When Scott Warfel met Luccas Israel in 2019 through friends, neither thought romance was in their future. But during the pandemic, their friendship moved slowly, thoughtfully, into a deeper connection.
By 2021, both felt invested in the relationship, but were not ready to move in together.
At the time, Mr. Israel, 29, a project coordinator for Taschen, an art book publishing house, was living in Flatbush, Brooklyn, in a self-described “queer frat house” with three roommates, whom he met at Florida State University, and was craving a quieter existence.
“It was a great apartment. We each had our own room and shared a private roof deck, but it was a party all the time,” he said.
Mr. Warfel, who grew up in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, was living in a one-bedroom apartment in an ultramodern building in Crown Heights, and paying $2,400.
“I was spending four or five days a week at Luccas’s and rarely going back to my apartment,” said Mr. Warfel, 28, an event designer for Putnam Designs, a creative floral and design studio in Manhattan. “We weren’t ready to move in together, but I needed to be closer to him.”
And so in early October 2021, Mr. Warfel found a 300-square-foot studio in a two-story walk-up with six units, only two blocks away from Mr. Israel. It was $1,600.
“It was a terrific steppingstone,” Mr. Israel said. “I would come to Scott’s studio, and it was like a reprieve. I didn’t have to worry about hosting. I could exist in this space with a guy who has the biggest heart and was invested and mature enough to move for the both of us.”
In the beginning their lives flowed seamlessly between the two apartments. When they wanted quieter time together, they found solace at Mr. Warfel’s. When they wanted festivities and outdoor space, they migrated to Mr. Israel’s.
Soon their belongings were getting lost in the travels; the men were as well.
Flatbush, Brooklyn | $1,750
Scott Warfel, 28, and Luccas Israel, 29
Occupations: Mr. Warfel is an event designer for Putnam Designs; Mr. Israel is a project coordinator for Taschen.
Decorating: “We wanted to create different vignettes and give the apartment an art gallery feel. We bought an olive-green velvet couch that has a ’70s vibe and created an art wall. We have a rotation of flowers that makes the place feel fresh and new. Antique, 1850s doors from India are placed in between the windows. And I built a five-tier bookshelf to accommodate Luccas’s 200-plus book collection, which offers a library-like feel,” Mr. Warfel said.
Gardening: “I love cooking and gardening. I now have enough room for my 20 plants, including chiles, lemons, strawberries and a blueberry bush. Each has found a spot on the window sills,” Mr. Israel said.
The biggest step toward moving in together had come in 2021 when Mr. Warfel rented the steppingstone apartment.
“I fell in love with the neighborhood and with Luccas,” Mr. Warfel explained. “The small space helped us realize that if we can live here, we can live anywhere.”
But more space was needed.
Mr. Warfel, whose lease on the studio was up for renewal in October 2022, asked his landlord, Mohammed Ahmed, if he could go month-to-month. He could.
Mr. Israel had less wiggle room. His lease was up in February. Though they had spent a year cohabiting in Mr. Warfel’s apartment, they hadn’t officially moved in together. Mr. Israel had furniture and belongings that wouldn’t fit in the close quarters. As it was, Mr. Warfel had to sacrifice — going without a couch, a dining room table and chairs — so the apartment could accommodate his queen-size bed and his belongings.
They started looking online in September 2022 for a two-bedroom with outdoor space in Williamsburg.
“Outdoor space became really important to us,” Mr. Israel said. “But we learned our wish list was unreasonable. It was a balloon of a dream that got deflated.”
Of the 150-plus apartments they saw online, and the handful they saw in person, nothing came close to what they wanted.
“All of the options were discouraging,” he continued. “Everything was $4,000, or had no kitchen, or it was outdated, or in a location with nothing around it. Or it lacked community and a neighborhood. Nothing was going to work.”
In early December, Mr. Warfel’s neighbor, Drew Diehl, who lived across the hall, had a family emergency. He would be leaving immediately and wasn’t planning to return. He told Mr. Warfel that his one-bedroom was available. Though Mr. Warfel and Mr. Diehl looked out for each other, and had each other’s keys in case someone got locked out, they had never seen each other’s space.
“The apartment was perfect,” said Mr. Warfel, who connected Mr. Israel in a virtual call during his first visit. “My studio served as a home, but this is where we were starting our future together.”
“Our landlord was amazing, and more interested in building a family-like community than money. He gave us a new lease and let us pick our own price.”
Mr. Warfel suggested $1,750, only $150 more than what the was paying for the studio across the hall.
“I was clearly shooting for the stars,” Mr. Warfel said. “I figured he would say that’s too low.”
But Mr. Ahmed agreed.
The pair also saved on moving costs, which were nonexistent. No first and last month’s rent, broker or application fees were required. Once the apartment was cleaned and painted, Mr. Warfel merely made several trips across the hall carrying his belongings. Mr. Israel recruited a friend with a van, and after packing his items and loading his furniture, drove it two blocks.
The lease was signed on Dec. 26, 2022. The men spent their first night closing out the old year and welcoming in the new one.
Though the neighborhood and the building remained the same, the change of scenery was tremendous. A small, dark studio that faced the back and offered only two windows was traded for a street-facing one-bedroom, bathed in the sunlight that poured through four windows. The ceilings were higher. The kitchen was bigger. A mini stove and skinny fridge were replaced by full-size appliances.
An old apartment that couldn’t accommodate any furniture became a new space that could. Mr. Israel brought two dressers: One went into the bedroom and the other doubled as a storage unit and TV stand in the living room; a mirror; coffee table, a bistro dining room table with two chairs and a bench, so they could have a place to eat and room for guests.
The only thing the pair lost in the move was closet space.
“The studio had two, this has one,” said Mr. Warfel, who “MacGyvered” a clothing rack in the bedroom by rigging a piping system to the ceiling. We use a shepherd’s hook to get our clothing down.”
And both men have found themselves and each other here as well.
“This is where I’m growing as a person and as someone in a relationship,” Mr. Israel said. “We are creating new chapters of our lives here, individually and together.”
Mr. Warfel agreed.
“This apartment makes us hopeful,” he said. “We can host our friends in a different way than we could do before. This was my room and his room colliding and marrying our aesthetics together.”
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