An Utterly Glamorous and Theatrical 500-Square-Foot Studio In Queens
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Name: Brett L. Leemkuil
Location: Sunnyside, NY
Size: 530 square feet
Years lived in: 5 years, renting
“One would assume, by all appearances, that I’m a maximalist,” writes interior designer Brett Leemkuil. His 500-square-foot Queens rental apartment features a floor-to-ceiling red living room, a curtained-off leopard-print bed closet, and hand-painted emerald green malachite wall finishes in the entryway… among much more. Maximalist seems like a very accurate descriptor. “But, truth be told, I’m a traditionalist at heart,” he continues. “I happen to love color and a sense of theatricality in my environments. Is it such a crime to be surrounded by beauty and comfortable chic things?”
White walls are soothing and refreshing, but sometimes a “more is more” approach is needed. As you’ll watch in the video tour, Brett references Tony Duquette—an American artist who specialized in designs for stage and film—as “a constant source of inspiration” to him. Brett’s favorite element of his home is its theatricality—flourishes of decor hit all the right notes, and a palpable energy flows through the small space. Brett does own a home in the Midwest, but he splits his time between the two. And when he’s here in New York City, he spends his time at home working on projects, watching documentaries, or browsing the web for auctions. Or, entertaining guests. As he describes below, this space was designed with evenings in mind.
“I generally like no more than three guests at a time, or two, if my husband happens to be in town. I prefer intimate dinners or cocktail parties where I can entertain in a style that I’m comfortable with. Having grown up in the South, it is tantamount that my guests be comfortable and well taken care of… It is also mandatory to maintain a well-stocked bar, and to include interesting libations for those that might not drink alcohol. When you like to entertain and have all the accouterments to do so, it makes it a pleasure for all concerned. I also love to cook, and the variety of butcher stores, fish mongers and green grocers in my neighborhood is unbelievable. We have so many stores that reflect the diversity of Sunnyside that I feel I’m still living in San Francisco at times.”
With such a vibrant present, you might think the origins of how Brett found this space are as magical as the apartment’s atmosphere, but he actually just found it on Craigslist—the landlord had posted a video and Brett’s curiosity was piqued (the video is worth watching for the “before” of this incredibly colorful space!). But though this is a home designed for delighting guests, it’s most of all a comfortable home for Brett.
“At the end of a long work day, it is absolutely wonderful to leave the hustle and bustle of Manhattan behind me and walk into an environment that I created, and one that I’m fortunate enough to call home, too.”
Apartment Therapy Survey:
My Style: One would assume, by all appearances, that I’m a maximalist. But, truth be told, I’m a traditionalist at heart. I happen to love color and a sense of theatricality in my environments. Is it such a crime to be surrounded by beauty and comfortable chic things?
Inspiration: I find, as well as found, inspiration in a myriad of things. Fashion, art, nature, and the past. Looking towards the past is tantamount to understanding today’s influences on design as a whole. You must have a point of reference before you can move forward. I’m still “traveling” with an eye on the past as well as one steadily fixed on the future.
The design genius Tony Duquette will be a constant source of inspiration to me. Also, when faced with a design conundrum, I always find myself asking the question “WWHD?” (What would Hutton do?). I’m referring to my dear friend, mentor, and designer extraordinaire, Hutton Wilkinson! He is the protégé of the late and great Tony Duquette.
Favorite Element: The space’s overall theatricality. It’s an extremely glamorous environment to be engaged in. It was specifically designed with evenings in mind. With that said, an immense amount of attention was focused on lighting. Everyone looks beautiful in this space because of two things: the wall color and the lighting!
Biggest Challenge: The foyer/entry hall. It sets the tone for the rest of the apartment. Upon entering the space, you’re immediately transported to a magical place! Some have called it a fantasy.
Which fictional character would be most at home in your place?: Endora of course, from the television show Bewitched! She captured my attention as a small boy. She was always so devastatingly chic and glamorous. Incidentally, Agnes Morehead, the actress who played that character, was actually a client of Tony Duquette.
What Friends Say: They are enchanted! But, most say they couldn’t live here because there is to much going on visually. But, they are charmed nonetheless.
Biggest Embarrassment: Absolutely not! What an odd question. LOL, if there were, I probably wouldn’t live here. On second thought, YES! I’m embarrassed by a plant that resides in my bathroom window. As a friend of mine said, “It’s that plant we’ve all seen in a New York laundry or dry cleaner!” They are absolutely right! It is totally overgrown, somewhat neglected, and not as pretty as it should be. However, I just can’t bear to say goodbye to it. It has been living here since I moved in. Sigh… it’s the equivalent of a yard with unsightly landscaping.
Proudest DIY: The faux malachite painting I executed in the entryway. I did test boards for color and technique prior to wall application. I used a combination of glazes and paint drying extenders to achieve the final look. The pattern itself was executed with pieces of notched cardboard that were dragged through an applied glaze. To give the panels an extremely fine finished edge, I used gold metallic vinyl automotive pinstriping. To further the illusion of inset panels of stone, I added vintage gold sunburst metal “anchors” as a finishing touch.
Biggest Indulgence: The two Thomas Pheasant for Baker Furniture wing back chairs in the living room.
Best Advice: Embrace color! And don’t second guess yourself. Go with your instincts. And be an individual amongst the beige world we live in!
PAINT & COLORS
- Entryway — Wall, Behr “Exquisite Emerald” P420-6 Eggshell. Ceiling, Glidden “Pink Salmon” 99RR 27/498 Eggshell.
- Living Room — Glidden “Pink Salmon” 99RR 27/498 Eggshell.
- Center Hall — Benjamin Moore Aura “Avocado Peel” MSL140-WB Satin.
- Bathroom — Wall, Behr “Black” Semi gloss. Ceiling, Behr Marquee “Manhattan Blue” Eggshell.
- Leopard carpet — Home Depot and manufactured by Shaw Carpets. It hides a plethora of problems and is indestructible.
- Chandelier — Vintage. The tassels were purchased on Amazon.
- 19th century Chinese pith paintings — Chelsea Flea Market in NYC. If you’re not familiar with this genre, you should be! Here’s a brief history.
- Amethyst crystals on console — Roost. These are like big pieces of jewelry for the home. It’s like the console put on a giant cocktail ring or something.
- Porcelain Chinese seated figure — EBTH online auction.
- Faux manzanita branches — Jamali Garden in NYC and painted flaming coral.
- Blue Chinese cloisonne vases — Chelsea Flea Market in NYC.
- Gold luster votive candle holders — Dollar Tree. You never know what you’re going to find at the Dollar Tree. Here’s a good example.
- Vintage starburst gold findings on faux painted malachite panels — Daytona Trimmings in NYC. They provide a little mid-century twinkle.
- Rope detail in bar area — Home Depot.
- Two pairs of early 19th century Chinese figures — Sunnyside Thrift Shop. I must have looked at these four or five times before finally buying them. It wasn’t the expenditure, as they were exceedingly cheap. It just seemed odd that there were two pairs, which led me to believe that they were reproduction pieces, which they’re not! I adore them.
- The upholstered console table — Designed and executed by BLD (Brett Leemkuil Design). The fabric was purchased years ago in Boca Raton, Florida. The console hides shelves underneath that are upholstered in silk, providing storage for crystal barware. Remember my thoughts on storage? This is a prime example.
- Four Italian fruitwood wall brackets — A thrift store in Queens that is no longer in business. One of my favorite little thrift stores for ages too!
- Italian mid-century ceramic Chinese man carrying a yoke — Purchased on eBay. His buckets are filled with exotic spices such as cloves and star anise. I’m not big on fragrances for interiors, but do like natural scents, such as those provided by bundles of vanilla beans, bowls of cloves, etc. Keeping it “real” is important to me. However, when I do burn scented candles, I stick with one fragrance throughout the space. I also buy a tremendous amount of a particular scent when I come across one that I like. At the moment, it’s a fragrance called “Warm Pipe Tobacco.” Unlike me, it’s extremely masculine and warm. Just kidding—I’m an extremely warm individual.
- Sofa and mid-century Tabriz carpet — Auction at Doyle. Doyle’s “Home” auctions during the summer are an unbelievable source for furniture and accessories in the off season. This is where a lot of great decorator pieces show up when rooms are being “done over” or simply “refreshed.” Great bargains are always found.
- Fortuny down-filled pillows — Why would you have anything other than down? Allergic? Not a problem! You can purchase hypoallergenic interior covers. Problem solved. Comfort regained! These were an outrageous find at a Housing Works thrift store. Simply put, these are known as the “Cadillacs” of the pillow world.
- 1970s chrome coffee table, wall brackets, mid-century lamp, black painted chest of drawers, and wall-mounted mid-century marble console — were all purchased at The Furniture Market. This is a favorite source for set decorators in the film and theatre industry. They occasionally have that “must have” decorator’s pièce de résistance.
- Italian Florentine nesting tables — eBay. I love Florentine furniture for its vintage and glamorous unpretentious look.
- Black lacquer low tables — Purchased at the Chelsea Flea Market in NYC. These tables can also be used for extra seating when necessary.
- Large format Gracie and Sons Japanese Edo brush paintings —Purchased in Queens at a vintage store that is no longer in business. These were an unbelievable find. Gracie and Sons is undoubtably best known for their Chinese wallpapers. They also have an exceptionally well-curated collection of Asian art and accessories. The company is now called Gracie Studio.
- Black lacquer framed antique Chinese textiles — Auction
- Tony Duquette one of a kind wall brackets — Purchased on eBay. I’m still amazed that these are part of my collection. Tony Duquette pieces rarely come on the market, let alone early ones such as these.
- Large format gold multi-framed center mirror — Designed and executed by BLD. I like the ’70s vibe this mirror provides. It goes exceptionally well with the vintage ’70s chrome coffee table. It’s constructed of small individual brass toned hand mirrors purchased at a local 99 cents store.
- German Art Deco clock with garniture — Purchased in Amsterdam. I still can’t believe I carried this to Paris, then back to Amsterdam, then back to the West Coast. I’m exhausted just thinking about it. However, I find the ticking of a clock soothing in a room. I also used a few Art Deco pieces to reference the apartment building’s age.
- Secretary — Auction at Showplace Antique and Design Center. To give it a little more pizzazz, I papered the interior with antique hand-blocked Chinese gold paper. By doing so, an otherwise boring piece of furniture came to life! The reflective quality of the paper glows beautifully during the day too.
- Bouillotte lamp — One of the Housing Works thrift stores. Another great find at HW’s. I’ve been shopping their thrift stores for years. It is also one of my favorite charities in NYC. These lamps are so very French and so very chic.
- Two Imari plates on wall — Acquired at auction. The colors of Imari, or Arita ware, as it is also known, are a classic combination and always inspiring.
- Collection of hard-stone trees — Purchased at flea markets and online auctions. I’ve had a fondness for these trees ever since I was a child and living on the island of Guam, which is where I was first exposed to them. My mother wouldn’t allow me to have one. Showed her, didn’t I!
- Tony Duquette inspired/themed birdcage — Part of a centerpiece for the annual Orchid Dinner for the NYBG. The table was produced for Tony Duquette Inc. by Hutton Wilkinson and BLD.
- Italian gilt wall bracket — Embellished with Chinese enameled brass fish designed and executed by BLD. The enameled and articulated fish add movement, color, and exoticism to a classic Italian form.
- Chinese mid- to late- 19th century Chinese porcelain cricket cage — I purchased this at one of my favorite flea markets, The Chelsea Flea. These also make wonderful votive candle holders, which is how I’m using it here. It casts a beautiful hexagonal design on the wall when lit.
- The chandelier in the dressing area is vintage — The faux parchment shades are vintage as well. I felt the shades needed an embellishment so I added the beaded coral finials. The addition of a rock crystal Buddha head on the bottom of the chandelier adds a touch of chinoiserie, which in our book, is always a good thing.
- The faux gilded bamboo mirror in the dressing area — Actually held a needlepoint panel. I repurposed the needlepoint as upholstery on a Regency inspired bench. As an accent, I picked out an acid green welting as a finishing touch.
- The dupioni silk walls — Accented with a double-hung long tassel fringe in ivory that falls upon itself creating a shag effect. I love this look. Ivory fringe from Daytona Trimmings.
- An Italian blanc de chine ceramic fruit-themed topiary lamp — was purchased at a local thrift store. It is actually one of a pair. Both in perfect condition, which is not often the case with these lamps. I only required one so I made a dear friend purchase the other. At least this way, I know where it is. Although she swears she’s never going to part with it. I placed the lamp on a white pedestal that gives it a presence in a rather boring corner. This is a device that was used by many prominent designers during the mid-century. I think it is a great look.
- Window treatments — Made of dupioni and shantung silk designed and executed by BLD. I purposely placed the valances against the ceiling to create the illusion of height in this long space. The ivory tassel trim was purchased at M&J Trimming in NYC.
- The chandelier is vintage and and strung with coral beads — Designed and executed by BLD. The beads were purchased at Lita Trading Corp. (1160 Broadway) in NYC. They are my go-to source for all things beads.
- Espaliers of faux manzanita on trelliage with pots — Designed and executed by BLD. My goal was to have an interior garden space that created a transition between the living area and the bedroom, but also reintroduced the element of fantasy. The faux manzanita was purchased at Jamali Garden in the NYC flower district and applied with a verdigris finish. The trelliage was constructed with PVC stock molding purchased at Home Depot.
- Italian diminutive gilt wood wall brackets — Adorned with coral beads found on an online auction. The small gourd-shaped bud vases, one adorned with a bejeweled bee, are the perfect scale in this space.
- Jade green resin elephants over the doorways — Purchased at one of the local 99 cents stores and provide good luck. Framed Chinese embroidery purchased online. It adds to the “garden” feel.
- The wall-mounted, green-painted/gold-glazed console and sheaf of wheat sconces — Purchased at an antiques mall in Phoenix, Arizona while working on a project for the Super Bowl. I’m always game for antiques shopping. Football? Not so much. Surprised?
- The tall “behind the door” mirror — Found on the street. It was painted green, then marbleized, and adorned with seashells as well as coral-painted manzanita branches. It is designed in the Tony Duquette Organic Baroque style. Designed and produced by BLD.
- The Victorian shell encrusted obelisk — Purchased at auction. I added the flourish of coral painted manzanita to the top. Always remember, it’s ALL IN THE DETAILS! Make them count!
- The gilded antlers — Purchased at The Chelsea Flea Market. Foo dogs on Lucite stands were a gift from a friend. The American Art Deco side table featuring monkeys on its legs was purchased at Capo Auctions.
- Period Art Deco fabric — Covers the wall and was purchased through a dealer of antique textiles. This fabric actually has small traces of metallic glitter on it. I love its overall black arabesque design. The small scale velvet leopard print was sourced from the garment district in NYC. Manufacturer unknown. Which is sad because I love this fabric.
- The walls in the sleeping alcove — Ipholstered in my dear friend and mentor Hutton Wilkinson’s Malachite sheet set for HSN. The sheets on the bed are the same product. Unfortunately, they are out of stock at the moment, but hopefully, they will return soon. You can find a similar fabric, also created by Hutton, under the Tony Duquette brand at Jim Thompson Fabrics. The gold oversized tassels were purchased at M&J Trimming in NYC.
- The dramatically scaled mirror, with a painted and glazed manzanita surround — Found on the street and used to create the illusion of space. The starbursts and large finial were purchased several years ago at West Elm during the Christmas holidays. They have since been discontinued.
- The Italian gilded tole lyre shade sconce — Purchased at The Furniture Market. I further enhanced it with a swag of coral beads.
- The French provincial porcelain court figure — Found in the lobby of my building and was promptly painted with high-gloss white enamel. The paint eliminated its garishly glazed coloring and immediately gave it a contemporary feel. Two blue and white chinoiserie wall pockets bought at the Long Island City Flea Market hold arrangements of white painted manzanita branches. The blue tassels featured throughout were purchased at Daytona Trimmings.
- The striped fabric and awning trim —Sourced in the Garment District of NYC. It was used for the commode skirt as well as the valance. I felt the commode should be “dressed” as it is rather prominent when the door to the bath is first opened.
- The extra long shower curtain — Purchased on Amazon. By bringing the shower curtain to the ceiling, once again, I created the illusion of height in a small space.
- The “chandelier” on a pulley system — It’s actually two sconces positioned back to back and secured with zip ties. It is illuminated with votive candles. Chandelier designed and produced by BLD.
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