The arrival of the COVID19 pandemic in the United States sparked a massive departure out of big cities. In 2020, New York City alone saw 183,000 more people moving out than moving in, according to this All Connect/My Move coronavirus relocation study. Despite the exodus—and the shutdown of restaurants, theatres, gyms, stores, and other staples of urban life—city native and National Geographic photographer Celeste Sloman says she never considered leaving New York for the suburbs or a smaller city or town.
“Growing up in New York City was so impactful for me,” says Sloman, who was raised in Lower Manhattan’s iconic East Village neighborhood in an apartment she describes as having a “beautiful chaos kind of vibe.”
“My parents were painters and my father is a photographer as well, so there were books and pictures and papers and art everywhere… I think it’s very important for my heart to be here.”
So, instead of moving out, Sloman leaned into New York City life in a big way. As COVID19 cases skyrocketed in early 2020, Sloman traveled alone to hospitals, taking portraits of physicians and nurses who were doing heroic work and documenting doctor burnout on the frontlines of the pandemic. In September, she also purchased her first home, a studio loft in Brooklyn. Her self-described dream space is one big room in a converted candy factory. The lofted bedroom sits upstairs, offering some separation from the main living and working area.
Sloman, who’d always worked from home before the pandemic, says that her loft fulfills a lifelong dream of interweaving home, work, and creativity into her own space. She calls the main, open space a “blank canvas” for her photography. “Ever since I was a kid, I always wanted to have my own home studio where people would come to me,” Sloman adds. “I think when people come into your home, the energy is so much different. They’re able to actually get to know me and I’m able to make a deeper connection with them.”
Big, open spaces like Sloman’s lost some of their luster during the pandemic. Remote work and school and being stuck inside 24/7 temporarily made closed floor plans—with clearly defined rooms and doors that can be closed for privacy—more appealing. Moving forward, however, open floor plans will likely be the layout of choice for homebuyers, according to recent real estate-related research. A Glimpse into the Future of Home, a survey of recent and future homebuyers commissioned by CENTURY 21, found that 60 percent of respondents consider an open floor plan their top must-have feature in a home.
What drew Sloman to her specific, open floor plan was the light filtering through the loft’s huge windows. As a photographer, light is particularly important to Sloman, who says she knew the Brooklyn loft “was the one” the first time she visited because it would make it possible for her to shoot indoors in great daylight. Even though she fell in love with the place, though, Sloman admits she didn’t think she’d actually get to live there, particularly when another potential buyer submitted an all-cash, above asking price offer.
Her real estate agent thought otherwise, and helped Sloman successfully navigate the path to homeownership. Says Sloman, “Being a first-time homebuyer was intimidating, especially as a freelancer. It took me a few years to be approved for a mortgage because the bank didn’t understand that some months I’ll make a good salary and other months I won’t make any [money]. My agent really helped me through that and made me see how I could actually purchase this home.”
In addition to identifying properties that met Sloman’s specific needs—such as the great daylight and open floor plan—Sloman’s real estate agent helped her craft the winning offer that won over the sellers. In particular, the agent encouraged Sloman to write a personal letter to the sellers, who are artists themselves, to tell her story and share her vision for the space.
Adds Sloman, “The owners chose me because I wanted to keep the loft as a creative space. It’s really wild. I’ve been looking for this space for years and it came to me right when I needed it.”
Sloman’s experience reflects the realities of purchasing a home, particularly in the pandemic-era real estate market when inventory is low and all-cash offers are increasingly common. According to the CENTURY 21® survey, compared to recent homebuyers, future homebuyers are even more concerned about not getting the property they want, and about being able to secure a low-interest rate. As such, 86 percent of future buyers reported that they are more likely to use a real estate agent to get help with negotiations and the search process.
Now that Sloman is settled in her first home, she’s thoughtfully decorating the space with art and keepsakes from her family and childhood. Among the items on display are some of her father’s cameras and even her first camera, a toy that makes a squeaky noise when the button on top is pressed. There are also models of ships crafted by her grandfather, a former U.S. Merchant Marine captain, and a self-portrait drawn by her youngest brother, Schuyler, who Sloman photographs frequently and who has been her muse most of his life.
“I love connecting my family to this home even though I live here by myself,” Sloman says. “It’s very exciting for me to be able to make my own world and then invite others into it.”
And, now that New York is opening up again, Sloman says she’s also excited to get outside, reconnect with people, and discover how New Yorkers are reimagining and restructuring their lives. Unlike during the first year of the pandemic, a review of mail-forwarding data from the United States Postal Service suggests that people are once again moving to New York and other East Coast cities. Sloman says she believes that the recent arrivals include people who left during the pandemic and missed some of what she loves most about calling New York home: the vibrancy, the energy, and the unmistakable sounds.