Capturing the single moment of light reflecting off the adjacent building.
The faux antique desk was a dumpster find.
Only the finest Egyptian cotton linens for this guy.
Dick's entertainment center.
After a lap around the room.
What a spacious place.
A toilet at the end of the hall— how convenient.

The Fine Art of Living Small

by Ela Schwartz

When Dick Brafford, an artistic genius, first came to New York City in 1988, he was immediately entranced by Chelsea, the young, hip and happening Manhattan community that lies on the West Side between 14th and 34th Streets.

“Manhattan is famous for its notoriously high rents and scumbag landlords,” says Brafford, who soon found out that it was either settle for less-than spacious digs or go out and buy a gun and shoot himself in the head.

Luckily, he found a picturesque edifice nestled between a dance studio and the Marlborough Gallery. The building had originally been a house built before the Civil War in the 1830s and now housed a number of single-room occupancy (SRO) units. Although the location couldn’t be beat, he had to admit the room itself was a tad smaller than he had hoped for.

“My hole in the wall is about the size of a normal person’s closet,” he says. We're not just talking small studio here, we're talking seven feet by fifteen feet. Contrary to popular opinion, such residences are not simply dumping grounds for alcoholics, the homeless, the mentally ill and other unfortunates but the reality of life in the Big Apple for those who earn less than a six-figure income, don't have family footing the rent bill and are too cantankerous to get along with roommates.

Nonetheless, Dick was determined that a little decorating magic could certainly offset the lack of square footage.

An aficionado of the dumpster-diving design school, he set out on a few nightly runs to find a one-of-a-kind faux antique desk and chair out on the street. An entertainment center was a priority for his bombastic experiments in music. Both his stereo, computer and DVD systems are nestled next to his sleeping quarters—this way, he has access to all his work and entertainment equipment without even having to get out of bed.

The right shelving made all the difference in both the eating and sleeping areas. The units are home to his microwave, a steady supply of protein powders and Diet Coke and his collection of books by everyone from Dostoyevsky to De Sade.

A sink in the opposite corner gets a regular workout.

“I wash dishes, brush my teeth, even wash my underwear and socks in that sink, ” says Dick. “Who the hell needs to be prideful in a living situation like this?”

Living in an SRO means the hallway becomes part of the décor. Both the hallway and bathroom exude a sort of shabby-chic, turn-of-the-century charm, sporting mismatched tile flooring and diamond-handle doorknobs.

"In this bathroom it's bring your own tissue or you're in trouble!" he says.

Low-cost housing in Chelsea has become a thing of the far past. “Naturally the landlord wants to get rid of all of us, rip down this building, put up a high-rise and then charge people an arm and two legs for rent,” Dick explains.

For now, at any rate, living in an infinitesimal space has brought enlightenment. “We live in a society that's all about buying stuff and more stuff,” he says, waxing philosophically. “Living here has taught me how to pare life down to its absolute essentials or suffer death by burial under my own possessions.”



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