Recently I was at the Association for International Photography Art Dealers (AIPAD) show at the Park Avenue Armory. The abundance, diversity, and quality of the art shown in one space almost created a feeling of sensory overload, and I started to think about how thrilling it is to be in any place where the creative impulse is expressed by people, whether it be visual art, theater, dance, music, or architecture and design. The need for creative expression is fundamental to how we see ourselves as humans – the recognition we feel when we view the cave paintings from Paleolithic people living 40,000 years ago in Lascaux, France, emotionally spans the gap in time between us and them.
After leaving AIPAD, my thoughts turned to how we express our creativity when it comes to where we live. It might be a more efficient use of valuable real estate space to have every building in Manhattan exactly the same, with apartments only differing in how much space and how many rooms someone needed (and perhaps whether or not you felt the need for a doorman). The gables, terracotta ornaments, and decorative gargoyles at the Dakota (seen above) have no practical purpose. However, we all instinctively recoil when imagining Manhattan as a series of uniform buildings, neighborhoods identifiable only by street names as boundaries, not because you see the San Remo or a series of cast iron buildings. Rather than selecting an apartment near our workplace, many of us choose to live instead in neighborhoods farther away that express who we are as a human being. A person walking through the Art Deco lobby of the Century on Central Park West on the way to their apartment is surrounded by an esthetic that fits their own, and that is different but no less personally valid than that of someone entering their loft in Metal Shutter Houses in West Chelsea.
Real estate involves money and can be thought of as an investment, but unless you are buying solely to invest, the choice of what apartment you decide to live in speaks to so much more than a rational financial decision. We as humans need to express ourselves creatively, and we do so when we decide only to look at pre-war apartments with working fireplaces and moldings, or only on the Upper West Side park block with a terrace, or only downtown in a modern building with a view of the High Line. A good real estate agent will listen to what you want in the way that a search engine cannot. You can run a search for a two bedroom/ two bathroom apartment in a certain price range in a certain neighborhood and come up with some possibilities, or a good agent can listen to the creative desires being expressed and select apartments that are an excellent place to start looking. Sometimes you may even be introduced to a new neighborhood that you didn’t initially consider but that the agent thought you might like, based on what kind of apartment, and building, and neighborhood, you are looking for.
Pablo Picasso once said, “The purpose of art is washing the dust of our daily lives off our souls.” I can’t imagine a better way to wash this daily life debris off our souls than returning at the end of our day to a home that reflects our own sense of what is beautiful, from the external architecture of our building to the layout and décor of our personal space.