Rachel's Sweet Life

House Tour

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Name: Rachel Doriss, Design Director at Pollack; husband Joel Hamilton, daughter Coco
Location: Bed Stuy, Brooklyn, New York
Size: 700 square feet
Years lived in: 3 years, rented

It's a life stitched together from memory, and bits of fabric vintage and new, in a home furnished with gifts from friends and pieces passed down through time, all threaded through and rich with meaning. "Sentimental value" has never been richer. Pretty, please, with a little Coco on top.

In the movie of this life, Uma Thurman might play Rachel Doriss, newly cast as Creative Director of Pollack, a respected and innovative textile house serving the interior design business, and almost as-recently-cast as first-time mom. But it wouldn't be dark Tarantino Uma… it would be romantic Uma, in a breezy tale about a life sweetly lived. There'd be tea parties, a happy score, a constant breeze, and a set dressed with ethereal art, a grandmother's quilt, and a deep-set love of a life's vocation.

The story of this apartment starts two stories up, a familiar one to many Manhattanites wrestling with raising a family in smaller quarters. "We actually bought a one-bedroom apartment on the top floor... but I realized there was no space to even put a crib!" says Rachel. "When you're pregnant, you have this crazy instinct to just make your home nice. So I was obsessing… could I put her next to the closet? Where could this crib go? So we moved two floors down."

The unit where she and music-producer hubby Joel landed had, in addition to an enviable terrace and exposed-brick wall, a large full-width bedroom that Rachel realized could easily and amply be subdivided to accommodate the incoming resident, Coco. "The bedroom was twice as big as the bedroom we were in upstairs. I thought, 'This is going to be an easy move, I don't have to change anything else in my life… same commute, same neighbors!'"

To make it work, it's no surprise that textile-designer Rachel's first instinct was fabric-based. "The idea at first was just to have a curtain around the crib." That curtain, the perfect use for a two-sided Pollack fabric, remains, but it's a bigger project, and a crafty hack, that ultimately saved the day.

And what a hack. The IKEA Expedit, familiar and ubiquitous, was pressed into service as a room divider that turned into something more. The piece was framed out and boxed in, then a doorway was created in a plan that grew as Coco, and everyone's need for privacy did. Clerestory window and door were added to the DIY partition. Practically, it creates definition, privacy and (two-sided!) storage. For its little resident, it creates a mini-apartment, with areas for sleep and play. Of the play area, "She calls it her 'living room.' I guess it's a very New York point of view!" says Rachel. And it almost rivals the square footage of many an NYC piéd-a-terre.

Stylistically, the build-out creates a wall of visual interest, both graphic and soothing, a sort of streetscape view from the bed. Boards originally left bare run horizontally and evoke barnboard, just fine by Rachel. "I thought it looked really cool but a little too raw for the space, which is pretty clean. So we decided to whitewash it, which kind of reminded me of an attic-y, kind of studio-barn feel to it, which I liked." Chuckles Rachel, "As much as I can be slick and modern, I'm totally more Vermont-style at heart!"

That heart is worn on the sleeve of the apartment. "I would say most of the things we have have been acquired over many, many years," says Rachel, as she points to this and that, artwork by first-name friends and items handpicked from the family tree. "A lot of it is family hand-me-downs that have been edited down, which I think is very 'Yankee' of me!"

On the bed is a 1938 quilt, a wedding present to her grandmother, now holding pride of place and giving off a deceptively modern air. "It's beautifully graphic in a way," she says of the pattern that could time travel to the wings of the Pollack showroom with just a tweak. "I loved it from a really young age. "

The quilt isn't just a family heirloom… it symbolizes the love of textiles Rachel happily practices each day, and the origin of that love. "My grandmother was definitely my inspiration. She was from a generation of women who knew how to do everything textile… knew how to sew all their own clothes, quilt, embroider, crochet. She was a weaver, she had looms set up and everything." Rachel beams as she remembers. "We would do projects, growing up, together." Rachel speaks of wool and fiber, warp and weft as one might speak of precious gems, a prized bottle of wine or a dream vacation.

"Originally, I was going to art school to do fine arts, like painting and printmaking, but then in my spare time, I would be crocheting a hat, or silkscreening or something fabric-related. I did some spirit soul-searching and realized, 'Wait, I really love to do this, I could really pursue this!'" A transfer to RISD, and their renowned Textile program, and hobby turned to career, but that deep tie to her grandmother's craft makes it more vocation than merely a way to fill the hours between 9 to 5.

Family shapes the way the space is used in other ways, too. The littlest lady has perhaps the biggest run of the house, with wide-open and dedicated play spaces taking an ample part of the floorplan, but without ever overrunning it. That's part discipline ("As soon as she grows out of something, it's gone."), part strategy ("What you see there are ALL of her toys in the bins… toys can get out of control, but we've kept it pretty tight. She doesn't complain! She's happy with what she has… it's like a sweet, "Happy Zone!")

Coco's Happy Zone (complete with radio and gallery-caliber artwork from Molly Smith, co-RISD grad and friend of Rachel's, and confined to a space-defining area rug) was claimed from what a realtor might tout as "dining room" or "home office." Home office is a notable absence here in the active home of a busy couple. How come? "One thing we've realized in our home is that we can not have a desk, because a desk, for us, is just a clutter trap, a place to throw things we don't want to deal with," says Rachel. Two floating laptops take on the business side of living, and only the onslaught of daily mail is left to contend with.

The rest of the story of this happy home plays out on the walls and floors, with ethereal art and the "hand" of it all a continuing thread. A vibrant rug anchors the living room, holding its own against the exposed brick. Once destined to be her musical husband's "drum rug," it's one of a pair of uniquely colored vintage rugs purchased early on by Rachel, attracted to their palette (vibrant, unusual) and their imperfect beauty, revealing the hand of the artists who wove them. "So much love has been put into these handmade rugs — I had been looking for a rug, machine-made, at other places, but I just loved the inconsistencies of handmade carpet, and I loved the colors."

The "evident hand" and eye for color are running themes at Pollack, too, where only (amazingly) one scanner and one computer workstation bring the extensive and highly technical collections to life. The rest of the work, including mapping intricate repeats, takes place with pencil, graph paper. "We really believe that you have so much more control, and point of view, when you're working, drawing by hand, than you do on the computer. It makes our fabrics really stand out."

Those fabrics all come to life for Rachel and the Pollack team from an extensive understanding and deeply ingrained love of the fibers from which they all spring (wool, linen, bamboo, to name a few). "Don't get me wrong, I heart patterns, for sure, but we're total fiber nerds here!"

The hand and fiber-love survives, through color approval, FedExed swatches and poms, international artisans (Italian weavers, Indian embroidery), and makes its way to the interiors of some of the world's leading designers and lucky residents. It's a journey, from eye to mind to hand to application, in which Rachel still takes delight. "If I walk into a restaurant and see a piece of fabric, one of our designs, on the furniture, it is such a thrill. Because you can look at and think, 'Oh my gosh, I remember when I drew that line!' To see it transformed, it's really thrilling, still, to me."

More sure-to-thrill collections are always in development over at Pollack, still living up to the venerable legacy of beloved past creative force Mark Pollack, in a cycle where phases, seasons, collections, and production schedules overlap in a dizzying blur of the calendar. "My brain is WAY into 2013. I never now what month or year it is!" Any scoops on what's ahead? "Very exciting things on the horizon — (we're) really into some saturated colors coming up." That's as much as Rachel will tip her hand, but it's less about being elusive than it is finding inspiration everywhere. "It's just about keeping your eyes open, looking around, absorbing… those ideas can come out uniquely transformed at a later date. You might not even know exactly where those ideas came from!"

"It might be the breeze that you feel when you're walking through a field…" she muses, then catches herself with a sweet and Uma-esque giggle. "Oh wow, I'm getting really, like, hippie-dippy here! But it's true!"

Maybe the apartment holds clues? "That fan coral is embedded in me somewhere, and it might just come out some day when I'm doodling!"

However the inspiration hits, colors or shapes, weaves or patterns, says Rachel, "It all starts with that dirty sheep in the barn!" Spoken like a true fiber nerd. It's a philosophy that proves, like many things in Rachel's lovely home and life, that from humble beginnings can come beautiful results.

Listen in on the conversation with Rachel here.

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Eclectic, meaningful, colorful and patterned, airy, functional, edited hand-me-downs.

Inspiration: The process of seeking out the perfect pieces for each space. I like things that have a story and a soul.

Favorite Element: The light, the breeze, the view and the cabinet wall creating Coco's room.

Biggest Challenge: One closet, too much stuff!

What Friends Say: Nice view.

Biggest Embarrassment: Mail and clutter.

Proudest DIY: The IKEA shelf "wall" separating Coco's room from ours. It feels like a loft in a barn with whitewashed walls.

Biggest Indulgence: Two Cherner chairs at the kitchen table.

Best Advice: Be yourself. If you don't love it, if you wouldn't buy it today, or you don't use it, get rid of it… something better will come along. Constantly edit. I highly recommend the book "Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui" by Karen Kingston.

Dream Sources: BDDW… I wish!!

Resources of Note:

PAINT & COLORS


LIVING ROOM

    • Credenza: vintage Design Research that was Joel's grandmother's.
    • Sofa: DWR Sliding Sleeper sofa (hand-me-down).
    • Rug: Joel's grandmother's.
    • Mirror: Vintage from Furniture Mart in Queens.
    • Embroidered linen pillows: Coral and Tusk
    • Brown velvet pillows with circle embroidery: Pollack
    • Orange cut-pile pillow: Pollack
    • Bookshelf: hand-me-down from my grandmother
    • Metal sculpture with ball: Made by my brother Nick Doriss
    • Metallic texture art print: Made by my friend Alice Kennedy
    • Lady lamp: From my Uncle.
    • Lampshade with leaves: High Beams Lighting, Sutton VT
    • Side table: General Nightmare in Brooklyn
    • 3-legged staking stools: Vintage Artek, Alvar Aalto.They were Joel's grandmother's.
    • Orange painting in play area: Molly Smith

KITCHEN/DINING ROOM

    • Large watercolor with stripes: Molly Smith
    • Small painting of houses with blue and red, by Paul Bowen
    • Glass Skull, made by my brother, Oliver Doriss
    • Cherner chairs: DWR
    • Table cloth: Brooklyn Flea

BEDROOM

    • Red and white shelf wall: IKEA Expedit shelves, with temporary wall built above and on side.
    • Dresser: Portmanteau, Williamsburg Brooklyn
    • Wooden box: Made by friend
    • Tiffany vase: From Joel's grandmother
    • Glass platter: John Derian
    • Glass bowl: Oliver Doriss
    • Eero Saarinen Tulip chair: Ebay
    • Small pink and turquoise painting: Molly Smith
    • Small green foliage painting: Toto Feldman
    • Black white and grey landscapes and branches: Molly Smith
    • Bedside table: junk shop in Massachusetts
    • Purple glass lamp: Ochre in NYC
    • Green lamp with earrings: General Nightmare in Brooklyn that I rewired.
    • Bed: IKEA, Craigslist
    • Embroidered linen pillows: Coral and Tusk
    • Quilt: It was a present made for my grandparent's wedding in 1938
    • Full size mirror: Olde Good Things, Brooklyn Flea

NURSERY

    • Rug: Pasha Rugs, New Hope PA. Vintage 1975 Azurbaijan.
    • Bureau: Vintage Scandinavian, hand-me-down from my mother
    • Stool: hand-me-down from my father
    • Curtain fabric: Pollack
    • Crib: IKEA
    • Crib bumpers: made by my grandmother
    • Small wood shelf: made by a friend
    • Yellow lamp: bought at a church thrift shop in Massachusetts for a buck!
    • Flokati Rug: Ikea
    • Artwork: Various friends and old postcards etc.

TERRACE

    • Glass vase and other glass pieces: Oliver Doriss
    • Table and chairs: DWR
    • Rope chairs (not shown): IKEA

Thanks, Rachel!

(Images: Patrick J. Hamilton)

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