If you live in Manhattan, a field trip to the part of Brooklyn where designers John Loecke and Jason Oliver Nixon live, is a must not only for the odd feeling of being in a leafy London suburb but also for the excellent restaurants along Cortelyou Road. John and Jason’s house is full of the obvious enjoyment of color and pattern that you might find in a house in Fulham or Highgate. Anglophiles, they were drawn to the area long before Brooklyn became the hip center of the universe, and although a big apartment tower is due to be built just behind Madcap Cottage, their little English villa, the area of Lefferts Gardens just beyond is going to remain low-rise due to a covenant that states only single-family homes may be built, which we hope means there will always be a corner of a foreign field that is forever England.
How did you come to find this place? The street reminds me so much of England … but it’s Brooklyn.
Jason: I know … it’s like stepping off Flatbush [Avenue] and stepping into the Cotswolds. It’s like here we are in Stowe-on-the-Wold. We’re such anglophiles.
John: We had outgrown our apartment [in the city] but we weren’t looking to move, but our real estate agent realized we needed to. She kind of talked us into starting to look.
And she came up with the idea of moving here?
Jason: Yes. And this was very affordable. We started coming over and looking. We came at night and we came during the day … not to sound not humble, but I think we’re pretty good at picking neighborhoods and places that are going to be popular.
Do you find yourselves not going out as much now that you live here?
Jason: Yes. We entertain a lot more. People often come for dinner and just stay over. So it’s kind of fun. We’ll do movie night, like an Almodóvar movie night or Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series. It’s a luxury to have a guest room that we never really go into or use.
Why is it all so English around here with streets named after British dukes and so on?
John: We were told that the person who developed it was British.
Jason: Lefferts Gardens [on the other side of Flatbush Avenue] is named after the Lefferts family who had a farm here. When they sold the land, they put in a covenant saying that there had to be only single family houses, so it’s more like an English suburb and not like Park Slope with brownstones or row houses.
And where does your own anglophilia come from?
Jason: My mom got her PhD from Lincoln College in Oxford so I lived there for a couple of years, when I was seven, eight, nine. I’m from Tampa, Florida but my parents were always having interesting dinner parties with artists, writers and people who traveled a lot, so I think for us it was very much a world view.
But what is it that you like about Britain?
John: It’s partly a sense of history, especially when it comes to design. It’s sort of this idea that, unlike Americans, you don’t just go out and design this faux house … it’s this thing that happens over time and it happens naturally. Some person adds this, some person adds that. It’s not like we went out and just bought a whole house.
Jason: My mother calls [this house] the “Knick Knack Shack”—because I grew up with very Dakota Jackson-type furniture. This house has only been decorated for six years but you might think it’s been here for twenty years. I guess I like the way in Britain, they sometimes take [style] risks, you know, they’ll take granny’s sofa and do it up instead of buying a new sofa.
Lesley: Your look is not necessarily “fashionable” Sian: I think it’s probably very fashionable. I think it’s coming back.
Jason: We look at our house as a design laboratory, and we’re not necessarily imposing this on our clients. It’s a place for us to have fun. It’s like, “Hey let’s wallpaper the ceiling in the dining room but let’s embellish it with Indian marriage rhinestones.” It’s the not-bought-in-the-shop kind of look.
John: I think you’re slowly seeing a swing back to more traditional styles …
Just something to interest the eye … all those empty surfaces.
Jason: People want something more bespoke and handmade quality. Arts and crafts is a reaction—we’re so overwhelmed with technology.
Neither of you are quite as frisky as I thought you were going to be. [On the Madcap Cottage website they claim: “Frankly we are all about the ‘F’ words. Frisky, fabulous, and fun to be around.”]
[They both laugh] Jason: We’re kind of downers … Oh God, I feel like we’re not going to live up to our words … we are frisky! I don’t want to sound Pollyanna-ish but we wake up every day and we’re sort of thankful. We’ve had these crazy other lives, other chapters, but we never, ever got too close to the flame.
So tell us about your crazy other lives then.
Jason: Well I was editor-in-chief of Gotham, Hamptons and Los Angeles Confidential — all these magazines — and that was terrific fun. We built a company and redefined a paradigm of regional, resort and city magazines. It was a challenge … but after nine years, I said, “You know what? I’m bored.” We had a moment — we were at Cipriani having dinner one night and I thought, I’d rather be at home cooking and eating a grilled cheese sandwich. And I was also at the Costume Institute Gala, disco dancing with Linda Evangelista next to me and I was like, “You know what? Arriveé! Time to go.”
And John — did you have a crazy other life? [At this point conversation is all but obliterated by the loud snoring of their newly-adopted pug, the adorable Petunia, who is asleep on John’s lap.]
Well, I was in magazines as well but I was writing. I have a journalism degree and an art degree. Basically I always thought I would live in Chicago but one summer decided to try New York, and I liked it. I ended up on staff at Parents … I ended up doing a lot of [design] projects for people on staff.
Now concerning your style, when you go into somebody’s house and you try to bring this style in … I mean it’s could be a very hard style to bring in …
John: I think what makes our work recognizable is the use of color and pattern, however our style is not necessarily what we would bring in … it’s not the same for everybody. We can streamline it.
But the tchotchke thing … do you like the word “tchotchke”?
Jason: Objets! We don’t like a lot of consonants.
[Petunia’s snoring grows ever louder]
John: You know we’re working with someone at the moment and they’re really going in a more art deco direction …
Jason: Shanghai Deco.
So tell us about winning the James Beard award and your interest in food and cooking.
Jason: I was really passionate about food writing and that was how I won it. I went for a year to the French Culinary Institute and I carried my box of little knives around but I was editor of Gotham at the same time, so it was exhausting. Now, fast forward, I throw good dinner parties but I’m not making football-shaped potatoes. John is a great baker.
Give us a dinner party menu.
Jason: It’s like high-low. I’ll make a roast chicken and do a great salad, and put out a piece of gorgonzola. But then I’ll get biscuits from Popeye’s and we’ll finish off with Haagen-Dazs bars and a really good rosé. People go apeshit for my Popeye’s biscuits … that’s what people want!
I love Popeye’s chicken … do you know what they do with that chicken?
Jason: I don’t know if I want to know.
They marinate it in butter.
[John laughs] That is what people want!
There is a sort of nostalgia here in your home. Are both of you a bit nostalgic?
John: I would say yes.
Jason: I wouldn’t say we’re melancholy though.
So you’re somewhere between melancholy and frisky?