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[All photos by Max Touhey.]
It was 2002 when Michael Stout set his sights on Brooklyn. Like many in the early aughts, Stout saw the borough as an alternative to Manhattan's ever-smaller living spaces and skyrocketing rents. It was different then. Bedford Avenue: The Destination was in its infancy; the wall of glass condos that lords over the North Brooklyn waterfront was merely an idea.
Two miles east of Williamsburg proper, carefully described in 2002 by the Times as the destination for "youthful moderate-income Manhattanites," a pair of opposing buildingsformer textile factories on the short four-block McKibbin Streetwere becoming well known among the city's young creative crowds. It would be another six years before the McKibbin Lofts themselves would get the New York Times treatment, and even then they would be described in terms that pandered to the idea of a lost New York:
[The floors were white when Stout moved in.]
Stout fit the bill as a model tenant. Then in his 20s, he and a roommate signed on for a $2,000 per month corner loft on the top floor of No. 248. Light streamed in through the original industrial windows, but so too did the cold and snow; in the summer, they magnified the heat. "It got so hot once that we called our neighbor downstairs and said our candles were melting," Stout recalls of the days before the old panes were replaced with new windows. "Their records were melting."
Stout, a craftsman, has practically rebuilt the loft over the past 13 years, especially with help from roommate Josh Lekwaan architectwho replaced the first of many tenants who would cycle through the space. A large two-tiered room with privacy in sight only was rebuilt by the duo in 2010 into three separate bedrooms. A small hallway leads to Stout and Lekwa's rooms. The third room (which they call "the wildcard room"), has been occupied for the last three months by third roommate David Fintell. Sometime before that, the daughter of The Clash guitarist Mick Jones was a tenant. Its only windows look out onto the apartment's common area.
The three roommates imagine that they will keep on keeping on in the space, unless their landlord raises the rent in a major (but not inconceivable) way when their lease expires in May. Thirteen years after Stout first moved in, the apartment's asking an additional $1,000/month, or $3,000 total. That's still below the average monthly rent for apartments in the neighborhood.
Over the past 13 years, the area around the lofts has certainly changed. "I call Roberta's the tipping point," Stout says, referring to when things really took off in the light manufacturing-zoned neighborhood. Leave it to the Times, again, to describe the pizza joint, and Bushwick's, rise: "It all got rolling in the middle of 2007, when the national economy was faltering and the graffiti-tagged, barbed-wired lots of Bushwick, Brooklyn, seemed like a perfectly apocalyptic place in which to start a never-ending party."
While the neighborhood around the McKibbin Lofts shifts and ushers in new businessesa Blue Bottle coffee shop is moving in down the streetthe roommates' loft remains oddly static. Not in its lookStout is always hauling a new piece of found furniture off the street, or welding bookcases, or wiring new lightsbut in that it's rare to see a group of roommates stand still long enough to watch everything change around them.