My 2,200sqft: Rug designer Amy Helfand shows us around her organic live/work home in Red Hook

Posted On Thu, December 1, 2016 By

Posted On Thu, December 1, 2016 By In Features, Interiors, MY SQFT, Red Hook

Our ongoing series “My sqft” checks out the homes of 6sqft’s friends and fellow New Yorkers across all the boroughs. Our latest interior adventure brings us to the Red Hook rowhouse where rug designer Amy Helfand both works and lives with her family. Want to see your home featured here? Get in touch!

Artist Amy Helfand has been creating her own line of rugs for over a decade. The gorgeous pieces are hand-woven in Nepal as part of the GoodWeave program, but the design process takes place in Amy’s charming Red Hook rowhouse, where she and her family also reside. As she explains, “At heart, I remain a collector: of images, forms and colors, as well as rocks, sticks, and other ephemera from the natural world,” and it’s this combination of geometry and organic inspiration that’s seen throughout her home and studio. From a dining table centerpiece made of rocks to the chicken coop in the backyard, everything reflects Amy’s unique vision. 6sqft recently toured the home and found out about Amy’s favorite decor, artistic process, thoughts on the neighborhood, and how they rebuilt after Hurricane Sandy.

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Tell us how you got into rug design.

I made my first rug for a show of my artwork at Wave Hill, the public garden in the Bronx. I had been making these graphic digital collages and it occurred to me that the imagery would translate well to a rug. Conceptually it worked out, too, as the gallery space was in the old mansion and the rug sat in front of a fireplace in the foyer.

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mysqft-amy-helfand-21Amy’s background is originally in photography and then sculpture as well

Where do you find inspiration for your creations?

My artwork has often been inspired by landscape, and I think a lot about our relationship to the natural world. That said, I can also be inspired and intrigued simply by noticing certain kinds of lines and silhouettes. I am interested in a process of abstraction and transformation.

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This most recent collection of rocks is from a beach-combing trip in LA

When and why did you get into collecting rocks?

I grew up collecting sea glass on the shores of Lake Michigan. I think I started collecting rocks from everywhere I went a bit later. I’m sure some of the impulse comes from a desire to be surrounded by the natural world despite living in a very gritty, urban environment.

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In your opinion, what makes your rugs unique?

I think my rugs stand out in their use of color and in their graphic quality. My process of working with clients is also uniquely personalized, and I truly enjoy what can sometimes be a true collaboration with a client.

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What brought you to the neighborhood?

Inexpensive housing and studio space, back in the mid-90s!

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How have you seen the neighborhood change over the past 20 years. What about after Sandy?

When we moved here, and for many years after, Red Hook was very desolate—it didn’t feel dangerous, just very quiet. It has gradually livened up (gentrified, I guess, though we will always have difficult public transport on our side) and it’s really nice to have good restaurants, bars and cafes that we can walk to. Sandy was extremely difficult, but to look at the neighborhood now, you’d never know it happened. At least on the outside. It did have an amazing community-building effect, too, where neighbors really helped one another.

What are some of your favorite spots, past and present, in the area?

Valentino Pier, the park behind Ikea for off-leash dog walking, The Good Fork, Sunny’s.

mysqft-amy-helfand-47The couch survived Hurricane Sandy

mysqft-amy-helfand-16The family dog, Jango, is an eight-year-old Catahoula mix

Tell us a bit about what your experience was like during Sandy?

We evacuated during the storm and had a massive mess to clean up afterwards, but the support of our community was incredible and we felt so fortunate. It was a herculean effort to get back into the house—we had about five-and-a-half feet of water, and while we’d moved many valuable things upstairs, anything that had been downstairs, even put up high, was ruined. Our renovation took a year to complete, but we are fortunate in that we have a rental apartment on our third floor, so were able to live in the house while we renovated our living space on the garden level.

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How would you describe your design aesthetic?

How about rustic-industrial? We are lucky to have lots of art in our home and our furniture is pretty eclectic (none of it very fancy). The most valuable thing is my grandmother’s piano, which came to me after we lost our big old upright in the hurricane.

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mysqft-amy-helfand-41This painting is by Amy’s husband, Michael Miller. The barn door handle that leads to the laundry room and Michael’s studio is from Nepal, where the rugs are made.

Your husband is also an artist. Do you usually see eye to eye on design decisions?

I guess I am more of the design decider, and he’s pretty happy to oblige with whatever I bring home. I think if he had his druthers (and we had lots more disposable income) we might have more contemporary furniture (he loves Ghislaine Vinas’ interior design work, as do I!).

Do you have a favorite piece of furniture or art?

See above re: my grandmother’s piano. I have many favorite pieces of art—one of them is a painting by an estranged friend from graduate school, John Carmichael. It is a two-panel, figurative piece with text that reads “F***er Betrayed Me”. I love its straightforwardness, and in a way it was prescient. I also love the painting of Mike’s that hangs in our kitchen.

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What are some of the pros and cons of having your studio within your home?

The pros include the ability to run and do work at odd moments and easily being able to work when there are extenuating circumstances, such as a kid home sick from school. The main con is the tendency to get distracted by household chores or gardening, etc.

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mysqft-amy-helfand-31The backyard fence is made of cedar logs from upstate

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It seems that your backyard gets a lot of use. Have you always grown produce and had chickens?

I have had a garden since I was in my mid 20s. Always carved out of somewhere, even if I didn’t have my own backyard (like maybe the empty lot next door). Growing food is very gratifying, but I also love ornamental plants and my current garden is still evolving after losing lots in the hurricane. We got our first chickens about 6 years ago. It’s not exactly economical, but it’s pretty great to have fresh eggs and also to be able to feed them almost all of our compost.

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All photos taken by Erin Kestenbaum exclusively for 6sqft. Photos are not to be reproduced without written permission from 6sqft.

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