Board Member Lauren Itkin
222 East 24th Street
Don’t make any jokes about crumbling cookies and an existential view of life. Lauren Itkin has heard them all. A pastry chef for 30 years, Itkin was trained in French classical baking. “But my favorite thing to bake are ‘grandma’ kind of things,” she confesses. “My ginger snaps are very well known. I used to have a cookie company called ‘Lauren and Her Mom,’ and we supplied many of the gourmet stores around the Village, and downtown, and in Tribeca.”
She got into it by accident. Originally a sculptor and an artist, she recalls, “I worked with my hands and then, when I was in film school, I was actually making Claymation films. But I got a job when I left college doing food styling, and food styling was a lot of fun because it was very creative.” And molding Claymation figures wasn’t too far from molding dough into cookies. She enrolled in culinary school.
Itkin doesn’t have much time for desserts these days. The native New Yorker is busy as can be in her 12-unit co-op at 222 East 24th Street, serving – despite a vow not to – on her four-member board. The co-op “is a small, thin, town-house-sized building with very different apartments,” she says. “Basically, every floor has a different setup. Some are duplexes, some are floor-throughs, some are triplexes, and some are just small apartments. When my husband and I walked in the door for the first time, I knew it was the right apartment, because it had a special feeling.”
She recalls the couple’s admissions interview as a nerve-wracking experience. They met with a group she dubbed “The 12 Angry Men” – shareholders representing each of the 12 apartments, who shot questions at the pair “about everything from our financials, to our habits. They warned us of the strict rules that the small building had to adhere to, including covering 80 percent of our beautiful floors with carpeting. We walked out of the meeting, unsure of what they made of us, but I swore that I would never want to be a part of those meetings if we got accepted.”
For 18 years, she stayed true to her vow. Then the president died and another member, who had served with him as the co-president, resigned for personal reasons. Itkin’s next-door neighbor asked her to to run for office. The self-managed co-op was about to go through a transition; the late president had handled most of the workload, and with his death the board decided to hire the Andrews Organization, an outside firm, to manage the property.
Over the years, the board had been dealing with everything from boilers to awnings and replacements for a faulty intercom. “That intercom, in fact, was one of the reasons I joined the board,” Itkin notes. “I wanted to get the repair in motion, because my buzzer doesn’t work well. The most rewarding thing about being on the board is actually getting things done. I just feel good that there’s something that has been bugging me for years – the buzzers – I get on the board and it gets moved along, and I think that I brought up a lot of things that we all just agreed on that hadn’t been brought up before.
“We all have been listening to each other,” she adds. “I said, ‘For the last million years, I’ve been sewing a hole on my husband’s shirt,’ because as he takes the stairs going down, there’s this one place that catches his sleeve and tears it. ‘Well,’ I said at one meeting, ‘I’m on the board. Can I ask that the area on the stairs be taken care of?’ Two other people said, ‘That happens to me too.’ ‘Yeah, let’s do something about that.’”
Her advice to any board newcomers? “I would say to come in and listen at first, and don’t just come in and talk. Get the feeling of the people you’re with, get to hear what goes on so you know...don’t come in with an agenda. It’s like being in politics. In so many ways, you want to help, so you get involved. You see the frustrations, and the bureaucracy, and the time frames, and the things that get in your way, and you hear a lot of crap from people, but you just have to try and stay focused.”
In other words, stop and smell the cookies. – T.S.