Olivia Seely, a public relations director, lives with her boyfriend in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, directly below her sister and brother-in-law’s apartment. Their comfortable space is full of reworked antiques, family art and touches of her mom’s interior design advice. Here’s a peek inside…
On a conversation piece: The wood blocks on the fireplace are such a conversation starter. People will ask about them and start rearranging them. They have slanted surfaces, so you have to figure out how to stack them so they won’t fall. In the larger vase, I sometimes put dried flowers or sticks of cherry blossoms. It adds scale and brings your eyes up.
On playing cards: My sister and I are obsessed with gin rummy and we’ve had a lifelong competition. We always played growing up because my dad loves it, too. For her wedding, my sister printed playing cards with the image from their wedding invitation. I usually have a deck in my purse so if we’re waiting at a restaurant or hanging in the airport, we’ll play another round.
On casual entertaining: As one of four kids, I’m used to having lots of people around. Typically, when my sister or friends come over, we’ll hang out and listen to music. My boyfriend researches artists in his downtime, so something’s always playing. Sometimes it’s old ’20s French music or rap or bossa nova — he’s good at feeling out the moment and matching the vibe.
On taking mom’s advice: My mom is an interior designer and a tremendous help. She always says, “use your good stuff” and doesn’t think things should be untouched. She encourages people to try for eclectic decor, including souvenirs from traveling, which makes a place look lived in. Growing up was funny because our house would always change. Sometimes we’d come home from school and our living room would look completely different, but it was the spot our friends always loved.
On consolation prizes: When my sister moved out to live with her boyfriend, I told him, “If you’re going to take my sister, I need a consolation prize.” He is part of the New York design studio Fort Standard — they make furniture, objects and really cool bottle openers. I didn’t think he would actually make something, but he surprised me with this coffee table. When he gave it to me, I said, “Take my sister, I’ll keep this.” [Laughs]
Copper hemisphere on side table: Fort Standard.
On early art collecting: My parents’ close friend Lewis is an artist. Growing up, every Christmas, he would give us a little sketch that my mom would then frame for us. It was such a sweet tradition. Now, almost everything above our couch is his work. Crazily enough, my great-grandmother was friends with Ludwig Bemelmans, who created Madeline, so the black framed piece is by him.
On pops of color: Since the entire apartment is painted white, I wanted colorful frames in the living room. I thought it would add a funky vibe without being overkill.
On family artwork: My grandfather gave me this photo he took of water lilies. He was a radiologist by trade, but his hobby was photography. Now that he’s older and has more time, he travels to Yosemite and climbs mountains and uses an old-school camera with a hood. He has a darkroom in his basement and develops his photos himself.
On sisterly love: My sister and her husband now live upstairs. We call it “the duplex” and share the Wi-Fi. I sometimes think, “Oh, maybe we’ll move out of New York” — two of our siblings live in Los Angeles — but I can’t give up living in the same building as my sister. We’re best friends and she comes downstairs every morning. I still steal her clothes! It feels like an episode of Friends.
On thriving plants: Two years ago, I bought a fig tree; and now I have a bunch of plants. I water them once a week, and also spritz and wipe down the leaves with a cloth. You have to sing to them, too. I’m not kidding, it works. You just have to give them attention. I have a lime tree with one lime, which I’ll probably use to make margaritas.
On easy renovations: The bones of the apartment are awesome — the ceilings are tall and the windows are big. But when I moved in, the walls were urine yellow and the kitchen cabinets were dark. I painted everything Benjamin Moore Super White to draw more attention to the high ceilings and feel cleaner. I eventually want to do the countertops in the kitchen, but we’re doing things slowly because it’s expensive.
On morning rituals: My sisters have tried to crowdsource ways I can cut down my morning routine. It takes ages. I shower every morning, then I have to lotion my whole body and can’t put on jeans until it’s fully soaked in, so I wear a pink robe from college. My boyfriend makes breakfast — eggs, always — and I’m in charge of dinner. He’ll set up his plate and computer in the living room and watch CBS This Morning. I get kind of frantic, while not actually doing anything — just putting away clothes or adjusting things. I really take forever.
On cleanliness: I like things to be tidy. I vacuum twice a week and clean whenever I see dust. But sometimes I’ll just get lazy and leave things on the floor if we’re in a rush. My boyfriend will be like. “See!” But it’s okay when I do it because I’ll clean it up.
On reworking antiques: My bedroom dresser is an antique. At first, I wasn’t a huge fan because it’s so formal, but my mom had it spray painted glossy white. She’s always going to antique stores and repainting or reupholstering pieces. I think the dresser goes well with the room now.
On reading habits: I have a lot of books — even under my bed. I try to read every night. It’s nice because we have the wireless Sonos speakers, so my boyfriend can be in the living room but we’ll listen to the same thing. I just finished reading The Girls, which I loved. Emma Cline is an incredible writer.
On second-hand art: I like scouring flea markets, antique shops or estate sales to find artwork. I just bought two old botanical sketches at the Brooklyn Flea, which is down the street every Saturday in the summer.
Glasses: Warby Parker.
On moving in together: I had never lived with a boyfriend before, but it felt natural this time. We had spent so much time together while dating the year prior. When he officially moved in, I generously gave him one drawer and a tiny part of the closet. I think he’s starting to realize he needs a little more room, though, so I need to clean some stuff out!
Thank you, Olivia!