A Home of Therapeutic Hearts

For greater than a decade, actress-writer Joyce Storey and her late husband, Tony Award–successful lighting director Howell Binkley, stored an open-door coverage at their Harlem brownstone , ceaselessly internet hosting dancers, actors, and designers who had been on the town for theatrical initiatives of their spare downstairs bed room. (Their unit spans three flooring of the four-level constructing.) When the 2 main administrators Binkley labored with all through his profession took skilled breaks round 2012, the couple started subleasing their backside flooring to momentary tenants. After Storey’s husband died of lung most cancers in 2020, she determined to proceed welcoming what she calls a “rotating solid of characters” (a few of whose names have been modified for this story) into the house’s unused rooms—some staying for weeks, others for years. Right here, Storey explains how the bizarre dwelling association originated and the way sharing her house has expanded her world.

I moved into the brownstone 13 years in the past; Howell discovered it by an web search round 2006. Even on the West Village carriage home the place he lived prior, there was all the time someone on his sofa. He was simply that charismatic man. Howell had an affiliate from San Diego who would come to work on Broadway and keep right here for months at a time. At different occasions, it’d be one dancer after one other within the downstairs suite. There have been all the time folks staying right here.

When Howell had a lean patch in his schedule, I advised we lease out the bottom-floor suite as a substitute of freely giving the house, as we’d performed previously. Howell and the unique landlord had a handshake deal—”Simply do what you’ve obtained to do and pay the lease.” The owner and his spouse divorced, and she or he now owns the constructing. She’s completely effective with me renting out rooms; we talked about what was and wasn’t allowed. She simply didn’t need me to Airbnb it.

It began with pals of pals. We didn’t need full-time renters, as a result of we needed to nonetheless be capable of adorn and simply have our house. It’s a three-bedroom with two upstairs bedrooms and a toilet, a parlor degree with the primary dwelling areas and a yard and deck, and a downstairs suite. This works properly as a result of there’s a flooring in between. We by no means requested for market worth; folks would pay about $600 to $1,100 monthly, relying on what they might afford.

In 2013, I used to be working for a theatrical lighting firm and shared an workplace with a lady whose fiancé dumped her. She was caught. I used to be like, “You’ll be able to transfer in right here.” After about eight months, she moved out, and about six months later, when her buddy’s spouse left him, he stayed right here for round a 12 months. However a pair we met by mutual pals, Martina and Rafael, had been sort of the primary official tenants. She’s from Germany, he’s from Uruguay—they used to dwell in New York, then moved to Uruguay and would come again within the summers. They began staying with us downstairs. They might typically watch TV at evening in the lounge, particularly when the World Cup was on, however they had been respectful of our house.

And so it started. The general public who stayed right here had been in transition from a relationship, so I dubbed our place Hazel’s Home of Therapeutic Hearts, named after our canine on the time, a Saint Bernard. She was just like the celeb of the neighborhood; she grew to become an exquisite therapeutic a part of folks’s journeys. After my husband’s Broadway exhibits picked up—he was the lighting designer for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton—it was good firm for me when he was engaged on the street.

In 2016, a lady named Marta, the perfect buddy of a pricey buddy from Bosnia, wanted a spot to remain. Marta, who’s from Montenegro, labored on a cruise ship, and her fiancé on the ship fell in love with another person, so she got here right here. In the meantime, Martina and her husband cut up after 35 years of marriage. I’d been saving the downstairs room for them that summer time, however she wrote and stated, “Don’t hassle.” A few month after Marta moved in, Martina modified her thoughts and stated she needed the room in any case. Martina is like household, so we improvised, and she or he stayed within the upstairs workplace on a pull-out couch mattress. Martina would go to the German outlets—oh, the smells in the home when she was cooking!—and Marta would go to Queens to a specialty Serbian place. They’d all the time say, “These components are from again house.” Howell adored each of them.

When Howell obtained sick, Martina was simply such a assist, you recognize, to have in the home. She would roll up her sleeves and simply dig into no matter wanted to get performed. Marta instructed me about this temple in Montenegro that folks imagine to be therapeutic. Her mother and father requested for a shirt of Howell’s—it needed to be one thing he wore so much; it was his Hamilton one—they usually went on a spiritual pilgrimage of kinds. They’d it blessed by a priest and despatched it again with some holy water. Howell continued to put on the shirt after that. I simply thought that was probably the most caring, loving factor anyone might ever do.

I believed after Howell left this world, the rotating door would shut, however what advanced was, it was nice for me to have the corporate.

4 years in the past, Marta moved into the fourth-floor unit, and in Could of final 12 months, her shut buddy Mia moved into our downstairs suite. I took Howell’s workplace and made it my workplace slash spare bed room. It’s obtained a sitting space and even a correct mattress nowadays. It’s onerous for me to share that upstairs house as a result of that’s my sanctuary. I’m an introvert who extroverts. However with the appropriate folks, it’s been effective. Mia and I share groceries; it’s a mi casa, su casa sort of factor. She brings house focaccia from the Italian restaurant the place she works. We’ll sit collectively and she or he has, like, one million spreads—guacamole, hummus. It’s very candy, as a result of since Howell handed, I haven’t cooked all that a lot.

There have been so many individuals who’ve come and gone by right here who’ve grow to be pals. I normally give them my recommendation, like “In case you’re having hassle with this job, why don’t you stop? You’ll be able to keep right here so long as you need.” It feels good to offer again in that method. When it was someone’s birthday, we’d all the time have fun. All people buys everyone little Christmas presents. You realize, it was by no means a rule. It simply organically occurred.

I additionally get to know these individuals who have had fascinating lives. I get the enjoyment of that; you don’t get so myopic about your individual world. I’ve invites to Macedonia and Serbia and Montenegro and Germany and Uruguay. All these locations, I do know folks. It’s actually sort of cool.

Head again to the Could/June 2023 difficulty homepage