Like many college graduates, Hattie Kolb needed two main things: a job and a place to live.

Mrs. Culp was born and raised in New York, and she always knew she would be back. She decided that living in California, after four years of attending college outside of Los Angeles, wasn’t for her. And she knew her West would always be the Upper West Side, where she had lived in the same apartment since she was 10 years old, and where ballets, operas, art galleries, and Broadway shows were just a few blocks, a train, or a train station away. A taxi ride away. She likes to say that Central Park “was basically my backyard.”

She wanted that soul again. So, with no money or a job, she did what anyone else in their twenties would do: She moved back in with her parents.

She had many fond childhood memories of the rented pre-war two-bedroom house. her parents Her father worked for a non-profit organization and her mother was an art historian, and later a nursery school teacher “Loved a good party” She said. Returning to the “noisy, cramped apartment” was easy.

That was in 2014. And Ms. Culp is still there.

Why? This is the stuff of New York urban legend — the kind that makes New Yorkers swoon or hate, the kind that has earned Ms. Culp some mild fame, 241,000 followers on TikTok and 230,000 on Instagram.

Her parents’ apartment was rent-fixed, and when they retired and moved to Virginia in 2018, they turned the apartment over to her.

Ms. Culp now makes a living as a content creator. Followers are drawn to the dream of living on the cheap in an apartment Ms. Culp knows can fit one, but her following has grown as she explores the intersection between interior design and content creation.

$1,300 (maybe a little more. Please stop asking her.) | upper west side

works: Ms. Culp works as a full-time content creator in the home décor space.

About keeping the apartment in the family: Although Ms. Culp has no children, she says she intends to keep the fixed-rent flat for future generations. “I’ll always keep the flat, sure. And if I have kids who want to keep it too, sure. I’d love it.”

On living on the Upper West Side as an adult: “I’ve never been interested in the many things people want to come to New York for. This culture of hustle and bustle does not appeal to me. I want to be as far away from it all as possible. I don’t want to be in any trendy area, and I don’t want to go to a trendy restaurant. I just want to live my life, so I like the Upper West Side to be quiet and inviting, and make me feel alive.”

Content creation is now her job, but it took her some time to get to that place.

After graduating from college, Mrs. Culp got a job showing apartments for a real estate agency, which is a brutal and precarious profession in a city like New York. She estimates that she made only $1,000 during this period. “I had never had any adult experiences with real estate in New York City, so I had no idea,” she said in an interview.

She did that for two months and then became a teacher—her degree was in child development—another job that barely pays the bills in New York. Even her return to school at Hunter College for her graduate degree didn’t shake the feeling that she should be doing something different.

Although she wasn’t sure about her career, she was sure she had figured out her living situation, telling herself she “would be crazy if she didn’t take over the lease,” as her parents prepared to move out of the fixed-rent unit. In New York City, rent stabilization generally applies to apartments in buildings with at least six units built before 1974 or newer buildings that receive tax breaks. A nine-member board approves the percentages by which landlords can legally increase rents for these apartments.

The apartment is about 1,200 square feet, still in the low four figures for a neighborhood where the average monthly rent is $4,500.

When her parents left, she set out to make it her own. She said she abandoned her “boho” theme and took inspiration from the European-style architecture of the Upper West Side. The apartment is now more like an apartment in Paris. “I think I left the architecture of the neighborhood and the bones of my apartment – Really, it’s just aesthetic – guiding my design choices.

She began blogging about her experience, sharing changes she made to the apartment in real time. And while many Americans hid in their apartments with hors d’oeuvres, copies of Animal Crossing, and plenty of booze, Mrs. Culp was tearing down the walls.

People were watching, and then more people were watching. The whole world seems to know that she only paid $1,300 in rent, so much so that she hates to talk about this part. The New York Times has not told how much its rent has increased since 2021.

Instead, she focused on the apartment’s sophistication: the pink walls of her childhood bedroom were gone. It was first converted into a guest room for her parents and friends coming to town, and today it is her own personal library. The bookshelves are full of antiques and books from her childhood. The butler’s pantry (who can tell has one of these?) is painted a dark shade of green to convey a “very moody space” that resembles the entrance to a pub.

She used adhesive tiles to make her kitchen backsplash. A quick glance up, and you’ll see its copper-colored sticky paper ceiling. She also restored the fireplace, exposed pocket doors, installed crown molding, replaced door knobs, and made changes that, she says, returned the apartment to its “intended condition.”

And in between DIY projects, she quit her job as a teacher and became a full-time content creator last year. Fans (and haters) follow her apartment updates religiously.

While revealing the intimate details of where you sleep, socialize and cry to the world may seem upsetting, Ms Culp said doing so helped her find a global community.

“Opening up my life on social media and sharing what I love with the world has led me to make so many wonderful friendships and relationships that I otherwise would not have,” said Ms. Culp.

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