At Home With
Kiel Mead, Product Designer, and Sarah Boatright, Artist

PHOTOS BY MIKE VORRASI

On a shelf in the home office designer Kiel Mead shares with his girlfriend, the performance artist Sarah Boatright, sits a set of drawers stuffed with backstock of his Forget Me Not rings, little string bows cast in precious metals. Mead’s breakout design when he was still studying furniture at Pratt, the rings were the genesis of the 27-year-old’s fascination with casting objects into wearable reminders — of childhood, of holidays, of lost loves, of an old car he once drove. Boatright, 24, also deals with the preservation of memories in her work, dressing up in goofy wigs to make reenactment videos of family Thanksgivings or furtively recorded interactions between strangers, which go on to enjoy eternal life on YouTube.

So if you’d expect the couple’s Brooklyn apartment to be decked out with the kind of overstyled chicness typical of two young creatives, one of whom practically runs the Williamsburg branch of The Future Perfect, you’d be mistaken: Like their creations, the possessions they keep on display are more about storytelling than status — from an old Coleman cooler that reminds Mead of his father to a motley crew of self-made, bartered, and castoff furnishings. “We have such a bizarro, schizophrenic design scheme when our ideas come together in the space,” says Boatright. But, explains Mead, “we want each object to have an adventure behind it. Surrounding yourself with the things that remind you of people, places, and events makes coming home a lot more gratifying.”

Lest their unbridled nostalgia turn the place into a rat trap, however, he and Boatright have a few ground rules: They discuss most acquisitions as a team, especially when out shopping together at flea markets, and try to only start collections that can hang rather than gather dust on a shelf, like the religious iconography wall they’re working on in the bedroom. “The house is our greatest collaboration, and it’s made it easier for us to compromise and work together,” says Mead, who moved in with Boatright a year ago after serving as her cross-country coach at Pratt in 2009. “Actually sometimes we collaborate too much on the apartment when we could probably be spending that time doing some really great creative projects together.”

That said, joint professional projects are definitely in the cards, a turn of affairs Mead actually does credit to cohabitation. So far, the couple’s worked together on a mobile they created for Sight Unseen’s New Useless Machines exhibition at last year’s Noho Design District, a confection for the recent Caked Up show Mead co-produced, and a video they made of exploding Jell-O for a local Jell-O molding competition. “We got so pissed at each other while we were making it,” says Mead. “But in the end it was so funny, we don’t know why it didn’t win.”

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Mead grew up in upstate New York, on Lake Erie, and attributes his eventual career path to an early proficiency at working with his hands: “I got the best score on the hands-on science class in fourth grade, which consisted of a lot of scales and proportioning things, picking things up and putting them down,” he says. He started making jewelry while he was in school at Pratt for furniture design, and though he’s sold his arrow-pierced coat racks and Birdie lamps at the Future Perfect, it’s more the belt buckle and chewing-gum necklace section of his portfolio that pays the rent. Here, Mead stands next to his one-off riff on Donald Judd, which he made for 2007’s Haute Green show but never sold.

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Mead and Boatright’s living room is constantly evolving. “I work at The Future Perfect, so there are a lot of broken things from there in here, like that Starck gnome chair,” says Mead. “We try not to buy much. We traded Carlos Salgado for that mirror, I traded for the skull and for Hanno Gorilla and Ursa the Bear, and the chairs stacked next to the TV I made from salvaged Steinway piano tops when I worked at Scrapile. But it’s not like we’re dumpster diving for things; we’ve done that, and now we’re trying to do it a little more classy and a little more thought out.”

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Mead also made the coffee table, sewing up a natural crack in its wooden top with tennis racket string. “It’s a way to highlight the flaw, to make it look like this piece is forever healing,” says Mead. “Some people don’t like it because they think it’s too gruesome, but I think it’s cool.” He’s planning to take a break from his jewelry line to focus on developing the idea into a new line of furniture; come spring his fans will get a chance to see how it’s done when he appears on an episode of the DIY Network’s “DIY Dominator” reality show, where he competed against two other American designers to make a breakfast nook in 6 hours. “I can’t tell you who won,” he demurs.

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Mead and Boatright do a lot of antique shopping together, but not for jewelry. Boatright tends to wear her grandmother’s, and Mead doesn’t like “to do jewelry based on jewelry,” he says. He’s more likely to buy strange objects for the house or books like this one, called Take Ivy. “It’s just a picturebook full of old cars, guys standing around in the science lab, dudes biking around on these old bikes. A lot of the jewelry I just made is based on that preppy lifestyle, pennant necklaces and megaphones.” The book is originally Japanese, and Mead notes: “America in Japan is so huge. When I was trying to sell my belt buckles in the Japanese market, they told me they weren’t ready yet because I hadn’t punched “USA” on the back of them. Once I did, they sold like crazy.”

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Normally the living room is supposed to be a no-clutter zone, but the day of Sight Unseen’s visit, Mead pulled out his old collection of action figures and spread them out on the dining room table, an example of his nostalgia in action. “This is how I grew up,” he says. “I stopped collecting around 1997, when I got to 13 years old and realized girls were cooler than action figures. I actually wanted to do something with them, I just haven’t come up with the idea yet.”

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“This is something that famous skateboarder Anthony Pappalardo gave me,” Mead says. “He did a show at The Future Perfect I helped curate with Redstr called ‘Virgin White,’ and he made 70 or 90 of these awesome little coffee tables. We took photos of them to sell them to people and when they came to view them they were like, ‘Oh, it’s not that big, it’s that big.’ So not many of them ended up wanting one.”

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High on the couple’s agenda: replacing the futon with a sofa. But for now, there it sits, below a painting they got from Boatright’s grandmother. The halo lamp on the left is from a collaboration Mead did with the young Berlin firm 45 Kilo. “With my early furniture you could tell that I was very schooled, very taught,” he says. “But then when you start to get into things like this, or Sebastian’s Stake, it goes more hand in hand with my jewelry in that you don’t really buy it because it works, you buy it because it’s a statement piece. Every time I make something now it comes from that same idea.”

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“We got our dog, George, four or five months ago at an adopt-a-thon,” says Mead. “Cesar Millan was there. George was passed out on the concrete and we’re like this dog’s perfect! And then we got her home and she makes so much noise it’s crazy. She’s getting much better, but a couple of weeks before this picture was taken she was responsible for that rip in my jeans. This dog has fucking destroyed so many pairs of shoes, too. But I keep wearing the jeans because it’s like c’mon dog, what can you do? Fuck you dog, I’m still wearing them. So this photo is funny because it’s like me standing up with the dog lying down looking defeated.”

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Because Boatright was working the day Sight Unseen visited the house, Mead composed this little homage to her on an office computer. While she studied sculpture at Pratt, her focus now is on performance, with video art as a medium. One of her best series involves her surreptitiously taping strangers’ conversations and then reenacting them on tape while mimicking their appearance and intonations. “This particular video was of a group of men standing in front of us in a line for a movie, heatedly discussing their favorite anime series from the ’80s and ’90s,” she says. “Making the videos also gives me a good excuse to collect wigs, which is something I always aspired to do.”

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Mead has a separate studio across the street from the apartment, in the Navy Yards, but the home office still gets play; Boatright sometimes hangs backdrops and shoots video footage there. On the left wall just out of view, the pair have begun a kind of shared inspiration wall charting their personal experiences and professional achievements since shacking up.

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The opposite wall is home to Boatright’s own inspiration boards, which feature random ephemera, including fancy high-school glamour shots of her sister. “I have a hard time throwing things away, especially weird pieces of paper and drawings,” Boatright says. “Somewhere on the top board there’s a coaster I found in a bar years ago that has a message written on it: ‘Pool hall down the street — she was restless.’ And in a different handwriting underneath: ‘Fair enough.’”

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The top of the board is hung with animal masks. “She had the zebra one and I found the eagle one, and we used to sometimes go places with them on,” says Mead. Directly to the left are two of his Birdie lights.

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“Someone was trying to sell me this at The Future Perfect, and I accepted it in because I liked it and it was so cheap,” says Mead. “Then Dave [Alhadeff, the shop owner] saw it and said it wasn’t going to work. I had to call the designer and apologize, and he ended up giving me one. He said it melts in 20 minutes, and you’re supposed to burn it when you need inspiration. It’s some sort of totem. Because I work at The Future Perfect, because of the American Design Club, and because of my ring, people often ask me about for advice about how to sell their work.” In a pile at right: Mead's Forget Me Not rings.

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“Kiel and I found this phone at an antique store near Huntington, Long Island,” says Boatright. “My childhood friend’s older sister, Jessie Robinson, had one in her bedroom growing up, which made it the coolest ever. Finally I have one in my home, and I feel like I’ve arrived.” Adds Mead: “The phone barely works, and when it goes off, it’s the scariest sound. The only people who ever call on that phone are solicitors, and it’s the loudest thing ever.”

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The doorjamb between the living room and the kitchen. “One day when we were kind of under the influence we started chipping away the paint and found that there were literally 15 layers of color on these walls,” says Mead. “But it’s cool because we got all the way down to the wood. It’s like a Gobstopper; it was bright red in here at some point. We were going to do the whole door frame like this but we sort of lost interest — there was a huge mess on the floor, and we were like our dog’s going to eat paint chips.’” Says Boatright: “It was a motif we wanted to continue throughout the apartment to make light of the age and use of the apartment over the years.”

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Hanging in the corner of the kitchen is the mobile Mead and Boatright created together for Sight Unseen’s “New Useless Machines” exhibition during last year’s Noho Design District event. On the fridge are two giant magnets of the sun and moon that were once part of a lamp at The Future Perfect; the creepy hands jutting out from beneath it were cast by Boatright from her own arms. “We have the same sense of humor, and I think that’s why living together has worked out so well on all points,” says Mead.

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And then there’s that shared nostalgia thing, although the Coleman cooler in this picture is all Mead. “When I was younger, my dad would take that to the beach full of sandwiches, beer, and Pepsi,” he recalls. “Back at home we probably kept that tucked away somewhere in the garage, but it’s out on display in my kitchen. That whole minimalist aesthetic is nice because it keeps things clean, but I totally disagree with not having things out where you can see them.”

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Purely for symbolic value, Mead identified this as one of his favorite moments in the entire house, an example of how well his and Boatright’s sensibilities can complement one another. He put up the backsplash behind the sink, and she couldn’t rest until she felt it was visually resolved, ultimately adding the tribal trim around the top. The cup on the dish rack is from a Knicks game. “I’m a Knicks fan,” says Mead.

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Styrofoam heads used to store Boatright’s wig collection, lined up atop kitchen cabinets the pair can’t stand. “They’re too high, and they’re ugly, and we’ve asked if we can paint them, and we’ve tried to rip them down, but they’re liquid nailed to the wall, so there’s no getting them down,” says Mead. “I also don’t like the floors in here — all the things I don’t like are the things I can’t change. If I’m eating anything liquid at the kitchen table, it all goes to one side, and I’m like, what the hell?”

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Humor is a major theme throughout both the pair’s work and their décor. I note the presence of American flags here and in the bedroom, and Mead explains: “I bought those for an American Design Club show. I think it’s funny to buy mini flags and have club members wear them, because were not at all a political movement, so it’s a kind of falsely overzealous patriotism. But it feels so criminal to throw them away, and that’s why I still have them.” As for the mirror over the coffee maker, “we decided it would go here because it’s fun to look at yourself in a fish-eye view while you wait for your coffee."

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This is the living room wall the couple has dedicated to paintings they’ve been made, gifted, or bartered for (plus two matador pictures they bought at Brimfield that “don’t count”). The abstract figure in the upper-right is by a runner Mead once coached; the tiny orange paper dinosaur in the white frame is by the famed pop-up-book illustrator Matthew Reinhart; the colorful painting at the bottom is by Boatright herself; and the cheeseburger on the lower left was painted by Rich Brilliant Willing’s Alex Williams, who traded Mead the painting for a belt buckle.

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The two specks that are semi-unintelligible on the previous slide are teeny tiny paintings made by Boatright’s sister Leah. “When she’s on break from film school, she turns my parents’ kitchen into a studio and starts making all these photo-transfer-collage-painting things, and she let me take these two with me,” says Boatright.

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In the couple’s bedroom, Mead’s Sebastian’s Stake coat rack holds half a dozen hats — like the wigs, an item Boatright collects to use as props in her videos.

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The aforementioned collection of religious art above the bed is still in its fledgling stages and may eventually take up the whole wall. The crucifix is Mead’s Jesus Door Knocker, which the pair also keeps on the front door. “I think because Kiel and I were both raised Catholic, we have a big obsession with religious paraphernalia,” explains Boatright. Adds Mead: “Anything that’s religious we’ll collect and put up, and it’s weird that two people would see eye to eye on something so weird.”