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 Brooklyn Heights home of Christene Barberich, Co-Founder and Global Editor-in-Chief of Refinery29. Our intentions behind the creeping: to — what else? — learn what she’s all about.
Neighborhood, # of rooms:
Brooklyn Heights, six rooms (including the living-room loft space)
What do you do?
I’m the Co-Founder and Global Editor-in-Chief of Refinery29.
How long have you lived here?
Almost three years.
Who do you live with, animals included?
My husband, Kevin Baxter (he’s an architect). And our three-legged cat, Phoebe.
What do you like about your hood?
That it feels like a really small neighborhood and is very quiet at night. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s just over the bridge from my office. On a good morning, I can walk to work in under 30 minutes.
What’s the worst thing about the apartment?
It’s short a closet or two.
What’s the best?
We have massive skylights in every room, so the light is wonderful and always changing depending on the weather, season or time of day. It brings everything in the space to life.
Do you ever work from home and if so, what’s that like? Is it important to you to have a dedicated work space, or do you work from bed/the couch?
I don’t generally work from home, but on the rare occasion I do, I love holing up at my desk in the loft where it’s cozy and quiet, especially in the winter. I’ll play WFMU or Radio Isla Negra in the background, and Phoebe will usually curl up on my lap or in her Valentino shoebox by my feet. I seem to be hungry all day long whenever I work from home, so I’ll have a series of tiny lunches — like rice crackers and hummus, scrambled eggs or nuts and dates (my go-to). It’s all very zen and ridiculous and feels special when it happens — which isn’t often.
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 think decorating is less about paint colors and throw pillows and more about learning what objects, symbols and images make you happy. I totally respect people who decide to hire a professional decorator, but having built this space with my husband, I have a personal appreciation for making certain “design” choices, living with them for a bit and adapting them as we go along. I see our home as a space that is constantly in a state of change, from the books on our shelves, to the rotation of artwork, to the vintage dresses I hang on my closet door. When a wall or an area becomes kind of “invisible” to me, I see it as a sign I should rearrange. I want our apartment to feel like a caring space, but also awake and aware.
Did you have an overall vision in mind when you started decorating? What was it and where’d you get it from?
I’m a fan of prefab architecture and very, very primitive, simple structures — designs that are high on functionality. Our apartment is only 800 square feet, so we really wanted to make the most out of every inch and grow with the space, especially given the shortage of real estate like ours in our area. My husband focused on the layout and flow while I focused on colors, textures and general cohesiveness from room to room. We painted the walls and floors white to complement the small proportions; it made a huge difference in terms of creating more of a light-box effect. I love the way the white paint is wearing on the wood floors — it looks weathered in the best way.
What are your favorite apartment “scores” and where are they from?
Definitely the Milo Baughman chairs in the living room that my sister found at an estate sale on Long Island (they were one of the last things in the house up for grabs and the owner just gave them to her because apparently everyone else thought they were hideous…isn’t that nuts??). I had them re-covered in bright Knoll ultrasuede, which enhances their pop-Atomic age origin. I also love the vintage filing cabinet table that we use as a credenza by the front door. It is such a spectacular piece of old furniture, and I’m glad we were able to give it a second life. Countless people have asked me where we found it. Lastly, I’m obsessed with the vintage Rolleiflex pendant lamps over the concrete bar in the kitchen. I found them on eBay and bought them as a pair for under $100. They were pretty filthy when they arrived, but one of the contractors on our job took a liking to them and spent a few hours cleaning them with a toothbrush. I like to think he imbued them with good vibes when he was restoring them to their original luster.
For someone young and broke and trying to nest, what are your top three tips for buying for the home?
I vividly remember my first apartment where I lived alone. It was a tiny studio on the Upper East Side, and I could barely make the rent by myself, but I took such pride in making it my own. I went down to Soho on a special trip just to find a few things to “anoint” the space. I bought a hand-carved wind chime and a gray soapstone bowl, and I remember how empowering it felt to decide where to put them. These two small purchases showed me the value of living with intention and approaching home decor from a thoughtful, conscious mindset, which has never failed to guide me to the right things. I still have both items.
What about a total amateur in putting a room together — any tips?
Go with your gut. And take some time to look through photos of cool places and homes around the world. I love old copies of home magazines like World of Interiors or Nest. Decorating isn’t always about a new sofa or an extra room — sometimes a simple stack of books in the right place with a cute vintage lamp sitting on top can make you feel newly inspired.
What does your dream room look like?
It’s kind of like my bedroom: lots of white and plants with various strobes of crazy colors and old textiles. I love big, graphic photography, too.
What’s the one thing every apartment should have?
Some plants. Green is good.
Anything else you want to add??
Invest in a good sound system — it makes such a huge difference. Great music and clear sound can have the same impact as a fresh paint job.