An Art Historian's New York Apartment Filled With "Bookish Warmth"

An Art Historian's New York Apartment Filled With "Bookish Warmth"

Minette Hand
Jun 29, 2017

Name: Elyse Nelson and Joseph Costa
Location: Manhattan, New York
Size: 830 square feet
Years lived in: 10 months, renting

After trading in their quaint walk-up in Cambridge, Massachusetts for a cookie-cutter apartment in Manhattan, Elyse and her husband Joe longed for the character of their former pre-war digs. What they now lack in crown moldings, they've tried to make up for with what Elyse dubs "bookish warmth."

Elyse says their current style is ever-evolving, but is mostly eclectic mid-century. As an art historian, she appreciates most historical styles, but would never design her own living space after a single period style. Instead, she aims for variety, and delights in the surprise achieved by pairing disparate design elements. (For example, their family heirloom seascape painting in a heavy baroque frame is mounted above a mid-century-inspired couch topped with African mud-cloth pillows.)

Elyse and Joe tried to create dimension and warmth through a mixture of materials, tones and objects. Their favorite piece of furniture is their Eames lounge, which they bought after their wedding and will have forever. She says she is also incredibly attached to several of their works of art, including the vintage Calder and Braque exhibition posters that they found at an antique store in Cambridge. Lastly, the plants — many plants! They add life and personality to the space, softening its edges with joyful greenery.

Three design concepts that inspire Elyse are color, mixing old and new, and collecting objects through travel. She and Joe hope to replace many of their store-bought objects and furniture with unique finds from travel in the future!

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our Style: Eclectic mid-century modern

Inspiration: Fine art, folk art, Bauhaus architecture and design, southwest pottery and textiles, Turkish textiles

Favorite Element: That quintessential, nondescript New York City view!

Biggest Challenge: We're still learning how to mix patterns and textiles. The large geometric pattern of our kilim rug (which we love) is somewhat challenging to work with as a base. We couldn't find pillows we loved with smaller patterns to counterbalance the large pattern on the floor. We like the pillows we found, though pillows with smaller-scaled patterns would have helped to balance the space.

What Friends Say: "Nice view!" "This is cozy," "Where'd you get that?" "Is it always this clean?" (pretty much)

Biggest Embarrassment: Behind every hung object is a sea of nail holes.

Proudest DIY: Aside from painting our accent walls, we went to great lengths when living in Cambridge to seek out interesting furniture and objects at antique stores. We have great memories scavenging together.

Biggest Indulgence: The Eames lounge. We're proud to own this piece of design history.

Best Advice: Don't let large, commercial home furnishing stores kill your vibe. Look for inspiration literally anywhere else (travel, art, family, fashion, restaurants, hotels). Once you decide on a direction, discern which mass-produced pieces will work within your scheme without dampening your personal style.

Dream Sources: 1st Dibs, Design Within Reach, The Future Perfect, Ashe + Leandro, Ben & Aja Blanc, Bisque Interiors, Marr-Kett, Venice, Paris, West Palm Beach vintage stores, travel and antique shows, contemporary designers and artists.


Metal wall planters (converted bookends) – Vintage, Etsy
Console Table – West Elm, discontinued
Mid-Century Taper Table Lamp - West Elm

Bulbo tea kettle - Nambé
Green ceramic jar – antique store
Jose Regueiro large black walnut cutting board — Heath Ceramics

Turkish Kilim Rug from the 1970s – Etsy
Crosby sofa – West Elm
Glasstop coffee table — West Elm
Bar/Credenza – Urban Outfitters, discontinued
Pair of Major chairs — Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams
Black Eames lounge chair and ottoman w/ walnut shell — DWR
Marquetry side tables – family hand-me-downs
Acrylic rolling bookcase — CB2
Hektar floor lamp — IKEA
Faux-Chinoiserie table lamp – Chelsea flea market
Round Stockholm mirror with walnut veneer — IKEA
Black and brown mudcloth pillows – Second-hand store in Cambridge
Geometric kilim pillows — Beyt

"Old Navy" wall color — Benjamin Moore
Oslo dining table – Crate and Barrel, discontinued
Mill mini console table — CB2
Book shelf – West Elm, discontinued
Mixed vintage school chairs — found near Beacon, NY
Stackable chairs — West Elm
Bronze mobile pendant — West Elm

Grey linen upholstered sleigh bed — West Elm
Bedside tables – family hand-me-downs
1950s walnut mirror — Reside
Acrylic / antique brass table lamps — West Elm
Wood-tiled dresser — West Elm
Moroccan Throw — Spartan
Kilim pillows — Beyt

Cy Twombly "Leaving Paphos Ringed with Waves" poster — Gagosian shop
Living room seascape: Andrea Cherubini, "The Adriatic Sea," ~ late 19c – family hand-me-down
Bedroom painting – family hand-me-down
Abstract painting in living room – Lucky find in Cambridge
1954 Braque exhibition poster — Reside
1969 Calder exhibition poster — Reside
Lee Wallas, "Woman with Parakeets," (artist print) 1970s – Cambridge flea market

Thanks, Elyse and Joe!

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