“We’ve been living out of boxes for two and a half years,” said Susie Kwak Ting.
Her family’s story begins with a move into one temporary apartment and ends with a move into another. A permanent fix, she hopes, is within sight.
She and her husband, Lee Ting, were raising their two daughters — one 4 years old and the other a newborn — in a one-bedroom Financial District apartment when the pandemic began. It was difficult to make life work in such a tight space under normal circumstances; it became nearly impossible once all four of them were always home.
They bought EverBlocks — heavy, plastic building blocks — to make partitions, straining for the illusion of discrete spaces in the crowded apartment. “It eventually became a joke,” she said. “The four of us in this one-bedroom. We knew we had to move.”
They took advantage of plummeting rents and signed a lease for a two-bedroom a few blocks away, which kept them close to Mr. Ting’s family. His parents had moved to the city from suburban New Jersey to be full-time grandparents, helping to get the girls to school and with afternoon care — reveling in the opportunity to be a part of their grandchildren’s daily lives.
“I joke that had it not been for my in-laws I probably would have divorced Lee years ago,” Ms. Kwak Ting said, laughing. “That’s how instrumental my in-laws are. They are amazing.”
Mr. Ting credits his wife for making the arrangement work. “Susie has been super patient with me and my family,” he said. “That is one thing that I’m really grateful for.”
But still, their daughters were growing fast and the two-bedroom they had found in haste was never meant to be a long-term solution. They wanted to buy a home of their own. “We knew we needed a yard and trees,” Ms. Kwak Ting said. “But where do we go?”
She was pushing for Long Island where she grew up and her parents still live. “Lee was like, ‘Hell no, that’s not going to happen,’” she recalled.
“Susie and I are both still very much connected to the city,” Mr. Ting added.
In August of 2021, out of desperation, he wrote to Jordan Slocum and Barry Bordelon, known as the Brownstone Boys on their YouTube channel, where they showcase their work renovating New York City brownstones. “I went right onto their channel page and in the comments section I wrote, ‘PLEASE HELP’ in all caps,” he recalled.
$4,520 | Prospect Heights, Brooklyn
Lee Ting, 45, and Susie Kwak Ting, 39
Occupation: Mr. Ting is a lawyer specializing in insurance; Ms. Kwak Ting is a channel strategist at Amazon
On cellphones: “I don’t always know where my phone is,” Ms. Kwak Ting said. Luckily her husband often proves to be a good ally on this front: “She’s the kind of person who can wake up and leave for a road trip with the phone at two percent,” he said. “I just can’t live like that. I get up in the middle of the night and look for her phone just so I can charge it.”
On moving in together: When Mr. Ting and Ms. Kwak Ting first met, she was living on the Upper East Side. When he asked her to move into his downtown apartment, she balked. “I’m right next to Central Park,” she said. Eventually, she relented.
Mr. Slocum and Mr. Bordelon, the Brownstone Boys, not only responded but helped find a 4,000-square-foot Park Slope brownstone complete with five bedrooms, heated floors and a backyard for hosting parties. “We couldn’t see the potential until Barry walked us through it all,” Mr. Ting said. “On our own we probably would have said, ‘No, this is not for us,’ and walked away.”
So they bought the brownstone for $3.2 million and, at approximately $400 per square foot, hired the Brownstone Boys to help them turn it into a home. The only catch: it could take a year and a half to complete, from permitting to finishing touches.
Through the planning and permitting stages the family temporarily lived on the garden and parlor floors of the brownstone. “We were definitely roughing it in there,” Ms. Kwak Ting said. “There were at least two mice living with us.”
But once permits were approved and demolition began, they had to find yet another place to live.
After a year camping out in the brownstone, the family realized they didn’t want to stray far from the neighborhood that was going to be their home for the foreseeable future.
The couple looked at a one-bedroom in nearby Prospect Heights, but they were daunted by the idea of living in such a small space again, even if only temporarily. “We’re going to end up either getting divorced or killing each other,” Ms. Kwak Ting said, laughing.
Then they saw a unit at 595 Dean Street. It, too, was a one-bedroom, but it was larger and came with a surprise: TF Cornerstone, the developer of the building, collaborated with the Brownstone Boys on the design of the studio and one-bedrooms. “We walked in and thought holy moly, this place is beautiful,” Ms. Kwak Ting said. In a way, it would give them something to look forward to.
And there was the roof pool and playroom, the lounge spaces and arcade. “We realized my parents could spend plenty of time with our daughters just enjoying the building,” Mr. Ting said.
They moved into the building in April, cramming all of their beds into the single bedroom. “I think for the first couple of months it felt like, ‘Slumber party every night!’” Ms. Kwak Ting said. “Now we’re feeling it. The bedroom is just a sea of beds. And I have a little corner with my laptop. It’s feeling tight.”
Noting that their older daughter, Emily, recently turned 8, Mr. Ting added, “We’re aware that there is an expiration on this. We can only get away with the co-sleeping thing for so long. Plus, we’re Costco shoppers so that doesn’t help. Everything has to go somewhere.”
They are hopeful they will be able to move into the brownstone in August of 2024, marking the three-year anniversary since Mr. Ting reached out to the Brownstone Boys. “It’s taken two times — maybe three times — longer than I had envisioned,” Ms. Kwak Ting said. “There’s been times when I’m like, ‘I can’t do this, Lee.’”
But the family realizes they’re fortunate to be in such a position, knowing their next home will afford them plenty of space and time for unpacking their boxes.
The whole family is involved with picking the finishing touches for their future home, which will eventually be featured on the Brownstone Boys channel once the work is done.
“The kids are so excited,” Ms. Kwak Ting said. “We’ve tried to involve Emily a little bit with the design process. She’s getting excited about having friends over to the house in her own room.”
Even if their current one-bedroom is temporary, the relationships they are forming are not. “We’re still connected the neighborhood,” Ms. Kwak Ting said. “We’re still in the same community. We still run into our friends on the street. So in that sense, it doesn’t feel temporary. I feel at home.”
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