Newsspot – A Harlem House That Can Baby-Sit

Afternoon UK-based readers! To the Americans, however…I’m not sure what to call it…

Today I thought I’d go for a bit more home and design for the newsspot today, seeing as (to me) a well planned out house and living space is everything in a home, and the house below certainly has it. I always have, and still do love good architecture and design. This article drew me in with the picture more than anything, but the article itself is just as good. So, since I haven’t really got much else to say…dive in! Oh, by the way, since this is only three fifths of the entire story, look no further than here, to continue on.


A Harlem House That Can Baby-Sit

Trevor Tondro for The New York Times

The renovation, by the architects Gregory Merryweather and Lawrence Blough, cost $675,000. The sofa is from Design Within Reach, but most of the furniture was inherited or bought at thrift stores, and much of it has been freshened with new upholstery. More Photos »

Published: March 14, 2012


EXPANDING the footprint of their houses and apartments is a luxury few New Yorkers have. So it is not surprising that when Nicole Betancourt and Bray Poor, an artistic couple with two young children, decided they wanted a courtyard in their Harlem brownstone, they created one inside the house: By removing parts of the floor and ceiling, they carved out an interior opening that permits light, sound and smells to travel up and down three floors, keeping the family connected.

“We lived in Mexico a couple of years, and all the houses had internal courtyards,” Mr. Poor says. “We talked a lot to the architects about what could be done to make our house like that, and they came up with these huge holes that go all the way up to the third floor. A lot of our friends said, ‘That’s going to drive you crazy with the kids yelling,’ but when they start to go at it like kids, we get to talk it out before they draw blood.”

“And when I’m cooking, I know when things are done,” adds Ms. Betancourt, who founded the Web site Parent Earth, which promotes healthy eating for families, and who therefore happens to do a lot of cooking. “If the smell reaches up there,” she says, referring to the children’s floor above the kitchen, “it is totally done. What is not great is that if you do burn something, the bedrooms smell like burned food.”

The stair rails and the exposed beams might stop a child or an errant adult from falling through, but what about toys from the children’s room?

“Roll-y toys can fall through,” Ms. Betancourt says. “We have had parties where people are having cocktails, and toys come through the roof. But the wrath follows afterward.”

Ms. Betancourt and Mr. Poor, who have been married 12 years, are a creative couple. Mr. Poor, 46, is a theater sound engineer, former actor and musician. And yes, Bray Poor is his real name. His father “was very WASPy,” he says. “WASPs love using last names. People ask me all the time, did I make up that name. Why would I make up a name that combined the sound of a donkey and poverty?”

Ms. Betancourt, 44, is a documentary filmmaker whose mother was once a nun and whose father renovated town houses in Brooklyn. She won an Emmy for her 1996 documentary,“Before You Go: A Daughter’s Diary,” which dealt with the death of her father, secretly gay for much of his life, from AIDS.

They have two daughters, Pilar, 8, and Biúlu, 4, and making time for family is not something they simply give lip service to. They left SoHo to live in Mexico for two years, renting out their loft, not just because they were disgusted with how commercial the neighborhood had become, but because they wanted to be able to enjoy life together.

“It was the typical New York story,” Mr. Poor says. “There wasn’t enough time to be parents, enough time to be lovers, enough time to work properly.”

In SoHo, Ms. Betancourt says, everyone seemed to be 33 and “sort of beautiful.” There were no old people or extended families or bands of children running around having a good time. But in Mexico, where “families in general move as a unit,” Mr. Poor says, their priorities began to shift.

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