For years after she moved to Connecticut from New York, Roz Chast had recurring dreams about her beloved post-college apartment on West 73rd Street. The storyline and set design of those reveries varied, but she was always on the street where she had lived.
“There would be things like, I would go into the building and the lobby was a newsstand,” said Ms. Chast, 68, whose face you may sort of recognize from her celebrated cartoons in “The New Yorker” — she has been contributing to the magazine since 1978 — and whose latest book, the graphic narrative “I Must Be Dreaming,” comes out this week. “Or the building had been turned into a hotel. Or there was a marble staircase. Or I had an apartment that had this giant hole in the middle where I could look into the apartment below. Or the floor slanted. Or my apartment had a balcony, but then I would go out on the balcony and know that I wasn’t in New York anymore.”
She added: “I remember in one dream, I went out the back door of the building and there was, like, a goat farm.”
Roz Chast, a longtime cartoonist for The New Yorker and the author of the new graphic narrative “I Must Be Dreaming,” used to collect cans of strange, unappetizing food. She has since turned her attention elsewhere, but the cans are still on shelves in the dining area, topped by photos and witchy art. Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
Ms. Chast and her husband, Bill Franzen, a writer, left New York City for a four-bedroom colonial in Ridgefield, Conn., in 1990, when their first child was a toddler and a second baby was on the way.
“I work at home, and my husband works at home, and there were going to be two kids,” said Ms. Chast, who grew up in Flatbush, Brooklyn. “We were looking in Brooklyn, and we just couldn’t afford the kind of space we needed. To put it bluntly, the house cost less than a two-bedroom in Park Slope.”
They chose Ridgefield because it had good schools and was within their budget. The house, built in 1940, had the distinct advantage of being handy to town. “I said, ‘I am not going to live in a place where I can’t just walk to the library or the drugstore or wherever. That’s not happening,’” recalled Ms. Chast, who at the time didn’t drive and, frankly, still prefers not to.
Roz Chast, 68
Occupation: Cartoonist, illustrator, author
Size matters: “My husband told me that the reason I like our house is because, in some ways, it’s like an apartment. The rooms aren’t on a grand scale, and they all have a reason for being — like there was a dining room, there was a living room, there was a kitchen.”
Mr. Franzen did the preliminary scouting of the territory and narrowed the options to three properties. “And I knew immediately that this would be the one, I think partly because of the built-in bookshelves,” Ms. Chast said. “There was something about them that was welcoming. It was like, ‘You have books, you have junk — put your books and your crap here.’”
There is space for it all: the glasses etched with Charles Addams cartoons on the mantel; the fez plucked from a bin at a Goodwill outpost in Maine (“My head calls out for a fez,” Ms. Chast said); the plates and ashtrays illustrated with New Yorker cartoons; the worktable for making pysanky eggs, a method of decoration using melted wax and dye. But there is not so much space as to cause stress for a certain homeowner who already tilts toward the anxious.
“I didn’t want a gigantic house where the ceilings are like 15 feet high for no reason and where there’s a room where you wrap presents, or a scary bonus room. I didn’t want any of that crap,” Ms. Chast said. “I wanted standard rooms.”
Soon after the couple moved in, Ms. Chast’s mother-in-law, a kitchen planner, drew up designs to take down a wall and combine the kitchen and dining room. New glass-fronted cabinets, painted a pale lilac, were installed. Later, a computer room replaced the screened porch. “It just wasn’t us,” Ms. Chast said. “Not the porch. Not the screens. None of that was us.”
Each to her own, of course. Despite the existence of an actual living room, the previous owners, to Ms. Chast’s endless bafflement, routinely gathered in a small, unprepossessing space off the kitchen. It is now home to parrots Eli, an African gray, and Jacky, a Caique.
“You know how in the olden days people reserved the actual living room for company? I don’t know, maybe the boss was coming to dinner, and I’d cook a roast and we’d take the covers off the couch,” said Ms. Chast, whose native language is wry.
When her children moved out on their own, she finally replaced the furniture in the living room with an inoffensive new blue-gray sofa and matching chairs.
Ms. Chast outlined the reasons for the delay. She is bad at making decisions about such things: “Do I want modern? Do I want old-fashioned? Do I want country crock?” Also, furniture is “sort of expensive.” And finally, she admitted, she is “terrible at decorating.”
More to the point, perhaps, it is simply not a priority. Ms. Chast’s focus is on the art, which is multifarious. Here, a maquette by Baxter Koziol; there, a sculpture of a pigeon by Pat McCarthy. Paintings and photographs hang on gallery walls in the kitchen. Framed cartoons by Gahan Wilson, Jules Feiffer, Frank Modell and Liana Finck, many of them traded for her own cartoons, line the walls of the downstairs bathroom. Elsewhere, there’s a Gary Panter and a pair of Helen Hokinsons.
A source of particular delight for Ms. Chast is her collection of scarves, designed in the 1940s and 1950s by New Yorker cartoonists, among them Mr. Addams, James Thurber, Otto Soglow, Sam Cobean and Anatol Kovarsky. They were intended to be worn; Ms. Chast does not wear them. She had them framed.
Eight years ago, she rented a pied-à-terre — or, as a friend refers to it, a pomme de terre — in Manhattan, a studio apartment that is, coincidentally, very close to her old place on West 73rd Street. “The place where I really feel most at home is still the Upper West Side,” Ms. Chast said a bit ruefully. “It’s weird, because I’ve lived in Ridgefield longer than I’ve lived anyplace.”
“And I love it,” she continued. “I love our house. I love the town. But there’s some aspect of it — and I think a lot has to do with the driving — where I will never feel at home the way I feel at home in New York.”
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