Help! I Live In a Building!

Two co-op owners started a blog about apartments... and a conversation about New York living.

“Oh, my God,” Denise Dell’Olio shouted, pointing to the pink, curtained window across from Teri Karush Rogers’ kitchen, “I’m looking at a butt!” Ms. Rogers explained that her neighbor’s fashion tastes sometimes included an apron, though not underpants.

The two women considered the spectacle for a viral video on their blog,—“where NYC homeowners talk.” About everything, particularly their neighbors.

Venturing onto the two-month-old blog feels much like checking out a new apartment. As you analyze the décor and layout, you consider, “What can this offer me?” Along the tabs lies a curious option titled, “The Good Neighbor Policy,” which asks visitors to exercise civility in voicing their opinions/complaints/advice; underneath are discussion links, many of which echo the more modest economic concerns of current New York homeowners; there’s a link to a page of experts, including acoustic consultants and conflict resolution specialists. Surfing a few minutes, you begin to realize the blog isnt so much an apartment—the sensation to appraise the value of everything somewhat diminished in the last several months—as it is a glimpse into the current state of affairs, a forum where residents, perhaps more homebound as of late, seem in need of help. 

– If the neighbor’s attempts at flawless Chopin fall short, but seep into your apartment nonetheless, Brick Underground provides the method to “muzzle a piano:” “hang a damper quilt (looks like a quilted moving blanket) on the back of the piano and let the bottom of this go under the piano.”

– Avoid anonymous letters to nettlesome neighbors, as they are generally the cowardly tactic that facilitates few resolutions. As the Brick Underground explains, “[Co-op and condo] boards tend to hew to the Yogi Berra ‘never answer an anonymous letter’ approach.”

– If the thermostat and the TV knobs of your building’s gym seem in a constant flux, the blog offers: “At a minimum … both the TV volume and the air temperature should be pre-set and locked so that people can’t adjust them.”

– The doorman can seem like an impenetrable wall in front of your entrance, making a walk across the threshold a twofold barrier. Within the post, “Inside your doorman’s brain,” the blog provides testimonials from actual doormen, revealing their daily pet peeves and admitting to some job-related perks: “I like Thanksgiving when I work it. A few residents will bring down a Thanksgiving dinner plate—a real nice plate, not just a plastic one. I ate three meals last year.”

“… [W]hatever they’re cooking … unfortunately seems to include lots of fish and broccoli.”

Much like the good humor they inject into Brick Underground, Ms. Rogers and Ms. Dell’Olio exude an air of ease and sincerity in person, their words usually paired with a smile and their reflections concluding with laughter.

Ms. Rogers, a freelance New York Times real estate writer, and Ms. Dell’Olio, a creative director at a large New York ad agency, launched Brick Underground in May, about six years after meeting as residents of the same Upper West Side co-op. It was Ms. Dell’Olio’s concerns as a first-time homeowner which prompted that meeting: “For the first few weeks I just sat there, almost in the dark until finally I turned to my super and I said, ‘What do we do?’ And he actually took me upstairs and had me meet Teri.”

“We’re right here as this platform where people can exchange this information at the right time,” she said of the blog’s serendipitous debut (they didn’t coordinate it with the Great Recession). “I don’t think we couldve launched at a better time; I’m happy to be up right now, and also happy to be dealing with the financial aspects of what people are going through.”

It was the women’s lengthy time spent in their respective apartments—Ms. Dell’Olio took a professional hiatus to spend time with her children and Ms. Rogers works a lot from home—that opened their eyes to the day-to-day problems and eccentricities of their residences.

“When you’re off running to your job every day, you’re there in the morning taking a shower, and everything’s working great,” Ms. Dell’Olio said. “You go to bed at night, the lights turn on and off, and that’s kind of it; but when you’re home, you see the functions and dysfunctions of your building. … That’s when people say, ‘Whoa, what’s going on?’”

Many New Yorkers have been initiated by the recession into this domestic dysfunction, spending many more hours at home during the day than they might wish. That can only boost the audience participation on the Brick Underground. Right now, in addition to more mildly reactionary topics like super complaints and neighbor noise, cooking odors dominant the discussion board: “… whatever they’re cooking … unfortunately seems to include lots of fish and broccoli.”

Another topic popping up on the blog could basically be shorthanded as turning an investment into a home, a home you live in. A lot.

“The real estate boom screeched to a halt,” Ms. Rogers explained, “and I think people for so long were looking at their apartments as a way station to something better; they were going to hold on to it for a couple of years before the next baby and then trade out. But now the musical chairs have stopped and people are … having to make due.” Help! I Live In a Building!