Kathleen Hackett

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Brooklyn and its aesthetic is so popular and widespread now that it’s surprising there aren’t more books like Brooklyn Interiors (Rizzoli) authored by Kathleen Hackett, a writer of some 15 books and counting on design and cooking. She will probably be a good sport about it but we can’t resist including that one of them was “Dolly’s Dixie Fixin’s,” ghostwritten for Dolly Parton.

Click to order Brooklyn Interiors.

An accomplished cook in her own right—look out for the photo of her freshly-risen loaf—Kathleen also regularly contributes to magazines such as Elle Décor, Veranda and House Beautiful. We did rather grill her on the whole “Brooklyn thing” because we feel it can sometimes come off as affluent people masquerading in a studied sort of way as bohemians but there’s no doubting the European, “undone” appeal of these interiors. Part of that appeal is because they are achievable. Flea market finds, artwork made by friends and cheap furniture cleverly disguised or customized are all things within most budgets and the result of the mix is often charming. So is Kathleen.

I guess the first thing I want to know is when people look at these interiors, what do you think it is about them that is appealing?

I think that it is an individualistic approach. You don’t really get the impression that someone [in the book] is coveting someone else’s sofa. They’re coveting the one they want.

But isn’t the point of these books to make people covet that kind of life—or a least that’s the effect of books like these?

Well, the main point is to push people to do what is expressly “them”. There’s not one interior in this book that’s been done by a decorator.

In the dining room a painting by San Francisco artist Bill Samios, “Edible or Poison” hangs above a leather settee that was found at the Marston House in Wiscassett, Maine.
A chandelier by Stephen hangs over a 1940s dining table and chairs from Baxter & Liebchen.

A corner of the dining room also serves as a cozy reading area. The mixed media piece nearby was made by Stephen when he was a student at the Lacoste School for the Arts in France.

A family portrait taken against the backdrop of the Marquis de Sade’s castle in Lacoste, France is propped up on the bookcase in the dining room.

I was looking for a common theme apart from the fact that they’re all Brooklyn interiors and I suppose that might be it. But even though you say they’re individualistic, there is—and perhaps you wouldn’t agree—a definite kind of “look” isn’t there?

There’s a look, I think … this is over-used these days, but it’s always been the way in any community where there are creative people, where there is an eclecticism. I’m sorry I hate the word.

Yeah, everyone hates that word but it’s useful.

I say it sort of tentatively because Brooklyn is always changing. We got to laughing about how, by the time the book is published, this non-aesthetic aesthetic will have transformed into something else.

But this “Brooklyn look” has become weirdly aspirational. These lives depicted are settled and er … well some might say very bourgeois.

[Laughs] Yes! There’s no hiding that! I mean you should see my family … we’re not hippies. I would say me … and many, many people in this book … their greatest aspiration is just to live a decent, good, interesting life.

A view into a corner of the kitchen from the dining room. The portrait of Mao, “Maostache” is by Mac Premo and Oliver Jeffers.
Looking past the chandelier made by Stephen and into the open kitchen.
The iron light fixtures in the kitchen came from the Porte de Vanves flea market. The kitchen cabinets are painted in Farrow & Ball “Cornforth White” and are fitted with custom hardware by Norbert Kimmel.
A quick lunch preparation.
The small oil portrait over the kitchen sink is also from the Porte de Vanves flea market in Paris.

Some of the photos present a kind of idyll almost.

I wish my kids were here because it wouldn’t be so idyllic … I think everybody’s life is real to them.

It could come off as a bit smug. Were you worried about that when you were you were putting the book together?

That was a real thing. We were very careful about which interiors we included.

It strikes me that this look is more European than American. Do you think that’s true?

Definitely. There’s a laissez-faire-ness to it. I’ve just re-done my kitchen and I didn’t want a “re-done kitchen”. I hate that look. I did my best to sort of make it feel good in there; I made the floor nice so that I can be barefoot in there …

The white “Hilary” sconces flanking the open kitchen were made by Stephen.
A work by Stephen, “Paris, 12/01” from his “(G)love” series hangs above a dressed-up bust of George Washington.
The illuminated sign, purchased from an estate sale in Maine, hangs in the open doorway between the living and dining room.
Looking across the sunlit living room towards the front of the townhouse. Stephen’s “Shell” chandelier floats above the space. The oversized bust of Diana was found at Holler & Squall vintage in Brooklyn Heights.

Yes, there were quite a few barefoot people in the book … and Scandinavians.

[Laughs] Were there!!?

I know we’re grilling you on this “Brooklyn look” but I have to say that my son was going on school trip to Japan and he was supposed to bring a gift. His teacher said that anything with the word “Brooklyn” on it would be a hit. Brooklyn is now officially a brand, it would seem. What do you think of the branding of Brooklyn?

We’re like rolling our eyes at that. Boring, boring, it’s just boring. It has nothing to do with our life at all. We’re just parents raising boys. We’re cooking dinner every single night. I’m doing my work … we’re too old for it actually.

So why did you want to do this book?

I’m finding that the more I write about design, the more I’m trying to find the person in the design. The design is the way into the people and more and more, that’s what really interests me. You know what I really want to do? I want to shoot [the interiors of] old people who have lived in their houses for a long time. Those are the most interesting houses to me.

A painting by Masha Simonova, once an intern for Stephen, hangs above an extra long armless custom sofa.
A sculpture made out of cardboard stands upon a marble-topped coffee table by Atlas Industries. The “Lady with the Ermine” pillow by Carli Windsor for Pari Passu is mixed with other colorful pillows.
More views of the living room. The Knoll chairs are topped with sheepskin pillows by friend Jenny Li’s company Intiearth.
Stephen’s “Ring” lamp stands near two of the family’s acoustic guitars.
Looking into a corner of the living room. Two vintage photos of wildlife hang near a twisted column pedestal. Stephen built the round side table.
On the far wall a graphite drawing by Stephen hangs above an abstract work purchased at an antique store in Portland, Maine.
A reflection of Stephen’s “Shell” chandelier in his “Dexter” mirror that hangs above the living room fireplace mantel.
An abstract painting found at a shop near Pawlet, Vermont hangs above a mid-century console. The console displays books, found objects and another work from Stephen’s “(G)love” series.
Stacks of art books and sculptures found during various travels find a home next to the fireplace.
More books are tucked under a wall-mounted chest of drawers in the living room. The painted wood sculpture is by Finn Antonson.
A view from the living room into the dining room. The leather chair is by Arne Norrell.

I know another controversy concerning Brooklyn, and your book plays into that, is the whole gentrification thing. What’s your take on that?

I was having this conversation with the dad of one of my kid’s friends. He grew up on State Street and people love to talk about what it was like with crack houses and drugs and how terrible it was. He said they sold his mother’s house in 2009 and I said, “We just moved here because we needed a place to live.” We certainly don’t chase trendy things. We never have. I guess there’s one argument that it lifts all boats. I guess if you talk to our neighbor who has lived here since 1940 when this neighborhood was largely Hispanic, they might feel differently. I’m not sure what the alternative is.

But cities change, they just do. And people don’t automatically move to the suburbs when they have kids these days.

Yeah, which seems to be reversing trend. That was what you did—you moved to Montclair or Westchester. I don’t know. [She turns to her husband, Stephen who dropped by] Do we feel like gentrifiers?

Stephen: I don’t know. It’s a process. Inevitably there’s someone who’s lamenting, “Oh these people are moving in” but ten years before that someone else is lamenting him moving in. There’s this constant dynamic. Ten years later, Joe Land Rover is pulling in. It doesn’t happen a lot of places but it happens to happen here. I think the whole thing of the street dynamic is [important] and that’s one thing that changes. There’s a social thing that changes. If there are four families living in a brownstone that means there’s a lot of street activity and as a result everyone gets to know each other. There’s all these overlaps and people looking out for each other. But then you get a single family residence and they have a country house and they’re gone on weekends. That’s a bummer. I love taking out the garbage because that’s when I bump into people.

At the top of the stairwell a Kevin Oster portrait inspired by Vogue sewing patterns hangs next to a plaster sconce by Kathleen’s husband, Stephen Antonson who is an artist and designer.
Looking down the staircase to the bedroom hallway. The space was designed by Kathleen and painted by Stephen.
In the downstairs hall a mirror by Stephen is flanked by sconces and a lacquered chest of drawers, both found Hudson, New York.
Kathleen and Stephen’s sons James and Finn share a bedroom on the lower floor. The family portrait was painted by their uncle, Jamie Antonson.
A silhouette portrait of Finn by Stephen hangs near a drum set belonging to James.
In the master bedroom a pair of vintage portraits hang above a headboard made by Stephen.
Watercolor portraits by painter Ashton Agbomenou line the far wall of the master bedroom.

Stephen’s plaster mirrors and sconces fill the walls of the downstairs bathroom.

How neighborly is your street?

I would say very. We have a block party every end-of-summer. What’s really interesting though is that you generally only know people who are on your side.

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