A Peaceful Abode In Brooklyn

One of my favorite things to read about on design and craft blogs is interior design. I am so interested in learning about how people live, and different ways to create a space that is simultaneously stylish, cozy, and inviting. One of the first times Anne and I ever hung out together, we studied for a psychology exam we drew up blueprints of our respective dorm rooms, and talked endlessly about the best furniture configurations for our spaces. I kid you not!

So, this week we are taking a closer look at my dear friends’ Brooklyn apartment. Brooklyn is special to me, and Heather and Maggie’s apartment is very much on my list of reasons why. They moved in together this past fall, and have been making their apartment a home ever since.

The photos and story below are from Heather, who is simply an all-around artist in my opinion. Her photographs do a wonderful job of capturing the tranquility and creativity that seems to flow freely from her and Maggie’s home. They are both actresses, and Heather is also a beautiful drawer, painter, writer, and baker. Her blog, See, Sort, File, is an incredible archive of her musings on daily life. (I especially like this post.) Anne calls her “a young Lorrie Moore by way of Walt Whitman.”

Below is Heather and Maggie’s story. I hope that you enjoy it, and that these two inspire you to do something creative this week!

From Heather: Maggie and I met when we were eighteen at NYU, where we both studied acting. In keeping with the nomadic New York City lifestyle, we’ve each moved six times in our eight years of living here. Sixth time’s the charm, because this past November we landed a home we both love (and our first home together!) in Bed-Stuy. These days we work as actresses and waitresses, and spend our time at home chatting endlessly, cooking, and moving the couch around. I hope to never, ever move again. (Wish me luck.)

Our new place is actually two blocks away from Maggie’s old apartment. It’s a beautiful thing to move within a neighborhood you know. Signing a lease can feel like a huge leap of faith, like opening a box that will be half full of what you ordered, and half full of something completely different (i.e. a roach problem and a crazy upstairs neighbor), so we were very happy to eliminate any possible unknowns.

We love Bed-Stuy. We’re a five-minute walk away from a yoga studio that Maggie loves, a bakery where we buy foccacia and cacio e pepe sourdough, our favorite pizza restaurant, and a bar where you can usually get a seat and can always get a good drink. It’s an area filled with people of all ages and all ethnicities, with block associations and community gardens and a YMCA. I’ve always said that Brooklyn made me love New York. This neighborhood sealed the deal.

So. Our house! Decorating this place has been all about synthesizing our design sensibilities, which actually just means going through all of our belongings and figuring out what at least one of us really, really liked. We ended up furnishing our whole place with stuff we already had. Much of our furniture is actually from parents, grandparents, or families that I babysit for (!)–hand-me-downs acquired gradually over the past four years. I think the only piece of furniture we bought upon moving was our couch.

Our apartment is on the top floor of a brownstone. It is a 1.5 bedroom, which means that we have a little extra room attached to our bedroom to use as an office and guest room. (This arrangement was a bit de facto… Neither one of us wanted to sell our bed!) Hopefully our guests like very small spaces filled with office furniture.

The thing I think about the most when setting up a living space is how I want to feel inside each room. The living room should be conducive to socializing, the bedroom should be calm and peaceful, the kitchen should be warm and convenient. That, and displaying the items that just make us feel great, are the lines of thought that have driven our space. Maggie has a blanket from her dad that we keep on the couch. We have a little radio that we basically carry from room to room. I have a desk from my parents’ house that I sit at to write. I really believe that if your space makes you feel good, then that’s all that matters.

These things make our space feel like home:

One of the wildest things about our apartment is our view. Even though we’re smack in the middle of Brooklyn, we’re high enough up to see the Manhattan skyline. The sight of the Empire State Building, which towered above our acting studio in college, made this move feel like it completed a circle. These buildings have been with us all the while, and now they continue to accompany us as we change and grow, lighting up the sky with that same strange city magic.

Heather (left) and Maggie (right)

All photos taken by Heather Thiry

On The Farm With: Janet Kenealy

From Janet:  An article in the travel section of the Sunday Chicago Tribune piqued our interest in Southwest Wisconsin.  It touted rolling hills dotted with cows and sheep, charming towns filled with antiques and artisans, and–of course–cheese!  Dave and I planned a weekend in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, and we were quickly smitten with the area.  Soon afterward, we were working with a realtor to find a little place in the country for weekend getaways for ourselves and our family.  A check list was created (our family is famous for its list-making), noting all of the features we would like in a second home: a bit of green space in a quiet spot, a simple house with a screened porch, and a location not too far away from civilization and our year round home in Oak Park, Illinois.  We saw plenty of houses during our search but most weren’t quite what we were looking for.

After a full day of house hunting, our realtor showed us one final listing that she said met most of our parameters but was a bit farther away and slightly larger than what we were looking for.  She also warned us it had been on the market awhile and was “a little dated.”  She also called it a hobby farm.  We were intrigued.  Hidden behind a white picket fence and a tall stand of Arborvitaes stood a charming little red brick home built in 1858 with several farm buildings, including an old wire corn crib, and the loveliest assortment of trees – including a little apple orchard!  The property was now 3 ½ acres but had been part of a larger farm years ago.We were immediately enamored with the expanse of grass, the assortment of trees – several varieties of pine, maple, and a mighty oak just outside the front door. But what really struck us was the silence except for the birds and rustling tree leaves.  We could hear cows mooing on the neighbor’s farm and birds were darting through the trees to the feeders by the kitchen window.  The interior of the home was indeed dated – yellow shag carpeting, indoor/outdoor carpeting in the kitchen (!), and 1970s wallpaper on every wall.  The rooms weren’t large but they were light-filled.  There was a good feeling in that house.  So we bought the farm!We set out on a major renovation to make it safe (updated electrical/plumbing) and to make it our own (new kitchen/bath).  We also took a strange little room off the back of the house and added windows to create a lovely little porch which looks out onto the garden.  New windows were installed, the carpeting was removed and the original oak floors were revealed.  Wallpaper was taken down and fresh paint rolled on all the walls.Once the work on the inside was completed it was time to turn our attention to the garden.  The previous owner had an expansive garden.  Starting small, we rototilled a 30 by 60 plot and set out planting.  We learned rather quickly we should never have rototilled the soil, as it churned up centuries of dormant weed seeds the likes of which we had never seen before!  We learn something about our garden (and ourselves) every year.  Lavender, zinnias, pumpkins, black-eyed susans, sunflowers and cat mint all grow very well without needing too much help from us.  We’ve planted hydrangeas around the foundation of the house and have added to our little arboretum by planting a few small trees. In the spring, we plan to add two Asian pear trees and a row of raspberry bushes to our little garden plot.Our next project is to turn a small parcel of our property back to its origins as a prairie.  We took a class on prairie restoration at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and have read books and blogs on the subject.  We’ve also consulted with experts and learned that we have some very stubborn invasive species that have taken over much of the space.  Some of these plants have been on the property for years and will require heavy machinery to uproot them.  It will take tremendous sweat equity and an investment of funds to make it happen, but we hope to someday return the land to its original beauty.When I’m not busy on the farm, the area has some nice little antique shops and thrift stores in which to poke around. I also enjoy browsing the aisles of the local Farm and Fleet.  A neighboring town has an emerging artisan community with galleries, shops, and a few nice restaurants. There’s even a brewery nearby. I continue to learn lessons from our little farm – lessons of patience, mostly.  I am learning to be patient with the land and with the rhythms of the seasons.  The biggest adjustment I must learn to make is to balance the hard work of the farm with its many joys and pleasures.  Now if I would only park the wheel barrel for a moment I will experience them!

What an inspiring story, Janet!  Thank you for sharing your exciting journey.

Note: all photos were taken by Janet Kenealy.