This Small, Maximalist Brooklyn Rental Is a Decade-Long Labor of Love

published Jun 11, 2021

This Small, Maximalist Brooklyn Rental Is a Decade-Long Labor of Love

published Jun 11, 2021
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Name: Abbe Wright and partner, Nick Devlin
Location: Crown Heights, Brooklyn, NY
Size: 728 Square Feet
Type of Home: Pre-War (building was built c. 1925), One-Bedroom Apartment
Years lived in: 10 years, renting

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For the past ten years, Abbe Wright, who is is a Senior Editor in Consumer Marketing at Penguin Random House and the co-author of “Book Club: A Journal,” has rented this pre-war one-bedroom apartment in Crown Heights thanks to her friend Tom, who found this apartment on Craigslist. “He sent the link to me and between the location (across the street from the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens!) and the price (rent-protected!), he said ‘it might be too good to be true,’ but the apartment turned out to be just as good as was advertised,” Abbe explains. She goes on to explain this apartment’s importance over the past 10 years:

Credit: Erin Derby

“I moved in in the midst of Hurricane Irene (truly, amidst thunder and lightning) in late August 2011. This apartment has truly been my sanctuary and safe haven over a decade of turmoil. My dad was diagnosed with cancer in December of 2011. I spent every other weekend traveling down to my hometown of Philadelphia to spend time with him, but when I was in Brooklyn, my apartment embraced me like a cozy hug. It’s where I ended my last relationship, eight years ago, and where I learned to be single again.

I changed jobs twice in the last ten years — after spending five years at O, The Oprah Magazine, I went to Glamour magazine, and finally, landed in book publishing at Penguin Random House and through all that change, I still came home to the same familiar apartment. My dad passed away in 2015 and I sank into a deep grief. I cried gallons of tears on my couch, and the apartment cradled me through all of that. My apartment was also where I started drinking more and more, where I’d stumble home drunk, and, where I eventually hit rock bottom. It’s also the same place where, in February of 2017, I started counting days in sobriety. I’ve now been sober for a little over four years.

Credit: Erin Derby

And finally, it’s where I fell in love in the midst of a global pandemic. Nick and I met on Tinder in early April of 2020, and after Zoom dates and lengthy text threads, we finally met up with one another. From there, we formed a pod of two, and spent every day of the last year together — cooking, biking around Brooklyn, watching movies, and lying on the couch, talking. Within a month or so, I knew I’d met my life partner. Now, my apartment got to witness the blissful early stages of coupledom after so much sadness and hardship.

Nick moved in in October 2020 and it was a bit of a design challenge to incorporate his stuff and make the apartment feel like ours instead of mine. With a little creative furniture rearranging, and a lot of me purging clothes to give him some closet space, it’s worked out well.

Credit: Erin Derby

Sadly, I’m about to bid this apartment goodbye. Nick and I just bought a single-family home in Philadelphia and, while I’m excited to move back home in June and have much more space, I’m also very sad to leave this apartment. I feel like these walls have seen me through so much — sadness, happiness, despair, depression, laughter, and love. I’m so grateful for this chapter in this beautiful home and all the growth that’s occurred during my time in New York.

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: My style is Bohemian maximalist with a traditional twist. I love combining antique furniture with colorful boho textiles like ikat and shibori. And then books. Lots and lots of books! I have a big personality and I gravitate towards color and pattern mixing, which is clearly evident in my home. I’m a huge reader and have multiple bookshelves overflowing with books. I love to travel and always pick things up on my travels to keep in my home: pillows from India; a vintage map of the Pacific from Hawa’ii; pom-pom garlands from Mexico City. My apartment feels like a reflection of all that.

Credit: Erin Derby

I love vintage things that tell a story, and I especially love passed-down heirlooms from my own family. I have a drop leaf table, a cherry chest, and a neoclassical style Ram’s Head chair from my late maternal grandmother, and a rug that my dad picked up on his travels, among other things. I also come from a family of artists and craftspeople — on both sides of my family tree. I have a self-portrait that my maternal grandmother painted hanging above an oil painting by my cousin on my father’s side. My dad’s sister made a mixed media portrait of me that hangs above my couch. My late grandfather was a woodworker and I have a beautiful vitrine, step stool, and spice rack that he made with his own hand. My mom is a skilled needlepointer and has made me a footstool and pillow, among other things. I barely have any wall space left for all the art crammed on the wall, but the visual collage of it makes me so happy.

Above all, I think I’m a sentimentalist who collects things because it sparks a memory. Scraps of ephemera are held with magnets to my vintage 1930s filing cabinet because I like what they remind me of. My long front hallway has over a hundred framed photos of friends and family because seeing them when I exit and enter puts a smile on my face.

Credit: Erin Derby

I know a lot of people enter my apartment and go… “whoa, this is a lot of stuff,” but each thing that I’ve collected makes me feel connected to a part of my past and I get to carry them with me into the future.

Inspiration: I live for the layered look of pattern mixing in a variety of colors and textures. I adore seeing collected treasures from various travels tucked into different nooks — they each have such a cool story to tell. Tory Burch’s Hamptons house does this so well. I had the occasion to visit once and it’s such a feast for the eyes. I also adore looking at photos of Diane von Furstenburg’s apartment, @indigoleopardhome on Instagram, paintings by Surabhi Gaikwad and Cobie Cruz, or anything that Rita Konig has designed.

Credit: Erin Derby

Favorite Element: The blue-gray paint in the bedroom. I painted it when I first moved in, and painstakingly painted all the molding and trim white. Everything in the room is in a shade of blue and white and it’s a great place to tune out the day and get some restful sleep. It feels very  much like a peaceful sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Biggest Challenge: The biggest challenge is the lack of natural light. The apartment can often feel dark and gloomy, which is why I have so many lamps. The living room, bathroom, and kitchen windows all have a Northern exposure and face into a courtyard, so getting sunlight can be tricky at times. The bedroom window does face south and it’s dark in the morning (perfect for sleeping) but does get gorgeous sun in the afternoon.

Credit: Erin Derby

Proudest DIY: It’s a toss-up. The gallery wall was team effort between my partner Nick and I. Using Nick’s math skills and my spatial awareness, we created this gallery wall after he moved in. We both love vintage furniture and shopping flea markets and estate sales, so as a nod to that, while staying socially distanced, we searched for and bought vintage pennants on Etsy that represent all of the cities we’ve both lived in and love — Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta, Brooklyn, and New York City. (The Chicago one is from the World’s Fair in 1933!) We had them framed at Framebridge and, along with art that reminds us of our favorite things (him: baseball, me: sailing), we created a gallery wall in our bedroom that feels uniquely us. It’s so nice to lie in bed and look at this visual representation of our relationship, the places and the things we love merged together on one wall.

Another smaller DIY was turning some of my grandmother’s old handwritten recipes into fabric at Spoonflower.com, then turning them into dishcloths. It feels so nice having this reminder of her in the kitchen, as she was such an accomplished home chef and her loopy, curling handwriting makes me smile whenever I see it.

Credit: Erin Derby

Biggest Indulgence: The Joybird sleeper sofa was a definite indulgence. For seven or eight years, a futon I’d inherited from a former roommate used to sit in that spot. It worked fine for guests but it felt like a college remnant. Getting a gorgeous sleeper sofa felt like my first adult purchase. Plus, it’s actually comfortable to sleep on! The mattress is thick memory foam, so guests feel like they’re in a bed. It definitely elevates the room and was absolutely worth it.

Credit: Erin Derby

Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? The apartment has a long hallway that widens from three and a half feet wide to a roomy five feet wide. I took those extra feet and made my office in the hallway. The IKEA MICKE desk was perfect for this, since it’s only 19 5/8” deep, so it doesn’t take up too much space. For many years, the desk was just a dumping ground for papers, receipts, and chargers. But when the pandemic hit, I needed to make it a place to *actually* work, so I refocused on making this a functional desk space. I found this army green vintage filing cabinet on Craigslist, hung a floating shelf, Mexican pom-pom garlands, and organized my Sharpies by color. Hanging above is a framed walk down memory lane of my magazine career. My mom clipped and framed my first byline from each publication I’ve written for. The desk is framed on the other side by, what else, another bookshelf. This one holds cookbooks and lots and lots of journals.

What are your favorite products you have bought for your home and why? I will tell anyone who is willing to listen about the amazing, affordable rug selection at Home Depot, of all places! I recently got an 8 ft. x 10 ft. Vintage Hamadan Area Rug Area Rug by Safavieh for $220! It’s insane! The rug is so soft and looks so vivid and expensive. I’m obsessed.

Credit: Erin Derby

Please describe any helpful, inspiring, brilliant, or just plain useful small space maximizing and/or organizing tips you have: I can’t say enough good things about under-the-bed storage containers from The Container Store. I have five (yes, five!) crammed under my bed. One functions as a linen closet and holds all my sheets. One holds duffel bags and soft luggage. Another holds outdoor gear, including a hammock and a tent. If you’re not maximizing your under-the-bed space for storage, what are you even doing?!

Finally, what’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? Don’t worry about following trends. Right now, you see so many neutrals, so much pampas grass, so many mauve/sage/tan color stories. If that’s not where you gravitate, don’t worry! Go the other way. If you make your home feel like an extension of you, you’ll always feel comfortable when you come home.

Resources

Credit: Erin Derby

PAINT & COLORS

  • Bedroom — Valspar “Morning Fog” – that’s the only room I painted.
  • I left the rest of the walls that signature “Brooklyn Landlord Buttermilk” color they were painted when I moved in.
Credit: Erin Derby

ENTRY/HALL

  • Rug – 19-foot Iranian Rug
  • Mail Table – IKEA (no longer available)
  • Lamp – Custom-made
  • Floating shelves – Threshold, Target
Credit: Erin Derby

LIVING ROOM

  • Vintage Hamadan Red/Multi 8 ft. x 10 ft. Area Rug by Safavieh – Home Depot
  • Brown Couch – Cindy Crawford Home, H. M. Richards (no longer available)
  • Eliot Sleeper Sofa in Royale Cobalt Velvet – Joybird
  • Mid-century Modern End Table – Vintage, bought from a friend
  • Anchor Lamp – Jonathan Adler (no longer available)
  • Streamline Coffee Table with white marble top – West Elm
  • Arched Floor Lamp – Costco (no longer available)
  • Blanket basket – Vintage, from my grandmother
  • Gold mirror – Vintage, from my grandmother
  • Drop-leaf table – Vintage, from my grandmother
  • Pink Ram’s Head Chair – Vintage, from my grandmother
  • Needlepoint Denison stool – Handmade by my mother
  • Moroccan Leather Pouf in teal – Ikram Design
  • Henny Rand Curtains in white/dark gray light gray – IKEA
  • Sheer Curtains – IKEA (no longer available)
  • Big Green and White pillows – C. Wonder (no longer available)
  • Blue and White Nebula pillows – Surya, Joybird
  • Black and White patterned pillows – Nattljus, IKEA (no longer available)
  • Velvet Navy pillow – KATHLEENANNHOME, Etsy (no longer available)
  • Hot Pink silk ikat pillows – PillowMe, Etsy (no longer available)
  • Green bird pillows – Purchased in India
  • Robert Allen “Malakos” green malachite pillow – Etsy (no longer available)
  • Bar Cart – Vintage, Craigslist
  • Bookshelf – Black/brown KALLAX, IKEA
  • Globe – Vintage, thrift store
  • Bar Stools – IKEA (no longer available)
  • Dolce Vita poster – I inherited it from the former photo editor at O Magazine, but it can be had here
  • Blue and white bowls (smaller, larger) on coffee table – Pearl River Mart
  • Gold standing lamp – Vintage  
  • Standing lamp and flower shade – IKEA (shade no longer available)
  • Vitrine – Handmade by my grandfather
  • Teal chair – O Magazine photoshoot prop that I took home!
  • Nesting tables – Vintage, from my grandmother
  • Candles – Boy Smells
  • Art – Philadelphia collage by Alex Eckman-Lawn; Kiss by Chris Craymer; Children by Gentl and Hyers; skull, sunflower, man by Owen Bissex; self-portrait of a girl done by my grandmother; man by Matt Clark; and abstract portrait of me by Anne Saitzyk
Credit: Erin Derby

OFFICE

  • Desk – MICKE, IKEA
  • Teapot Lamp – Linens’n Things (no longer available)
  • White gooseneck desk lamp – IKEA (no longer available)
  • Desk Chair – Think Chair By Steelcase, Seatingmind.com
  • File Cabinet – Vintage, 1940s, Craigslist
  • White bookcase – BILLY, IKEA
  • Plastic three-drawer organizing bins – Gracious Living, Target (no longer available)
  • Floating wall shelf – Target
Credit: Erin Derby

KITCHEN

  • Table – IKEA (no longer available)
  • Copper pots – Handed down from family friends
  • Kitchen Cart – Room Essentials, Target
  • Glass bottles – Vintage, collected
  • Spice Racks – Handmade by my grandfather
  • Red chairs – Stefan chair, IKEA
  • Blue and White Bowls – C. Wonder
  • Oilcloth tablecloth – A market in Los Angeles
  • Peace Sign lights – Pottery Barn Kids (no longer available)
  • Map – National Geographic, Amazon
  • Magnetic photo rope – Kikkerland, Amazon
  • Hugging salt and pepper shakers – MoMa
Credit: Erin Derby

BEDROOM

  • Bed – West Elm (no longer available)
  • 2 White Bedside Tables – Hemnes, IKEA
  • Bedside lamps – Vintage
  • White Dresser – Hemnes, IKEA
  • Lamp on top of dresser – IKEA (no longer available)
  • Mirror – Vintage
  • Cherry Chest – Vintage, from my Grandmother’s house
  • Green Chinese lamp – Vintage, from my Grandmother’s house
  • 2 Shelf Bookshelf – Project 62, Target
  • Bookshelf, green – Vintage
  • 5 shelf white bookshelf – Room Essentials, Target
  • Chair – Vintage, found on the street
  • Bedside rugs – Argyle Dhurrie Rugs, West Elm (no longer available)
  • Rug underneath bed – Amagansett by Madeline Weinrib for ABC Carpet & Home (no longer available)
  • Duvet cover and shams – Pottery Barn (no longer available)
  • Art – Visit the Philadelphia Zoo poster from AllPosters.com; Atlanta pennant from TrulyDeeplyVintage, Etsy; Prospect Park Zoo pennant from MaskSantaFe, Etsy; Chicago Pennant from CinderElisCloset, Etsy; Philadelphia, PA pennant from DustyRustyDecor, Etsy; and New York pennant from Brimfield, 5219 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL
  • Framing – Framebridge
Credit: Erin Derby

BATHROOM

Thanks Abbe!

This house tour’s responses were edited for length and clarity.