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Housey Movies Round One: You've Got Mail

What do you get when you mix a shabby chic brownstone on the Upper West Side with a traditional-meets-sleek bachelor pad in a high rise on Riverside Drive?

Well! You get one of my favorite Housey Movies of all time: You’ve Got Mail.

(Readers of my blog will know that there is just no possible way I could start analyzing interior decorating in films with any other movie. You’ve Got Mail and I go way, way back. WAY back.)

After the jump, let’s get this party started! We’re talking about Kathleen Kelly’s brownstone, how much Joe must make a year to afford that huuuuge apartment on Riverside Drive, and what George means when he talks about the glory of rent control. “Six rooms, four-fifty a moooonth!”


  • KATHLEEN’S BROWNSTONE 1 of 27
    KATHLEEN'S BROWNSTONE
    Kathleen Kelly, a children's bookshop owner and heroine of darlingness, lives here, at the brownstone on the left. Her address (of course I have been there, hello holy pilgrimage!) is 328 West 89th Street. Classic Upper West Side address.
  • KATHLEEN’S FRONT DOOR 2 of 27
    KATHLEEN'S FRONT DOOR
    So, this is Kathleen's front door. She lives on the second floor of a brownstone, according to the camera panning of the opening scene. (A brownstone is a terraced or rowhouse built from Triassic sandstone, a commonly used building material before 1930.) You'll find brownstones mostly in the Upper West Side and Brooklyn, and they are highly covetable. They usually have six floors, and get ready to take the stairs (no elevators)!

    A good brownstone apartment is difficult to find, and once you snag one you tend to stay put. I like to imagine as I watch You've Got Mail that Kathleen grew up in this brownstone apartment with her mother (Cecelia Kelly! She was enchanting). Possibly she has rent control, like George. What is rent contol? Rent control is a magical little situation wherein you are guaranteed your same rent for as long as you continue to lease your unit. This means that, if you began your rent and paid $300 a month for a huge old place, and then in 2011, when that same place is worth $2800 a month, you are still paying, you got it, $300 a month. My neighbor has rent control and, well, let's not talk about it.

    FYI-A whole floor of a brownstone like Kathleen's typically rents for somewhere in the $3,000 a month range these days, depending on the upkeep of the unit and available amenities.
  • KATHLEEN’S LIVING ROOM 3 of 27
    KATHLEEN'S LIVING ROOM
    We can see from the opening sequence that Kathleen has what is called an "Alcove Studio," which is a fancy way of saying "there's no bedroom, but there is a dedicated bed area tucked away, so it's not in the middle of your space."

    Typically, a renter of a unit as large as Kathleen's (I'm going to guess it's 900 square feet) has temporary walls built to further separate living spaces and accommodate larger families. A brownstone with this open layout is quite difficult to find!

    I love the little details of this space, like the lace curtains in the bay window at the back of her apartment. I love the oversize mouldings, and the way she uses her desk to separate the space between her living/entertaining space and her sleeping space.

    Kathleen has a gorgeous old upright piano, and the most fantastic wallpaper my eyes have ever beheld. Between that wallpaper, the cabbage rose print slip cover on her couch, and the two plates hung on the wall in the foreground, I'm going to have to call this a classic shabby chic style apartment. Yes?
  • WATCHING FRANK LEAVE 4 of 27
    WATCHING FRANK LEAVE
    What we're seeing here is Kathleen's bedroom space (you can see her bed peeking out on the left). She has bench seating under her large bay window covered with lace curtains (what else!), and you can see the bench seating also doubles as additional book storage. In fact, that's the most striking element of Kathleen's apartment--the sheer amount of books! Shelves line the entire central portion of her apartment, and they are crammed with books. Of course, because she is a children's book lover!

    In this shot you also get a few peeks into her shabby chic style--generous throw pillows in a mishmash of sweet prints, an oversized arm chair with dust skirt, her green-stained hutch, and, of course, her old black Macintosh computer (screen saver: the Empire State Builidng, of course).
  • LET’S LOOK AT KATHLEEN’S BATH! 5 of 27
    LET'S LOOK AT KATHLEEN'S BATH!
    First, could you just die over the door framing there? So sweet.

    Kathleen's bathroom is quite large for a traditional NYC apartment, and it continues with the built in, decorative wooden trim of the apartment. From what I've been able to tell, she keeps perfumes and lotions, an antique brush and mirror set, and a stash of vitamins on the countertop. Sconces flanking the mirror provide a soft, warm glow. And can we please appreciate the way Kathleen's pajamas match her decor?
  • KATHLEEN’S DOOR 6 of 27
    KATHLEEN'S DOOR
    Here you can see Kathleen's intercom and peep hole (in action!).

    An intercom is used in the city in the case where there is no doorman. If someone wishes to visit, or if the UPS man brings a package, or if you are having your groceries delivered (something tells me Kathleen is the type to haul her groceries home from Zabars, though), they would buzz at the front door, at which point she would hit the key button on her intercom to unlock the main door downstairs. Then they'd knock at her door, and presto! It's actually a fairly exhausting ordeal (no, I don't have a doorman either).

    More amazing trim work here, and get a load of that stained glass window! Pow!
  • BYE, FRANK! 7 of 27
    BYE, FRANK!
    It had never occurred to me that Kathleen had the entire floor to herself until I realized from this shot that there is no hallway! Just her door.!

    In Breakfast At Tiffany's, Holly Golightly shares her floor with a neighbor--should we possibly review that one next?
  • OFF TO WORK 8 of 27
    OFF TO WORK
    Let's ignore the fact that she lives on 89th and works on 69th and that is forty full blocks of walking a day. Okay? Maybe she just really likes to walk, like the lead character in her favorite book, Elizabeth Bennet.
  • KATHLEEN’S KITCHEN 9 of 27
    KATHLEEN'S KITCHEN
    Oh, Kathleen has a good kitchen. What you are seeing out her window is the back of the brownstone on the next street up. Judging by her drying rack she has no dishwasher (common for older kitchens in an older brownstone).

    I love the distressed green paint on the table in the center, and the terribly old fashioned venting (?) under the sink. Note the daisy hanging over the sink just in the left of the shot. After all, daisies are her favorite flower. Don't you think they're so friendly?
  • KATHLEEN’S KITCHEN 10 of 27
    KATHLEEN'S KITCHEN
    Here is the view of the kitchen from the dining area. The minty blue linoleum is a great touch, and the french doors are pretty classic of an old brownstone like this. I get the sense that Nora Ephron (the film's director and long-time West Sider) really put a lot of emphasis on getting the particulars of this apartment just right. Kathleen has glass-front cabinets and an impressive set of wicker baskets atop her fridge. I wonder what she does with them? Picnics along the Hudson?

    (Pardon the tissues, Kathleen has a cold in this scene.)
  • KATHLEEN’S KITCHEN/DINING 11 of 27
    KATHLEEN'S KITCHEN/DINING
    You . . . are a lone reed. I love Frank. Don't you love Frank? Kathleen has room for a full-size six seater dining table in this apartment, and aren't I jealous? At the opposite end of this table you will find the front door. But at this end of the table, we have Frank. And his typewriter. Oh, Frank.

    Of course we see more of Kathleen's distressed green furniture in the hutch to the right, and of course she has it filled with all her dainty tea cups.
  • SAME DINING ROOM, DIFFERENT MAN 12 of 27
    SAME DINING ROOM, DIFFERENT MAN
    Joe just wants to be her friend, though he can see it's impossible. And with that great bread box under the table in the kitchen, and the gorgeous chair-height paneling on the wall . . . can you blame him?
  • KATHLEEN’S DESK 13 of 27
    KATHLEEN'S DESK
    When you have no walls to separate living spaces, you get creative. Here she's used her desk to create a distinction between the two halves of her apartment. The desk faces the large bay windows out front. She has a magazine caddy, a coffee cup to hold an assortment of writing utensils, fresh, punchy red flowers, and what is that I see? Is that a framed doily? Kathleen is SO my homegirl.
  • KATHLEEN’S DESK, FROM ANOTHER ANGLE 14 of 27
    KATHLEEN'S DESK, FROM ANOTHER ANGLE
    Books, flowers, pens, journals. Kathleen is a romantic. You can tell that she is sentimental about her belongings and the memories attached by her cluttered but cozy desk, I think.
  • KATHLEEN’S ALCOVE 15 of 27
    KATHLEEN'S ALCOVE
    For an "alcove studio," this sleeping space is quite large. Her bed looks like a standard size mattress, with a fabric covered headboard. I dig her mismatched end tables. She's mixing patterns like a pro here: stripes, large-scale florals and small-scale florals. I feel like you could run out and buy this entire set at the local Target, yes?

    Photos of family fill her end table. And do you suppose that happy violet on her pillowcase is embroidered?
  • KATHLEEN’S ALCOVE, POST CLOSING 16 of 27
    KATHLEEN'S ALCOVE, POST CLOSING
    Kathleen is so one of us, I feel. After her business shuts down and she breaks up with Frank (oh, Frank), she does what we all do in times of distress, and rearranges her furniture.

    Before, the bed was centered on the wall, it is now in the corner. The green hutch that shared a wall with the bay window is now her end table. She replaced her duvet for a quilt, and dragged a standing lamp to the bedside and small table to the foot, to house a stash of books. That funky swan thing is still there. I wonder about that swan thing every time I watch this. It's very . . something.
  • KATHLEEN’S ALCOVE, POST CLOSING 17 of 27
    KATHLEEN'S ALCOVE, POST CLOSING
    In her new arrangement there is a dressing table where the green distressed mini hutch used to live, and the oversized arm chair with the dust skirt has moved to the corner. Her desk has been wiped clean and her chair is now on the other side. She is looking inward, perhaps? The room seems so bare compared to how it looked in the opening scene. You really get the sense that Kathleen is going through a rebirth of sorts, paring things down, deciding what is most important.
  • LOOK AT THAT RUG ON THOSE STAIRS! 18 of 27
    LOOK AT THAT RUG ON THOSE STAIRS!
    Too good to be true, is what it is!
  • KATHLEEN’S LIVING ROOM 19 of 27
    KATHLEEN'S LIVING ROOM
    Joe comes to visit Kathleen while she's feeling under the weather, and while her alcove area is sparse and bare post-closing, her living room is bursting. She has mobiles from the shop hanging from the ceiling, her old shop sign is perched on the piano, and pillows are practically spilling over the sides of her couch. I get the feeling that if I were to visit Kathleen Kelly at her apartment, we could curl up on her couch with tea and talk late into the night. Don't you think so?
  • BLURRY SHOT OF THAT AMAZING HUTCH 20 of 27
    BLURRY SHOT OF THAT AMAZING HUTCH
    Girlfriend slides heavy on the "grandma" side of the decor scale, doesn't she though?
  • JUST CALL ME JOE 21 of 27
    JUST CALL ME JOE
    Joe's apartment is the opposite of Kathleen's in so many ways. Let's start with his building. Joe lives in a large building on Riverside Drive (152 insights into my soul!), which is a very nice street to live on indeed. (Mad Men's Freddy Rumsen lives at this same address).

    Where Kathleen's brownstone is small and personal, Joe's building is large and swanky. (Money, it's called moneyyyy.)
  • JOE’S ELEVATOR 22 of 27
    JOE'S ELEVATOR
    Something I hadn't picked up on until a recent viewing is that Joe's apartment takes up an entire floor of his building, just like Kathleen's. (Unlike Kathleen's, Joe's one floor is quite large. Like, huge large.) Here Joe is stepping into his elevator. You will notice that the elevator is a two-door elevator, and is run by an attendant. This is a security measure, since the elevator opens into his hallway, so not just anybody can get in willy nilly. For what Joe's got going on here (a full floor of a prewar on Riverside Drive), I would guess that, according to what I know of the market today, Joe might pay something in the $15,000-$20,000 a month range. He most likely owns, but in case he were renting, a landlord typically requires that the tenant make 40 times the amount of rent annually. Go ahead and mull that one over a bit.
  • JOE’S KITCHEN 23 of 27
    JOE'S KITCHEN
    Pardon the blurry shot of Patricia anxiously hurrying along her cup of espresso, but this here is Joe's eat-in kitchen. It is huge. He has a black backsplash, white glass-front cabinets, stainless steel fixtures, pendant lights spotlighting the island bar, and a HUGE espresso machine. Considering this movie came out in 1998, this kitchen is fairly on point for today's trends, isn't it?
  • JOE’S KITCHEN, AGAIN 24 of 27
    JOE'S KITCHEN, AGAIN
    Words like thither! Mischance! Felicity! Joe may not "get" Pride and Prejudice, but boy do I get this kitchen! Behind Joe you can see his breakfast nook, the built-in white hutches (which store, of all things, two small matching white ceramic teapots), a little wet bar (seemingly holding nothing), and of course, the ubiquitous bowl of fruit. To the right, on the floor (not in this shot), is Brinkley's green pillow the size of an inner tube.
  • THE CLOCK! 25 of 27
    THE CLOCK!
    The clock! Do you remember seeing this clock for the first time and actually gasping at it's awesomeness? Because I do, and I was sixteen. That clock! This is Joe's hallway. A hallway like this in a NYC apartment is unheard of. On the left, hanging on the wall, is what appears to be a matching set of prints. Entirely impersonal but extremely tasteful, from what I have been able to tell they are probably architectural renderings of various interesting buildings. On the vaguely Mission-style bench are two red and cream striped pillows, a color scheme that continues in Joe's kitchen and bedroom.
  • MORE OF JOE’S HALLWAY 26 of 27
    MORE OF JOE'S HALLWAY
    Has Patricial left yet? Cause I so gotta email my EGF. (Electronic Girl Friend, duh.) They are so MFEO! (I am mixing my Tom/Meg movies here now.)
  • AND FINALLY, JOE’S OFFICE 27 of 27
    AND FINALLY, JOE'S OFFICE
    Where the magic happens. Every time I watch this movie I am struck by the greyhound weathervane in his window. Where do you think he found that?

    Where Kathleen's apartment is chock-full of sentimental items, books, fresh flowers, and mixed patterns, Joe's entire apartment follows the same thought-out color scheme, with largely impersonal touches thrown in for decorative measure. It's a perfect reflection of their separate versions of their same business--Kathleen's homey, eclectic Shop Around The Corner, and Joe's cold, big box discount book retailer, Fox Books, and how in life, sometimes opposites really do attract.

Many thanks to Hooked On Houses for images while my software isn’t cooperating. The witty text? That’s all me, baby.

What movie shall we do next?

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