Seeking a Manhattan Studio With Design Potential for $600,000. Which Option Did He Choose?

Nothing excites Eric Wong like the thrill of the hunt — usually in the clearance section of a West Elm outlet store.

“I get high as hell on a deal,” Mr. Wong, 42, said of his best finds at the interior-design chain.

He so loves West Elm that about six years ago, in addition to his full-time work as an investment banker, he took a part-time job as a sales associate at a Manhattan store, working 15 to 20 hours a week so he could get the 40 percent employee discount.

“He’s basically furnished his whole apartment with West Elm stuff,” said his sister, Elke Wong. “He likes to change things up all the time.”

It was in that spirit that Mr. Wong decided, in 2021, that it was time to update not just his furnishings, but his whole apartment.

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A New York lifer — he grew up in the Bronx and on Staten Island — Mr. Wong bought his last apartment, a sunny 600-square-foot, one-bedroom with 10-foot ceilings in a Central Harlem condo, for about $373,000 in 2015. In six years, he said, he went through five sofas, at least four rugs and scads of midcentury-modern accents, including tall glass hurricanes, candles and floor lamps.

But after barely leaving his apartment during the first waves of Covid-19, he was feeling isolated. And after years of moonlighting at West Elm, he said, the store let him go when his managers demanded that he work more hours a week than he could manage.

“I still love them, so hard,” Mr. Wong said of his erstwhile coworkers. The experience also sharpened his design sense for his next big project.

In June, he sold the Harlem apartment for $463,000 and moved back into his childhood home on Staten Island, where his parents, retired postal workers who immigrated from Hong Kong decades ago, still live. The move wasn’t too jarring: Mr. Wong had already decorated the entire three-bedroom home with West Elm furniture, rugs and décor, as well as lighting from Rejuvenation, another favorite store. His 89-inch, slate saddle-leather sofa, a focal point of his Harlem living room, is currently in his mother’s basement. (She has a similar one in the living room.)

Then he set about ranking his wish list: high ceilings, a floor plan conducive to renovation, and decent views. He also wanted to live closer to his sister in Midtown, and to shorten the commute to his parents.

The search had to take into account the neighborhood, said Charlie Lewis, the agent with Compass who sold Mr. Wong his Harlem home and helped him find his new one. Mr. Wong wanted something centrally located, but also fun for a bachelor. He set a budget of around $600,000, and focused on studio apartments.

“He was eyeing a building on the East Side, and I was like, ‘Dude, you’re not an East Side person,’” Mr. Lewis said. “It can be cute all you want, but that neighborhood ain’t cute.”

Among his options:

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