In the same way that all of us who grew up in the 80s and 90s have photos of ourselves from elementary school featuring identical fluorescent laser backgrounds—making it look as if we all went to the same school, as if we were all part of something larger than ourselves, something that involved lasers and, like, technology—there are now backgrounds that seem universal for the images you have of yourself as an adult. Just based on how many couples I see in DUMBO getting their engagement or wedding photos taken with the Manhattan Bridge in the background, I’d hazard a guess that the Brooklyn Bridge Park area might just be the most photographed part of an already heavily photographed city. But while there are plenty of iconic New York building exteriors that make up the backgrounds of countless photographs and commercials and TV shows and films, New York City interiors have generally been less memorable, usually because they were frequently—from the Huxtable’s Brooklyn Heights brownstone* to Seinfeld’s Upper West Side one-bedroom—built on sets in LA. Los Angeles! The horror!
Well, that’s all changed now (which anyone whose neighborhood gets shut down on a seemingly daily basis by TV/film sets knows pretty well), as more and more films and TVs and commercials film in New York City. Location scouts are constantly on the look-out not only for classic exteriors, but also for well-designed interiors in which to film. And it turns out that nothing is more covetable lately than the Brooklyn brownstone. The New York Times reports on this trend in the way that only the Times can, namely, by expressing shock that multi-million dollar Brooklyn homes are actually in high demand by location scouts. But I’m not going to bash the Times (at least not right now) for the kind of disingenous “hey guys have you heard about this place called Brooklyn” tone that exists here and in many of their articles, because I actually think that this trend of using the same interior for a variety of different shoots is pretty fascinating for other reasons.
One of the brownstones that the Times highlights belongs to Terry and Merele Williams-Adkins, and it probably wins the title of most photographed home in Brooklyn. Last year alone, the lovingly restored Clinton Hill home appeared in 13 shoots, “among them a Target commercial now on television and another for the New York Lottery.” The Williams-Adkins house is stunning, for sure, and Williams-Adkins points out, underwent a “slow and painful…metamorphosis from a SRO encrusted with lead paint,” and so it’s hard to hate the couple too much. I mean, maybe a little? Because they bought it for only $610,000 in 2001, and now it’s probably worth five-times that? No, no. It’s wrong to hate.
But it’s not wrong to be a little uncomfortable with the sudden ubiquity of these types of homes. Why? Because these homes—even when they were initially bought for far less than they are worth today—are decorated in a manner (and for a price) that is totally inaccessible for most people, and yet they are presented as being “Brooklyn homes” that are perhaps attainable by the middle-class. And while many, if not most, of us who live in Brooklyn know how expensive it is, and know that having a whole brownstone complete with subway-tiled, 600-square foot kitchen is only for the most privileged among us, not everyone (including, it seems sometimes, the Times) knows that this borough is filled with about as much wealth as Manhattan. And so while these images of the most-privileged parts of Brooklyn proliferate alongside other current stereotypes of Brooklyn as still being a home to writers and artists just starting out, the disconnect between Brooklyn the brand and Brooklyn the reality grows bigger. It’s like the idea of Brooklyn—the beautiful brownstone, the soaring expanse of the Manhattan bridge, the tree-lined streets—have become nothing more than a green-screened background to our lives, even though they aren’t the reality for most of the people who live here. For most of us, an impeccably decorated brownstone is no more a potential home than it is for someone who lives in rural Ohio. So, yeah, this gorgeous Clinton Hill brownstone might be the most photographed home in Brooklyn, but it is not a Brooklyn that most of us will ever be able to call our own.
*Correction: The Huxtable’s home was actually part of a New York City-based set. The home’s exterior was shot in the village, and the interior was initially filmed at a studio in Brooklyn before production moved to Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens.
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