The Insider: Victorian Meets Mid-Century in Boerum Hill


    Welcome to The Insider, Brownstoner’s Thursday series exploring how we furnish and decorate our homes here in the county of Kings. The Insider is produced and written by Cara Greenberg, a longtime Brooklyn resident and design journalist who blogs at casaCARA: Old Houses for Fun and Profit.

    She loves color; he literally can’t see it. She came to the relationship with dark wood furniture and velvet upholstery; he’s a fan of mid-20th century design. When Tove Hermanson, a fashion culture writer and blogger, and Jeffrey Leib, a database consultant, both refugees from Manhattan, moved into their first shared apartment — a rented upper duplex in an 1850s Pacific Street brownstone — this was the unconventional result.

    The living room is lavender, the dining room red, the kitchen orange, the bedroom green, and the study/guest room blue. “To me, it was important not to have white walls,” says Tove (pronounced Tova) in a masterpiece of understatement. “Jeffrey is color-blind, so we had to negotiate what he could see and what didn’t look hideous to him.” Their furnishings range from “industrial/do-it-yourself” and late Victoriana to Design Within Reach.

    Details and photos on the jump.



    The living room is large enough to contain separate areas for conversation, work (Tove’s desk is in front of the far window), and TV. Tove made the trio of hanging lights by blowing up balloons, wrapping them in yarn and twine, then coating them with a mix of papier mache and Elmer’s glue.


    Among the items Jeffrey contributed to the decor: an Eames fiberglass armchair, a George Nelson daybed from Design Within Reach, and the Polish movie poster above the mantel. The walls are a custom Benjamin Moore color emulating Ace Hardware’s “Luxurious Lavender.”


    Tove made the standing lamp from a camera tripod and swivel spotlight. The stacked vintage suitcases, found at the Brooklyn Flea, hold craft supplies. The muslin-covered armchair, raw seams and all, is from Nightwood, a Williamsburg design studio.


    The carved Queen Anne chair, upholstered in olive-green velvet, came from Tove’s childhood home in Cambridge, Mass. She grew up with parents who “decorated the entire apartment from flea markets.



    The sofa, also by Nightwood Studio, is not unfinished; it’s meant to look that way. “I like seeing the construction of objects,” Tove says. “The exposed panel shows how the sofa is made, the stuff that’s usually covered up.” The TV sits on a fake mantel picked up on the sidewalk.


    Tove mottled the dining room walls with two Benjamin Moore colors, Caliente and Louisiana Hot Sauce, and a crumpled-up plastic bag. The Kipling table, surrounded by 1950s wood office chairs, is from Crate and Barrel. The 1940s china cabinet is from Brownstone Treasures in Cobble Hill; the geometric rug was found on craigslist. Tove and Jeff placed the table on an angle because “the room is large and difficult to fill, and we liked the unexpectedness of it.”


    The old gateleg table is another family heirloom.


    A metal locker-room basket from Sterling Place on Atlantic Avenue was re-purposed as a wine rack; souvenirs from Fiji and Guatemala hang below.


    The galley kitchen, painted Benjamin Moore’s Caramel Latte, is small but adequate.


    A winding central staircase makes the apartment feel like a self-contained house.


    The master bedroom, at the rear of the building’s top floor, has the apartment’s only unfortunate fenestration: a wide, dated ‘picture window’ in place of the original three. The two green squares on the wall above the bed were trial samples; Tove chose the lighter hue, Benjamin Moore’s Terrapin Green.


    To the right of the unused woodburning stove is Tove’s sewing area; to the left, a bookcase full of the graphic novels both enjoy.



    Tove collects vintage clothes and jewelry, and likes to deconstruct and ‘modify’ items she finds in thrift shops.


    Jeffrey uses the spacious front room on the top floor of the duplex as a home office. It also serves as a guest room. They built the impressive wall of bookshelves with simple brackets and standards and planks of wood. The walls are Benjamin Moore’s Daisy Blue; the cowhide rug came from eBay.


    On the wall opposite the bookshelves, there’s an antique iron bedstead which Tove’s mom found years ago at a Massachusetts flea market. They found the glass-door bookcase at an estate sale on Dean Street.

    Photos: Cara Greenberg

    To catch up with previous installments of The Insider click right here.




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