What’s Behind the (Changing) Doors of Williamsburg?

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The Buildings of Brooklyn: Rising rents are one signal of gentrification. Shiny new doors are another.

Williamsburg, hit hard by rising rents, is home to a growing number of glassy high-rise condos, one sign of the sweeping changes in the neighborhood.  But it’s not just the glass on the walls that signal those changes. Often it is the glass on the front door.

According to NYU’s Furman Center, between 1990 and 2014 rents in Williamsburg soared by 78.7 percent. And according Kwesi Luke, a South Williamsburg Community Coordinator, the changing style of doors in the neighborhood is a key sign of what’s behind those rising rents—gentrification. “The building could be garbage,” Luke said, but when the wealthier residents move in, they always change the door, typically to glass or chrome. “It’s a sign of class,” he said.  

Walking the streets of Williamsburg, there is a clear correlation between the level of gentrification in certain parts of the neighborhood and the doors. That’s not to say that all of the front doors in leafy North Williamsburg are flashy; indeed, the Northside has its fair share of worn out front doors. But rather, a flashy front door is more likely to appear in North Williamsburg than in South Williamsburg. The chrome door handles scattered here and there on the Southside, meanwhile, are often in an awkward hybrid stage: great handles but shoddy paintwork.

This change in the style of Williamsburg’s front doors is a phenomenon that hardware employees have noticed, who say the doors are evolving too. At M&D Door & Hardware, a large warehouse that sells hardware to contractors, Mark Farkas, a sales assistant, said the noticeable difference is the change in the finishing. “The hardware has changed from brass to chrome,” he said.

While some of Farkas’ colleagues looked baffled at the idea, sales figures support the theory. At M&D Doors & Hardware, the ratio for the demand of brass to chrome doors was once 70:30. According to Farkas, that ratio flipped around the year 2000, with chrome now making up 70 percent of the orders.

But the devil is in the details. It’s mostly the handles that are changing to chrome, Farkas said, not necessarily always the door. Surprisingly, despite their popularity among the “yuppies”—as Farkas calls them—chrome hardware is actually cheaper than brass. The average price for chrome hardware at M&D Doors & Hardware is $37, whereas brass could cost upwards of $57. The change in door hardware is not necessarily a matter of showing off wealth, rather, it’s a matter of style. “It’s the yuppie style,” as Farkas puts it.

The evolving door handles and doors are a microcosm for the changing demographics of Williamsburg. The average income in Williamsburg increased by 41.1 percent from 2000 to 2014, according to the Furman Center. Along with changes in median income, gentrification has also changed the racial makeup of the neighborhood. According to nyc.gov city data, there was a 37 percent reduction in the number of black and Hispanic residents living in the District 33 area from 2000 to 2010. During the same time period, there was a 20 percent increase in the number of white residents living in the area. The change in doors might just be an aesthetic choice, but it is also emblematic of a deeper narrative, the differing tastes of the newer, richer, and ultimately whiter residents who are moving into the neighborhood.

So, who lives behind the glass doors? According Bridget Togans, a long-time resident, it’s kids: people she sees as privileged 20-somethings. Togans has lived in the Williamsburg and Bushwick area for 37 years and has seen the area change significantly over the decades.“The doors change according to the fashion of these children, most of whom come from rich homes out of state,” Togans said.

She described their choice of doors matter of factly. “Their doors are rustic, more natural. Some are really psychedelic, with varying colors,” she said. Togans also noted that the newcomers like to “shellac” them, for a shine. The fact that the doors are changing is a sign that the neighborhood is becoming “very transient,” she said. img_1949

Still, for some, buying a new and sturdier front door is a matter of safety. Elise Lefteriou, a resident of nearby Bushwick, is in her late twenties, and she believes strongly in the door theory. “It actually happened to me!” she exclaimed. Lefteriou used to live along Gates Avenue, Bushwick, and lamented her old door as “the worst front door.” It would break all the time and random people would crack it open, asking for money. She eventually moved out. But she went back one year ago to check out what was going on with her old place.

And the front door had changed. At the time she lived there, two years ago, she was paying $1,800 in rent. The last time she checked, the rent had increased to $2,100. Lefteriou theorizes that the change of doors and increase in property value are related. On a practical level, the installation of chrome and glass doors “appears safer,” she said. But ultimately, it just looks more “welcoming” and “offers a luxury appeal.”

 

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