Interior designer Whitney Parris-Lamb lives in the Prospect Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, with her husband, Chris, and their sweet dog, Grete. Their apartment is meticulously curated, but what really sets it apart is the creative use of space. Here’s how Whitney set up a bright, sprawling home in a technically small space…
When you found the apartment four years ago, how did you know it was “the one”?
We were hoping for something unique, which was a challenge with our limited budget. After months of looking at cookie-cutter one-bedrooms all over Brooklyn, I saw this apartment. I walked in and immediately fell for the high ceilings and abundant natural light. The apartment had been on the market for some time — it’s a unique layout on the ground floor of a prewar building. The things I love about it — like having our own front door, right from the street, and the sleeping loft — made some folks nervous, so we got a good deal.
Paint color: Railings by Farrow & Ball. Turtle shell: vintage, via Yanatiba. Camel print: needlepoint by Whitney’s mom. Valet: Adam Hoff and Poul Ostergaard, via Dual Modern. Wooden chair: Sweeten Creek Antiques. Mirror, rug, chest: vintage.
For a small apartment, what are your rules of thumb for choosing a sofa that’s the right scale?
Depth is often the thing that makes a sofa feel gigantic and oversized. For smaller spaces, I try to go for something smaller — between 34 to 36 inches deep. And choose a sofa with legs, which will feel a little airier and lighter.
Tell us about that great poster.
My great great grandfather was a surgeon in WWI and collected Liberty bond propaganda posters. A few years ago, we discovered an army trunk full of them and have since had a few of them framed.
Floor lamp: Akari Light Sculpture by Isamu Noguchi. Sofa: vintage mid century Danish. Coffee table: vintage Yngve Ekstrom. Floating shelf art: Leigh Suggs. Rug: Turkish midcentury, via Aero. End table: designed by Whitney’s mother using wood from an antique dining table from her great-grandmother’s house. Table lamp: vintage driftwood.
How did your dog get her name?
When my dad died a few years ago, I was struggling with grief. I needed something to love, and Chris was hesitant at first, but then his colleague was like, “Whitney’s smart — she knows a dog won’t replace her father, but if it’ll make her feel better, get her a dog!” My father was a big marathoner, so we named our dog after Grete Waitz, the famous marathoner. That helped me feel connected to my dad. Grete’s spoiled rotten and basically has free reign (although thankfully, she still hasn’t figured out how to climb the ladder and join us in the loft).
Side table: Canvas Home. Brown leather chair: vintage.
What are your tips on hanging art?
I try to hang single pieces with a center line around eye level. My husband and I are both tall, so average eye level for us hits around 5’7” — but I think a good rule of thumb for most people is to hang the center of the piece around 5’6”. For gallery walls with multiple pieces, I prepare the layout on the floor first. Then I carefully measure, mark and replicate the layout on the wall. If you look closely, most of my walls have little pencil marks around the art where I’ve noted locations before hanging!
Console: vintage Swedish midcentury, via Antique Tobacco Barn in Asheville, NC.
What do you cook at home?
We are extreme creatures of habit! We always order ingredients from Fresh Direct for the same three meals: Veggie tacos. Beans and quinoa with avocado (sometimes with a poached egg on top) and kale salad. Chard and leek frittata. We literally eat the exact same food every week. It keeps things simple and healthy and saves us the brain space and time that goes into meal planning. Every Friday we order from Pizza Loves Emily in Clinton Hill — it’s the best!
Your framed family photos are so sweet.
I grew up in a small, rural, Southern town — the same small, rural, Southern town that my parents, grandparents and great grandparents also called home. So, I feel a very deep connection to Waynesville, North Carolina, and the people there. While I don’t think I could ever go back (twelve years in New York certainly changes you), I feel like so much of who I am comes out of that place. Having family photos helps keep those fond memories alive and reminds me where I come from.
You have a business partner, Amanda. What’s it like to work with your best friend?
We spend so much time together, it’s like I have a second marriage! Designing is a collaborative process, and a partnership feels natural. It’s nice to always have someone to bounce ideas off. She and I are really different in personality and taste, but that winds up making a very successful product for our clients.
Have you had any tricky moments at work?
We once built a custom nine-foot leather-and-lacquer door for a project in a high-rise building… and forgot to measure the freight elevator to make sure it would fit. The door had to be wrapped and brought up to the 17th floor on TOP of the elevator, which was completely terrifying.
Art: Jefferson Hayman.
Do you have a favorite spot in the apartment?
The majority of our time is actually spent at the dining table. Chris and I try to eat dinner together most nights (both of our parents did this with us growing up and it stuck). It’s our chance to catch up and get some quality time in our otherwise busy schedules. And the dining chairs are probably my favorite piece of vintage furniture in the apartment. They were designed by an American mid-century designer named Mel Smilow — I was lucky to find them at The Screen Door and get them for a song.
Did you make any renovations?
We added a ton of storage in the loft, by enclosing one area to make a large closet, and by adding three built-in cabinets for storing clothes. We also added a wall of built-in bookshelves up there.
What are you reading right now?
An editor friend gave me a galley of Pit Bull: The Battle Over an American Icon. It’s an incredibly even-handed and interesting history of pit bulls, a somewhat controversial breed. Since Grete is a pit pull mix, I couldn’t put the book down, but really anyone who is a dog lover or non-fiction buff would enjoy it.
Your loft is so cozy! Do you have any tips for getting a good night’s sleep?
I actually have trouble sleeping. I still don’t have any perfect answers, but it helps if I have only one cup of coffee day. I sleep with a noise machine and an eye mask, and I try to be okay with waking up in the middle of the night instead of worrying about it. So if I do wake up at 2:30, I might read for an hour and go back to sleep.
Your husband is a book agent. Do you guys ever read the same books?
For a few years, when I was really struggling with insomnia, Chris would quietly read a book to me in bed to help me unwind. We got into classics we’d both missed in school, like Middlemarch, Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina. It was such a great bonding activity, and we spent a lot of time discussing the plots and characters. I highly recommend doing this — the only drawback is that it can take MONTHS to get through a book together that you could polish off pretty quickly on your own.
What’s the story behind the amazing drawing of Grete?
My good friend, Christopher Holt, happens to be a gifted artist, stayed with us recently, when he was visiting New York to paint a client’s mural. I had shown him some photos of the drawings Jean Cocteau did on the walls of a home he visited in the French Riviera and mentioned that I thought it was an amazing installation. I came home after work one evening to find that Christopher had done a charcoal drawing of Grete on our wall!
Wow! What was your reaction?
We love it. It definitely catches people’s attention. Sometimes, in the early summer when the windows are open, we’ll be sitting in the apartment right beneath the windows, and people outside on the street don’t realize that we’re two feet away. One time a couple stopped outside to comment on the drawing. The guy was like, “That’s really cool,” and the girl was like, “No, I would never do that.” They stayed there for three or four minutes discussing it. Other times, people will walk by and point it out to people they’re with. Having a high space on the ground floor, there are definitely people who will peek in and say things.
Wooden bookshelf: heirloom, from Whitney’s great grandfather’s library. Wooden table: designed by Whitney’s mom using antique wood from her great grandmother’s dining table. Wooden console: damaged floor sample from Crate & Barrel circa 2004. “I hate this thing, but it’s so functional I can’t seem to get rid of it!” Sheepskin throw: Ikea.
What’s your philosophy on bathrooms?
Keep it clean! I am a devotee of elbow grease. I can’t stand a dirty or mildewed bathroom.
The paint color is incredible. Do you have any tips for choosing colors?
I like white walls in larger spaces and bathrooms, and selective use of color in smaller spaces and bedrooms. When I do use color, I prefer darker ones. It’s tough to make multiple bold hues work in one home, so I tend to pick one and then work in a range of whites/neutrals that complement that hue. I tend to prefer muddy, mixed colors that have some dimension and depth. Farrow and Ball is expensive, but their colors are so special — if you’re struggling with choices, you can’t go wrong with any of their hues.
Desk: vintage, Russell Wright’s American Modern collection refinished by Aero. Desk chair: vintage.
When you don’t have visitors, how do you use the guest room?
It’s a quiet peaceful space for hanging out or reading or working at the desk. It’s also Grete’s cave. Anyone who stays over needs to be prepared to share a small bed with a 50-pound dog!
Thank you so much, Whitney!