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 this round of Real Cool People, Real Cool Apartments, we check out the Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, four-bedroom home of accessories designer Lizzie Fortunato. Our intentions behind the creeping: to — what else? — learn what she’s all about.
What do you do?
I’m an accessories designer: Lizzie Fortunato
How long have you lived here?
Since July 2014
Who do you live with?
My fiancé, Peter Asbill
What do you like about your hood?
We live on the eastern edge of Clinton Hill. It’s still a pretty diverse neighborhood. There are old timers who have been there for decades and who have not yet been pushed out. There are people of all types and tons of mom-and-pop establishments, which I love. Kitchen Grill Indian food on Fulton is the best.
What about this apartment?
Peter and I spend a ton of time in upstate NY and we love that this apartment feels like it could have been plucked out of the Hudson Valley or Catskills. The exposed beams and wide-plank wood floors in our bedroom are my favorite.
What’s the worst thing about the apartment?
The claw foot tub in the bathroom looks really cool but it’s not the easiest to shower in. And I really really want a washing machine, but we New Yorkers can’t get too choosy!
What’s the best?
The afternoon light that floods the kitchen and the mantle in the dining room. It is so elegant.
What did you think about when decorating?
I think about trying not to go overboard with “stuff.” I travel a lot for work and am obsessed with collecting textiles and handicrafts from around the world, so my apartment has become the repository for all of the finds from my travels (which you can also shop in the Fortune Finds portion of our website). I am definitely a magpie and love collecting things, so I’m constantly trying to keep the space from getting too cluttered. The decorating process has been been “add-as-I-go” while trying to maintain a balance between “eclectic” and clean.
Mistake to avoid?
Thinking that you have to buy a ton of new things that second you move into a new space.
Best place online to shop for the home?
I always find things at Collyer’s Mansion. I love shopping for accents and decor at Spartan and also The Commons, which is in Charleston and carries such thoughtful American-made pieces. I’m also a big Etsy and vintage shopper. There are always good finds on Iridium Interiors on the Quinn Casa Etsy shop and on the Croft House LA Etsy Shop. I also have bought a lot from Adaptations, which is located in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, but has an online shop. And Shop One Forty Three is my go-to for accessibly priced handmade lighting.
Did you have an overall vision in mind when you started decorating?
I aim for my apartment, like the accessories I design, to really blend “classic” with “eclectic.” I value having some timeless pieces (this past year I invested in a beautiful, simple handmade sideboard by Brooklyn-based furniture designer Yucca Stuff with bronze handles from Richard Watson), but then I like to personalize these classic elements with lots of found objects. I like the idea of your home (or your outfit) telling a story, so the more I can layer in pieces collected from all over the world, the more I feel like my apartment becomes a reflection of me and my experiences.
What are your favorite apartment “scores” and where are they from?
A beautiful 12’ woven wall hanging that used to hang in my grandparents’ mid-century home in the middle-of-nowhere in Pennsylvania. Not only is it spectacularly made, but it also reminds me of them. All of my rugs are collected from my travels (Peru, Morocco, Turkey) and none of them were particularly expensive, but they all add such character — they’re definitely good scores!
Tell a story about one thing in your apartment: couch, photo, plant, anything.
The shelves that hang in my kitchen are Ikea shelves that we purchased to hang in the Lizzie Fortunato East Village pop-up store that we did last winter. Tanni, a designer on our team, had the genius idea to source leather (similar to the leather we use on our belts and bags) and add it to the shelves to look like “straps” attaching them to the wall. While it looks functional, the leather is actually just a decorative touch and was really inexpensive. You wouldn’t believe how many people ask me where these shelves come from. They’re one of my favorite DIYs!
For someone young and broke and trying to nest, what are your top three tips when it comes to finding/buying for the home?
1. Don’t feel pressured to buy just to fill your space. Empty space is better than clutter or cheap things that will fall apart or that you’ll tire of.
2. Scour yard sales and estate sales. I have found so many good pieces (especially cool ceramics that pack a punch) for cheap at these kind of sales. Someone’s trash is truly another’s treasure.
3. Go to salvage/scrap yards and find leftover pieces of marble or slate to use as accents in the home. I have a junky old chest in my TV room but I put a piece of (free!) marble on top and it totally elevates the piece. Layering in fancy materials like marble really makes your home feel sophisticated and you’d be surprised what you can get on the cheap!
4: Some grown-up art. I think it’s really difficult to find nice art as a young adult. We don’t want dorm room posters, but can’t necessarily afford beautiful original art. We sell some really chic framed prints on Fortune Finds and there are different sites that specialize in accessibly priced art prints. Add on a simple white or blonde wood frame and you’ve really upped the ante in your home.
What about a total amateur in putting a room together — any tips?
Start with a single piece like a nice sofa or a credenza and then use textiles and accents to add personality. You can find great decor in flea markets or on Etsy — focus on pieces that are handmade and that are “found” as opposed to pieces that come from a mass retailer and that are made in China. These pieces really tell a story and are authentic, and they’re not always expensive. Having a beautiful ceramic vase or woven wall hanging that’s actually handmade by a person and not a machine really adds a lot to a room.
What does your dream room look like?
Oh man, so tough! It has a framed Ellsworth Kelly daffodil, a Carl Aubock brass-and-leather magazine rack, a George Nakashima wood bench and a lot of books.
What’s the one thing every apartment should have?
Plants or flowers
Anything else you want to add?
One book that has really been influential in my home design (and that perfectly combines handmade with classic) is Leslie Williamson’s gorgeous book Handcrafted Modern. It features the living spaces of architects and designers, many of which are pure perfection.
We’ve started to notice some themes in our real cool people, real cool apartment sleuthing. Nicole Chapoteau is also vehemently pro-plant, Verena von Pfetten is a fellow flea market sourcing guru and Azede Jean-Pierre is all about that unique art game.