Quiet Dinner with the Vanderloos
A nuclear family finds its nest on Grand Street
by Margaret Mitchell
High on the 11th floor, the Vanderloo family is sitting down to supper at a wooden table laid with a red-checked cloth. Little Niels, train-happy and not about to be distracted by the edible pleasures of a hot dog, chatters away about Thomas and Edward and the other engines in the train yard; baby Iris, all round eyes and gummy half-grins, is passed from lap to lap as her parents eat, cajole Niels to try a few more bites, and graciously entertain a guest.
While this cozy vision of domestic bliss may seem mundane (we should all be so lucky), it’s not something that unfolded simply, or by happenstance. The Vanderloos found their Lower East Side aerie by dint of shoe leather and persistence, and by acting on a curious impulse that led to discovering their new home.
Lydia and Chris Vanderloo met in Wilmington, Delaware, where Chris was raised, and where his extended family still lives. Lydia traversed the country in her childhood, spending time on both the East and West Coasts, but met Chris when she was a young student at the University of Delaware. Once she graduated, she determined to move to New York – with or without Chris.
Without, it turned out, but the relationship withstood time and distance. Lydia spent three years in New York on her own, until she and Chris rented an apartment in Astoria, Queens, “at the last stop on the N train,” according to Chris. “I was always into music,” says Chris. “I was into record retail in high school,” so starting his own store, Other Music, for non-mainstream artists, seemed a natural (if highly optimistic) outgrowth. Chris and two partners opened their shop at East 4th Street and Lafayette – “right across from Tower Records,” – he says now, with evident pride. But the outerborough commute soon became a grind, and the couple moved to a one-bedroom rental apartment in the East Village. Once baby Niels was born in November 2001, the Vanderloos needed more space. They took a two-bedroom in their building, but began to feel the frustration shared by legions of urban renters: The money only flows one way – out, into the landlord’s pocket.
Expecting their second baby in 2004, Lydia and Chris decided to take the plunge and buy a place – the New York City equivalent of a “starter home.” Quickly daunted by astronomical prices in the East Village, they began to explore the boroughs, and to gingerly consider life off the isle of Manhattan.
“Lots of our friends live in Brooklyn,” says Lydia, and the couple looked for long weeks for someplace right – and affordable. After weeks of grueling Brooklyn treks, the place for their family was right under their noses, and on the correct side of the East River.
Chris often ran near the water and had wondered about the large coop buildings of Grand Street; on weekends, the couple meandered the neighborhood, tasting their way through Gus’ pickles and Kossar’s bialys, enjoying the area’s family-oriented feel and sense of quiet space. “It was like a whole other world down here,” says Chris. They decided to look on the Lower East Side.
“Let’s just go into that LoHo and see what they have,” Lydia said to Chris one day when Niels was stashed with his grandparents. That experiment led to a short practical education in co-op real estate, during which the Vanderloos were pleasantly surprised to see what their dollars could bring, in terms of space, light, and services, within the Grand Street buildings. They wanted room for their growing family and – given the growing imminence of Iris’s birth – wished to avoid the challenges and frustrations of home renovation. They looked, and they found.
Last July, they saw what would be their apartment – with large, open rooms, a beautifully renovated modern kitchen, and some interior walls remodeled or removed entirely to let in more light – and “bid on it within the week,” says Lydia. Despite the inevitable sleepless nights that universally plague first-home buyers, “LoHo shephered us through the co-op experience. Dov was very hands-on,” says Lydia. That winter – in December, five days after Iris was born – the Vanderloos moved in.
Now they’re enjoying becoming part of the neighborhood, making friends and discovering connections through Niels’ day care center. But mainly, they’re enjoying each other – sharing simple suppers, Niels’ shenanigans, and Iris’ gurgling coos – and settling into the life their family will forge together, on Grand Street.