My sqft: A British Expat and Aspiring Food Vlogger Makes a Home in Hamilton Heights
Our ongoing series “My sqft” checks out the homes of 6sqft’s friends, family and fellow New Yorkers across all the boroughs. Our latest interior adventure brings us to Vanessa Lee’s lovely Hamilton Heights apartment. Want to see your home featured here? Get in touch!
Hamilton Heights isn’t quite the neighborhood you’d expect to find a London girl who’s new to the city, but expat Vanessa Lee revels in the distance of her out of the way ‘hood. “I’m one of the outliers that don’t mind traveling over an hour across town to discover a cute little bar or coffee shop,” she says, “I try somewhere new every opportunity I can.”
Like most New York newbies, Vanessa was looking for an affordable place to live when she arrived. This meant that living alone was out of the question, and living in a neighborhood like Soho or Tribeca would mean squeezing into an expensive sardine can with several others. So rather than settling into any downtown address she could find, she turned her budgetary constraints into an opportunity for observation and discovery. Ahead she talks to 6sqft about her transition from London to NYC; why she chose out of the way Hamilton Heights; and how she’s now using food and video as a way to explore and share her adventures around the city with others.
Where are you originally from? How did you choose Hamilton Heights?
I was born and raised in London and I moved to NYC for modeling and a few other projects. Originally I moved to Brooklyn Heights, which I loved and still do—I might move back! However, my best friends live in Hamilton Heights so I was always in the area and then I found the most incredible apartment with the sweetest roommates, so it seemed silly not to.
While I love the idea of living downtown, there is something really relaxing about being out of the hustle of everything 24/7. It takes about 45 minutes to get anywhere, which means I stay out all day if I’m already downtown. But I’m just really happy to have found a genuinely lovely place to call home—and of course, live in NYC! I’m weird and always want to give myself a struggle because I feel like I have it so good already. Living in my dream neighborhood would probably make me feel so guilty!
You’ve only been in this apartment for six months now, for other New York newbies what tips do you have for making a place feel like your home?
I’m a minimalist, so for me “home” is literally having my essentials such as my laptop, iPhone, and somewhere to sit and read. For example, there is a gorgeous and super sunny reading alcove in my apartment which was definitely the selling point when I came to view it. You don’t have to have a lot of space to make a place “work” for you. In fact, I prefer smaller apartments, but a quiet spot to sit, read, do work, and meditate is really important.
What have been some of the biggest challenges for you living here so far? How does NYC compare to London?
Having grown up in a city and visited New York a handful of times before this, I was expecting the transition from London to New York to be seamless. However, I’ve definitely been surprised by a couple of unexpected stumbling blocks I’ve had, such as simply finding my “local” spots. But I’m one of the outliers who don’t mind traveling over an hour across town to discover a cute little bar or coffee shop; I try somewhere new every opportunity I can. But growing up in London, where everything is much comparatively more slow-paced, I found it challenging getting used to how active the city always is. But I’ve found it really exciting to always have someone to meet or somewhere to be. I’m now very much always on-the-go. I’ll go with my friend Baron Von Fancy’s saying “Never Not Working!”
You’ve recently started to get involved with food and food video-blogging. How did this come about?
A few months ago I came across a YouTube video by Casey Neistat. I should explain that I’m not a TV or Netflix person AT ALL, but for some reason I was transfixed on his content and I couldn’t stop watching! He has an incredible go-getter message and it really resonated with me. I love that a relatively normal guy can be so captivating simply through having a unique and ambitious outlook on life. It got me thinking that if people were watching his daily “vlogs” they might be interested in some of the crazy and spontaneous adventures my friends and I have. I taught myself about basic filming, editing, and then picked up my iPhone and went for it. After a while, I noticed there was a recurring theme of food, cooking, dinner parties, as my friends and I are all foodies. I realized it made more sense to focus on that and cultivate a video series which is sort of “storytelling” through cooking and food. And that’s how it all started. I filmed my close friends and then bit by bit their friends saw the videos and told other people. From there it just kind of grew into a series.
Where do you want to take the series?
It’s hard to say, as it’s still in the very early stages but definitely my passion project. I’m a strong advocate that hard work isn’t work if you enjoy what you do. And even though I’m often up at 6 a.m. editing or planning something to do with my project before I go to my real job, it’s something I’m crazy about. I’ve been kind of blown away by the unexpected and overwhelming opportunities that have sprung up through people seeing my videos so far—and it’s only been eight weeks since I started posting them. So right now I’m figuring out where I want to take it and how to maximize my content distribution without losing its authenticity. One thing I know for sure is that I’d like to continue making them, in some form or another, until it’s no longer fun.
What are some of your favorite spots in Hamilton Heights? What makes this neighborhood unique for you?
I’m all about discovering the hole-in-the-wall local spots which literally means the 24/7 $1 taco trunk in my ‘hood or a non-English speaking Flushing restaurant that’s hidden underneath a bridge. So far I’ve found some cute spots in Hamilton Heights, one of which is Sugar Hill Cafe. I know all the models go to the Instagram-friendly, super healthy places like The Butcher’s Daughter and Dimes—both great but I wouldn’t say they’re my go-to spots—but I’m a serious foodie. FOOD OVER PHOTO-FRIENDLINESS! I love ordering something that’s so delicious, but would photograph poorly. That’s when you know it’s good.
Any neighborhoods you’d like to get to know more?
- My 1,000sqft: Tour a Newly Transplanted Couple’s Bushwick Apartment Filled With Craigslist Finds
- My 1200sqft: Inside Model Summer Rayne Oakes’ Williamsburg Oasis Filled With 500+ Plants
- My 275sqft: Inside a Creative Director’s Chic Lower East Side Micro-Apartment