Real Cool People, Real Cool Apartments With Verena von Pfetten
This Red Hook apartment will give you reasons not just to think — but maybe move — outside of your comfort zone
As with clothes, the way you decorate a room expresses your personality. In its most ideal form, it signals to guests how you interpret yourself. In round two of Real Cool People, Real Cool Apartments, we scope the one-bedroom, Rood Hook, Brooklyn home of Man Repeller Editor-at-Large Verena von Pfetten (and two French Bulldogs!) to — what else? — learn what she’s all about.
Name: Verena von Pfetten
What do you do? I’m a freelance writer, editor, and digital consultant. And editor at large for this very site!
How long have you lived in this apartment? A little over a year.
What do you like about your hood?
God, I am head over heels in love with Red Hook. I spent three years living on the border of Carroll Gardens and Red Hook before making the full jump last May, and I’m so happy I did. When I tell people I live in Red Hook, the first thing people ask about is my commute. It was never an issue. I have lived in NYC for 15 years and I’m happy to be a little secluded. It’s like a little seaside village in the middle of New York City. There’s even, like, a “tourist” season (summer) when everyone takes the ferry over to Brooklyn Crab or rides their bikes through for the weekend. And in the winter, it’s just so quiet and sleepy and you feel like you have the whole place to yourself.
I love that it smells like the ocean when I get off the bus. I love the cobblestone streets. I love that the garbage cans have little anchor motifs on them. Because it’s somewhat cut off — there are no subways; the closest one is a 15-20 minute walk or bus ride — it really feels like a neighborhood. People talk to each other on the street! They invite you over to their house for dinner or picnics! When I first moved in, I was walking my dogs and someone stopped me on the street to ask if I was new to the neighborhood, because they didn’t recognize my dogs.
Also: there is a BEACH. A real beach! A little one. But it’s a beach! With sand! And on summer mornings I walk my dogs to it and stick my feet in the water and look out at the Statue of Liberty and watch the boats and it makes me so happy. Also, it’s got basically everything you need in a neighborhood: great restaurants (Grindhaus; Fort Defiance), a Fairway, dry cleaning, a bodega, the best bar in the city (Sunny’s) and parks for days. So, other than for work, I would happily never leave it.
What was it about this apartment?
This is my dream apartment. My boyfriend, Nick, is the one who found it. We were heading to Red Hook to meet friends for dinner and he happened to pull up the Craigslist listing before we left. The apartment was more than I had wanted to spend, but it was pet friendly, which is already a dream, AND there was no broker fee. And it was in Red Hook! So we decided on a whim to check it out on the way to dinner, just to see it. I had no intention of taking it. And then I walked in and fell in love.
It has so many windows—three exposures—a balcony, a roof deck, a dish washer, a washer/dryer, AND the bathtub has little jacuzzi jets. But my most favorite favorite thing about the apartment is the giant tree outside the window. From late April through October, my entire front living room looks out into the leaves and it makes me feel like I live in a treehouse. Fun fact: it’s an Ailanthus tree, also known as the “tree of heaven.”
What’s the worst thing about the apartment?
Honestly, nothing. If I had to nitpick, I guess it’s that it’s a walk up. Which I actually really *don’t* mind, but one of my dogs can’t do stairs at all, so I have to carry him up and down them whenever we go out.
Do you ever work from home and if so, what’s that like? Is it important for you to have a dedicated work space or do you work from bed/the couch?
I love to work from home. I know a lot of people who think I’m insane. But I just love the apartment so much that I don’t mind it. I work from my dining room table in the living room. I don’t get stir crazy. And I find it easier to focus if I’m not thinking about when I have to go back and walk the dogs or what I’ll eat for lunch or whatnot. And the procrastinating is GREAT. Instead of reading the internet, I’ll get up and do the dishes. Or decide to hang a new painting or do a little redecorating or something.
What did you think about when decorating? What was the process like? Did you start with one piece and design around that or has it been add-as-you-go?
I am constantly decorating. When I find something I love, I buy it first, then figure out a place for it. In fact, I have a painting that I bought about a month ago from a junk shop upstate and it’s spent the last few weeks tucked behind a chair while I decide where to hang it.
Years ago, when I was decorating an old apartment of mine, I got a great piece of advice from my friend Sarah Gray Miller, who is the editor-in-chief of Modern Farmer and is the former editor-in-chief of Country Living, and that’s to just go with what you love. If you love something, odds are it works with other things you love. And if it doesn’t, who cares! You love it. Your home should make you happy.
Did you have an overall vision in mind when you started decorating? What was it and where’d you get it from?
If I had to pick a theme or vision, it’s probably nautical and beach-y. I love blues and grays and sandy tones with brighter happy colors here and there. Years ago, I bought this giant painting of the Lusitania for $100 from an antiques mall upstate — it’s all torn up and water stained and basically falling to pieces — but I love it to death. So a lot of my stuff, in terms of color or design, has sort of spiraled out from that one piece.
What are your favorite apartment “scores” and where are they from?
Definitely Lucy (which is what I call my Lusitania painting), and my dining table and bench, which I got from the Brooklyn Flea about four or five years ago. I love hosting people, so a big dining table — somewhere people can sit and hang out and eat and drink — is really important to me. That’s also sort of how I configured the living room, so that people can sit all around it but still be centralized.
I pull out the dining table when I need seating on both sides, otherwise I set it up kind of like an amphitheater. And people end up on the floor, too.
Tell me a story about one thing in your apartment.
MY WALLPAPER. It’s by Flat Vernacular, which is basically the most amazing wallpaper company on the planet. (You might recognize them from their coloring book or from the interior pages of Lena Dunham’s book.) This wallpaper was originally a fabric that I fell in love with because of the colors and I begged them to make it into a wallpaper for me. Wallpaper is expensive and I live in a rental, but I settled on a small-ish space (one wall) and just decided to go with it.
(I also confirmed with my landlord that I could do it. He OK-ed it as long as I put it back to normal whenever I leave. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.)
For someone young and broke and trying to nest, what are your top three shopping-for-the-apartment tips?
Buy old stuff. And ideally buy it outside of a major metropolitan city like New York. Going just an hour outside — to New Jersey or Long Island or Columbia County — will save you so many dollars. But worst case, you can still find deals at places like the Brooklyn Flea. You just have to look. I recently bought this big, weird, woven carpet-y wall hanging (now hung above my bed) at the Flea for $20.
Also: shop the kids section! I have three lamps from PBTeen. It’s just as good as the Pottery Barn mainline stuff but always cheaper! And! PAINT. Yes, it costs some money. And if you’re renting, you’ll have to paint it back later, but it’s so worth it. A little color goes a long way to making a place feel like it’s yours.
What about a total amateur in putting a room together — any tips?
Find one piece you love. Something that you just have to have (or maybe you already have it!) and build from there. Figure out what you like about it (the design? the color? the style? the era?) and find other things that fit that bill. Also, go slowly. It’s worth waiting. Don’t buy to fill a space. Buy things you love and then find a space for them. Also, though I don’t have any in this apartment, curtains can change a room. If you’re bored with your apartment, try switching up the window treatments, even seasonally, like you would your clothes. Go for gauzy, breezy ones in the summer and then maybe try some dark rich heavy ones in winter. They’re a relatively inexpensive investment.
Finally, remember that it’s all in the details. You don’t have to buy a big, fancy, expensive table. Try swapping out your towel hook for a cool brass one you found on Etsy. And while gallery walls are a real THING now, they don’t have to be daunting. I have a friend who, one by one, as she saw or found or got things she liked, stuck them on her wall. Not even framed! Like little doodles someone gave her, or a photo, or a note. It took years but now it’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen, and every piece tells a story.
What does your dream room look like?
I love a deep, dark bedroom. The next step in my apartment will be painting my bedroom a dark gray-ish and super matte navy. My bedroom gets a ton of light, so I think it can handle it. And I like the idea of it helping define the space from the bedroom to the bedroom hallway (which I treat as my dressing area), so that it feels like two different rooms.
What’s the one thing every apartment should have?
A story. Just make sure you have things that you love and that tell a story. No one can argue with a good story!
Photographed by Krista Anna Lewis.