Red Hook

RH intro


Late, late, late.

But I have good reason. Namely, trying to map out the next four months of travel – lots of ‘what, five hours of daylight only, no way, can’t go there’ or ‘it’s too hot/cold/expensive’ – then booking flights, accommodation, blah blah blah – while simultaneously trying to explore and photograph ‘Suburb’ No 35.

Hence why the latter is a little thin on the ground for my liking. But the good news is, I finally settled on where we’re all headed next.

Before we get to that, let’s take a wander through our last NY neighbourhood, Red Hook. A fascinating little pocket of NY that feels remote, like a fishing village kind of, but a fishing village that has a huge IKEA and a water taxi that’ll get you to Manhattan in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.

Some facts and history… Settled in 1636 and named by the Dutch for the red clay soil and the fact it’s a point (in Dutch, ‘Hoek’) of land jutting out into the sea. A thriving maritime hub until the 1950s when its waterfront industry went into decline – as did the neighbourhood. The low point was in the 70s and 80s – crack and crime, centered around the projects (public housing estate) in the south-east of the neighbourhood. Mid-1990s, artists started to move in, attracted by the industrial spaces, followed by IKEA and supermarket, Fairway. One part of Red Hook is gradually gentrifying – near the water, down the main street – but there’s still plenty of lonely, vacant lots and the majority of Red Hook residents still live in the very un-gentrified projects, the second largest in NY.

For the last time in NYC…


Part 1: First visit

I suspect we had the same first reaction to Red Hook as most day trippers – nice old working waterfront but is that it? And where is everyone?

Because unlike everywhere else we’ve been in NY, Red Hook is super quiet, with few people wandering around and lots of empty spaces. Wild west meets isolated fishing village. Tumbleweed territory.

It all made sense when I later learned that Red Hook’s population withered after the 1950s and is now half what it was then, at just 11,000. And most of those 11,000 live in the projects, away from the waterfront.

Which means that the population density of the gentrified bits – the nice old rowhouses and the industrial spaces – must be incredibly low. Why? For a start, Red Hook is hard to get to – there’s a water taxi from Manhattan but no subway and just one bus. It also ain’t cheap – humble looking homes sell for a million plus – yet aside from IKEA and Fairway, there’s hardly any local services.

As a result, it felt like Coco and I had the place to ourselves for most of the time. Especially on our first visit, when the skies turned black and there were even fewer people on the streets than usual…



you take the water taxi not the subway

mind the gap – you take the water taxi not the subway





arriving under a leaden sky

arriving under a leaden sky





Coco mid-drenching

Coco mid-drench





and then the sun shone again

and then the sun shone again





Part 2: Filled with textures not people

Without many people around to distract one’s eye, it was easy to appreciate Red Hook’s many textures and layers.



surrounded by water

surrounded by water





Belgian Block paving stones struggle against asphalt

Belgian Block paving stones struggle against asphalt





old-timers - the Wagoneer on the Belgian Blocks

old-timers – the Wagoneer on the Belgian Blocks





wild west of the east :: 1

wild west of the east :: 1





wild west of the east :: 2

wild west of the east :: 2











industrial chic :: 1- W.Beard, former storage warehouses

industrial chic :: 1- W.Beard, former storage warehouses





industrial chic :: 2

industrial chic :: 2





Red Hook wasn't always so hard to get to - old trams

Red Hook wasn’t always so hard to get to – old trams





in Red Hook there's room to spread your wings

in Red Hook there’s room to spread your wings





trucks allowed






Part 3: People!

Not that we met many of them but from what I could gather the community in Red Hook – at least in the gentrifying area – is tight-knit; as someone said, “we all know each other, which is good – and bad”.

Although the area is known for its artist community, there are people here from all walks of life – we met a real estate agent, someone who worked in the cafe and an architect. But as different as they may seem, they’re all “independent” and not your norm. As one article about the neighbourhood said, “Red Hook isn’t for everyone”.



baked at Baked - Joanna

baked at Baked – Joanna





the wild women of Red Hook - Liz

the wild women of Red Hook – Liz




We met German architect Thomas, below, picking up his bike from the local bike shop – and then proceeded to run into him twice again over the next few days. On one of our encounters he showed us around his most recent job, a refashioned three level building, with a retail shop on the bottom, two floors of living and a rooftop terrace. Just sold for close to two million.



architect Thomas, standing atop his creation

architect Thomas, standing atop his creation





side-view - love those stars

side-view – love those stars





The next time we ran into Thomas he was walking his dog down by the waterfront, surrounded by wonderful old warehouses, re-purposed but mercifully intact. He reminded me that a former police detective, Greg O’Connell, owned four of these waterfront buildings, including an old coffee warehouse that houses Fairway (and Michelle Williams who lives in the chic apartments above Fairway), and that he’d bought them from the city of NY for just half a million dollars way back when. That’s good detective work I reckon.



down by the waterfront - we meet again

down by the waterfront – we meet again





 Part 4: Art

While Thomas and Greg O’Connell might not mind Red Hook’s rising real estate star, there are plenty of artists in the neighbourhood who do. I met one who told me to buzz off – he didn’t want me contributing to the hype around Red Hook, liked the place as it was. Fair enough.

Another much friendlier one explained that he actually liked where Red Hook was at, a little gentrified but not too much; he’d arrived a decade ago when there was “nothing” but now the place was in a “sweet spot”.

We were having this chat at an art exhibition Thomas had told me about, inside a massive Civil War-era warehouse owned by artist Dustin Yellin. Yellin bought the 24,000-square-foot space this year for $3.7 million to create an “utopian art center”.

Whether or not that happens the warehouse is an amazing space for his unusual artworks. From a distance they look like objects held in suspension but they’re not. He applies paint and printed material to layers of resin or glass which, when stuck together, create three-dimensional forms.



layer upon layer - Dustin Yellin's work :: 1

layer upon layer – Dustin Yellin’s work :: 1





layer upon layer - Dustin Yellin's work :: 2

layer upon layer – Dustin Yellin’s work :: 2





front and side view

front and side view





I didn’t stumble on any other artist’s studios but I did find some art on the streets…



lampost love :: 1

lamp post love :: 1





lamp post love :: 2

lamp post love :: 2





Part 5: The projects

I would liked to have explored the other side of Red Hook – the public housing or projects as they call them here. But alas, all my travel planning sucked up so much time in the past 10 days it left little to do anything more.

Still, a few shots of the un-gentrified side of Red Hook…



showing no signs of gentrification - the projects and No 121

showing no signs of gentrification – the projects and No 121





love in the projects :: 1

love in the projects :: 1





love in the projects :: 2

love in the projects :: 2











The image below is taken outside a public school that was renamed after its principal, Patrick Daly, who was killed in 1992 in the crossfire of a drug-related shooting while trying to find a student. It was around that time Time Magazine named Red Hook as one of the “worst” neighborhoods in the United States and as “the crack capital of America.” While things have obviously improved, I imagine life in the projects is a far cry from that of their neighbours.



'love one another' - mural outside the Patrick Daly school

‘love one another’ – mural outside the Patrick Daly school





Part 6: The shoot

You know how we always take a few pics of Coco in ‘traditional dress’ in each city we visit? Well, not sure if NY has a traditional costume so we went retro, appropriate given Red Hook’s old-worldly feel.



red in Red Hook :: 1

red in Red Hook :: 1





red in Red Hook :: 2

red in Red Hook :: 2





hope and anchor

hope and anchor





The Wrap

Loved Red Hook, despite the fact I’m sure I missed a whole lot (apologies to any Red Hook residents). The feeling of space and freedom is pretty wonderful, and yet Brooklyn and Manhattan are just there on your doorstep should the need for, well, anything, arise. And three cheers for those who’ve fought to keep the waterfront out of the hands of developers – may it continue thus.




we're heading off!

we’re heading off!





On the ‘home front’

Okay, so first to say, many thanks for the city suggestions last week. I want you to know I considered each and every one of them, carefully, taking into consideration the city, weather, cost etc.

So what should you pack for the last four months of your virtual journey? Well, you’re going to need something glam for… Los Angeles, something quirky for… Tokyo, and something colourful with an inbuilt bullet-proof vest for… Mexico City (just joking Joyce).

LA because it’s much maligned, Tokyo because I got a great deal on two return tickets from LA (and yeah, yeah it’s meant to be AMAZING) and Mexico City because I realised it’s a culture this project hasn’t touched on. (There will be another city too, at the very end, but that’s still TBD.)

I really hope you like the sound of all that. Do you?

This suburb has been brought to you by Scott Falvey


We leave for LA on Sunday or Monday so the first post will be a week later. See you then.


  1. Sarah says:

    By some magic, you’re on my gtalk, so every time I see you on, I come check if there’s something new here! And there is. Coco really looks like she’s enjoying herself in these photos, so that’s a positive! NYC to LA is probably one of the most flown routes, so always likely you can get a killer deal! This post is great, totally unlike what you’d expect from NY! Sad you didn’t see more people, but contrasts are what makes this, so nice to go back to more building etc.

  2. ellen says:

    LOVE THE CHOICE OF citys have fun in LA la was one of my suggestions LOL so go c the non disney side hehehehehe although i imagine coco would like a day in disney loved ur last ny suburb and jsut a note if you see any photo takers in la like u and two very cute little boys ask if one happens to have charge LOL if he does they are my great firends on fb and id love it if u bumped into my catherine AND HER BOYS U TWO COULD DO A PIC UP lol

  3. Susan says:

    For some reason I loved this post. Maybe it was the shot of Coco in the doorway! I know you always like to to go to unfamiliar suburbs but I for one would love to see a familiar area through your eyes. I’m sure you’d bring a whole new perspective to a place we thought we knew. But no great shakes, I’ll keep on loving your posts wherever you end up!

  4. Libby says:

    Love Coco’s photos, and LOVE your destinations – especially Mexico. You won’t be stuck for colour and texture there. And although it doesn’t fit the 52 suburbs philosophy, San Miguel de Allende just north of Mexico city is a bit of an artist’s haven and pretty gorgeous! Have fun wherever you are :) You’re fab.

  5. Fay Thomson says:

    I love the art on the walls and the lamp-post love.

  6. Magdalena says:

    sounds fantastic!!! have a safe trip!!! very chic Coco – loving the outfit!!!

  7. Denise says:

    I’m looking forward to Tokyo, because I’m planning to go there next year. Your photos are inspiring!

  8. John Ellis says:

    Nicely not too developed. Good to have so many full photos!

  9. pat says:

    Liked again and loved the ones of Coco!!

  10. Ray says:

    The best yet.
    Images with true grit.
    Words cannot do justice to these photos

  11. Gail says:

    Loved Cocos fashion shoot.Red Hook certainly seemed very different from the usual NY neighbourhood.almost eerie it’s isolation and decrepitude.

  12. Nirah says:

    Oooooh very nice choice for the next few cities….can’t wait to see Tokyo and Mexico….love this post and cute pics of Coco….! Hope you have lots of fun over the next few months….

  13. Noni says:

    louise , I will tell you yet again, you are inspirational! we are living away from home & its fab. unreal , fantastic…and tough @ times…unexpected times. the fact that you manage to find food , shelter, look after coco, shoot & post is inspiring. please keep going, its my light thru the months of missing home.

  14. Louise says:

    Sarah – Magic indeed – Those things seem mysterious but I guess there’s a logical explanation! The NY-LA leg is part of my original RTW ticket, which helped salve my conscience as I booked the Tokyo tickets!
    Ellen – Will keep my eye out for them!
    Susan – You know, it’s almost the hardest part of this project, choosing each week which neighbourhood to visit. I guess I try and balance it a little – the Marais in Paris, for example – but ultimately my brief to myself is to explore ‘beyond’ the familiar. Was actually thinking though the other day, that would be a fun project to do in itself – zoning in entirely on the tourist spots and trying to find another side. Have to have a bit of a rest first though – like for a few years…
    Libby – Never been but can’t imagine struggling for colour in Mexico. Very curious about it, can’t wait!
    Fay – Yeah, the lamp-post art is great isn’t it?
    Magdalena – Can you imagine how fashion-y Coco will be in her teens if this is her at 9? I don’t direct her at all, she goes forth and styles herself.
    Denise – Hope I can shine some light on the city for you.
    John – I really hope it stays that way. Some say it will – and that either the lack of transport or the projects will keep the masses away. Be interesting to see Red Hook again in 10-20 years time.
    Pat – She hammed it up pretty well didn’t she?!
    Ray – I really did miss so much of the neighbourhood but so glad you liked some of what I captured.
    Gail – It is incredibly different. Coco and I dropped into Soho this afternoon for a gawk and it was madness – can’t believe a place as laid-back as Red Hook is just 15 minutes away. And yes, it was quite eerie at times, especially under that black sky.
    Nirah – Glad you’re excited!
    Noni – My shoulders dropped when I read your comment – thank you. I won’t lie, it’s been incredibly stressful at times over the last nine months. Travel is such a seductive idea when you’re sitting at work, sick of routine etc and dreaming of flying off, that you can forget how challenging it can be at times. But then trying to work and do a project on top of it, one that you’re deeply passionate about but one that’s relentless and allows for zero downtime to just reflect and think, while looking after a child at the same time, well, it’s a recipe for stress isn’t it! But despite the fact it’s been much harder – and more deeply exhausting – than I thought it would be, it’s also been more rewarding. Lucky!

  15. Lisette says:

    A delightful post, again! I can so imagine the sense of space to be exhilarating when you’re in a packed place like NYC, and understand the wish for the residents of Red Hook to keep things as much as they are while they can! (in Dutch it is “hoek” by the way, not “heok”)

    LA, Mexico DF and Tokyo -wonderful choices!! I can’t wait for the next posts….

    Safe travels you two!

    • Louise says:

      Lisette – So glad you like the new cities – and thank you, will correct the Dutch!

  16. JENNY M says:

    I would never have imagined such a place so close to Manhatten existed – it was fascinating! I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing your experiences in Mexico City as I was there for a month in1974 – travelled alone on local buses from Tiajuhana. Population has tripled since then apparently.
    Many thanks for bringing it to us Louise.

    • Louise says:

      Jenny – Oh wow, Mexico City in 74… How interesting to see it now – well, in less than two month’s time anyway!

  17. Gaylee says:

    Oooohh loved this one Louise. Red Hook, red Coco.

  18. Trudy says:

    I am now……addicted to your blog. Safe travels.

    • Louise says:

      Trudy – I like people to be addicted! Very good.

  19. goldie says:

    red hook at night – super scary. streets are empty and projects are aroound the corner. We got lost one night and just couldnt find our way out.

  20. Rob Steer says:

    Another undiscovered gem in New York that those outside (like me) have never heard of till they read this. I love the colour and images of people and Coco in this. Your use of light and DOF is inspiring and thought provoking. thanks for another wonderful post.

    • Louise says:

      Rob – Very glad to have shone a light on it – but don’t tell that artist guy!

  21. Tennille says:

    Wow… your blog is awesome and your photos of New York are incredible, they brought tears to my eyes! Ah, New York…
    So glad I found your blog.

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