Happy Menocal — a designer, painter, and the creative director of Happy Menocal Studio — lives with her husband, John, and two kids in Park Slope, Brooklyn. “The building was originally a mechanic’s garage that repaired pieces of cruise ships,” she says. “I’m glad that we renovated it before Pinterest — I wasn’t so overwhelmed by all the choices. I just looked at some magazines!” Here’s a peek inside…
On mixing patterns: I’m like a five-year-old when it comes to patterns — whatever I like, I just put together. And I’m a messy person who likes visual noise! For me, if the canvas is blank, it feels scary.
On making a change: The red coffee table was my grandmother’s. It was originally turquoise, but she took it to an autobody shop and had them spray it with car paint when she got tired of the color. My favorite design inspiration ever is Goodnight, Moon — it’s really the basis of my aesthetic. I originally wanted to make our living room all red and green, like the book — but the blue sofa feels good, too, and connects with the kitchen.
On choosing a color palette: The blue sofa used to be pale grey, but it suffered so much with the children — with breastmilk, food, etc. — that we needed to reupholster it. I love this blue fabric from Schumacher.
On the best neighbors: We live in the two top floors of the building, and we rent out the bottom. Our tenants are really into Halloween. John and I could care less — the morning of, I ask my kids, ‘Oh, wait, you need a costume?’ If it were up to me, we would just turn off all the lights. But our neighbors are empty nesters and are really into it. They get a dry ice machine, they get a Broadway makeup artist to come do all their friends in super scary faces, and there’s cobwebbing everywhere. Our kids LOVE it. Kids can be so macabre!
On nicknames: This is a painting of my grandmother. She drove very fast, well into her 80’s; played the piano beautifully; read a thriller every day as she got older. She died last year at 96. My real name is Harriet, after her, but my parents called me Happy from day one. I was premature, and I think it felt a little grandiose for them to call a five-pound baby Harriet. I’m grateful for it, honestly; I think people are nicer to me because of my name. I get into a cab and the driver’s like, ‘Happy!!!’
On naming kids: Daisy is five and Rip is two. I like zippy, American names, and I wanted Daisy’s name to be easy and positive. It turns out she’s cerebral and serious, so that’s pretty funny. We spend a lot of time in upstate New York, and Washington Irving, who wrote Rip Van Winkle, was from there. So, that’s where Rip’s name came from. We thought, we should research Rip Van Winkle — what if there’s some horrible feature of his personality?! But it turns out it’s a nice story.
On cooking for kids: My daughter won’t eat anything, but she loves pancakes, so once a week I make a huge batch of pancake batter to last three days. I dump oats, eggs, a banana, Greek yogurt, flax oil and a TON of greens — like a whole head of kale — into the blender. Then I fry up the batter in salted butter with maple syrup and blueberries. The consistency isn’t as fluffy as regular pancakes, but they’re delicious and so healthy. And they’re bright green! I’ve been making these pancakes since they were little, so the kids aren’t freaked out by the green. It has been grandfathered in. When we go to a diner, Daisy is like, ‘But these pancakes aren’t green!’
On entertaining: Almost every year, we have a big Christmas party and invite a ton of people. My dad is from Cuba, so I have a very Caribbean palate. I love rum and sugar, and I’ll squeeze a billion grapefruits and make a big rum punch. When we just have people over casually, I’ll make chicken with shallots and tomatoes and mustard from the New York Times and add white rice. Or I love a baked potato with butter and chives. My trick is that if you chop chives really, really tiny, it looks like you’re a professional chef. They’re so beautiful.
On collaboration: I worked on this table with Stewart Hoyt, a carpenter in Brooklyn. He’s a Vermont hippie with a graying Willie Nelson ponytail. I drew up the specs for the table and he made it; I love it so much. The blue candlestick was designed by Paola Navone. She’s an Italian designer who did an epic line with Crate and Barrel. You can find pieces on eBay sometimes.
On personal art: It’s so easy to frame kids’ clothes — I’d recommend it to anyone. I sent this little outfit to Simply Framed and asked them to mount it on white. It’s crazy how tiny baby clothes are. To be honest, my kids mostly wore spit-up-covered Carter’s onesies, but this outfit felt more frameable.
On documenting memories: I write a letter to each kid on their birthday; I keep an email draft to myself during the year about funny things they’ve said. My mom kept journals for me, and what I really valued about them were the daily things I did. She’d also add history on top of it — like, “Ronald Reagan was shot and it was so scary.” I try to tell my kids what happened that day when I write their birthday letter, and then I fold the letters and put them in a box. Eventually I’ll give them all to them.
On creating an oasis: I’ve always wanted to paint a mural in our home — I’ve done a few in other people’s homes and in restaurants — but because our apartment has an open plan, I didn’t know where to start and stop. The bathroom felt like a perfect space. It’s the powder room right off our kitchen, and I personally feel awkward going in there when everyone’s around. I’m always running the water and shuffling things around! I wanted guests to walk in and not remember that they were in our house anymore.
On bedroom greenery: We had two plants on the bookcases next to the bed, and I wrapped the vines onto the bed frame. At night, the shadows they cast on the ceiling are really cool.
On a favorite author: Right now I’m reading an advance copy of a book of essays on writing by Lydia Davis. She’s such a frank and offbeat writer. She writes short stories that are a paragraph long, and she also did an amazing translation of Madame Bovary.
Orange chair: vintage from John’s grandfather. Magazine holder: vintage, via eBay. Gold lamp: vintage, via stoop sale. Framed wedding invitations: Happy Menocal for her own wedding.
On building a business: I’m super proud of my studio and team. Our bread and butter is doing weddings and events. It started 10 years ago when my close friend got married and asked if I could make her invitation. I was in advertising at the time, and I thought, what if I reinterpreted the idea of a medieval coat of arms? That wasn’t a thing back then. It was such a joy — and it’s especially fun for me because, while I’m an artist, I don’t have the typical artist temperament of wanting to be alone in a cabin for hours. I’m very social and curious, so getting to know people’s story and making something beautiful within the parameters of who they are is a really fun challenge.
On a shower solution: We love our double shower. Every morning, it’s like chat chat chat. Honestly, it’s not erotic at all. We just talk!
Rug: Ikea. Artwork: Caroline Hurley. Rip’s toddler bed: Ikea. Small bookcase: Ikea. Black swan: John Derian, similar. Red ship kite: Haptic Lab. Daisy’s pink and blue blanket: Layla. Rip’s pale blue blanket: Faribault. Rip’s red and blue checked blanket: Fahari Bazaar. Window shade: sewed by Sarah Anzai, art director and calligrapher at Happy Menocal Studio; fabric is “Burmese” by Sister Parish.
On the best place: I freaking love Ikea. We have Ikea beds for the kids, an Ikea dresser, an Ikea rug, this little Ikea bookcase. I love this Fado lamp — it’s $20, but you plug it in and it looks so fancy. I could spend a whole day at Ikea, eating Swedish meatballs.
On inexpensive art: I had some throw pillows made and had a scrap leftover, so I framed the fabric and painted dots onto the frame. It’s so easy to do and makes great DIY art. [Ed. note: You can see them leaning against the window frames.]
On joyful chaos: At bedtime, I hear Daisy and Rip running around, then a thud, and then hysterical laughter. It feels like the height of happiness to know that they’re conspiring against John and me. They have this little language, and they love taking apart our house.
Thank you so much, Happy!