Illustrator Alessandra Olanow (whose work you may recognize!) rents a two-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn with her four-year-old daughter, Coco. “There are wonky ceilings, and the floors slant down by about two feet!” she says. “But I love all those quirks. It’s sort of a metaphor for my life.” Take a peek inside…
On an open floor plan: I love that the upstairs is one space — living, dining, kitchen, art nook — so Coco has the ability to roam around and we can see each other. It’s a nice, friendly vibe.
On a life soundtrack: We listen to music 96% of the time we’re at home, and my new passion is learning the ukulele. I’m pretty bad but I love it. I teach myself on YouTube. I can play Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, You Are My Sunshine for Coco, a couple Wilco songs. My friend told me I need to get more happy songs in my repertoire.
On drawing as therapy: My art got me through my breakup with my husband, 100 percent. We split up quickly; I didn’t expect it. It was so disorienting and shook my confidence of what I knew. So, I started painting and it felt cathartic to get some of these things out of myself. During my marriage, my husband and Coco were the top two things in my life, and I put all of my own stuff on the back burner. Once we split up, and I didn’t take care of Coco all the time, although it was sad in the beginning, it gave me a huge chance to explore the creative side of myself again.
On a desk lamp: I really love this lamp because of the dimming effect. You can control the atmosphere. It’s also a very charming shape. I like organic lines these days — round chairs, round mirrors and round lamps soften everything up. My stuff used to be so sharp, and I’m telling you adding curves makes a difference!
On you-and-me chairs: These are Coco’s and my chairs, and I also stand on them to reach higher spots when I’m painting. I work a lot at night after she goes to bed.
On open shelving: When we moved in, it was just a half wall of kitchen. It was an odd setup. So, I put the shelves in, and then got some cabinets from Home Depot and put marble on top. Even though it’s a rental, I thought it was worth it to do this to make it more livable.
On relaxing evenings: I love popcorn. Some nights I’ll just have popcorn and a beer! And I’ll watch some weirdo series. I like British suspense. I like to scare the shit out of myself. I’m my own worst enemy.
On kitchen tools: We have a citrus press, and it’s so easy to make orange and grapefruit juice. I also do a TON of soups. Jamie Oliver’s chickpea and leek is so good, especially with croutons and parmesan.
On a treehouse vibe: We live in a walk-up, but I don’t mind the stairs. Because you’re going up, it feels like something exciting is happening! We climb up our little treehouse, Coco and I. There are even squirrels that hang out on my AC unit constantly. There were actually a couple squirrels having a love affair, and I was like you’re getting more action than I am.
On a funny hideaway: Everyone has their favorite spot to hang out at home, and I often sit in the stairwell. There’s a skylight above and I just like it there. Sometimes Coco’s playing in her room, and I sit on the stairs and read.
On a bedroom sanctuary: Our street isn’t the quietest in the world, but it still feels peaceful. I try to keep the room sparse and let it be my escape. I practice yoga on the floor, and when I check out at the end of the night, it’s nice to be able to flip through books — fiction, spiritual, biography, art.
On painting friends: I’ve always been fascinated by the relationship between artist and subject. You see all these museum portraits, and every time, I’d wonder, was the dialogue like between them? When I first started illustrating, I’d do portraits of friends and neighbors and strangers, while recording our conversations on a little cassette. Then I typed it all out, and my concept was that I’d have a gallery show, where you could look at the portrait and read what the conversation was. Here, my best friend and I were having coffee.
On a go-to paint color: Everything is painted Benjamin Moore Edgecomb Gray — in the whole house. Honestly, for no real reason. My friend had it and I was like, ok, I like it. Edgecomb Gray it is.
On an indoor/outdoor shower: There’s lots of light, and I love the fig tree. You can open that window, and it’s amazing to be in the shower and feel the breeze and hear nature. I’ve lived in so many New York City apartments, and the gift of feeling serenity in your apartment is really incredible.
Pear poster: Fine Little Day. Bed and dresser: Oeuf. Canopy: similar. Hamper: Serena & Lily. Rug: Carpet Trends, similar. Bedside lamp: Homegoods, similar. Mini-star lamp: Scandiborn. Unicorn: similar.
On a tiny art director: Coco requested the rainbow painting and then picked the colors. She’s the boss. I mean, I’m definitely in charge, but she would very much like to be in charge. My mom was very strict about my room with Laura Ashley bedding, nothing could be out of place. I want Coco to have a little more freedom. If she wants a rainbow, we’ll paint a rainbow!
On a comforting canopy: Coco was going through a phase where she kept coming into my room at night. So, I got the canopy to make her room feel special. We pull it over her bed so she can feel cocooned.
Table and chairs: Oeuf.
On children’s books: Coco can’t read, but she pretends to read. She has memorized all the books, so she’ll tell the stories to herself. She’s into Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau and Home. And the hat books, which she thinks are hilarious and I think are so dark. She also loves Two Homes — it’s a cute book about a kid with divorced parents.
On a map of family travels: I painted this watercolor map when I was pregnant. Coco and I now look at the countries together, and it’s a great way to get your bearings on the world. There’s so much world out there! My pregnancy was not ideal, my mom was very ill with cancer, and this was a healing thing for me to work on during that time. I dreamed about all the places we’d go.
Thank you so much, Alessandra!
(Photos by Julia Robbs for Cup of Jo.)