These lucky artists live rent-free in a $6M Brooklyn mansion



While the average renter shells out more than $2,400 a month to live in this corner of Brooklyn, the residents of Bedford-Stuyvesant’s most expensive building don’t pay a penny.

The landmarked, 10-bedroom John C. Kelly estate at 247 Hancock St. became and remains Bed-Stuy’s priciest-ever property when a mysterious LLC paid $6.275 million for it in 2018. Instead of occupying the 41-foot-wide, 7,533-square-foot palazzo-style manse himself, though, the anonymous new owner invited a group of grateful Georgian artists to shack up there rent-free.

“I had no idea about the house, I just mentioned that I was not sure what I was gonna do — maybe I’ll go back to Georgia — and he was like, ‘Why don’t you stay in the house?’ ” Eteri Chkadua told The Post of the fateful conversation she had with the property’s owner, who is also her old friend and an art collector.

The Post has confirmed the man, a Georgian hotel magnate, is the homeowner, but he declined to comment for this article.

It was autumn 2020 at the time, and the 57-year-old painter had finally been let back into the US after five months stuck within the COVID-closed borders of Vietnam. She had been calling to ask if he was still interested in a painting of hers when he offered her the rent deal of a lifetime.

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The palatial, stand-alone property’s facade.
Matt Vacca

In November, Eteri and her brother moved into the manor. “Nobody was living there, and it was full of boxes, like a warehouse,” she recalled. The second floor soon became her studio. Her brother went below.

“It’s like being in that century,” Eteri’s brother, Gocha Chkadua, told The Post of living in the old house, which was built in 1887. He has filled its cavernous basement with “Alien Bloom” — his glow-in-the-dark recycled flower creations, made from plastic cups, umbrella handles and other detritus. He lets Eteri choose the flowers’ colors.

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A subterranean installation of Gocha Chkadua’s glowing flower creations at 247 Hancock St.

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Gocha’s “Alien Bloom” installation in the light.

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The home is full of original details and its residents’ artwork.

Although alone at first, over the past year, the siblings have become housemates with an ever-changing roster of creatives, most of them Georgian nationals. Eteri lists them: There were the two artist couples — an actor and his model wife, along with a chef and her photographer boyfriend, all friends of the owner — who stayed until a few months ago, a Dutch writer, a professor from Berkeley and various others. Countless guests. A French photographer is coming later this month. Sometimes, the owner stays — currently, his son is living there. No one pays rent.

In addition to making the outer-borough palace into a work-live space, Eteri has also used it to quench her insatiable desire to throw dinner parties.

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Guests at one of Eteri Chkadua’s many dinner parties.

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One of many Georgian feasts Eteri has prepared for guests.

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The cozy gathering was kept to just a couple friends due to the current COVID-19 surge.

“In Georgia, we make big parties, and when you have a guest, you have to have a dinner,” she explained of her deep love for hosting and feeding kindred spirits, many of them recent strangers.

“It was very movie set to me, very reminiscent of the dinner parties, say, Salvador Dalí would throw — the salon-style,” commented one recurrent guest, the neo-conceptual artist and 37-year Greenpoint resident Richard Humann, who met Eteri through his art dealer. “I haven’t really been in that situation in New York in 20 years, give or take, so it was refreshing to be at a dinner party with other artists who don’t know each other.”

In the winter, Eteri prefers to host guests in the Corinthian-columned living room, but in the warmer months, she makes full use of the home’s private park-sized backyard.

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Friends gather for one of the many events Eteri has organized in the gigantic backyard.

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The home’s backyard on a sunny summer’s day.

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The events are free — Eteri does not charge for admission, and all are welcome.

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A backyard performance at the manse.

There, she has held screenings, showings, sound events, performance art showcases and more. Sometimes, random people wander off the street to enjoy the entertainment and lounge amid the landscaped gardens.

Recently, Eteri held a small joint birthday party for her and her brother, who is one year and five days her senior.

As with anything that exists in NYC for long enough, though, the address has had many lives, and was not always as tony as it is in the present moment: Its previous owner, Jamaican-born marketing executive Claudia Moran, bought it for $140,000 in 1986, and it was once an SRO. In its 134-year life, it has also been the scene of a Sharon Stone film shoot and hosted former-President Grover Cleveland.

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A recent dinner guest walks the ground floor’s halls.

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One of many rooms off the main gathering area.

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Eteri’s second-floor studio space.

To Eteri’s knowledge, there is no end in sight for its current incarnation: The owner — whom she speaks of in reverent tones — has no plans to develop, sell or otherwise do anything with the building. He has many children and friends in New York, she explained, and likes being able to provide them with a place to stay awhile.

Still, while there’s no lease to run out, Eteri’s gatherings have ephemerality to them, an aura that nothing gold can stay.

The Hancock Street space, and the parties in it, have a sense of “pure happenstance,” an “out of place feeling,” reflected Humann. Indeed, that such an ornate and enormous building in one of America’s hottest real estate markets should currently be mostly in use as a setting for the festive whims of one sociable painter is something of a New York miracle.


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