Residents of One of the Last Artist Loft Buildings in Williamsburg Showed off the Artistry of Their Spaces
A unique open house was recently held inside the loft apartments at 475 Kent Ave. in South Williamsburg. This building-wide event, dubbed 475KentFest, was planned as a community-strengthening action by residents in the wake of the recent sale of the building.
The fest was held on consecutive Saturdays on March 18 and March 25, and allowed residents to show off the artistry of their apartments to their neighbors, friends and family.
So Williamsburg was there, and has this wrap-up of an eventful two weekends, complete with interviews and photos.
Gregoire Abrial and wife Hang Pham were among the lead organizers of 475KentFest, and Abrial explained its inspiration:
"This building is the home to creative people, in one way or another, from models to entrepreneurs, singers to cooks, designers, and more. Each of us has our own field, our own avenue to express our creativity. When it comes to home, however, everyone has the same starting point, canvas and medium: some walls, a floor and ceiling. At 475 Kent, we all got extremely lucky. We were given the freedom to turn it into whatever we have in mind. From the first artist residents that turned this building into a series of unique lofts, it is fascinating to see how people over the years put together their interiors, bringing in influences from their personality, work, background, preferences. Visiting a neighbor has always been a treat, as it feels like entering a new world to see their interiors, speak about their projects, share a drink or a bite. With the open house, we celebrate this spirit of creativity, open-mindedness and community that characterize the 475 Kent building."
The event's first Saturday, March 18, involved residents on five floors of the building opening their apartments for an hour at a time over the course of the afternoon. One of those residents was Nejc Poberaj, who set up a photo booth in his space to take professional portraits. He counted Abrial's house-style bed frame among the favorite artistic flourishes he saw during his tour of neighboring apartments -- and noted that he also has affection for his own sleeping space:
"I think my favorite part of my apartment has to be the loft bed. Since my space is so small, I really don't know how we could live in it without the floating bed."
When asked about a favorite aspect of another 475 Kent residential space, Abrial's affection for craftsmanship was apparent. "Our seventh floor neighbor [has] a dedicated room for wood work in their loft. Made me real jealous," he said.
As for singling out one area of his own apartment, Abrial said, "Our large window, and the balcony. It's quite a privilege to have access to private outdoor space."
Fellow resident Ksenya Samarskaya also relishes her apartment's window view:
“It’s the best screen-saver/TV show I’ve come across. On any given day you might catch the train from the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, the dancing plastic bag from American Beauty, a paintball scrimmage maze, a caravan of police cars, a lighting storm touching off of the Empire State Building, military grade helicopters, a model ship collection any eight-year-old would envy, our first responders at work, and a front-row seat to the Williamsburg construction zone.”
The first Saturday was capped off by the second annual "The Building Show" -- an exhibition of tactile visual art by 475 Kent residents that was hung and positioned along the winding hallway leading to (and then throughout the inside of) the apartment of Ben Pomeroy and Ariel Mitchell. In warmer months, Pomeroy takes a lead role in organizing building's rooftop garden. The cold weather turns his and Mitchell's attentions inside, with a second successful season of art curation.
"Ariel and I tried it last year and it was a big success," Pomeroy recalled. "When we drafted the promo flyer last year we initially wrote, 'Open to all building's artists.' We quickly corrected that to say, "Open to all residents." We recognized that not everybody thinks of themselves as an "artist" especially in this building where there are several people who make a living as visual artists. The whole point of the show is to showcase neighbors' talents so that we can learn a little bit more about who we live next to, on top of, and below. The beauty is that we get to discover that that person you chat with casually on the elevator or on the roof is an insanely skilled painter of detail. And that's not her day job."
Pomeroy said he was more than satisfied with 2017's The Building Show:
"This year's show once again succeeded in its mission to bring neighbors together and celebrate our secretive or professional artistic talents. Some new additions to the roster this year were elevations and blueprints of a building in Manhattan drafted by a neighbor who works as a restoration architect. We also had some living artwork in the form of a potted plant from one of the roof gardeners. Ariel did a terrific job curating the show and it was fun for me to cure some salmon and braise some beef for light snacks. In typical 475 fashion, we closed the night with a dance party accompanied by some Trap."
Among the residents opening their doors for 475KentFest's second Saturday, March 25, was Parker Hoar, whose art-filled apartment he shares with Deborah Masters (one of the original artists to convert the building into working studios) was a memorable stop on the building-wide tour. Asked to pick a favorite feature of the space, Hoar said, "Deborah's amazing giant totemic figurines that she sculpted right here literally reminds us every day of the creative potential that always surrounds us."
Hoar also appreciated the artistry found in even the utilitarian corners of his neighbors' self-made spaces, noting, "I saw an adobe-esque stuccoed shower area that also had a tiny sink and mirror built into the corner. That seemed like a nice accessory for someone like me who loves brushing teeth in the shower, but hates wasting the resources to heat water while doing so. The sink inside means you can stay warm right after a hot rinse AND be efficient."
He added that such features are part of why he enjoys living at 475 Kent:
"I love the architectural experimentation everyone goes through to invent a life for themselves here. Even if the test fails, it's still worth a great deal of value to the maker and spirit in the building."
As with so many other weekend evenings at the building, this Saturday ended with 475KentFest participants ascending to the building's communal rooftop for a Spring celebration. Residents gathered around a picnic table to eat and drink and meet each other, or stood and chatted as they took in the panoramic view around them -- one that will shortly grow a bit smaller due to encroaching high-rise development. But community-building celebrations like these will make the experience of seeing the inside of 475 Kent Avenue even more enjoyable for those who call it home.
Cover photo: Randall Bellows III