feel comes from him. When people come over, that’s often how conversations start, around music and records, because people are like ‘Oh, you have records,’ even though most of my friends do.
The speakers give a very warm feeling. People that are sound people—my brother who manages a recording studio, for instance—they’re like, ‘Wow, those are nice speakers,’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah they are and they sound really warm.’ It’s like when you move to New York and you’re 20 years old—actually I was 17—you have all this stuff that your family is tossing off, and over the years—I’ve probably lived in 20 to 25 apartments here for the last 20 years—it all goes away and you replace it. This apartment, for me, is a really adult apartment. I’ve shed a lot of that stuff. But those speakers are one of the last things that have come with me.
Which room do you spend the most time in and why?
We definitely spend the most time here. It’s the living room, kitchen and dining room. Loe’s being fed half the time, so there’s sort of this process of feeding her and reaching over and putting her onto her high chair. We read and watch TV and listen to music in here. She plays in here. And that terrace is almost an extension of this room. I can cook out there but still talk to people or watch TV in here, watch the Red Sox.
A hard-core Red Sox fan, lifelong. So, say my wife’s family is over, who I love, but if they’re playing with the kids, and I’m like, ‘I got to, you know…’ I’ll be out there barbecuing, watching the Red Sox, but not actually in the house. So there’s actually this male utopian situation going on. And we cleaned up a lot for you guys; it generally looks like a 1 year old lives here.
Your neighbors—do you keep them close or at arms length?
I have to say I’m a lifelong arms length neighbor person. I really like our neighbors. We have two neighbors on this floor, and our neighbors upstairs have sold at the Flea a lot, and so I knew her a little bit, and her daughter seems to come down and visit Loe during the day when we’re not home—she’s, like, 6—which is cool.
And now that we’re in this building where there are a lot of other families, I’m sensing there is a little more neighbor interaction. Actually, in my last apartment, my downstairs neighbor ran the City Parks Foundation which runs Central Park Summer Stage, which is actually how the Flea became the food and beverage concessionaire at Summer Stage this year; so we were actually quite friendly with them. But, nonetheless, because I’m social all the time at work and at the Flea, when I’m in my house I don’t want to have any obligation to engage with anyone.