You would think that, for two longtime design dealers and collectors, moving in together would entail an agonizing, OCD-like process of visual choreographing and styling until everything looked magazine-level perfect. In the case of Kyle Garner and Kellen Tucker, though, you’d be mistaken — the couple may do magazine-level work for clients, but when it comes to their own home in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood, it’s barely about looks at all. “The driving force is comfort,” says Tucker, who deals antique textiles through her shop Sharktooth. “If you close your eyes and walk into this house, does it feel good?” Garner, the furniture dealer and designer behind Sit + Read, who moonlights as a DJ, agrees: “We prioritize the feeling over the aesthetic,” he says. “Kellen is interested in crafting smells, and I’m really interested in sound. I don’t really design my own living space.” It’s not that their two-floor brownstone isn’t beautifully appointed, of course, just that it strives for a more visceral appeal.
Part of that has to do with the fact that not only is the house ultimately temporary (it’s a rental), the objects that populate it, by and large, are temporary as well. As dealers — who met via email a decade ago after Tucker discovered Garner’s blog — the couple almost never keep their finds forever; they cycle in and then out again, to her shop, or to his interior projects. They’ve had to train themselves to embrace that state of impermanence, and to value their own well-being more than they value their possessions, to prevent their obsession from burying them. That process took slightly longer for Garner than for Tucker, who kept the house almost empty before Garner moved in with her a year and a half ago. “Suddenly there were kitchen shelves filled with ceramics, and real furniture,” she recalls. “He’s much more of a homemaker than I am. The store takes up all of my energy, so the last thing I wanted was stuff in my house. It was a struggle to find a happy medium.”
Now, they both agree, there’s a good ebb and flow. Garner’s Sottsass lamps happily coexist with Tucker’s antique Persian rugs and Turkish flat-weaves, and Garner keeps himself stimulated by constantly moving things around. “One day a chair will be downstairs, and the next day it will be upstairs,” he says. “Or I’ll find a weird, rusty nail I like the shape of that will change how the mantel is arranged that particular week.” Tucker gives herself room to play, too. “I couldn’t stop buying dandelion paper weights for awhile,” she laughs. “Eventually I was like, enough, that has to go. I can’t help myself from buying weird folk objects that don’t have a place in my store, but eventually they end up in a corner, then outside, and then in a free bin somewhere. The trick is not to feel ownership over them — or feel burdened by them.” Adds Garner: “This apartment is an exercise in restraint.”
Caitlin Mociun may have been the author of a cult-hit fashion line for only a few years, but the lessons she learned from that stint — about the way she wants a customer to feel, or about the way a body moves in space — inform nearly everything she does today. That first becomes clear when she talks about her massively successful fine jewelry line, which she launched almost as a palliative to her days as a clothing designer. “I never really liked doing my clothing line, and when I switched to jewelry it was such a different response,” Mociun told me earlier this fall when I visited her year-old Williamsburg boutique. “It seemed to make people feel good about themselves as opposed to clothing, which often makes people feel bad.” But it’s when she talks about her boutique that you realize that nothing in the shop could be the way it is if Mociun weren’t first a designer.
“I was so dim,” says Greg Krum. It’s a Sunday afternoon, and Krum, best known around New York as retail director of the wonderfully quirky Shop at Cooper-Hewitt, is puttering around the sun-drenched kitchen of a renovated 1890s townhouse he shares with two roommates in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. He’s trying to recall the origins of his other career: that of a photographer about to mount his first solo show this May at New York’s Jen Bekman gallery. “Growing up, I was always attracted to making art, but I didn’t think I could do it because I couldn’t draw. I was like, ‘Okay. That’s out.’ Then I finally realized it’s not about that. It’s about living a life of ideas.”
Like a lot of American designers fresh out of school, Todd Bracher found himself, in the late ’90s, a newly minted graduate of the industrial design program at Pratt designing things like barbecue tools, remote-control caddies, and spice racks. “I remember scratching my head, thinking, ‘Oh my God, this is what design is?’” he recalls one morning from his studio in Brooklyn. Convinced there was something he was missing, Bracher applied for a Fulbright and ended up at age 24 heading to Copenhagen to pursue a master’s in interior and furniture design. What followed was a nine-year boot camp in the rigors of designing for the European market, studded with turns in Milan at Zanotta (where he was the legendary Italian company’s youngest ever designer), London at Tom Dixon (who poached Bracher to help build his London office) and Paris, where he taught part-time and eventually opened up a studio. But personal reasons brought him back to the States in 2007, and the director at Pratt — one of the only people Bracher knew at that point on this side of the ocean — hooked him up with the space he currently occupies in the no man’s land that is the Brooklyn Navy Yard. “My fear, in some ways, is having a place that doesn’t feel like me — which is hard because I don’t necessarily feel like myself in America,” says Bracher.