Stef Halmos (left) and Mckenzie Raley live and work in their airy Brooklyn apartment. Stef makes sculptures, and Mckenzie runs the lingerie brand Land of Women. Together they’ve created a warm home that inspires them, including their “power” paint color and the key to a good night’s sleep…
Sofa: West Elm. Bookshelves: Built by previous owner. Wall sculpture: by Stef. Coffee table: West Elm. Black chair: Brimfield Antique Show. Brown chair: Barcelona chair hand-me-down from Stef’s brother. Rug: Overstock.
First off, how did you meet?
Stef: One night, I went onto OkCupid, and 45 minutes later I saw Mckenzie’s profile. I messaged her, she messaged me back and we went for a drink. The minute I met her I was in love with her, unquestionably. So, basically, I tell people, it took 45 minutes to meet my wife.
Mckenzie: We were trying to be sexy and ordered drinks at the bar — and then we ended up getting deviled eggs and ribs and wings. We went for it. It turned into the gassiest first date.
How do you want your home to feel?
Mckenzie: Being Midwestern, I’m not used to living in a modern apartment, so the plants and bookcases are a nice way to cozy it up. I also love Thymes pine candles — they smell like Wisconsin during the holidays. I once mentioned that to my mother-in-law, and she now sends pine candles to me randomly.
Stef: We’ll get a box in the mail that says, “Hi, Mckenzie! I know you like these!” It’s so sweet.
Your bookshelves are beautiful. Stef: Combining our books when we moved in together was really fun. It was such an obvious metaphor for what we were doing with our relationship. Then we organized the books by color.
Sculpture: by Stef.
Aside from reading, what TV shows are you into these days? Stef: We just started watching Insecure on HBO. The main character Issa is so dynamic and sweet, and she raps when she’s upset with something. She’s so relatable and fun to watch.
Mckenzie: We’re obsessed.
Do you play music at home? Stef: When I work, I listen to podcasts, Terry Gross and the news. But we listen to music a lot when we cook and hang out.
Mckenzie: I’ve been obsessed with yacht rock lately — like Hall & Oats, Gerry Rafferty, that piña colada song. It gets me out of my head. I feel like a dad.
What do you cook at home? Stef: In the summer, we have people over a lot. I’ll grill steaks and peppers and cook a big head of lettuce on the grill and put a little blue cheese on it.
Mckenzie: I’m more of a baker. I make a lot of crumbles and pies, like Midwestern dishes.
Where do you usually eat? Mckenzie: We don’t have a kitchen table, so we eat at the counter or coffee table. That was a sacrifice we made so that we could have an art studio downstairs. Later, we’ll turn our basement into a media room. In Wisconsin, a pimped out basement was the best. Fresh new carpet and a big couch and dips and Oreos. I’m so American when it comes to living rooms!
Bed and rug: Brimfield Antique Show. Paint color: Pink Bliss by Benjamin Moore. Lights: built by Stef. Mini wall tables: secondhand store. Blanket: from a trip to Mexico.
Why did you paint one wall pale pink? Stef: Pink is my power color. When I want to feel strong, I wrap myself in pink. Painting this wall was the first thing we did when we moved in.
Where did you go on your honeymoon? Stef: We had a honeymoon registry. We went to the Amalfi coast, and friends and family contributed to our trip. We took the type of trip we wouldn’t otherwise have been able to afford. We ate and drank wonderful wines and really did it all.
Mckenzie: Our favorite meal was actually from an Italian grocery store. They had fresh smoked burrata, and we got bread and Champagne.
Eye masks: Mary Green.
What would you say is the key to a comfy bed? Stef: King sized. After going king, I’ll never go back.
Mckenzie: Even if our room were small, we’d still have a king. As a tall person, I want to do a complete starfish without touching my wife.
Stef: I also don’t like to wait a long time between washing sheets. We wash them a lot — even twice a week. Clean sheets lead to the best sleep.
Mckenzie: We take sleeping very seriously.
How about pillows?
Mckenzie: I found the best pillow. It’s a game changer. It’s made with shredded memory foam bamboo with cool flow. It’s $50 and worth every penny. I’ve always had anxiety, and good sleep makes me feel calmer all day.
Dresser: Room & Board. Wall hanging: by Mckenzie.
Your bedroom feels so peaceful. Mckenzie: I was recently reading about living minimally. The article said you should have three to five large pieces of furniture per room, and that’s it.
Stef: Our bedroom has only the bed and a dresser and a plant. It breathes.
Mckenzie: Space is really important in our house because we work so much from home. It has been a very work-y few years. We just read the Marie Kondo book; we got rid of 100 bags of stuff. Almost too much. This morning, we were like, shit, where’s the hair spray?
I do the same thing!
Mckenzie: They should have a follow up to that book — The Art of Buying Things That You Accidentally Threw Away.
Tray: Emily Jockel. Artwork: by Mckenzie (“I took a Sharpie and did a doodle of the plants in our living room.”)
When you are buying things, what stores do you like? Stef: We love the Brimfield Antique Show, which happens three times a year — in May, July and September. It’s a tiny town in Massachusetts, but huge crowds go there. We also like Build It Green in Brooklyn.
Mckenzie: I like Muji, and I find things at flea markets. There’s also an amazing vintage store in Minnesota called Hunt & Gather.
Rug: Cold Picnic. Soap dish: Muji.
What a cool rug. Mckenzie: We like boobs in this household.
Why did you decide to start a skincare line? Mckenzie: When I was modeling, my makeup artists friends would recommend skin care products, but I had such sensitive skin and had adverse reactions. So, I created my own three products — a face oil, a face balm and cuticle oil. I wasn’t thinking about it as a business thing, but the ingredients were really simple and I thought everyone could benefit from it. We found a tiny lab in Berkeley, and they made our first sample batch. We sold out our first week.
Your basement studio is amazing! Can you tell us about your art? Stef: I’m attempting to make sculptures that are visceral and physical, made of plaster, wood, ropes, metal… They’re supposed to be like flesh. Everyone wants to touch them and my instinct is to let them do it — I want people to interact with them. They look soft and silly, but they’re actually hard and heavy, which surprises people.
Do you like working from home? Stef: On one hand, working from home is kind of a dream. But by the end of the day, if I’m home alone, I really need human contact. I spend a lot of time talking to the dog.
Mckenzie: I work from home 50% of the time. When I’m away, sometimes my anxiety level gets higher. I’m still learning how to be out in the world as a small business owner. It can be daunting. When I come home, I just exhale.
When you do go out, which are your favorite spots around Greenpoint? Stef: Enid’s is our dive, Cafe Mogador, Aurora. We had our wedding brunch there and my brother still talks about the bacon. Peter Pan Donuts is the jam — that’s our #1 place. We could get rid of everything else in the neighborhood.
Mckenzie: I always get the old fashioned maple. It takes like a pancake.
Thank you so much, Mckenzie and Stef!
P.S. More home tours, including my twin sister’s home makeover, an amazing bookcase and a woodsy cottage.
(Photos by Alpha Smoot for Cup of Jo. Styling by Kate Jordan.)