While Sampson Dahl's ex-girlfriend thought the old laundromat he was considering as a potential new apartment was "disgusting," he saw the potential for a great live-work space. He moved in a month later.
"I don't think a space needs to be a perfect representation of what we hope a simple mind looks like," Dahl tells CNBC Make It. "I think a space should be an imperfect representation of the people who are in it at that moment in their lives."
The 27-year-old production designer is no stranger to living in commercial spaces; he used to live in a warehouse in Chicago, so he knew going into his apartment hunt that he wanted to repeat that experience.
"I like the freedom of a commercial space, even though there are definitely fewer tenant rights," he said. "Something feels more ethical about moving into a vacant storefront that's been empty for years than taking up an apartment in some residential neighborhood that you're not familiar with."
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Dahl found the former laundromat in Maspeth, Queens, in an online forum in 2019. A former tenant added a small kitchen that gives Dahl enough space to have a sink, stovetop, and toaster oven. The laundromat hasn't been in working order since 2005.
When he first moved in March 2019, the rent was $1750, and he paid two months' rent up front and an $875 security deposit. In 2021, his rent went up to $1850, and on average, he pays $120 for electricity and $60 for the internet.
Dahl is in production design, and one of the perks of the job is access to a lot of free furniture after the projects are done, so he's used that to decorate the space.
"This space enables some [my] hoarding tendencies, but I try to be as decorative with it as possible," Dahl says. "While most of the stuff is technically trash, and a lot of it was free, I try to curate it in the way that is most comfy to me."
For Dahl, his favorite part of living in the former laundromat is the sense of community he gets from his neighbors because it reminds him of his childhood. The 27-year-old grew up on a commune in Texas that he described as "not a cult [but] a nonprofit humanitarian organization that did disaster relief and homeless outreach."
"I think that really molded this kind of open door policy that I've had and maintained my adult life. That's how my mom always lived," he says.
It's because of that philosophy that Dahl has made it so that his living space is open to others. He even has his fridge and communal swing out front. That community feeling has proved essential for Dahl, especially after he was mugged in the neighborhood a couple of months ago.
"People are looking out for me more than I'm looking out for myself, and that's a true community. I knew true community as a child, and I know it again now," he says.
Although Dahl loves the space he created, which also includes a songwriting and organ station, he says he only lives there because it's what he can afford right now, but he hopes to move out and have it continue to be a collaborative studio space.
"It'll just be an open store for whoever wants to come in and learn to paint or continue a painting or learn to record a song or continue a song. It's for beginners and people who are already passionate about what they do," Dahl says.
"Living in a storefront has taught me resourcefulness in a way I've never known before. I really can't be too picky about what comes my way; I just have to make the best of it. And that's the greatest skill I could ask for, he added.
"It's nothing I could teach myself; it's something you can only learn from life. That's really in line with the life philosophy I have."
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