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A Cold Loft in an Industrial Part of Bedford-Stuyvesant? Sure.

Category: Finance,Real Estate

From the moment Nicholas Horner walked into the loft where he now lives, he knew it was exactly what he was looking for. That was five and a half years ago, when he had just moved to New York from northern Michigan to develop a music career.

He heard about the loft from a friend. On the top floor of an old factory building in a small, still-industrial area on the northern edge of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, the apartment consisted of a single enormous room with two, partially enclosed loft beds that reminded him of birdhouses. Computers and computer equipment were scattered around the room — his first roommate worked in I.T. — but even so, there was a lot of space.

“It was so open, it was just like this dream creative space,” Mr. Horner said. “I knew that this was a space I wanted to live and create a community in.”

In the years since, he founded the nonprofit folk music festival Porch Stomp on Governors Island, as well as Mergers and Compositions, a works-in-progress series that he produces with Will Berger, the Metropolitan Opera radio commentator, whom he met at a heavy metal show. He also tours with his band, Nick and Luke, which he describes as a “raucous brothers’ harmony duo.”

At the time, however, he wasn’t sure what shape the community — or his musical career — would take. After leaving Michigan, where he had worked at the Interlochen Center for the Arts, a fine arts boarding school, he sensed that New York and the loft were the right places to figure it out.

Many of his neighbors were creative types drawn to the large, open spaces and the reasonable rent. Mr. Horner’s apartment has rented for $1,550 a month since he moved in, of which he pays half.

There is one catch: The rent doesn’t include heat. And because of the extremely high ceilings and rattly old windows, that can run up to $400 a month.

“I remember the first winter; it was so cold. It was really miserable to live here. I couldn’t really afford heat,” he said. “And I was so broke at first that I used to live off eggs and 50-pound bags of rice, so I wasn’t really eating well enough to stay warm.”

$775 | Bedford-Stuyvesant

Occupation: Musician. Mr. Horner is a singer and songwriter, and he plays guitar, banjo and upright bass. He is a member of the band Nick and Luke, and also produces musical events.
On living a 10-minute walk from a subway station: “I love its location,” he said of the apartment. “It’s an easy bike ride to rehearsals and far enough from the train that it feels a bit sequestered.”
On thin walls: When his neighbor watches TV, he can hear it, but he has fielded only one noise complaint, “when an old roommate was playing drums for hours and the rehearsal immediately segued into a flat-footing rehearsal,” he said. “We learned our lesson and now keep everything respectful!”

The first few winters were bad. But after a fellowship at Make Music New York, he started Porch Stomp, and a catering gig made it possible to stock the kitchen with more than just rice and eggs.

Frugality remains a way of life, however, and he still under-heats the apartment to save money. Now, when his hands get numb, he sometimes works at the nearby Brooklyn Kolache Co., a bakery specializing in Texan-style Czech pastries.

“You have to learn to like fashions involving sweaters,” Mr. Horner said. “If you’re cold, you go out and do stuff, or just deal with it.”

Cold winters aside, the loft has been everything he hoped it would be. He has held countless musical gatherings there, and it has become a hub for the various communities he has fostered in Porch Stomp and Mergers and Compositions.

“It’s been a huge part of my experience. I learned to be an adult here, fixing plumbing, building things. Like I built this stage from leftover wood from a project in the building,” he said, gesturing at a low platform the sofa sits on. “It’s not much, but it sets the tone for performances.”

Roommates have come and gone over the years. He makes sure new arrivals are aware before they move in that the loft functions as a community space, he said, “and they might come home to find five guys sitting in a circle with banjos.”

The d├ęcor is a mix of function — clothing racks hanging below the loft beds — and eclecticism: Covering the large walls is art bequeathed by friends, scavenged from the street or taken from the leave-behind piles of tenants moving out.

The space used to be packed with a lot more, including three large bookshelves, but of late Mr. Horner has taken pains to pare things down, putting “take a book” signs on a shelf, for example, when he has performances in the loft. He recently started touring more, he explained, and wanted to clear out stuff, “in case I have to leave abruptly.”

The lease is month-to-month, and there are signs that the landlord has been positioning the building to attract more upscale tenants. The lobby has been renovated, vacant apartments upgraded and construction noise from the rooftop above his loft — a huge and heretofore completely unfinished space — has become a regular occurrence.

When Mr. Horner is not touring, the roof is among his favorite spots in New York. He uses it as a place to write, play music and exercise.

“I go up there whenever I need to escape the world,” he said. “I feel like I’m constantly faced with pressure to succeed.”

The roof, he added, “anchors me in a lot of ways — at night, it’s the most serene experience, to be above it all.”

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