My friend Lena Corwin, a textile designer, illustrator and author of the book Made by Hand, recently moved to San Francisco. Before moving, she had lived in a Brooklyn brownstone with her husband, Josh, and their young son, Eli. Before they said goodbye, Brian W. Ferry took a few beautiful photos of her home for Remodelista, which I’d love to show here, along with a conversation I had with Lena about motherhood, moving and all things home…
On enjoying San Francisco: One of the first things we noticed after moving to San Francisco is how quiet the city is compared to NYC. People rarely honk their car horns! Life here feels very peaceful. We are two blocks from Golden Gate Park and the weather is always mild here, so it’s been wonderful to walk through lush foliage every morning—in January!
On missing friends in Brooklyn: I miss our friends there so much. It hits me every few days and I burst into sobs. I lived in New York City for 16 years so almost all of my adult friendships were made there. It was so hard to say goodbye, even though we’ll visit often. I also miss the intense energy of New York. I was so used to the fast pace, so it’s been a little hard getting accustomed to the mellow California lifestyle.
On bedroom artwork: Josh found the large print (above the mantle) on the street out with someone’s trash one night, and he thought I’d like it. I did—and it turned out to be a valuable print! The small painting in the last photo is by Bella Foster. She’s one of my favorite artists, so Josh got me a small painting for my 35th birthday.
On hanging out in the master bedroom: Growing up, we all hung out in our parents’ bedroom, so that’s how we do it now, too. Sometimes friends came over and sat on our bed. It wasn’t a private space. And The pillow corner was a comfy spot to play with Eli.
On creating good indoor air quality: When I got pregnant, I started reading about toxins and how indoor quality can be really bad. I’m not die-hard about this, but I try to only buy things made of natural fibers—cotton, linen and wood mostly. I love 100% cotton rugs (like those from Dash & Albert) since pile rugs are usually made with a chemical-filled glue backing. I’m really sensitive to chemicals and I quickly smell toxins in a product, so I won’t buy something if it gives off that “new” smell. I also use houseplants to improve indoor air quality.
On living with friends: When we first bought this multi-family brownstone, I had a vision of living with friends; I thought ahead to when we’d have kids and how it would be so nice to all eat dinner together. That ended up being even more amazing than I had pictured. It can be so lonely when you have a child, and Josh went back to work way earlier than I did, so having friends built in upstairs was so wonderful. We rented out the two apartments above us. I loved the company; I’d love to have that again in the future. I’m a mix of introverted and extroverted. I always thought I was introverted, but now that I have a child, I crave being around people.
On a typical evening at home: After Eli was asleep, Josh and I would cook dinner together, or we’d have our friends in the house down for dinner and wine. Occasionally we brought the baby monitor up to our friends’ upstairs, and Josh and I would go to a restaurant in the neighborhood.
On relaxed gatherings: My mom is amazing at entertaining friends and family—both on a whim and for big planned events. She makes the most delicious food but always keeps things easy so she can enjoy her company instead of trying to be perfect. Her entertaining style has rubbed off on me and I try to keep things simple, too…but not simple like opening a bag of chips, but instead simple like a bowl of tangerines and carrot sticks sprinkled with lemon juice and sea salt!
Credits: The banister is painted with Benjamin Moore’s Black Beauty.
On creating a comfy kid’s room: I love having pillows on the floor. And it’s so nice to have a washable rug in a child’s room. We got a great cotton rug from Pottery Barn, and I’ve taken it to the laundromat like five times. We also have tons of baskets and bins, so it’s really easy to clean up.
On hearing your child: Eli’s bedroom was on a different floor and on the other end of the house, so I was surprised to learn that the mothering instinct is so strong I could hear him wake in the night from far away. I didn’t need the monitor!
On hanging out in the nursery: We hung out in Eli’s room a lot because it’s big and there’s a couch in there. Our friends upstairs would often come down between 6:30 and 7:30 when we were winding him down, and we’d all sit in there, tumbling around, watching him be goofy.
On choosing paint colors: I think of myself as being good with color, but in my previous apartment I kept trying pops of color and never liked them. So I realized I liked neutral walls, and the pops of colors would come from the linens. I liked our living room; it felt cozy.
On favorite home stores: Montauk Sofa for investing in a really beautiful, well-made couch. Ikea and The Company Store for affordable bedding. Jen Garrido paintings on paper for affordable artwork (I just bought two pieces from my very talented friend!) Nova Natural for toys.
On the branch wallpaper: Right when we moved in we got the branch wallpaper, and I never got sick of it! That seems like a rarity!
On breakfast rituals: My husband Josh almost always does bedtime, and I do mornings—he is not a morning person and I get really tired in the evenings, so it works well for us. I love our morning routine. Eli helps me make coffee and we listen to the radio while eating oatmeal. I mix a lot into it, like a heaping scoop of plain yogurt, fresh fruit, raisins, finely chopped spinach (he doesn’t notice!), chopped nuts, liquid vitamin D and maple syrup.
On family dinners: Eli likes anything on a bun, so for dinner I often make quinoa burgers, salmon burgers, turkey burgers, etc! Josh and I sometimes have our burgers on a bed of greens instead of the bread.
Credits: Ikea cabinets and pink rug, and framed print by Clare Nereim.
On living in a historic home: The Italianate house, which was built in the 1800s, was so beautiful. I don’t think I’ll ever live in a house like that again. I love thinking about the first family who lived there. It was built without electricity and sewers—they probably had chamber pots and outhouses! I remember playing in bed the last night before we moved and looking up at that ceiling and thinking, we were so lucky to live in such a historic place.