My 600sqft: Journalist Alexandra King turns a schlumpy Park Slope rental into a stunning boho-chic pad

Posted On Tue, January 10, 2017 By

Posted On Tue, January 10, 2017 By In Features, Interiors, MY SQFT, Park Slope

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 Park Slope apartment of journalist and gallery owner Alexandra King. Want to see your home featured here? Get in touch!

If you needed any more proof that British women just have “it” when it comes to style, place your gaze no further than Alexandra King. The expat journalist, writer and one half of downtown gallery Lyles & King seems to have a knack for turning naught into something noteworthy—just look at her apartment.

Alexandra came to NYC seven years ago, first living on her own and then moving into a grimy Chinatown pad with her then-boyfriend-now-husband, Isaac. Following a somewhat traumatic event at their old building, the pair decided to leave Manhattan and high-tail it to leafy Park Slope. While their new neighborhood offered a different kind of charm than Chinatown, their one-bedroom rental still left a lot to be desired; the accent walls for example were painted in what Alexandra describes as “a bizarre shade of poop brown.” But leave it to an enterprising creative to transform a turd into a gem. Alexandra saw plenty of potential in the dank space and jumped on the lease. Despite having a few what have I done?! moments, Alexandra worked her magic and completely transformed the apartment. Ahead she gives 6sqft a tour of her bright boho-chic abode, and shares her fail-safe plan for creating an inspiring home.

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Why did you decide to leave Manhattan for Brooklyn? How did you find your apartment?

We had been living in a super grimy Chinatown rental on Chrystie Street, a rent-stabilized (read: holy grail) one-bed that had been my husband’s bachelor pad. I had moved in, and, after a year, had done my best with it, but it was a challenge—zero natural light, incredibly noisy and biblical-level roach infested. The windows looked out onto a filthy courtyard colonized by a flock of super horny city pigeons (several of who made a nest on our bedroom window air conditioner, and, believe me, they don’t half make a racket when they get amorous) several centuries of trash and a giant bathtub, which was, miraculously, still in tact, despite having clearly been dropped from a very great height. Don’t get me wrong, I so loved living in Chinatown—the incredible culture, crazy cheap fruit and veg stalls, the darling babies I was occasionally handed to walk up the stairs with, but the apartment was a nightmare. My biggest fear was fire. The restaurant workers downstairs smoked in the corridor constantly, and many other residents would sit chatting in the hallways while cooking their dinners over campfire stoves. One day, I was on my way to work, at the bus stop on 1st Avenue, stressing because I was super late to an important meeting. Suddenly five huge fire engines whizzed past, sirens blaring. Despite how late I was, I became CONVINCED, absolutely 100 percent certain, that our apartment was burning down and I needed to rescue our cats/salvage our belongings from the ashes immediately. I sprinted back to our place, practically in tears, and of course, everything was fine, but that was the moment I realized I couldn’t do our apartment anymore. I called my husband and was just like “we have to move.”

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Miraculously, a week later, some friends of ours who had moved to Park Slope a month previous invited us over for dinner. As we walked down the block we were gulping in the air, it just felt so fresh! After we left, we were still so entranced with the block and the neighborhood that we took a 15-minute detour back to the subway on a chilly November evening just to drink it all in. We were smitten. Then, by some miracle, three days later, the parlor floor apartment in our friend’s building came up for rent. A month after that, we were living on the beautiful block that we’d fallen so hard for. Also, side note, we opened our gallery basically across from our old apartment six months later, so I still have a whole lot of my beloved Chinatown in my life, which I’m very happy about.

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You said when you first moved into the space it was super depressing. What were the biggest changes you made when you first arrived?

The apartment was in bad shape when I first saw it. It did not look good at all, and more than a few times at the start I had a cold panic that I had made a terrible, rash mistake in saying yes to it. The people who had lived here hadn’t given it any love—there was clutter everywhere, so it seemed really small and cramped, the connecting middle room was painted a bizarre shade of poop brown, and the rest of the apartment was painted what I disdainfully refer to as “renter’s cream” that disgusting yellow off-white shade which landlords seem to think appropriately neutral to attract people but which actually just makes everything look dirty.

The first thing we did was to paint the whole place a crisp gallery white. I then painted the French doors black for some variation, and because it matched the black window frames. I added two very simple long velvet curtains to section off the bedroom. We also built a wall of bookshelves, something my husband and I have always done in every apartment we’ve ever lived in, because we have a lot of them! I also planted a container garden on our teeny terrace (you have to climb out the kitchen window, but it’s still an outdoor space, goddamit). It’s so amazing in the summer.

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How would you describe your interior style?

Warm, modern, just the right amount of feminine.

Do you and your husband ever clash given he is American and you are British?

No, amazingly, we don’t. And that’s solely because he’s a complete spartan, which is PERFECT for me. When I met him he literally owned like four shirts, two pairs of pants, a couple of pairs of shoes, a few pieces of art. I joke that I could never have fallen in love with a man with lots of stuff. He’s always liked my interior choices. Early on we established that I made the design decisions, and he did the manual labor! I’m obsessed with him for multiple reasons, but, ya know, that was a big clincher. Things would not have worked out for me with a dude that loved mahogany furniture and collected baseball cards.

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What are you favorite pieces?

I love my Carter Brother’s scoop chair, which I found on craigslist for $100. And I love the rug underneath our bar, which we got married on. I’m a big proponent of only displaying things that are meaningful, which is also why I have my amazing Valentino wedding shoes hanging out on a shelf. They just make me happy. Occasionally, as is my want, I strap them on with my pj’s and watch TV in them.

Where do you shop?

Ebay, Craigslist, West Elm, Etsy (this store is THE BEST for cute home accessories—I buy a lot of gifts from here) and the Brooklyn Lowe’s which (top tip) has a really amazing and inexpensive houseplant selection.

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What are your top three tips for transforming a bland apartment?

White walls, books, plants. It’s my fail-safe three-step plan.

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What are your top three tips for managing life and work in a small space?

That you can’t! If you essentially live in a big room, and most New Yorkers do, you just aren’t going to get good work done in your apartment. I’m a big proponent of single message rooms. Bedrooms are for lounging, sleeping, romancing. Living rooms are for hanging with friends, watching TV, stretching on your rug. It’s a super common thing for people, especially in this crazy city where we’re working all the time, to try and kid themselves by crow-barring in a so-called office space into a one bedroom apartment. Nope. Doesn’t work. Every time I see a desk in a bedroom I know that no good work is being done there. In good weather, the stoop is my office. In bad, there’s a zillion cafes with great wifi ready to side-eye me and my very slowly imbibed cappuccino.

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Park Slopers take a lot of pride in their blocks what makes yours special?

Our block can sometimes feel like going back in time. Many of the brownstones still have working Victorian gas lamps outside them, and the community here really looks after the buildings. People go to town on holidays, and the Halloween and Christmas decorations are beautiful! The whole block also teams together to plant spring bulbs.

My neighbors have been here forever, and have amazing stories about seeing the neighborhood transform over the years. Our next-door neighbors are a lovely Irish couple who have been on the block since the 70s and who raised 10 children in their house! The actor Steve Buscemi also lives just up the block from me (we have been known to chat in the dry cleaners). We also have an old-school email list serve, just for people on the block, which I wish, as I frequently declare to friends, was my only source of news. Last week there were very serious discussions about a lost and found cat, some left over tupperware from the block party and whether anyone would like some spare theatre tickets. It’s basically the most comforting thing on earth.

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Any neighborhood standbys you’d recommend to visitors?

There are a bunch of great places to eat in the neighborhood. We love Talde, The Double Windsor and Café Steinhof (it has the best happy hour). But our absolute favorite is a super unpretentious red-sauce Italian joint called Giovannis, in South Slope. It’s inexpensive, delicious, filled with joyful locals and run by Giovanni himself.

Is there a neighborhood you want to explore more?

I’m in love with Red Hook. It’s an easy bus ride/bike away from the Slope, and I frequently fantasize about living there. My husband and I are regulars at Sunny’s Bar, and the Van Brunt Stillhouse, which makes the best Old Fashioned in New York City. I also love all the makers and artisans that live there; I’m in love with Helen Levi’s pottery, for instance. Also, in the summer, nothing can beat drinking one of Brooklyn Crab’s giant piña coladas (so wrong, they’re right) while the Statue of Liberty shoots you flirty little glances across the water.

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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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