As a child in Virginia, Michael Brown collected bird nests, ticks, and mounted beetles and butterflies. By the age of 10, he had graduated into the Goofs glass vases – cold-painted trinkets often produced in the early 20th century, often given as fairground prizes – and the old-fashioned spectacle frames that he brought to the local community. Used to meet at flea markets. His first job, at age 18, was designing windows at the Richmond department store Thalheimer’s, and on weekends he began collecting antique furniture and curiosities, a habit that continued into adulthood, as he worked as an interior stylist and retailer. Worked as art director, got up. Wherever the treasures went: lacquered Japanese screens in the 1920s from a stint living in Portland, Ore.; Sun-bleached sea turtle shells from a vacation in Maine. By the time the 59-year-old found her current home in 2013, a 1,000-square-foot, one-bedroom rental on the top floor of a brownstone in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, she needed a 20-foot truckload of goods she collected. Had to take him. “I wish I was one of those people who could buy a thing, live with it, throw it away and move on,” he says. “But I can’t.”
Within weeks after Brown settled in, the apartment was almost unrecognizable. He was drawn to the building’s well-preserved 19th-century details and left the original pine-and-walnut marquetry floors and carved oak fireplace mantels untouched. But he repainted the walls to create an atmospheric background for his objects. In the living room, whose wide bay window overlooks a sea of untamed gardens to the south, she chose an earthy blush that ripens into pink shell pink at twilight; For the compact jewel-box library, a deep Prussian blue; And for the generous-sized bedroom, whose shuttered windows face the quiet tree-lined street below, a soothing shade of clotted cream. His wealth is displayed in a renaissance-era style, in a dense, ever-evolving arrangement wondercamera, ignore traditional distinctions of value or origin in favor of pleasure. Hung saloon-style on the walls of the small galley kitchen—a modern idea on the west wing of the flat when the house was converted into an apartment in 2011—are various photographs of the food that Brown has picked up over the years (including a close-up)—British photographer Martin Parr), small shelves with brown-and-white 1880s transferware dishes and vintage sake cups from Japan. In the living room, an 1890s-built oak hutch is now a display case for the stylist for crepe paper fruits and vegetables he bought from the beloved gift store. yaki’s tail in Berkeley, Calif. And everywhere there are ancient taxidermy birds: a quail, a sparrow, two jays, a red-headed woodpecker and, surrounded by a tall glass dome, a yellow canary.
“When he first arrived, he was probably intimidated,” Brown says of his partner, Du Pham, a 34-year-old graphic designer who was born in Vietnam and lived in a series of rental apartments before Lived in Canada for 10 years. in New York. When he moved in with Brown in 2018, he brought little more than a collection of art books with him, some of which to the horror of Brown, had his dust jacket stripped. But Pham’s profession and travel past have also taught her to adapt. “I use what I give,” he says. “To me, it’s a lot more interesting than being a blank canvas.” And so, he and Brown began an ongoing process of integrating their seemingly inconsistent vision of what is a home – a utilitarian crash pad; A private museum – in a space in which they both feel inspired.
First, they bought together a few key items that would add to the apartment’s ornate, old-world feel. In each room, the couple installed Isamu Noguchi paper pendants of a different size, their crisp white motifs offsetting Brown’s dark wood furniture, including a pair of 1940s wingback armchairs that are a cornflower blue. and is upholstered in a chocolate Scalamandre cut velvet. One day on a walk through New York’s Lower East Side, they found a gallery Run by Japanese artist Kazuko Miyamoto and purchased a balsa wood maquette—an irregular white cube he created for one of Sol Levitt’s minimalist sculptures while serving as his assistant—which now hangs on the living room wall Has happened. Recently, he imported a ’60s Dieter Rams sofa from Amsterdam, its modular fiberglass base as a bold contrast to the faded ocher floral-patterned rug on which it stands.
Cohabitation, of course, also requires a certain amount of editing and compromise. In the 100-square-foot library, bookshelves running along the east wall are still topped with Brown’s Goofs glass vases and on the opposite wall, a 1920s vitrine still holds an eclectic assortment of mercury-glass vessels called They have collected over the decades. But the room’s once extensive taxidermy menagerie has been shortened; Among the few survivors are a spiny lobster, enclosed in an acrylic box that sits atop vitrine, and a misshapen iguana that Brown says is “too ugly to attend.” Shortly after moving inside Pham, he started a monthly flea market in the backyard of his friends’ nearby restaurant in an effort to take off; The ritual eventually evolved into periodic stoop sales outside the couple’s brownstone. Last year, the pair launched an online store, speak Low, Japanese silver demitas from the 1950s offer everything from spoons to palm-shaped woodland dioramas that are brown crafts from moss, tree bark, and hand-carved clay mushrooms.
The couple’s opposing aesthetics are most clearly displayed in the bedroom: the wall behind the black upholstered platform bed is almost entirely covered with socks in different mediums, Brown’s collection of midcentury academic sketches and some of Pham’s favorite contemporary Works by photographers. , including an image of interlocking bodies by Ren Hang. The visual tension created by the two perspectives that may seem at odds with each other reveals a kind of special alchemy that Brown and Pham ultimately prefer based on their personal tastes. “It’s like things aren’t meant to be together, but somehow make room for each other,” Pham says. While Brown has learned to give up some of the stuff, Pham increasingly sees the value in holding the asset. “During the pandemic, a lot of my friends just packed up and left. This has always been my dream, or maybe how I solved crises in the past,” he says. “But when you have things in hand, you just can’t leave.” The couple’s home, as it sees it now, is a product of their shared experience, something they have built together over time that is solid, complex – and not easily destroyed.