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Big Furniture, Tiny Spaces: The Eternal Struggle of Moving in NYC

By Amy Zimmer | June 9, 2015 8:01pm
 Some New Yorkers aren't willing to part with their big furniture when moving to tiny apartments.
Big furniture, Tiny Spaces
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MANHATTAN — Movers carrying Holly Sose's vintage velvet green couch hit a major snag when it wouldn't fit through her doorway.

The couch sat on the landing in front of Sose's second-floor apartment for at least half an hour — just after 5 p.m. — blocking her neighbors coming home from work to the six-story Chelsea walk-up.

"Everyone hated me," said Sose, who measured the sofa's dimensions to confirm that her living room could accomodate it, but failed to measure her doorway entrance.

The only option was to saw off the couch's legs.

As a broker for City Connections Realty, Sose said she knew better than to move a couch at rush hour. But the people she initially hired through Craiglist didn't show up at their scheduled noon arrival, forcing her to find someone else last-minute, who then showed up late. In the end, her $300 deal on the couch was ruined by the $150 moving job.

Many New York City apartments — even in luxury buildings — barely fit queen-sized beds, let alone full sets of bedroom furniture or dining tables for 12. As rents continue to skyrocket — studios in April averaged $2,702 a month in Manhattan, according to Douglas Elliman — more tenants are forced into smaller apartments. But that doesn't stop many  — especially transplants — from trying to fit big stuff into their tiny spaces since they often overestimate how much space they'll get considering the price tag.

Sose tries to manage her clients' expectations when relocating from out-of-state. "I tell them they'll get something basically the size of their [current home's] kitchen, and you have to start paring down now. I say, 'It's called storage or eBay,'" she said.

Still, she admitted that it's not easy even for veteran New Yorkers: "I'd been living in New York for over a decade when I did this to myself."

There are, of course, movers who will deconstruct and reassemble furniture. They'll remove doors to jam stuff inside. Sometimes they'll even use cranes to hoist furniture up. Yankee Movers' Mina Sherpa tells the tale of a restaurant owner's custom-built oversized chair, which was heaved up to the fourth floor with a crane since it wouldn't fit in the elevator or stairway of the Upper East Side building.

"A lot of time it's not how expensive or how beautiful a piece is, but it's something emotional for the owner," Sherpa said.

It's not uncommon for renters to just leave their furniture in walk-ups when the lease is up rather than cart it out. That's perhaps one reason why many developers who are building micro-units (under 400 square feet) or micro-suites (where tenants have small bedrooms and shared kitchens and bathrooms) are pre-furnishing apartments with "space saving systems."

"It's cheaper for people to leave their furniture, especially, if it's a fourth floor walk –up and they're college students going back to home. A lot of people will just give me the whole apartment with the furniture in it," said Fairry Bonner, a broker with BOND New York who started a re-sale business with the unwanted furniture, called Fairry's Treasures. She also uses the leftover furniture to stage apartments or gives it away to NYU students who come and fetch it.

Bonner often helps clients figure out how to squeeze their furniture into new apartments, either connecting them to movers who will remove doorways or to companies that will "rip couches into 20 pieces" and put them back together.

She helped Amanda Crum, a 25-year-old who works in marketing, find a space big enough for her newly-purchased platform bed with a white tufted headboard.

Crum wanted the bed so badly that when one went on sale for $1,200, she snatched it up even though it meant lugging it up to the fourth floor of an Upper East Side walk-up she'd soon be vacating.

Crum was excited to finally be moving in with a friend rather than some random roommate and started to dream of her new home before she had one. Only after buying the platform, which sat unopened in her living room for months as she conducted her new apartment search, did she learn that her budget of $2,600 a month for a two-bedroom gave her few options for a bedroom that would fit her new piece of furniture.

When she and her friend finally found an apartment on East 38th Street that could fit the bed ­— just barely — they signed the lease immediately, swallowing the extra cost for a March 15 move-in even though their other leases didn't end until April.

"I really got myself into a mess," Crum admitted. "I just wanted a new bed and nice apartment. I really wanted to make a home."

Chris Glew, a Londoner who moved here for his film job in post-production, had put his bulky furniture — including an 8-foot L-shaped couch along with a 3-foot matching loveseat — in a shipping container before he set foot in New York and eyed the apartments in his budget of under $2,300 a month.

His broker Arianna Rogers, from Mirador Real Estate, had to explain there was no way he'd be able to live in Manhattan. After showing him nearly a dozen units, she found him a railroad apartment on the Gowanus-Park Slope border.

"At first he didn't understand. Now he understands," Rogers said.

"I suppose everyone is watching things like 'Friends' where they've got all these great apartments," Glew, 37, said. "I don't think anyone is that dumb [to believe that's reality], but either way, I didn't think it would be as tough as it was. The sizes of places in New York — I've never seen anything so small."

Glew was glad he found a place to fit his furniture, even if it's a little out-of-scale. Now, he's hoping to stay put, at least for a while.

"Once you get through the stress of moving once, you just want let the dust sit," Glew said.