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The Five Brooklyn Roommates Who Merged Two Homes Into One

by SuperiorInvest

Emily Zaboski sometimes has a hard time describing her life situation to people she meets.

“Everyone we know says, ‘Wait, so you just… have two apartments?’ And I said, ‘Well, no, but sort of,’” she said.

Mrs. Zaboski technically has only one apartment. She and her roommate Jinn Liu moved into a three-bedroom apartment in Bushwick, Brooklyn, in the summer of 2020. At the same time, another group of roommates moved into the four-bedroom apartment upstairs.

Ms. Zaboski and Ms. Liu didn’t think much of their upstairs neighbors, only saying hello in passing. They noticed that they all seemed to be about the same age, around 20 years old. None of the women expected to meet their neighbors. They had never done it before.

“In New York, people are very separated,” Zaboski said. “Even people who live next door to you don’t know each other’s last names all the time.”

It only took about a month for the residents of the separate apartments to socialize over drinks on the outside patio. More than three years later, the two groups have practically merged into one household.

“I say I have four roommates,” said Sam Jaffe, one of three tenants of the top-floor “penthouse,” along with Parade Stone and Matt Scaptura.

The front doors tend to stay open and everyone flows between the two units. They used to text first to ask if anyone in the other department had any ingredients they needed while they were cooking, but now they just walk in to grab what they need. They come to hang out or chat briefly during the days they work from home.

The five’s closeness grew in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, when not many things were open and no one spent much time away from home.

“We were together at a time when we weren’t allowed to see our families and we were scared, so it became a support system and a way to let off steam,” Ms. Stone said.

Heading to the other apartment on a different floor or meeting outside on the patio “felt like we were still going somewhere,” Scaptura said.

During the fall and winter of 2020, as quarantine rules proliferated, the group found themselves celebrating Halloween, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s at home, rather than going out with friends separately.

Those traditions continue with regular family meals, movie nights on the couch, afternoon potlucks and barbecues, a friends’ feast in the fall, and a Secret Santa as Christmas approaches. The roommates have also hosted jam sessions, open mics, and full moon parties.

“I would definitely consider them some of my closest and most immediate friends,” Ms. Liu said. “It feels like a sitcom in a really wholesome way.”

$2,800 (low floor) and $3,200 (upper floor) | Bushwick, Brooklyn

Activities: Ms. Zaboski is self-employed as a photographer and creative director. Ms. Liu is a painter and works as a creative marketing manager at an advertising technology company. Mr. Jaffe is an actor and trainer. Mr. Scaptura is a law student. Ms Stone is a playwright and works as a receptionist and freelance editor.

About the space for art: Ms. Liu has painted murals in her bedroom and living room, in the basement of the house and on an outside fence, although she had never done a mural before moving into the house. Ms. Zaboski uses the spare bedroom in the lower apartment as a creative studio where she takes photographs, works with clay and makes jewelry. “Having space to do something like this has given me a lot of interesting opportunities in terms of being self-employed and having a greater ability to produce things that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise,” she said.

In sitcoms: While Stone compares sharing an apartment with two male roommates as similar to the premise of “New Girl,” Scaptura and Jaffe compare the situation to “Seinfeld.” “We have a friend Kramer, a very close friend who lives two or three blocks away, and he’s always up to hang out,” Scaptura said. After booking an audition for a musical parody of the show, it was decided that Mr. Jaffe was the Jerry of the group.

Creative activities sustain the friendships at the center of the collective.

Although they all have day jobs, each of the five members of the extended family is an artist or has some connection to the arts. Mr. Jaffe is an actor while Ms. Stone is a playwright; Ms. Liu and Ms. Zaboski are visual artists focusing on painting, photography and design. Mr. Scaptura, now in law school, trained as an opera singer.

Ms Stone, who completed a degree in dramatic writing last year, said everyone understands the ups and downs of being an artist, from the excitement of creating something new to the pain of rejection. She watches her roommates as she finds her own professional footing.

“I have admired how they have had such wonderful careers and have not let their passions die,” he said.

In such small spaces, relationships tend to be symbiotic and supportive. Instances where parties go awry (or karaoke at the theater continues into the wee hours of the morning) seem to be quickly forgotten.

Recently, Mr. Jaffe drew a drawing of Pokémon as a gift for Ms. Zaboski’s younger sister, and in return, Ms. Zaboski took some new headshots. Each of the roommates has rehearsed scenes with Mr. Jaffe when he films himself for auditions. The roommates also attended readings of Ms. Stone’s work and a gallery exhibition featuring works by Ms. Liu. They discuss how to set rates for freelance work and how to negotiate, share professional connections, and rely on Mr. Scaptura to explain the legal jargon in their contracts despite her protests that he is not his lawyer.

As Ms. Liu said, “Everyone gives what they can to each other.”

The roommates joke that they live in a commune, before clarifying that it’s not actually a commune, and then reconsider once again.

“I avoid using the word commune because it reminds me of ‘Midsommar’,” Jaffe said, referring to the 2019 horror film. “We are not a commune! But between our collaboration, our busy schedules and the way we all connect, that’s essentially who we are.”

As the roommates approach the end of their 20s, they’ve all contemplated what it would be like to live alone or with a romantic partner. They anticipate that the band will eventually break up, but no one has any real plans to make a change anytime soon.

“It’s making me reevaluate what I wanted when I was 30,” Jaffe said. “I had expectations of being somewhere else in my life and yet I’m in a completely different place and I’m very happy with it.”

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