Head to the Valley of Ashes With Chen Chen and Kai Williams
Talk about an unlikely spot for inspiration.
All right, time to bust out your high-school copy of The Great Gatsby (or your Baz Luhrman DVD, no judgments), because that mythological Valley of Ashes? It’s a real place. In Queens. Chen Chen and Kai Williams, the guys behind the home-and-accessories line of the same name, sometimes make the trip to the spot—officially called Willet’s Point—to get a little perspective. “It’s crazy,” says Chen. “It’s seriously like a third-world country out there.” Go on a tour with him and see just what he means. —jane-claire quigley
“We discovered this neighborhood when we had our old van taken to a junkyard there, and we were immediately drawn to it. I think our underlying interest in Willet’s Point is that everyone there is making the best possible solutions to deal with scarcity of capital. There’s the right way to do something, and then there are ways that make do with what’s available. That thought process exists in all of our work.”
“You find all sorts of ad-hoc solutions people create out of necessity. Once we saw a man in a Dodge Caravan, side door open, with a shoe display inside, slowly cruising down the street, calling out to potential customers.”
“This image of the Cadillac in the mud is a common sight. The neighborhood isn’t hooked up to the plumbing system, so when it rains, these giant puddles form in the once-paved street. Each giant pothole becomes a small pond.”
“In general, I think it’s surprising for most people to find that a place like this exists in New York City, especially under the shadow of the brand-new Citi Field. Fitzgerald called it a Valley of Ashes, but at its very basic level, Willet’s Point is about being able to imbue something with value using your abilities. That’s pretty inspiring.”
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Seven Seriously Gripping Photos from Helen Levi’s Portfolio
This potter’s a master behind the lens, too.
Before Helen Levi started making ceramics—that kind that make us want to replace every cup and dish in our cupboards—she was a photographer who spent her time trailing volunteer firemen and breaking into abandoned mansions. “I learned photography in a wet darkroom, and I always worked with it that way—I never had a digital camera,” Helen explains. “I always appreciated the craft of it, and that’s what I love about ceramics, too. It’s a total craft.” Dive into some of her most stunning photos below. —caitlin petreycik
“This is from one of the buildings of the law department of the City of New York. When you think about cubicles, they’re very generic and nondescript. The way that people set them up to feel like home, or to feel a little more familiar, I find really intriguing.”
“This looks like it could be from any decade. The tear in the panel on the cubicle—why wouldn’t anyone have repaired that? I found the pink and the green and the blue so striking.”
“This is almost like an unfinished task. Like someone was about to bring that plant home, and put it up there and forgot about it. I like photographs that lead you to a narrative where maybe you’re not sure what happens.”
Mr. Bender’s Machines
“Mr. Bender was my neighbor when I lived in Queens after college. We grew very close because our buildings were right next to each other. He had this sweater-knitting factory that he inherited from his dad, and it’s been sitting there unused for like 10 or 15 years. He still—because it’s his routine—goes in, sweeps up, fusses around.”
“I met Mr. Bender because I was curious about the space, and he was like, ‘Do you know how to use computers? Do you know how to use eBay?’ He was trying to sell his machines. So I sold like 11 machines for him. This series documents our relationship and the process of moving out these big machines.”
“I had heard stories that Mike Tyson had a house in Ohio. I had read about it on different blogs, and I thought it was a great excuse to go break into a celebrity’s mansion. It was 2010 or 2011 when I was photographing it—the height of the housing-bubble collapse. There were all of these ridiculous opulent things just sitting there. It looks like there are live green plants by the indoor pool, but they’re actually fake. They’re all wilted, but they’re still bright green.”
“This room had a gold-paneled ceiling and matching gold curtains. That roll of toilet paper is not staged. I think there was a squatter living at the house.”
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Walk to Work with the Man Behind Workaday Handmade
And go ahead and grab a cup of coffee on the way.
When Workaday Handmade’s Forrest Lewinger needs inspiration, he forgoes traditional transportation and hoofs it across Brooklyn, from his Williamsburg home and his Bed-Stuy studio—a 30-minute stroll that always sparks something for the ceramicist. Here’s what he passes on his path from Leonard to Powers to Lorimer to Flushing. —jackie varriano
“Gimme is the first place I stop in the morning—for a cappuccino. Great coffee!”
“You will see a lot of these little vitrines and alters with saints or the Virgin Mary inside of them. I really love how outwardly decorative they can be around here. It’s not about taste or style but more about tradition and family.”
“When I am walking around the city, I’m looking for unexpected color combinations and patterns that may find their way into my work. There are a few patterns on my pots that have come directly from something I saw while walking around.”
“Going under the tracks at Lorimer and Broadway represents a big shift in not only cultural and religious communities but architecture as well. My studio is right in the middle of the largest Hasidic Jewish community in the world. It is a very autonomous community, with shops and places of gathering and worship. I love watching how the people connect to the city that surrounds them. ”
“Sometimes you really feel transported to another place and time in this area. I imagine that I could have seen the same scene 100 years ago.”
“When you walk through the ‘hood, you can really get lost in the details and juxtapositions of everyday objects and words and activity. It’s a mess—and that’s what I love about it and where I find inspiration. I look for the handmade wherever I can. Having something handmade, whether it’s a pot, some food, or a sign, gives the thing character even if it’s almost perfect.”
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Get a Load of the Communal Jewelry Studio Elizabeth Thompson Created
900 square feet just bursting with creativity.
“We are a tribe that sees the beauty in small things,” says Elizabeth Thompson, the hyper-talented jewelry designer behind Elizabeth Knight, of her clan of 13 like-minded makers at the open-24/7 workspace FluxWork Studio, which she founded in 2008 in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. What do you get if you’re part of Elizabeth’s posse? A bench—i.e., the jewelry-world equivalent of a cubicle—and access to come-one-come-all workspaces for tackling projects like grinding, polishing, and soldering. Go on—take a look around. —alisha prakash
“The studio in the morning. As you walk in, you can feel the calm and the potential in the air. Throughout the day, people come and go. Some days the studio is empty, and others people will be working through the night. I love the company of my studio mates—sharing ideas and tools. I also love these silent mornings accompanied by the unspoken magic in the room.”
“Many people don’t know jewelers’ benches are raised so that one can sit eye-level with their project. Making jewelry is a very close, intimate experience that requires an extreme eye for detail. Often I find that working in this way can be very meditative and calming. I love to work by my favorite window that gets the best sunlight throughout the day.”
“These are my girls. How I love them. On the left is Emma—who was an intern for the summer—working at the soldering table with my assistant, Nina, on the right.”
“In December, we had a wildly successful event with Jean-Noel from Top Notch Faceting and his partner, Dale. The pair came to New York to discuss the process of ethically mining stones in Africa and to present stunning stones cut by Jean himself. Jewelers from New York, Philadelphia, and across the East Coast came to FluxWork to hear Jean and Dale speak. It was a sincere pleasure to host these guys at the studio and was very rewarding to have the support from a wide community of jewelers.”
“One of my many boxes of treasures. Texture, color, and pattern from natural objects have always been my inspiration. You can find small collections, just like this, all around the studio.”
“Working at the soldering bench is always a thrill—the powerful rush from transforming and fusing metal can make a jeweler want to consider being an alchemist. We have a few different tank set-ups at FluxWork, providing different combinations of oxygen, acetylene, and propane gas. Each option allows us to control the heat and metal in a specific way.”
“This was an awesome find on Bedford Avenue! While meandering to the studio, I cruised a record selection laid out on the sidewalk. When I set my eyes on Patti, I knew I wasn’t going to leave her there—this is my very first Patti Smith record. Music is a big deal in the studio. When I am in the studio alone, I turn to my favorite music blog, Left As Rain.”
“This is the grinding wheel, the machine we use to take down large sprues from our castings. You must keep a focused eye on the wheel as it removes metal—and fingernails—very quickly. This is how I look when I am in the zone.”
Select photos courtesy of Jacob Pritchard.
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Head Home With Lia Cinquegrano of Thomas IV
There’s LOTS to see here.
Back in 2006, Lia Cinquegrano, the super-skilled designer behind the bag line Thomas IV, was living in a closet on 18th and 3rd in Manhattan. No, like actually a closet: “It was off my roommate’s room and had a children’s twin lofted bed, which touched three of the walls,” says the ex-Floridian. After a stint in Chinatown, she packed her bags for Greenpoint, Brooklyn, in 2012, moving into a 1,400-square-foot space with her BF Nick. See what she’s done with those seven beyond-spacious rooms here. —alisha prakash
“A Lego VW van—one of Nick’s pieces—on a custom slanted tabletop behind our living-room couch. In the background is the Pez collection Nick inherited from his grandma and a flocked portrait by the artist Virgil Marti.”
“This is our crazy wall of art right by our front door. Nick has a very extensive collection. My brother, Tommy, designed the three larger black-and-white architectural prints in the center. He makes photo montages of warehouses and has them screen-printed by Kayrock Screenprinting in Greenpoint.”
“I love my dining table. I bought it at a church thrift shop on Gramercy Park. I recently painted the chairs and table legs bright teal. Also, it has our autumnal arrangement on it.”
“This is a view of the kitchen—and our magnet collection. The magnets are from around the world. Atop the fridge are three cast pineapples by Nick Paparone.”
“My favorite spice rack is a converted ‘Doctor Scholl’s Foot Comfort Remedies’ display shelf. Above it is a replica of a Van Gogh painting by my mother, Marilynn.”
“This is my sewing machine with some inspiration on the wall behind it—images of the crystal cave in Chihuahua, Mexico, and of the Tarahumara people of northwestern Mexico in pre-Easter costumes. Also, an illustration of one of my bags by Emily Rose Bartley!”
“A large banner by Nick hangs behind the bed, and a rug he designed lies below.”
“I love my cuckoo clock and branch shelf, displaying a collection of tiny tchotchkes, on the wall opposite our bed. The rattan loveseat formerly had more of a Golden Girls vibe. I recovered the cushions in toile and painted the bamboo a high-gloss red.”
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Weather Vain: Phoenicia, New York - 46 With a Chance of Rain
Autumn and all that FALL FOLIAGE just makes us wanna hop in the car (ok, a Zipcar) and go for a drive. Here’s what we’d wear (and do) 120 miles north of Manhattan. —erica
Clockwise from top left:
+ Nothing says escape from the city like some Ace & Jig.
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Watch Morgan Carper Fix Up Her Fort Greene Casa
Extreme Makeover: Designer Home Edition
When Morgan Carper—the force behind the textile-fueled apparel line of the same name—and her hubby, Chris Bradford, got their hands on a 125-year-old Fort Greene brownstone in February 2013, they were pumped to dive in and make it their own. “There’s still work to be done, but this house will constantly be a work in progress,” she says of her (very major) renovation. “I love the idea of growing and evolving into our home.” See what she’s done with the place so far. —alisha prakash
The Living Room
“This is the parlor-floor living room—beautiful bones, but so dark. Because the house is so extremely narrow, we wanted to lighten up the space as much as possible. Bringing down a few walls, painting everything bright white, and laying down white oak floors was our solution. The old floors were actually quite beautiful, but they weren’t original to the house—and the red oak made the space dark. New flooring transformed the space, while adding a personal element to make it our own. I have always loved the classic look of herringbone flooring—the lines elongate the room, and the light finish brightens it.”
“We removed a wall with double doors, opening up the space. The restoration of the moldings was painstakingly time-consuming but incredibly rewarding to preserve such detail and character. Chipping away at all the years of paint was like going back in time. I loved thinking about the families that lived in this house and what was happening during that time, color by color.”
“We wanted to make the space as light as possible, so we gutted it and replaced the dark cherry cabinets with black countertops with white cabinets and Carrera marble. We splurged on the countertops while maintaining low costs with the Ikea white lacquer cabinets—it’s all about balance. Getting to see the skeleton of the house was amazing. The beams and foundation are so stout and solid—they just don’t make them like they used to!”
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See Just What the GREI. Duo Loves About Bed-Stuy
8 places where they eat (and eat and eat).
Larry Paul and Andrew Spargo of the accessory line GREI. have lived in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy for two and a half years—and they love it there. “When we’re sitting on the stoop, people actually say hello as they walk by. Everybody says hello,” says Larry. They’ve also devoured a whole lot of meals in the neighborhood. Dive into their favorites—from Jurassic-size donuts to sophisticated seafood—here. —jane-claire quigley
Larry: I can’t wake up without my coffee in the morning, and Bread Love is my alarm clock. Enter through the back of the beautiful historic mansion on the corner. It’s kind of like a farm stand with a bunch of picnic benches.
Andrew: Everything is local and tasty. I love the banana and zucchini bread. You can also sign up with one of their organic produce partners for a bag of weekly picks from local gardens.
(375 Stuyvesant Ave.)
Larry: A pizza joint not to be missed: authentic thin-crust Neapolitan pizza and a slew of daily specials. There’s a huge garden in the back, so if it’s nice out, check it out.
Andrew: There’s a small bar in the front that serves incredible cocktails. The gin & tonic with fresh rosemary is seriously addictive. And they serve up the best fritto misto I have ever tasted.
(435 Halsey St.)
Larry: Andrew is a pescetarian—I hate that word—so he’s obsessed with this place. When chef Massimiliano Nanni left Saraghina, he went on to open Celestino. The focus is Mediterranean seafood, but there are equally mouthwatering pasta dishes.
(562 Halsey St.)
Larry: A no-frills Dixie-style hang serving Southern favorites and BBQ. My favorites are the fried green tomatoes and fried chicken. It gets packed, so you’ll need some patience.
Andrew: Also try Peaches, their sister restaurant at 393 Lewis Avenue!
(415 Tompkins Ave.)
Do or Dine
Larry: This is the first of many new businesses opening on Bedford Avenue in the ‘hood. Don’t let the “B’s West Indian” take-out awning alarm you: You’re at the right place. Everything about Do or Dine seems like some sort of inside joke. The menu is a mash-up of just about every culture. It’s perfect for stoners with a cultivated palette.
Andrew: I have two words for this spot: disco ball!
(1108 Bedford Ave.)
Larry: This is the same crew that offers the dinosaur-size donuts at the Brooklyn Flea. Their brick-and-mortar location is located catty-corner to the Lafayette Gardens projects on the border of Clinton Hill and Bed-Stuy.
Andrew: I recommend the toasted coconut, but if you’re a purest, go for the plain glazed.
(448 Lafayette Ave.)
Larry: Okay, this is technically not our neighborhood, but it’s just a short walk across Atlantic Avenue. Franklin Street in Crown Heights is kind of like Williamsburg ten years ago. It’s now full of 20-somethings wearing anything high-waisted.
Andrew: The food at Chavela’s is amazing. Larry is from California and usually turns his nose up at Mexican cuisine in New York, but I can easily persuade him to go for tacos here any day of the week. Don’t leave without at least one order of guacamole and muchas Micheladas—with the Mexican beer of your choice.
(736 Franklin Ave.)
Andrew: Glady’s is new. The food is simple, but with outstanding fresh ingredients. They just started serving brunch, so if it’s a hike for you, try visiting on the weekend.
(788 Franklin Ave.)
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Go Inside Blanca Monrós Gómez’s Gowanus Studio
A former textile factory gets a makeover.
It wasn’t long ago that Blanca Monrós Gómez—the way-talented, Barcelona-born jewelry designer—was oh-so familiar with the term WFH. But as her biz grew, it was time to find Blanca Monrós Gómez the line a home that was different from that of BMG the person, and, in July 2012, she moved her operations to a lofty spot in Gowanus in Brooklyn. “It has gritty charm typical of these buildings with exposed beams, columns, and oversize steel doors,” she says. “It’s a big, open space with lots of windows and light—the perfect mood for a work space.” You’ll see what she means below. —alisha prakash
“We share the space with my husband’s architecture practice—Office of Architecture—which is great because it has enabled both of us to became each other’s informal support group; a sounding board to bounce off ideas on running a small business.”
“As the business grew in size, we literally ran out of space. We were ready to move to a place that would house both our work and showroom. So it had to be both functional and beautiful.”
“We constantly have visitors coming in—store buyers viewing the collections as well as people doing custom jewelry consultations for individual wedding bands and engagement ring sets.”
“The jewelry is all made by hand in NYC, with the finishing touches done exclusively at our studio. We design our pieces and make all our samples here as well. One of the reasons we chose this space was because of its light. It has become a very productive and inspiring environment.”
“Our rough utility sink looking amazing with beautiful flowers from the talented Amy Merrick!”
Photos courtesy of Alice Gao Photography.
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A Tour of Brooklyn’s Under-the-Radar Kensington ‘Hood with Doug Johnston
Bonus points if done on horseback.
Oh, sure, you know Williamsburg and Fort Greene, but how about Kensington, a narrow north-south strip of Brooklyn at the bottom of Prospect Park? What the neighborhood lacks in restaurants and coffee shops, it makes up for in greenery and open spaces—a compromise that the designer Doug Johnston, a native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and his wife are more than willing to make. Plus, according to the census, Kensington has one of the most diverse populations in the borough. “It reminds us that we’re living in a city that’s connected to the whole world,” Doug explains. See just why he likes this place so much. —meghana gandhi
“Ocean Parkway starts at the northern tip of Kensington and goes to Coney Island. It was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, who also did Central Park and Prospect Park. One side is a bike path, and one side is a pedestrian walkway. On a bike, it takes 20 minutes to get to Coney Island, and it’s a really pretty ride.”
Ditmas Park Victorian Mansions
“Ditmas Park is the neighborhood just east of Kensington, and it’s full of turn-of-the-century Victorian mansions. The closer you get to Prospect Park, the larger they get. Sometimes they film Boardwalk Empire in that neighborhood—because apparently a lot of the houses are Atlantic City-style. It is unlike anything else in Brooklyn and doesn’t even feel like you’re in NYC anymore.”
“Because people here have yards, you start to get these gardens, manicured lawns, and sculpted shrubs. The forms are halfway between organic and manmade: They grow naturally but are shaped by someone. When I’m making rope pieces, that’s kind of what I try to go for—I base things on what the process wants to do naturally, but I get to have a say in what they look like as well.”
“On the northeast corner of Kensington, you can walk down the street and pass houses, a church, more houses…and then these stables. They’re open to the street, so you see the horses. If you go through Prospect Park, you’ll see people riding the horses. It’s a nice part of the neighborhood. Everyone loves seeing them, and the people who work there seem to love the horses.”
Ice Cream House
“This place is on the same block as our studio, and they’re going to move across the street from the studio—which is even more dangerous. It’s open until midnight every day of the week. The awning is all lit up at night, like this beacon of ice cream. It’s a Hasidic business—so all of the ice cream is kosher—and almost every flavor has a non-dairy version. They have this great orange-vanilla/creamsicle flavor. I think they use artificial coloring, so some of the ice cream has super-crazy colors.”