Habit House Halloween Stage Set

Habit House Halloween Stage Set

Jill Slater
Oct 31, 2012

Name: Habit House
Location: Lower East Side, Manhattan
Size: 700 square feet, 2 bedroom house built, temporarily, inside Essex Street Market Building B
Years Lived In: 10 days

While this is far from the home design we usually promote on Apartment Therapy, it is likely that most of our readers have experienced a scene of this nature at some point in their lives. This particular home happens to have been hand-crafted from scratch for theatrical purposes only.

Marsha, a set designer and installation artist, was asked to create a setting for a project called Habit, which blurs the line between theater and performance art. The project took place in a house created inside a warehouse space on the Lower East side, where 3 actors continuously re-enacted the same play over and over while 'living' in the house.

Habit is unique in that audience members were permitted and encouraged to move around the perimeter of the house and even peek in the windows to watch the actors. Some viewers chose to follow the actors from room to room, while others picked one vantage point and watched the scenes unfold around them. I had the opportunity to photograph the house before the performance began, as well as during the performance. The play lasted anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes and was on a continuous live loop for 8 hours per day! Any and all eating and other daily needs took place 'on stage.'

Marsha's work is meticulously accurate, down to the dust on the video game control box falling out of the glass cabinet under the TV or the crushed beer can in the bowl of bananas. It may be far from our ideal domestic setting, and it may be easy to turn our eyes away from it all, but this is reality for many. For me, it was nostalgic, as I tried to remember times I've spent in settings such as this, as well as awe-inspiring — I marveled at how this home didn't devolve over time, but was rather curated to evoke as much emotion and unease as the actors and the script itself. Marsha's work is a testament to the power of place and the impact of design. And that is certainly a lesson worth learning.

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Style: Theatrical "realism" encounters minimalist sculpture. Truth in materials. We used raw drywall for all wall surfaces, with visible structural supports (metal studs) on exterior. All the mechanics of the house are laced inside apertures in studs and exposed to the audience. By contrast, the interior is completely "realistic" and the interior design is in sync with the script: drug dealer dude inherits dead auntie's house.

Inspiration: Photos I shot of ranch house exteriors in upstate NY during autumn; online ranch house design kits; minimalist sculpture (Robert Smithson, Donald Judd); photographs by Robert Adams, What We Bought: The New World; Steven Shore, American Surfaces. Goodwills, Salvations Armys, Restores, throughout the Northeast.

Favorite Element: The contrast between the house exterior as machine-like box and its realistic interior, sited in the raw warehouse space of Essex Street Market. The accumulation of Halloween decorations as the 8-hour performance progresses, to insane and surreal effect.

Biggest Challenge: Fitting the house into the Essex Street Market space seamlessly and utilizing the natural light (the primary source being skylights) to the greatest effect. Installing and maintaining working plumbing.

What Friends Say: "A house that is replenished every night with canned soup, peanuts and Halloween candy, what could be better than that?!"
"Very much like the contemporary white trash feel. It's really hard to get contemporary white trash just right."
"Creepy, depressing, thoroughly effective in creating a mood for what unfolds."

Biggest Embarrassment: If the actors use the toilet too much during the durational performance, our RV waste holding tank is not big enough and in a couple of performances we experienced overflow.

Proudest DIY: DIY is what the actors do to the space. Among my favorites was the shrine on the TV set the character Mitch created: juxtaposing a Martina Navratilova VHS tape with a Suzanne Somers one. Another proud DIY moment of mine (and director David Levine): an actor placed two human-scale paper skeletons in chairs, and imagined them as other "live" characters.

Biggest Indulgence: Working appliances and plumbing, finished flooring throughout the house: laminate wood flooring everywhere except carpet in the bedroom and chill-out room.

Best Advice: If you need to have unfinished drywall and studs put up quickly, hire a sheetrock crew. However, if you wish to use it as a finished material you must supervise, as it's counter to their typical working method: start from the top down; use finished sheet seams on window opening.

Dream Source/Resources: Value Village, Toronto. Truly one of the most amazing and ever changing thrift shops — selling inspired bric a brac, large furniture and clothes.



    • Sofa: Sofa: Value Village, Toronto
    • Lamps: Craigslist, Westfield, MA
    • End tables: Craigslist, Westfield, MA
    • Hannah Montana Pillow: Walmart, North Adams, MA
    • Crocheted blanket: Salvation Army, Pittsfield, MA
    • Curtains: Goodwill, Rochester, NY; Salvation Army, North Adams, MA
    • Mirror: Restore (Habitat for Humanity), Pittsfield, MA
    • Leather side chairs: Craigslist, Westfield, MA
    • Coffee Table: Restore, Pittsfield, MA
    • Leather reclining chair: Craigslist, NYC,
    • Halloween Decor: Partycheap.com


    • Cabinets/sink: Restore, Pittsfield, MA
    • Dining Table and Chairs: Craigslist, Toronto
    • Curtains: Veterans of America, Rochester,NY
    • Hutch: Craigslist, Westfield,MA
    • Chandelier: Restore, Pittsfield, MA
    • Bric-a-brac: Value Village, Toronto
    • Artificial flowers: Chinatown, NY
    • Dying spider plants: PS122, NY.


    • Sink/vanity/Bathtub: Restore, Pittsfield, MA
    • Mascerating toilet, North Adams, MA
    • Tile Board: Home Depot, NYC
    • Medicine Cabinet, Restore, Pittsfield, MA
    • Light fixture, Restore, Pittsfield, MA
    • Framed Skunk Collage (by Kathy); Value Village, Toronto
    • Tile Board: Home Depot, NY


    • Bed: Restore, Pittsfield, MA
    • Dresser and mirror: Restore, Pittsfield, MA
    • Side tables: Craigslist, Toronto
    • 80s sconces: Restore, Pittsfield, MA
    • Bedding-Vintage patterned sheets and textured bedspread: Value Village, Toronto
    • Curtains: Am Vets, Rochester, NY, Kmart, North Adams, MA.

Thanks, Marsha!

(Images: Jill Slater)

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