The First Priority: Counter Space

The First Priority: Counter Space

Around three years ago, Adrienne Cheatham took a seat next to Stephen Bailey at Vinatería, a wine bar in Harlem.

They started talking. They started dating. Last summer, they began planning their wedding.

Both were renting in Harlem; Ms. Cheatham, a studio, and Mr. Bailey, a one-bedroom in a condo building.

“It was a good bachelor pad, but it wasn’t a long-term kind of solution,” said Mr. Bailey, a graduate of Emory University and Yale Law School, and the founder and chief executive officer of execonline.com, which offers online leadership programs to organizations.

So the couple embarked upon a hunt for a bigger home to share, a two- or three-bedroom apartment in central Harlem, below 135th Street. For assistance, Mr. Bailey contacted Amuche Chukudebelu, a salesman at Citi Habitats, whom he knew through friends.

The couple’s priority was the kitchen. Ms. Cheatham, who like Mr. Bailey is in her 30s, is a chef and the founder of the SundayBest pop-up dining series. She grew up in Chicago, helping out at the restaurants her mother managed, and later went to Florida A&M University and the Institute of Culinary Education in New York. She was runner-up on the most recent season of the Bravo TV show “Top Chef.”

“Gas was not negotiable,” Ms. Cheatham said, but gas stoves are common in the city. Less common, but equally essential, was ample counter space.

“I definitely wanted to be able to roll out dough — pie dough or pasta dough — and space to set my mise-en-place containers on the countertop while plating,” she said.

The couple’s budget was wide: $1 million to $2 million or so. “They wanted to see what value they would get at different price ranges,” Mr. Chukudebelu said.

To their surprise, they ran into a lot of problematic layouts. In one place, a renovation had turned two small bedrooms into one large one, and the dining room had become a bedroom, with a shuttered window open to the kitchen — a floor plan that seemed awkward to them.

The couple looked at a three-bedroom in a building on West 124th Street, but decided the kitchen was too small.CreditKatherine Marks for The New York Times

An early contender was a three-bedroom of nearly 2,000 square feet with a rooftop view, in a boutique condominium building on West 124th Street. The price was just under $2.2 million, with monthly charges of about $1,500.

They weren’t happy, however, with the allocation of space. “The living room was so huge you could have carved out five more feet, which would have made the kitchen so much better,” Ms. Cheatham said. But the price was at the top of their budget, and the couple decided not to pursue the apartment.

A three-bedroom condo with 1,300 square feet on Frederick Douglass Boulevard was listed for $1.625 million, with monthly charges of less than $1,000. The views were great, but again the layout was odd. The living room was triangular, with a blunted point. They couldn’t figure out how they would arrange their furniture.

They also visited a three-bedroom on Frederick Douglass Boulevard, but the triangular living room ruled it out.CreditKatherine Marks for The New York Times

The couple went to see a glassy condo building a bit farther east with plenty of amenities. There, they visited a three-bedroom with around 1,450 square feet, listed for a little more than $1.8 million.

But on a higher floor, a two-bedroom with similar square footage was listed for a lower price, $1.699 million. They were curious about the apportionment of space, but the place had been rented out and was not yet being shown.

“Amuche was able to work his magic and get us in” to see it, Mr. Bailey said, “even though they weren’t ready to show it.”

The apartment the couple chose is in a 10-year-old building with a 24-hour doorman, a gym and a bike room.CreditKatherine Marks for The New York Times

As they entered, Ms. Cheatham said, “Stephen walked straight to the windows, and I was looking at the counter space.”

The place had a larger living-and-dining area than the three-bedroom downstairs and a view that took in New Jersey. The counter space was more than enough. Still, Ms. Cheatham hesitated at the idea of two bedrooms rather than three. “Did we want to sacrifice a bedroom for more open space in the main area?” she wondered.

They decided they did.

The couple bought the unit last fall for $1.6 million; monthly charges are about $1,000. Then they began a renovation that included the replacement of all the kitchen appliances.

They moved in just before their March wedding in New Orleans, Mr. Bailey’s hometown. Ms. Cheatham, who began her career as a pastry cook, baked the wedding cake.

Their new Sub-Zero refrigerator regulates temperature, humidity and airflow. “Even blackberries, which have a short shelf life, don’t mold for, like, two weeks,” Ms. Cheatham said. “We travel and leave some groceries in the fridge, and they are still fine.”

They added a 110-bottle Sub-Zero wine cooler. “Both of us are huge wine lovers,” Mr. Bailey said. “We met over a glass of wine.”

The kitchen sink has a Moen professional faucet that “has nice water pressure and a nice high arc, so it stays out of the way if I need to get in the sink to cut octopus apart or scale some fish,” Ms. Cheatham said.

And she chose a Viking stove. “I needed something that had higher B.T.U.’s,” she said. “You can heat things up faster if you have more firepower, so if I have a large pan, I have a large fire that can get my whole pan hot.”

Recently, the couple gave a dinner for 15, and both kitchen and living room were up to the job.

“We love the place so much,” Mr. Bailey said. “Do we really live here? You have to remind yourself you are not crashing in someone else’s apartment. I love it even more because I know that Adrienne loves it.”

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