For years the “CBS Sunday Morning” correspondent Mo Rocca lived in Chelsea, moving from one rental to another. “It was fine,” said Mr. Rocca, who is also a contributor to “CBS This Morning” as well as the host of “My Grandmother’s Ravioli” on the Cooking Channel and a panelist on the NPR news quiz “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” Yes, it was fine, but also, frankly, a bit guilt-inducing to keep throwing away money on rent.
“Everything told me that being a grown-up meant buying,” said the endearingly geeky Mr. Rocca, 45, whose given name is Maurice. Thanks to an 18 percent rent reduction during the financial crisis, he was able to pump the brakes on adulthood. “It was sort of ‘Oh, I can still be a kid,’ ” he said. “But that excuse wore off eventually. And I remember my father always telling me, ‘Don’t worry. You can write off the interest on the mortgage.’ ”
Long story short: Two years ago he moved into a two-bedroom co-op in a postwar Greenwich Village building. But Mr. Rocca, who could make a trip to Duane Reade sound like something with mini-series potential, is just not a long-story-short kind of person.
When “CBS Sunday Morning” assigned him a piece on people who walk their cats, one of the interview subjects was Court Hassinger, an associate broker at Corcoran. The timing was propitious. Mr. Hassinger walked his new client to see almost two dozen places.
Here’s what Mr. Rocca wanted: more living space than sleeping space and a Greenwich Village address. “When I moved to New York in the early ’90s, a very good friend from college was living with her fiancé on 12th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, and it seemed impossibly chic and with it,” he recalled. “Everyone loved the Village.
“Now, everyone is obsessed with Chelsea. They’re crazy. I think they think they’re living in Los Angeles, because they want to be near the water.” He prefers “the originally cool neighborhood, which is the Village.
“I love it. I love the crooked streets. I still can’t figure out West Fourth or West 10th. That’s reason enough to live here, to figure out the streets.”
Here’s what Mr. Rocca did not want: an airy kitchen. “I have a cooking show but I don’t cook, and that’s the whole point of my show,” he said. “I’m learning to cook but it’s going to take me a while, so I didn’t want a big kitchen.” And here is what Mr. Rocca really, really did not want: an apartment that required work.
“I can’t do that,” he said. “One of my biggest nightmares through the years was hearing people talk about hunting for a place, and then there was this whole long process called closing and renovations and ‘Oh, we’re finishing the renovations and now we’re moving in.’ And it just sounded like establishing a government.”
At the urging of a savvy friend who talked knowingly about resale value, Mr. Rocca initially held out for two bathrooms. His position softened when he walked into an apartment that looked out on, among other things, the High Victorian Gothic Jefferson Market Library. “I didn’t have a lot of art to hang on the walls and the view was like an amazing painting, so it was like buying an apartment with a great piece of art,” he said. Further, the very exacting owner “had done renovations where everything was built within an inch of its life to maximize space, so there were shelves and little spaces everywhere, spaces that I’m not kidding you I was still finding more than a year after moving in.
“It’s partly because I’m unobservant, but let’s just say I was in the bathroom. I won’t tell you what I was doing, but I found a whole extra drawer that I didn’t know was there.”
Hidden drawers and all, the apartment just felt right. Mr. Rocca could sense how nice it would be to sit on a couch and look out the window. He just knew that he’d want to put his laptop on the cantilevered white glass countertop right outside the kitchen. “I didn’t want the second bedroom to become an office,” he said. “There would have just been stacks of stuff and it would have been too easy for me to be messy and start thinking, ‘Oh, it’s the second bedroom. I can just close the door.’ I was glad to commit to making the second bedroom an actual bedroom.” (It currently houses a daybed and shelves that hold Mr. Rocca’s two Emmy Awards, books and family photos.)
Mr. Rocca is good at getting dressed, he said, a dab hand at picking out clothes, though you’d have to search long and hard to find someone more fond of plaid. “But I’m missing the gene for making a place look great,” he admitted. He hired Joshua Smith, an interior designer. “He really helped me figure out what I like. He would put stuff in front of me and say, ‘If you hate it, let me know.’ ” Together, they came up with a palette of earth tones and red accents. “But mind you, I had stuff,” said Mr. Rocca, to make clear he brought something to the table. “I had some pieces that are important to me, that are prized.”
This “stuff” is the impressive memorabilia that Mr. Rocca, a presidential history buff, has accumulated over the years. It includes a framed ticket to Andrew Johnson’s impeachment trial; a framed letter of thanks from Richard M. Nixon to the helpful individual who organized his trip to the funeral of the deposed Shah of Iran and a neckerchief given out during the campaign of Benjamin Harrison. Of a more practical nature are a set of Ike and Mamie iced tea glasses and L.B.J. and Lady Bird tableware.
“It would have to be a very special occasion to drink out of these,” he said of the cups with the Johnsons’ likenesses. “Well, it is the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights bill. Or we can wait until next year, the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights bill.”
On second thought, there is some precedent. “I actually did once put out some cookies on my William Harrison plate.” Understand, however, that there will be no drinking the six-pack of Billy Beer named in honor of Jimmy Carter’s bibulous brother or the commemorative bottle of RC Cola from the Bicentennial.
But for presidential heft, all are dwarfed by a bust that Mr. Rocca says is of Grover Cleveland and that sits on a column in a corner of the living room. “He’s our only president who served nonconsecutive terms,” Mr. Rocca said. He acquired the figure a dozen years at a flea market on the way back to the city from the North Fork of Long Island. “I love a president with meat on his bones,” he said. “I would never have a bust of Calvin Coolidge or Woodrow Wilson in my house, but I’d have to have a three-bedroom if I had William Howard Taft.”
Someday, Mr. Rocca would like to have children. Having bought the apartment, he said, he has set the stage. Meanwhile, “I’m just really comfortable here,” he said. “This is the difference between renting and owning. If I’m at a nice hotel in a nice city, the choice is flying home late at night to get back to New York, or spending another night in the nice hotel and flying back the next morning. As a renter I did more of the latter. Now that I’m an owner, I do the former.”
Copyright © 2014 The New York Times Company. Reprinted with Permission. Andrew Renneisen/The New York Times.