In New York, it often seems as if good and bad luck starts with where one lives. It’s not uncommon, for example, to hear people describe landing a great apartment as the stroke of good fortune that finally shifted their New York trajectory, the catalyst for a long string of future joys and success (or else, as the source of ongoing agita). But few homes have played as decisive and direct a role in their inhabitants’ professional rise at Cat Greenleaf’s brick townhouse in Boerum Hill.
Not long after buying the house, Greenleaf, a former NY1 traffic reporter, who was doing local interest segments for a morning show on WNBC, came up with an idea of conducting short celebrity interviews on her home’s narrow front stoop. The segment evolved into NBC’S highly successful “Talk Stoop,” transforming Greenleaf into a minor celebrity herself, especially after the show started appearing on Taxi TV, gas pumps, the USA Network and NBC affiliates across the country — a tribute, surely, to her considerable charm and business savvy, but also, she insists, to the house.
“After we first moved in, people would come up to us all the time and say, ‘I grew up hanging out in that house,’” she says. “I do believe that houses have remembered energy. We felt it from the second we walked in.”
The house does have a friendly and cheerful demeanor — though that can be hard to disentangle from Greenleaf herself. But good vibes aside, the stoop has provided an invaluable service. While any number of interview programs strive, usually in vain, for a kind of homey casualness, “Talk Stoop” nails it. Watching a celebrity shivering on a cold stone step in mid January somehow brings them into a human realm — aided, no doubt, by the fact that the now-famous stoop leads up to the house where Greenleaf actually lives, with her husband, Michael Rey, a producer on 60 Minutes, and their two young sons, Primo, 8, and Truman, 5.
The question that presents itself, at least to anyone who has followed the very uncasual Brooklyn real estate market of the past decade, is how Greenleaf secured a stoop on which to host a show in the first place.
As with most things, it was a combination of good business sense and grace — propitious timing and the kind of real estate magic that rarely manifests in real life.
In 2004 Greenleaf and Rey bought a for-sale-by-owner co-op in Prospect Heights. “We got in at a good moment, and few years later we were able to double our money,” she says. Of course, this still didn’t give them anywhere near what they needed to buy a townhouse in Boerum Hill. But a friend lived next door to their current home, which was at the time quite ramshackle. When the owner decided to sell and they reached out, he did the unthinkable and sold it to them for a price — $850,000 — that Greenleaf estimates was half the market value in 2006. “He had gotten a good deal and he wanted to pass it on,” she says.
Even so, it was a stretch, and they needed to get a tenant for the downstairs apartment immediately after closing to make the deal pencil out. They also did a renovation on the cheap, building out the kitchen, for example, with Ikea cabinetry bought on sale. The back deck is still only partially finished, Greenleaf points out.
As a result, the house is now a charming outlier — neither a neglected property in need of saving nor a generic developer showpiece but rather a longtime family home.
The townhome feels both authentically Brooklyn and, at the same time, like a fantasy of Brooklyn life — the kind of down-to-earth, mason jar-filled (the kitchen has a shelf of them), reclaimed Catskill barn-wood-beamed (they frame the living room) place that exemplifies what the Brooklyn brand was supposed to be about before it veered off into preciousness.
That “Talk Stoop” debuted at the moment when the brand was approaching peak popularity no doubt helped boost its appeal; the show captured the zeitgeist when people were seeking an antidote to chain store-filled Manhattan. Perhaps thanks to Greenleaf’s unpretentious, outgoing nature, both the show and the home have retained their down-to-earth, neighbors-chatting-on-the-stoop quality.
The house’s decor is sparse, but not in the least bit dull. A set of Gorilla Gym swings hangs between the entrance hall and the open living area, beyond which sits a large Buddha head on a green armoire. Light boards, with interchangeable letters Greenleaf found at Urban Outfitters, are scattered around the house, spelling out Spanish phrases (the family is trying to learn the language).
Two black-and-white speckled Harlequin Great Danes alternately pace the first floor in search of affection or command the lion’s share of the living room sectional for naps.
“Almost everything is from Ikea or stuff we picked up off the street,” says Greenleaf.
She’s meticulous about keeping the house free of personal clutter — including family photos — when she’s hosting show guests. A magnetic wall that she designed along the stairs allows her to display and remove the family’s snapshots as the situation requires.
“I want celebrities who come in to feel like they can own the space,” she says. “When I did this show, Vacation Home Search, for the Travel Channel I realized how liberating it was to walk into a space where you had no attachments.”
“Also,” she adds, “I have OCD and I don’t like to look at crap. But anyway, it works. Often times, when I come down the stairs to greet guests — I’m often changing upstairs when they arrive — they’ll welcome me!”
Sadly, in April she lost her other interview secret weapon: her English bulldog Steve.
“He was a great partner — he really warmed the guests up on the show,” says Greenleaf. Steve, a rescue, was both her second canine co-host and her second English bulldog; she says she doesn’t intend to get another because of the breed’s health problems. That, and people have told her they decided to buy a bulldog after watching her show.
“This will be my first time doing the show without a dog,” Greenleaf notes. The Great Danes, Michael Jackson and Molly, who were both adopted from the Mid-Atlantic Great Dane Rescue, are too big to share the stoop with her and a guest, she explains. “But maybe it’s good to give up the crutch.”
Might there also be a change of stoop? Last fall, Greenleaf’s house was briefly listed for sale. The “Talk Stoop” host hastily admits that this was an uncharacteristic real estate misstep.
“I developed a crush on a firehouse that was for sale,” she says. “We have a friend who is a broker and I just thought we’d see. What happened was that it hit the press. It felt icky. I panicked and stopped it.”
Even a great run of real estate luck can’t stop a true obsessive from fantasizing, she adds.
[Photos by Michel Arnaud | Styling by Jane K. Creech]
Editor’s note: A version of this story appeared in the Spring/Summer 2017 debut issue of Brownstoner magazine.
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