Helen Phillips, a writer and professor at Brooklyn College, shares a cozy 1-bedroom apartment in Prospect Park South with her husband, artist and fellow Brooklyn College professor, Adam Thompson, and their 8-month-old daughter, Ruth. Part living space, part art studio, and part showroom, the apartment plays an integral role in the their personal and professional lives. All told, it’s a creative professional’s dream — refined, reasonably spacious, kid-friendly, and generously lit by natural light. But they didn’t come by it easily.
Though they’re somewhat mum on the subject, Helen and Adam did share that when they bought the apartment three years ago — during the foreclosure crisis — the paperwork was held up in the bank, leaving them without a residence for two months. Fortunately, as is so often the case in Brooklyn, numerous friends offered up their couches while Phillips and Thompson hung suspended in housing limbo. When they finally arrived at their new home, it felt like the end of an ordeal. “It was hard to achieve,” Phillips says, “which makes us value it all the more.”
What do you do?
Helen: I’m a writer and a professor in the English Dept. at Brooklyn College.
Adam: I’m an artist and adjunct art professor at Brooklyn College and Pratt.
How long have you lived in Brooklyn?
8 ½ years.
Why did you move to Brooklyn?
Helen: In a totally new move, I wanted to move to NY and become a writer.
What’s your favorite thing about the space?
Helen: I think what drew me to it first was the light and the wooden floors, and the fact that the kitchen has two doorways. [Laughs] These aren’t interesting answers. I feel like the space has been flexible, as we have a child and we use it as a workspace. I feel like we keep finding a new apartment within this apartment.
Adam: For me it’s been great, because as an artist, you’re supposed to have a studio. I had a very toxic relationship with my old studio, with the commute — it was in Sunset Park. I host studio visits here. It has a sort of showroom element. And being home is good because I have to keep myself neat and organized and up to my wife’s standards.
What’s your least favorite thing?
Helen: I wish that we had another window so that Ruth’s little nursery could have a window.
Adam: Even though we are pretty rich in windows.
What are the three things you’d save first in a fire?
What three things would you rescue in a fire?
Helen: My computer. Adam’s computer. Our tax information. Those are all the practical things. If I was to be more fanciful…I have this box over my desk, a wedding gift. My desk. Definitely my desk. My desk we bought after I sold my first book for not much money to a small press. We went and bought this mid-century modern desk. That memorial piece — I lost my older sister this summer — and that memorial piece is something I would take.
What’s your favorite room in the space? And favorite time of day?
Helen: I feel like it’s all one room in a way. I would have to say this living room/dining room. It’s the center of our lives.
Adam: When Ruth was born we thought about carving up the space, but we decided to preserve it because we like it so much.
If you suddenly received a windfall of cash, what changes would you make to your space?
Adam: A fancy couch. That’s what I would get.
Helen: Any kind of mid-century modern furniture.
Adam: Buy another apartment in the building, and have this be our studio/office space.
If you could move your house/block/neighborhood to another city, which one would it be, and why?
Helen: San Francisco would be high on my list because my sister lives there, and it’s beautiful. Or Buenos Aires. I spent some time there in college. I’ll always live in New York, but I’d say Buenos Aires to visit.
Adam: We could just make the whole apartment into a mobile home and travel around.