Andy Chen and Waqas Jawaid met a decade ago as students at Princeton University. During graduate school, they lived an hour apart, with Mr. Chen studying graphic design at the Rhode Island School of Design and Mr. Jawaid studying architecture at Harvard.
Five years ago, while living in Boston, they started their graphic design studio, Isometric Studio, “a synthesis between graphic design and architecture,” Mr. Chen said. Their clients are primarily universities, museums and cultural institutions.
After moving to Brooklyn, they bounced among sublets and rentals, most recently living and working out of a lofty Williamsburg triplex with a rent of $4,150 a month. Their studio space was in the basement, with living quarters on top. Business was thriving, with bigger clients and bigger projects. So the men, both in their early 30s, wanted to invest in something more permanent — a similar live-work space, but one that they owned.
As they pondered their next steps, their basement flooded, forcing them to move their work space upstairs and hastening their decision.
Last winter, they contacted a friend, Christophe Tedjasukmana, then at Citi Habitats and now at the Corcoran Group, who had helped them find the triplex. Their aim was to keep their monthly outlay roughly the same, in the low $4,000s, and to avoid the mansion tax with a purchase price below $1 million.
“Because we operate a design studio out of the space, the aesthetics were important,” Mr. Chen said. “We wanted it to feel auspicious but modest, architecturally impressive but not ostentatious.”
Having worked in a basement, the duo and their three staffers craved natural light. “The place had to look like a place you could Instagram,” Mr. Jawaid said.
They found it quickly — a boxy space with arched windows and exposed wood beams on the ground floor of a converted factory on Berry Street, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, not far from Greenpoint. The day before their appointment, they walked past the condominium and peeked inside.
“Andy said, ‘I love it,’ and usually he is very critical,” Mr. Jawaid said. “We took a selfie and knew this was going to be it.”
The apartment had been on the market for three months, originally priced at around $1.05 million, but the price had dropped to $999,000; monthly charges were around $800. Inside, the 880 square feet featured an open kitchen with high-end appliances — although the kitchen was unimportant to the pair. “We don’t cook,” Mr. Jawaid said.
A small back room had a closet but no natural light source, apart from a small cutout window. For sleeping quarters, it would do.
But the price, they felt, was high for a ground-floor unit with no real bedroom and no outdoor space, Mr. Tedjasukmana said.
They offered $880,000. “Nobody seemed to want this property, even though we really loved it,” Mr. Chen said. He suspected that concern over the looming L train shutdown was dampening interest, as was the location on a fairly busy street.
“If you didn’t have the window shade down, people would peek in, and for a lot of people that’s disqualifying,” Mr. Chen said. “What might be a defect to some people was an idiosyncrasy or a nuance, but simply not a problem for us.”
Negotiations proceeded in fits and starts. The seller would not budge on price. In the meantime, the men found a well-placed condo duplex on Wythe Avenue near Metropolitan Avenue. Its 1,500 square feet included a basement bedroom that opened to an outside patio. The price was $999,000, with monthly charges of around $600.
“Having just come from a place where the basement flooded, we didn’t want to risk that,” said Mr. Chen, who also disliked the ceilings. “Architects care about how you hide the complexity of what is in the ceiling,” he said, and these ceilings had “weird folds.”
They found another viable option on Myrtle Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, a sunny corner unit for $999,000, with monthly charges of around $1,200. The rectangular, 1,350-square-foot space had a lofted sleeping area and built-in bookshelves. “We stayed there for hours,” Mr. Tedjasukmana said.
The problem was the vacant lot next door, with construction pending. Scaffolding was already in place.
“There was the possibility that the biggest asset, the windows, would be covered to an unknown extent,” Mr. Chen said. “Who knew how high the actual construction of the parapet on the roof would be, because it was different on different diagrams.”
In the worst-case scenario, all of their lot-line windows would be obscured. Nevertheless, they made an offer just above the asking price, with a request that the seller pay all transaction costs.
“A lot of people were seeing this unit,” Mr. Chen said. “It was clear it was going to go quickly. We still thought it was worth the money.”
They ultimately lost to an all-cash offer at the asking price, but they weren’t too disappointed. Besides the uncertain light situation, the neighborhood was not very walkable, with few places to eat. “There was a sense of placelessness,” Mr. Chen said.
All the while, their interest in the Berry Street condo had persisted, as had their efforts to buy it. After weeks of back and forth, the parties agreed on a price of $980,000.
Mr. Chen and Mr. Jawaid closed earlier this summer. Once the place was theirs, they lined the windowsills with potted plants and laid out the furniture using 3D software.
“There are a few key things that make it wonderful to be in,” Mr. Jawaid said. “We have a few hours of sunlight in the morning, but it’s the most wonderful sunlight. We are more collaborative, and we communicate better with our team. And everybody appreciates that during lunch they have many, many options.”
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