It was a Sunday morning in December, and my boyfriend and I were both in bad moods.
We had spent the past few days zig-zagging lower Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn, looking for our first apartment together, and the lineup so far hadn’t been great. We’d seen a sixth-floor walkup where the kitchen sink was positioned behind a pillar, so I’d have to plant myself a couple feet away and then sort of lean over at the waist to wash the dishes. One apartment overlooked a charming street, but had no kitchen—just a mini fridge and a hot plate—and a monthly rent well above our budget. Yet another had a “bedroom” barely big enough for a twin bed.
We woke up with sore feet and high anxiety. We had only a couple of days to find a place before our move-in date. And, as anyone who’s ever looked for a rental in New York City (and is not a millionaire) knows, the process usually involves looking at a lot of apartments (some flat-out bleak, others with quirks of various kinds), then racing everybody else in the market to nab the least-undesirable one. Sometimes literally: We’d gone to one open house where somebody got the apartment because they ran faster to the bank. To make things worse, it was pouring rain.
We trudged over to look at what felt like our 33rd apartment in four days—one more, we said, before we sent in an application for the place with the weird sink. This apartment had seemed promising in the listing: big windows, wood floors, and a pretty roomy bedroom, in New York apartment terms. But we’d learned to keep our expectations low. What looked like a reasonably sized room in the listing would turn out, in person, to be the size of a closet. Or, we’d realize, poking our heads into a bathroom, that there were no photos of it online for a reason.
When we got to the listing address, we rang the buzzer and climbed the stairs, cautiously assessing the whole way. Nice location. Clean hallways. Two flights up—not bad. The existing tenants waved us down the hall and we stepped inside. The doorway opened into a spacious kitchen—right away we could see it came with a real fridge, a range, and a fully accessible large sink with no columns in front of it. Beyond the kitchen was a living room with wood floors, stately molding, and two big windows. Even with the rain, the apartment was bright. I looked at my boyfriend and raised my eyebrows. We headed into the bedroom, double the size of every one we’d seen so far. We’d long ago accepted that we’d be waking up in the dark every day, but this one had a window. With the couple and their dog in the other room, we quietly conferred: Let’s go for it.
We stepped back into the kitchen where the tenants were waiting. We asked how they liked living there. “We love it,” they said. Then, looking at each other, hesitating: “There is just one thing that takes getting used to.”
Here it comes, I thought. In New York language this could be anything from a hot-water pipe that clanks all night long to a well-established colony of cockroaches in the walls. Suddenly I realized there was a curtain across a narrow stretch of the kitchen that I hadn’t inspected. The woman whisked it back to reveal—yes—a shower stall.
I had heard about apartments like these. Before I moved to New York I read that Jonathan Larson, the creator of Rent, had lived in a walk-up in the Village with a bathtub in the middle of the kitchen. At the time it seemed like a quirk of a New York that had disappeared, along with the abandoned lofts and entirely graffiti-covered subway cars in Larson’s play. Then, a few years ago, there was an apartment featured in the local news as an example of how absurd New York apartments can be. That one was on the Lower East Side, and had a slim shower stall next to the sink and across from the oven—you could flip pancakes with your conditioner in. The rent was nearly $1,800 a month. And the crazy thing is, someone took it.
Now, looking at the shower stall in a corner of this kitchen, I understood why. This place was incredible—too good to be true: lots of light, a closet, space to spread out, and, apparently, no mice (I asked). It was in our budget and had no broker’s fee. Except, that shower.
We needed to decide quickly, and the apartment was just too good to pass up, certainly compared to the other options on the table. We scrambled our paperwork together in a coffee shop nearby and emailed in our application (in true New York style, we beat another couple by five minutes).
Over the next two days, though, while we waited to sign the papers, I felt mounting anxiety about the shower situation. It sounded so ridiculous that I was hesitant to voice it. But the thing was, for me, I felt I’d built my independent life in my old apartment—and the bathroom was, oddly enough, an important part of that. At first, working long hours in a stressful job, showering was just another checkbox in a long list of things I had to do when I got home before I would allow myself to relax—walk dog, make dinner, do dishes, pack lunch, catch up on emails, hang up clothes, take shower.
But during the five years I lived in the apartment, with a rotating roster of roommates, I had learned to use my nightly shower to create a separation between the frenetic energy of the day and a quieter, slower time for myself. It was a way of washing off the city, a bad date, a comment from a colleague, a mistake I’d made. It had become an important daily ritual, a place of simple relaxation and unwinding: I’d close the door on my roommate, put on some music, maybe even light a candle, and take a few minutes to slow my brain down. Once in a while I’d take a bath. For me, moving into a place where there was no bathtub, just a small stall with a curtain pulled across—and no bathroom door to close—felt a little like giving up a space and a time that was just mine. Any nervousness I had about transitioning from living proudly on my own for so long to living with someone else attached itself to that shower stall in the kitchen.
Still, I reasoned, I loved this place. And I could make the shower nice. I could take this step I was so excited about, merging my life with somebody, and still make space for the things that were important to me. How many times had I actually used my bathtub, anyway? I could count them on one hand. And, I could see us there, in that apartment. I wanted to build the new routines that make up a life together.
We moved in on another cold, wet weekend, and we prioritized a few small changes to the shower-in-the-kitchen scenario. I negotiated with the management company to install a glass door in place of the curtain, which makes the shower look a little more polished when it’s not in use, and creates more space inside when I’m showering—no curtain sticking to my legs. For a moving-in gift, my parents gave us a new set of white towels and a bath mat—nothing fancy, but they’re soft and crisp and make shower time just a bit more luxurious. We fastened a set of hooks to the glass door to hang all of them neatly and save space. And we allocated a window ledge next to the shower to hold a few accoutrements—a candle, a speaker, a few nice bath products. With that, and the bath mat laid down, the space feels like an intentional and separate nook of its own, less like showering in the middle of the kitchen.
Four months later, despite my anxieties, I’d even say that having a shower in the kitchen is a plus, living with someone else. We can both get ready for the day at the same time—one of us can be brushing our teeth, the other taking a shower—no need to take turns for the bathroom. Nobody is late for work because they were waiting for the other person to hurry up in the bathroom. We are careful to give each other space and privacy. At night, I still take a few minutes in there to myself, to let go of the day and settle into a slower place.
If anything, having a shower in our kitchen has made me more conscious of how important that is: making even the smallest of routines a little moment for self care. It’s a bit harder to do without a bathroom door to close—but it’s doable.
Plus, having a shower across from our kitchen sink is a small price to pay for an apartment that catches a breeze all through it on warm days, a three-minute walk from reading, lazily, on the Hudson River after work.
And, someday, when we’re far from here, we can say we lived the New York life for a while, in a funny little apartment with a shower in the kitchen.
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