My 775sqft: Pinup-glam and retro-kitsch collide in this East Village apartment
Our series “My sqft” checks out the homes of New Yorkers across all the boroughs. Our latest interior adventure brings us to Jeanie Engelbach’s East Village
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One might assume that a professional organizer’s home would be streamlined and sparse, but before our current obsession with ridding our homes of everything that doesn’t “spark joy,” home organization had many different forms. Case in point–Jeanie Engelbach’s East Village apartment. Jeanie started her career creating professional scrapbooks and soon landed a role as the visual manager at ABC Carpet & Home. Her knack for mixing styles, integrating color and pattern, and not taking design too seriously started attracting the attention of clients, and before long she was helping them not only organize their homes but create spaces representative of their personalities as apartmentjeanie. And this is on display nowhere more than her one-bedroom rental at the new 14th Street development EVGB.
Jeanie moved into her pad about a year ago, after living for nearly 25 years at an apartment building down the street. She loved developer Extell’s attention to detail and the building’s amenities. But she also loved the layout of the space, which allowed her to put up the funky wallpaper she’d been eyeing for years, set up displays for her collections (at last count, she had 650 Piz dispensers), and still keep the place feeling bright and orderly. We recently paid Jeanie and her bulldog Tater Tot a visit to check out these retro, kitschy collections in person (she also collects bobbleheads, vintage lunchboxes, and Carnival Chalkware), see how she infused a touch of pinup-glam, and learn about her organizational skills.
The wallpaper in the living space is Flavor Paper’s “Luxury” line. “I like colors that resemble candy but pink is my favorite color,” says Jeanie.
How long have you been in New York City?
29 years. I came here right after I graduated from college. Where I grew up outside of Philly, everyone kind of moves to New York after school. When I moved here, I did a sublet for the first summer on 58th Street. And then my aunt owned a building on Lexington and 36th that had gone co-op, and there were two units that hadn’t been let go. I was allowed to live in one for a year. At the time, Murray Hill was not lively, so I moved to Tenth and University. And then I moved to 14th between 1st and 2nd and then I moved here [about a year ago].
The sofa was a new purchase when Jeanie moved. It’s the “Ms. Chesterfield” from Interior Define. The coffee table used to be a bench in Jeanie’s old place. It now can do double duty as bench seating when the dining table is pulled out. The chandelier is from ABC Carpet and Home, and the mirror was found on the street in Dumbo.
What brought you to EVGB?
I wasn’t planning on moving. I’d been in my apartment for 25 years. I was a market-value renter in a co-op building. BUT [EVGB] came up on my Instagram feed. I made an appointment for the next day. I looked at three apartments. I’m a fast decision maker. My old building was lovely, but [here] it’s just the attention to detail. When I started telling people, they were like, “oh you’re moving there?” I said “yeah, I’m moving there!” It’s got a saltwater swimming pool and 19,000 square feet of rooftop.
Did your last apartment have a similar aesthetic?
Some of the things are the same. However, in my old apartment, I had 14 different wall colors. I think this apartment is a little bit more glammy than the last one. They both have flea market style because I like collections and I like bright colors, and it still has that cartoony [feel], but I think there’s a different level of sophistication to this apartment.
A display of Carnival Chalkware, along with a globe collection decorate the television credenza. Above, is an old carousel railing from a carnival. Along with the one in the bedroom, they came from ABC Carpet.
Did you have to downsize at all when you moved?
Yes, and because I’ve had to scale down in size, everything has to be intentional. Two-thirds of what I owned couldn’t move in here, so what I brought made the cut. In preparation for my move, I spent all my free time in my apartment. I went through every memento I had. I’m a photo archivist, and I went through all my photo albums and took them apart and sent photos off to people or just let go of them.
Talk to us about your collections. When did you start?
I was collecting Pez dispensers when I was five-years-old. I started collecting the lunch boxes in college. I carried a lunch box for one year at school. I hated it. It was Holly Hobby. I didn’t get to pick out my lunch box, so that kind of ended up being something that I loved collecting even though I did not like it when I was a kid. I’ve probably had the Carnival Chalkware collection for 17 years, but it’s probably my most recent collection. Some things I could no longer continue with, like the Bobbleheads.
The bottles [in the bedroom] were a collection that was started by my parents. One year for Christmas, they bought a bunch of shipwrecked bottles from an antique vendor in Connecticut. Then again, it started building. So then vintage soda bottles came into play.
The Atlas air conditioning box-turned end table is from Brooklyn Flea. It now holds Jeanie’s craft supplies. Her bedding is by Ann Gish.
You also love antiquing and flea markets. What are some of your favorite spots?
I don’t really get a lot of joy out of shopping, but flea markets, I can stay there all day. I love to think about where this came from, its a history, the story behind it. I’ve only been to it once, but I love the Rose Bowl [flea market] in Pasadena in California. I like the Brooklyn Flea, too. I miss the 26th Street flea market. It was like a Sunday activity.
The bedroom wallpaper is the same print as the living room but in a darker color.
How did you get into decorating and organizing as a profession?
I’ve always been hyper-organized. As a child, I never lost a game piece. I always collected things. My father would bring me these cigar boxes home, and I would always curate things and put them in there. But I was never compulsive about it; if it’s your mess then it’s your mess. I’m not going to clean it up, but I know for me, I can’t think and work in a place that’s cluttered and messy.
When I was working at a music/internet company, I used to make these elaborate photo albums for my friends because I always took photos. When they started getting married, I would take all of these photos, and I’d make these big scrapbooks with things like the invitations and the cocktail napkins. It was like a marriage of me being creative and making order out of things, but it still having a function. That’s when photojeanie became my first business.
I started getting PhotoJeanie clients locally, then “Town and Country” featured me, which catapulted my business into a national one. As I would do photos with my clients, they’d say my office [needs to be organized] and I’m like, oh, I can do that. And then it kind of kept building up. When the market dropped, organizing one’s image library wasn’t really a necessity. So I started doing ApartmentJeanie to cater to a different group. It was supposed to be one day, I went in and made a big impact whether it was rehanging the art, moving the furniture around, helping them repurpose things throughout the home, but basically restyling a space in one day and making it a big transformation in a short period of time. And then people kept asking for design help. And the fact that I had extensive [visual design and management] experience at Bergdorf’s and ABC Carpet, people felt like they could trust my taste level.
I call it a lifestyle curation company because we really want to be able to help you streamline your life and be able to be partners with you. When you’re organized, it allows you to have more time, freedom, and money for the things that you’re passionate about.
Obviously, you’ve been in the business before Marie Kondo, so were you abiding by the “spark joy” principle before that was a thing?
Yes. I’ve told my clients forever that you shouldn’t be surrounded by things that you don’t love. You shouldn’t settle for mediocrity. If someone gives you a gift, the act is that they gave you something. You don’t have to feel indebted to have it and drag it everywhere because you can’t let go of it. When we work with clients, a lot of it is giving them permission to release those things.
My whole thing with my clients is, the ones we’re helping with the design and not strictly clutter is that their home should tell the story of who they are. Whereas a lot of times, my clients know what they like, but they don’t know how to put it together cohesively. Or it lacks their actual personality and style.
What would you say to a client who also wants to display their collections as you have?
A lot of times, you have to teach them that they can’t go shopping all the time. I have more lunch boxes than I chose to display here because I could display them all in my last apartment. I have more Pez dispensers that are actually living inside the lunch boxes. But I do think you want people to remember why they got excited or interested and why they still collect. And if they don’t continue to collect it any longer, maybe it’s time to sell it and let someone else have that joy and experience.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity
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