Even before Jens Rasmussen and Maria Aparo decided to spend their lives together, they shared several experiences. Both, for instance, have enjoyed long theatrical careers in New York, and both left the city during the coronavirus pandemic to care for a dying family member.
But sharing a 3,200-square-foot loft in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, was completely unexpected.
They knew each other only remotely, having run in the same professional circles for more than a decade. When Ms. Aparo wrote on social media about the experience of caring for a grandmother with Parkinson’s disease, Mr. Rasmussen, who was temporarily living in Wisconsin to care for his ailing father, responded.
The two had several exchanges before Mr. Rasmussen decided to pick up the phone. “I finally said: ‘I’m going to reach out because I need to talk about it and you probably do, too. This is not a text conversation,’” he said.
The first call was on a Friday and went late into the night. She dreamed about him afterward — and he spent the morning talking about her with his mother. They spoke again the next night, and the next. “Something we definitely shared when we started talking was a very similar and very alive new shift in perspective in terms of what we valued,” Ms. Aparo said.
The third call lasted until sunrise, and the next day Mr. Rasmussen bought a ticket to visit Ms. Aparo in Georgia. “I landed and she took me straight to meet her family,” he said.
It was April 2021; by May, they were already talking about the possibility of a family of their own. “We both knew we wanted different things than we did before the pandemic,” Ms. Aparo said, “and we decided really quickly that starting a family would be one of those things.”
$500 | Greenpoint, Brooklyn
Jens Rasmussen, 52; Maria Aparo, 36
Occupation: Performers and theater professionals
The Bechdel Project: In 2015, Ms. Rasmussen founded a nonprofit, the Bechdel Project, with two theater colleagues. Ms. Aparo is now involved in the organization, which supports storytelling that features at least two female characters who talk to each other about something other than men — criteria established informally as “the Bechdel test” by the comic strip artist Alison Bechdel.
On rustic living: While Ms. Aparo and Mr. Rasmussen have plenty of space, they point out that living in a loft isn’t always as glamorous as some might think. “We basically live in a warehouse,” Ms. Aparo said. “A true live-work space.”
The summer of 2021 was a series of phone calls, video chats and in-person visits, often planned around Ms. Aparo’s ovulation cycles.
She traveled to Wisconsin for the funeral of Mr. Rasmussen’s father; he traveled to Georgia for the funeral of Ms. Aparo’s grandmother, and they began figuring out where they wanted to live. “It was all very beautiful. It felt like some kind of Nicholas Sparks novel,” Ms. Aparo laughed, referring to the popular romantic novelist. “But really, you can’t write it like that.”
They talked about Chicago and Atlanta but, in the end, they couldn’t walk away from Mr. Rasmussen’s loft in Greenpoint, for which he still maintained a lease. Not only was it 3,200 square feet, but the rent was cheap. Five-hundred-dollars-a-month cheap.
“We’re covered by the original loft law,” Mr. Rasmussen explained.
In 1982, the New York State Legislature passed Article 7-C of the Multiple Dwelling Law, also known as the Loft Law, creating a new class of buildings in response to artists who had converted industrial spaces, or lofts, into live-work apartments. At the time, many of the artists living in these places were being evicted, as downtown Manhattan real estate values increased. Article 7-B of the Multiple Dwelling Law, championed by artists like Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg and Claes Oldenburg, provided eviction and rent-increase protections for existing loft tenants who completed a certification process with the state.
Most of the tenants who applied for eligibility were in SoHo, but a few artists in Brooklyn also applied, including Mr. Rasmussen’s mother-in-law from an earlier marriage. She passed the loft on to Mr. Rasmussen and his first wife more than two decades ago, but they eventually separated as friends. “In the divorce,” he said, “I gave her all the money and she gave me the loft.”
For the past 26 years, Mr. Rasmussen has lived there, in what used to be a potato chip factory. “Essentially my rent is locked in at the rate it was when they first started renting in this building,” he said. “I’m thankful for the loft law — so thankful. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to stay in the city.”
Mr. Rasmussen and Ms. Aparo moved back to New York in September 2021; eight months later their son, Luca, was born in their bedroom. They knew they had enough room for their growing family — and so much more.
“When we decided to start a family,” Ms. Aparo said, “we wanted to stay involved in the arts, and we knew we had to figure out a way to make it work. For us, luckily, we knew were completely in control of our environment. We are in a wonderful home. We’re in charge of our entire space. We can create an environment that fosters family time and fosters creativity.”
The couple have the top floor of the building. Half of it is a private two-bedroom living space while the other half has two open studios that Ms. Aparo describes as “blank canvases for creativity.”
They charge fees for the commercial use of the studios — film and photography shoots — but they also make the spaces available for free to individual artists and community organizations. Ms. Aparo, who previously worked in the fetish industry, is particularly passionate about sex positivity, mental health and bodily autonomy, and the couple support work around such issues. After the Dobbs v. Jackson decision, which eliminated the constitutional right to an abortion, they created a yearlong writing residency for Jeanne Dorsey, a playwright working on a project about Martha Goddard, who created the modern-day rape kit. They have also given studio space to organizations focused on women’s reproductive rights.
With Luca in her arms, Ms. Aparo noted that the couple’s method of parenting was mostly centered on being positive role models, and that the same principle extended to how they made use of their abundant space. “Having a community space,” she said, “a place that is serving the communities will, I hope, have an impact on Luca. Our goal is to hang on to the apartment for as long as we can.”
“Pass it on to him,” Mr. Rasmussen added, smiling down at his son.
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