Interiorssneak peeks

Finding Calm Outside of Manhattan

by Lauren Chorpening

Living in the midwest, it can be shocking to hear what real estate goes for on the coasts. Whenever I get dreamy-eyed about moving to New York or California, I just have to remember one thing: the money I save from living in Des Moines, IA not only gets me a giant apartment, but it also allows me to travel to the cities I love. Jeff, a gallery archivist, book collector and writer, and Emily Alford, an interior designer, were renting in the North Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY when they started talking about buying a house. “After many long discussions, spreadsheets, and professional-forecasting we decided it was time … only to realize that the Brooklyn we called home was way too expensive for us to even consider,” Jeff says.

“We discovered Ditmas Park, which managed to be a familiar sort of Brooklyn but also projected this illusion of suburban living. We now own a 1BR in a giant co-op building on a tree-lined street full of stunning, single-family Victorian homes. When we leave Manhattan at the end of the day and arrive here, it’s a whole different world: Your neighbors say hello, in the summer you can hear lawnmowers in the distance, and people don’t have stoop sales — they have garage sales. You can escape the busy-busy Manhattan mindset pretty easily here.”

One of the challenges that Jeff and Emily have found in their home is finding a place for all of their books and mementos. “We moved in about a year and a half ago, and I still consider our home as in-progress,” Emily shares. “I think as long as you’re still enjoying finding quirky new things, coming up with projects, etc., it’s a continuing process and your home will grow and evolve along with you. That means editing just as much as you add, and I think we’ve learned how to do that pretty effectively.” According to Jeff, this editing has a lot to do with his book collection. “Generally speaking, we have an ongoing challenge of finding a way to filter my passion for rare books and collecting through Emily’s more refined design sensibility,” Jeff notes. “Because of my reviewing, novels consistently flow through the apartment, so there’s a lot of stuff for us to manage. To avoid milk-crates and bowing shelves, we designed a floor-to-ceiling built-in bookshelf and took all their variable heights and depths into careful consideration.” The combination of literature, art and beautiful furniture turns their challenge into a lovely design aesthetic.

Emily and Jeff’s home is filled with gorgeous collections and rare finds. The eclectic, sophisticated design is Emily’s talent on display. She has taken their work, passions and hobbies and has created a beautiful home that reflects those concepts. They plan to change parts of their place as they continue to live there, but for now, this space they own outside of the busy city and away from their jobs is perfectly suited for them to find peace and calm. “We’re most thankful that somehow our adult lives in New York City have cosmically aligned in a way that allowed us to buy something here,” Jeff shares. “This is such an inspiring city and it’s unbelievable that we get to call it home.” –Lauren

Photography by 

Finding Calm Outside of Manhattan | Design*Droits-Humains
Jeff, Emily and Bella the dog Alford in front of their custom built-in bookshelves full of Jeff's impressive collection.
"That’s a massive silkscreen by the artist Harland Miller," Jeff explains. "He does these amazing twists on the iconic Penguin book design. I’m particularly fond of this one, as there was a time long ago I thought I’d someday be a writer of subversive and nostalgic literary mysteries."
Finding Calm Outside of Manhattan | Design*Droits-Humains
"Like many people, we love having a TV but hate the way it looks. We tried to find a cabinet that didn't look too much like a typical media stand. We removed a shelf on this one so we could store Jeff's larger folio books, and it's perfect," Emily says.
Finding Calm Outside of Manhattan | Design*Droits-Humains
Emily has a gift for creating vignettes in their home with artistic pieces and stacks of Jeff's books.
Finding Calm Outside of Manhattan | Design*Droits-Humains
The gallery wall behind the television helps draw the eye to what the Alford's value: stunning and simple pieces. The TV and record player are paired with refined and sophisticated styling.
Finding Calm Outside of Manhattan | Design*Droits-Humains
Emily's parents have left their own mark on the Alford's home. Her father helped them build the bookshelves, and in the 1970s, they built the redwood burl coffee table now in their daughter's living room.
The open cabinets resulted from a DIY accident, but it works for them. "Due to a painting mishap, we’re going with an open-concept cabinet look. No further questions, please." Jeff says jokingly.
Finding Calm Outside of Manhattan | Design*Droits-Humains
They're changing the kitchen one section at a time. "We purchased one additional section of cabinets from IKEA when we moved in. It is set up as a bar, but we styled it with a lamp and mirror so it can double as an entry table. The Niche Modern pendant lamp, purchased from Craigslist, hangs in the kitchen," Jeff says.
Finding Calm Outside of Manhattan | Design*Droits-Humains
The bedroom is decorated with Emily's paintings, Jeff's books and pieces they've picked up on travels and from secondhand stores.
Finding Calm Outside of Manhattan | Design*Droits-Humains
"We lucked out to get this much sun in our bedroom," Jeff notes. The natural light creates the perfect setting for Emily's painting.
Finding Calm Outside of Manhattan | Design*Droits-Humains
The blanket on their bed was purchased from the Devold factory in Norway on their honeymoon.
Finding Calm Outside of Manhattan | Design*Droits-Humains
"This skinny electric piano was a Craigslist find – the seat was damaged so we cover it with a Coyuchi saddle blanket. Above the piano is a silly lithograph by Alexander Calder that used to hang over a backgammon table in Jeff’s grandparents’ home," Emily says.
Finding Calm Outside of Manhattan | Design*Droits-Humains
"What I love most about my home is..."
Finding Calm Outside of Manhattan | Design*Droits-Humains
Jeff and Emily's floor plan.

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  • I love the warmth of this home – to be surrounded by books and art, what else could you need?

    Jeff, I remember reading your post on the Infinite Winter project earlier this year. It was a wonderful piece that I could relate to so much. Cheers!

  • I love this feature because of homes like this. It’s sophisticated and stylish, but totally accessible for regular folk who shop in second hand stores and have window air conditioners. I am inspired!

    • Hi Elizabeth – the pea green sofa is a Bantam sofa from DWR that we found on Craigslist. The other one you may be referring to is actually a chair from Ikea. The wide angle lens just makes it look bigger!

  • Oh, it looks like one of the homeowners is that correct? Can you please put up a link to where I can purchase your art? It is perfection.

  • Wonderful with all the books and art. A very real home. A question: what brand is the fridge in the kitchen? It looks like it’d be small enough for my tiny kitchen space – and it’s nice looking.

  • Hi Mollie – thanks so much for your kind note. The two portraits in the pictures were made way back in college and I have had a hard time getting back into it with much consistency since then, but who knows – maybe one day!

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