When Gus McKay moved in with Miranda Dempster last year, he brought only his kitchen knives and two posters.
“When I moved in, the kitchen was totally disgusting, with brown fake-veneer cabinets and a Formica bench” — that means counter — “with the Formica all peeling off,” says Ms. Dempster, who has lived here for 12 years. “It was very gross. One Thanksgiving I had a few days off and I thought, ‘I’m just going to do it.’ I got the guy at Home Depot to explain the different edges of tiles, and I figured it out pretty quickly. I tore out the cabinets and put in Ikea shelves. I got the butcher block at the Bowery Kitchen Supply store in Chelsea Market. I don’t think the whole kitchen cost more than $1,000. Then I had a friend come in and resand the floors and paint. That cost me about $2,000.”
Ms. Dempster gestures at the windows overlooking Abingdon Square, a little triangular park across the street.
“One of the things I love is the light,” she says. “It’s really great at night with no buildings obstructing it. In the winter, when there are no leaves and it’s easier to see, I would just sit here and gaze out.”
Park views, even in scruffy buildings, do not come cheap in Manhattan. Ms. Dempster and Mr. McKay, a 45-year-old tailor for the fashion label Tocca and fellow New Zealander who moved in with her a year ago, pay $2,300 a month for their apartment, which they estimate to be no larger than 600 square feet. And with two people in a small space, they must furnish very carefully.
In this apartment, all of the furnishings belong to Ms. Dempster. Some date back to her college years, in New Zealand. There’s a metal weave chair she found for $30, which she believes is a copy of a Harry Bertoia piece, and another chair by the Dutch designer Bob Roukema, who settled in New Zealand, that Ms. Dempster found in a secondhand store for $15 and realized was a sought-after collectible.
She also has a two-tier kidney-shaped glass side table (designer unknown) that she bought from a friend in New Zealand for $150, and a fake Saarinen table and four chairs, for which she paid $300 at the 26th Street flea market in Manhattan 10 years ago.
The most expensive item in the apartment is a Jens Risom sofa, which she bought for $1,000 at Regeneration, in Manhattan.
The contributions of Mr. McKay, who joins the conversation late, after coming home from work, have of necessity been minor.
“I was told expressly to bring only things I really needed,” he says.
He gestures around the room. “The ubiquitous New Zealand seafood poster that you see everywhere is mine,” he says, dryly. “That painting is mine. I cook — the knives in the kitchen are mine. That jacket that I walked in with is mine.”