UPDATE: We're still poring over this impressive collection of home tips. Use the rest of the weekend to get crafty! This article was originally published on Jun 17 2013.
Decorating in New York is quite the feat. On top of dealing with crazy layouts (hello, showers in the kitchen), furnishing a minuscule space can be utterly confusing. What pieces will really showcase your aesthetic? That's where the Hovey sisters, Hollister and Porter, come in. Fresh off publishing their book
Heirloom Modern, which highlights heritage-style interiors, the design-duo gave us the inside scoop on nesting and how to make your pad feel truly, well, you. Click on for their amazing decor tips and you'll be investing in that gorgeous sofa faster than you can say, "Home, sweet home."
Photographed by Alice Gao
Where does your design philosophy, "heirloom modern," which is also the title of your book, come from?
H: No matter what your taste, we believe you should look back at your childhood and ask completely unrelated aesthetic questions like, "What was your favorite vacation? What movie did you think was most beautiful?" There is beauty in all those early memories. Because no one's taste is formed in 2013 or in the present, but from your cumulative years. And if you want to be mid-century, you can still add those components in. It's not just about filling your house with old stuff. It's about filling your house with old stuff that means something about you and your family.
Look To The Past
Sit down and ask yourself a few key questions:
• What is your favorite family tradition?
• What was your first great vacation? By car? By plane?
• What was your favorite picture book? Why?
• When you played make-believe, what did you most often act out?
• What was the first movie you loved most?
These seemingly disparate things represent the subtleties that influenced you along the way and make you tick as an adult. This mantra doesn’t mean filling your home with memorabilia or replicas from films or tourist shops. Just use the memories as a starting point for inspiration.
Your apartment is one big studio, how difficult is it to decorate?
P: When it comes to spaces in New York, they're all different — it's always a challenge to decorate them, especially with so many people renting. I think the challenge is people think, "Oh I'm only going to be here for a year so I'm not going to think about investing in things. But that's still a whole year of your life and it's so important to feel like you're at home. We want people to focus on quality and that's where the antiques come in. Some of the stuff in our apartment is expensive, but most of it is very reasonable. Decorating can be a scary thing for a lot of people — it stresses them out. Some clients can be so nervous about making a purchase, but you can sell it. It's not like a child.
H: So many people hold off from buying furniture. New York is often a series of one year segments when you are first in your 20s. So to go five years without even committing to couches because you're afraid to move them is sad. You can't come home and feel cozy.
Materials Do Matter
In general, we stick to organic natural materials over synthetics. It’s not only more eco-friendly, it’s a great way to guide antiques purchases even if you’re not an expert. We generally like our fabrics matte and leave the sheen for polished leather.
How does being a real estate agent fit with your design service?
P: It's really goes hand in hand. My team at Halstead and I just sold the penthouse that we decorated. Not only that, but I'm constantly working with clients on how to stage their apartments so when they sell it, it will have the best reaction in the current market and their space will stand out for the listing photos. For the buying side, obviously decorating and just generally helping people imagine how amazing a space really is.
Porter holds her vintage Raleigh bike. The cork handle bars came from a bike shop in Fort Greene.
What are some influences from your childhood?
H: When we were little, our dad read to us voraciously and he always loved all the colonial-type stories, like Babar and Curious George. Then our mom made us watch all the Shirley Temple movies and I loved Wee Willie Winkie the most — there were those pith helmets and kilts. And we always watched Masterpiece Theatre with them from the time we were little kids. Every little bit of media we were getting was of the '20s to '40s genre, and I think it really sank in.
P: Our mom used to be an editor at Mademoiselle and so when we got to be teenagers in high school, she was always like, you know, your style went down when I stopped dressing you. And then we would look at photos and laugh say, “You’re right!”
A photo of their parents is the centerpiece on the antique desk.
Let Opposites Attract
Jessica Warren, an interior decorator whose home we featured in Heirloom Modern, told us her favorite mantra, and it’s one of the most simple, yet universally applicable design concepts ever: decorate in contrasts. Place soft next to hard, organic next to geometric, dark next to light. Every piece should exist in the context of its foil for its most beautiful attributes to be seen in the most extreme context.
The two mix their collections of glassware with oddities like turtle shells and bird eggs.
What are your favorite pieces in your living room?
H: Mine's the Ibus, even though it's not an heirloom, but from Craigslist. I feel like it transformed the apartment.
P: I think mine is our little hunter-man painting. My mom and I found it in an antique store in Kansas City and it was so cute because it was such an impractical purchase. She was like, "I don't know if we really need a hunter in our house. I'm going to think about it." And then she tried to bargain with the guy and that wasn't very successful. But we still got it. Every dance photo — homecoming, prom, and our little Sadie Hawkins dance, we have crazy pictures standing in front of him.
White risers lead up to Hollister's bedroom, which is separated by a curtain.
Hollister's collection of vintage smoking slippers are both great to display and wear!
Free Yourself From Matching
There’s no greater inspiration for decorating with color than a really well-stocked library. For color fanatics, arranging books is a great way to play with color placement and contrast. For beige-loving purists, you’ll see that if you squint at this sea of hues, it almost becomes completely, yet wildly neutral, soothing and textured — like leopard print — and will make your whites and ivories pop with an entirely new freshness.
What's it like living together and collaborating as sisters?
H: It’s pretty fun. I think we complement each other and we rarely do fight. But at the same time, unlike a co-worker where you have to be polite just for sake of business, we can honestly tell each other, “You’re being ridiculous!” But most of the time, we just agree. We do have a unique situation because we do get along so, so well.
Don’t Be Afraid to DIY, But Understand What You’re Getting Into
H: One weekend about a year ago, I decided that instead of cleaning the kitchen while Porter was home at a wedding, I would renovate the kitchen. Within about 15 minutes of this idea landing in the brain, I was barreling over to Ikea to stock up on butcher-block counter tops, a sink and other fun unnecessary things. Due to some scooting, the large butcher-block counter became redundant, ergo an insurmountable hassle to return and then an eyesore in the living room for the next three months.
The beauty of organic patterns seen in wood and marble and stones like this is that they’re best when imperfect, which is also the best thing you can (and ever should) aim for with DIY.
So, six weeks and an estimated 1,467 miles of microscopic lines — and $1,200 worth of custom acrylic manufacturing later, I had re-purposed my $200 Ikea countertop into something that actually did look like really expensive stone. But the key takeaway is: Don’t start with something as tedious and ultimately insanely pricey as this, unless you are ready to be patient.
Porter holds a vintage copy of Life magazine that features her grandmother, then Mrs. Averell Clark, at a Seattle gala.