The Five Brooklyn Roommates Who Merged Two Households Into One

Emily Zaboski sometimes struggles to describe her living situation to people she meets.

“Everybody we know is like, ‘Wait, so you just — you have two apartments?’ And I’m like, ‘Well, no, but kind of,’” she said.

Ms. Zaboski technically has just one apartment. She and her roommate Jinn Liu moved into a three-bedroomapartment in Bushwick, Brooklyn, in the summer of 2020. At the same time, another group of roommates moved into the four-bedroom apartment on the floor above.

Ms. Zaboski and Ms. Liu didn’t think a lot about their upstairs neighbors, only to say hello in passing. They noticed they all seemed to be about the same age, in their mid-20s. Neither of the women expected to get to know their neighbors. They never had before.

“In New York, people are so separated,” Ms. Zaboski said. “Even the people who live next door to you, you don’t know their last names all the time.”

It only took about a month for the residents of the separate apartments to mingle over drinks on the outside patio. More than three years later, the two groups have all but merged into one household.

“I say I have four roommates,” said Sam Jaffe, one of the three tenants of the “penthouse” on the top floor, along with Parade Stone and Matt Scaptura.

The front doors tend to stay unlocked, and everyone flows between the two units. They used to text first to ask if someone in the other apartment had an ingredient they needed while cooking, but now they just let themselves in to grab what they need. They pop in to hang out or chat briefly during days they work from home.

The fivesome’s closeness grew in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, when not much was open and no one spent much time away from home.

“We were thrown together in a time where we weren’t allowed to see our families, and we were scared, and so it just became this support system and way to blow off steam,” Ms. Stone said.

Heading into the other apartment on a different floor or gathering outside on the patio “felt like we were still going somewhere,” Mr. Scaptura said.

Throughout the fall and winter of 2020, when quarantine rules proliferated, the group found themselves celebrating Halloween, Thanksgiving and the New Year at the house, instead of going out with separate friends.

Those traditions continue with regular family meals, movie nights on the couch, potlucks and afternoon barbecues, a Friends-giving feast in the fall and a Secret Santa as Christmas approaches. The roommates have also hosted jam sessions, open mics and parties for the full moon.

“I would definitely consider them some of my most immediate and close friends,” Ms. Liu said. “It feels sitcom-y in a really wholesome way.”

$2,800 (lower floor) and $3,200 (top floor) | Bushwick, Brooklyn

Occupations: Ms. Zaboski freelances as a photographer and as a creative director. Ms. Liu is a painter and works as a creative marketing manager at an ad tech company. Mr. Jaffe is an actor and trainer. Mr. Scaptura is a law student. Ms. Stone is a playwright and works as a receptionist and a freelance copywriter.

On space for art: Ms. Liu has painted murals in her bedroom and living room, in the house’s basement and on a fence outside, though she’d never made a mural before moving into the house. Ms. Zaboski uses the extra bedroom in the lower apartment as a creative studio where she takes photos, works with clay and makes jewelry. “Having space to make like that has afforded me a lot of cool opportunities as far as freelancing and having a greater ability to produce stuff that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise,” she said.

On sitcoms: While Ms. Stone compares sharing an apartment with two male roommates as similar to the premise of “New Girl,” Mr. Scaptura and Mr. Jaffe liken the situation to “Seinfeld.” “We have a Kramer friend, a really close friend who lives two or three blocks away, and he’s always down to hang,” Mr. Scaptura said. After booking an audition for a musical parody of the show, it was decided Mr. Jaffe was the Jerry of the group.

Creative pursuits underpin the friendships at the center of the collective.

Though they all have day jobs, each of the five members of the extended household is an artist or has some connection to the arts. Mr. Jaffe is an actor while Ms. Stone is a playwright; Ms. Liu and Ms. Zaboski are visual artists, focusing on painting, photography and design. Mr. Scaptura, now in law school, trained as an opera singer.

Ms. Stone, who completed a graduate degree in dramatic writing last year, said they all understand the highs and lows of being an artist, from the thrill of creating something new to the sting of rejection. She looks to her roommates as she finds her own footing professionally.

“I’ve admired how they’ve made such great careers for themselves and haven’t let their passions die,” she said.

In such close quarters, the relationships tend to be symbiotic and supportive. Instances when parties get messy — or theater karaoke continues into the wee hours of the morning — seem to be quickly forgotten.

Mr. Jaffe recently made a Pokémon drawing as a gift for Ms. Zaboski’s younger sister, and in return, Ms. Zaboski took some new headshots of him. Each one of the roommates has rehearsed scenes with Mr. Jaffe when he films himself for auditions. The roommates have also attended Ms. Stone’s play readings and a gallery show with work by Ms. Liu. They discuss how to set rates for freelance gigs and how to negotiate, share professional connections and rely on Mr. Scaptura to explain the legalese in their contracts despite his protestations that he is not their lawyer.

As Ms. Liu put it, “Everyone gives what they can toward each other.”

The roommates joke that they live in a commune, before clarifying that it’s not really a commune — and then reconsidering once again.

“I avoid using the word commune because it reminds me of ‘Midsommar’,” Mr. Jaffe said, referring to the 2019 horror film. “We are not a commune! But between our collaboration and our busy schedules and the way we all connect, that’s in essence what we are.”

As the roommates approach the end of their 20s, they’ve all contemplated what it might look like to live by themselves or with a romantic partner. They anticipate the band will break up eventually — but no one has real plans to make a change any time soon.

“It’s making me re-evaluate what I wanted from 30 years old,” Mr. Jaffe said. “I had expectations I’d be somewhere else in my life, and yet I’m somewhere completely different, and I’m so happy with it.”

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