Designer Ellen Van Dusen is a kid at heart. She counts watermelon, sharks and her adorable Boston terrier among her favorite things. So, she brought all these elements into her playful apartment in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Here’s a look around…
On a childlike aesthetic: I tend to like stuff that’s made for kids better than stuff that’s made for adults. I like colors and shapes. I’ve always been interested in the things that you’re drawn to without realizing why, that you can’t totally explain.
On cool cupboards: My parents are both architects, and my mom did the layout of the kitchen. I have a tendency to go overboard with color, so I was like, Ellen, you can not have a different color for every cabinet. Instead, I wanted the cabinets to be a neutral backdrop, so we decided to have a pattern cut into the plywood. I like it because it’s so simple but looks very complex. It’s a quarter circle turned in different directions. The pattern never intersects or connects so it’s infinite. It extends foreeeeever!
On playful things: I have a thing for sharks, and watermelon is my favorite food. I have too much watermelon stuff. You’d be amazed. I also used to be in a shark club with my friend. It was just two people. We’d make cookies in the shape of sharks. We made zines about sharks. I’m terrified of them and I revere them.
Red pendant lamps: Rich Brilliant Willing.
On a portrait of Snips: I went to a fundraising event, where there was a silent auction. I didn’t know many people, so I was milling around, and there was an auction item for a Rob Pruitt portrait of your pet. He’s one of my favorite artists. I was like, I have to win this thing! And I did! His studio asked me for my 10 favorite photos of Snips, and I sent them her Instagram account. I love how it turned out.
On launching a company: I started Dusen Dusen 10 years ago, when I was fresh out of college. I had nothing to lose. I had a part-time job where I was making $12 an hour; and during my off hours, I was hand-sewing dresses in my apartment and selling them to a store in the East Village. I didn’t know about sizing, so I bought a book. I was really nervous when I dropped off my first delivery, since I had no idea if they’d fit a person. But it worked! Eventually, I was sewing a lot and needed to figure out a better way to do it — so I decided to try to sell to more stores, do a trade show and find a factory, and it grew from there.
On a conversation starter: When people come over, they always hone in on one thing. Usually it’s the tulip. I got the tulip at an antiques warehouse upstate. I saw it and was like, oh no, I have to have that tulip, what do I do?! Luckily, it fit in my car.
Art above the bookcase: Paul Wackers.
On a TV surprise: I love television, but I hate the way a TV looks. So, I asked a friend, how do we make something that looks good that can also hide a TV? He did a bunch of research and built it into this bookshelf we designed together. You press a button and it emerges. I’ve been watching a show called On Becoming a God in Central Florida. It’s about a 1990s ponzi scheme where they sell household products. It’s really good and weird.
On a signature ceiling light: My designer friend Katie Stout does a lot of weird, lumpy, colorful stuff. I asked her to make me a light, and she sent me a basic line drawing of what it would look like. Then I didn’t see it until it was finished. It was a great reveal!
On entertaining: When I have friends over, I love putting out pickles and pistachios. Then I make stuffed pasta shells that are very decadent and tasty. For dessert, I love Flavor Ice popsicles.
Custom animal paintings: Lorien Stern.
On a playful bathroom: I wanted to do something funky in this bathroom. The artist Lorien Stern, who makes a lot of shark heads and clothes with animals on them, spent three days painting the characters. We talked about which animals and flowers and things to do. We obviously had to do a watermelon and a shark. The waving seal above the toilet is really cute.
Custom carpeting: Cold Picnic.
On a colorful stair banister: There used to be a wall next to the stairs, and we took it out. My architect dad sent me a drawing of a standard railing, and I was like, dad, come on. Then he sent me a drawing of what it is now, and I was like, dad, you’re insane! My dad was like, what if we did this railing so you see four different views depending on which direction you’re walking in? So, you see different color combinations when you’re walking from different angles. Choosing the colors took a long time at Home Depot — it was definitely a puzzle!
On a connection to color: I feel at ease when there’s a lot of stuff in my visual field. When I’m in a hotel that’s really minimal, it makes me nervous.
On a DIY bedroom dresser: This is an old IKEA dresser passed onto me from my brother. They have really nice wood stuff. I painted flowers on it because it needs some flair. I used a roll of tape to paint the circles.
On a beloved dog: Snips is about to turn nine, and I’ve had her since she was five weeks old. Our favorite time of year is the dog costume contest in Fort Greene. This fall, Snips was kale and I was a carrot. Last year, my friend Helen was a vacuum cleaner and her dog was a dust bunny. People go nuts for it.
Green bathmat: Ikea, similar.
On a personal pattern: The artist Francois Morellet did a series of paintings where he went through a phone book and assigned red to odd numbers and blue to even numbers, so I did a similar thing with my bathroom tiles. I looked at the contacts in my cell phone and assigned white to even numbers and black to odd numbers. There are different areas of the bathroom for different people — New York friends are on one wall, friends I grew up with are on another wall, my family is on the floor. I told the friends whose numbers were part of it, and people were like, ‘Weird!’
On settling in: I think I’ll live here forever. I can’t imagine doing it all again!
Thank you so much, Ellen!
(Photos and styling by Alpha Smoot for Cup of Jo.)