“I’ve always been a colorful person,” says author and bookstore co-owner Emma Straub, whose newest novel, This Time Tomorrow, comes out today. “I recently met a friend for lunch, and she said, ‘You look like a crayon box.’ That’s what our house looks like, too.” She shares her book-filled Brooklyn home with her husband, Mike, and two sons. Here’s a peek inside…
Pear art: Enzo Mari. Sectional: Abc Carpet & Home. Pink pillow: Block Shop. Armchair: flea market, recovered with Ikea fabric. Floor cushions: similar. Baskets under coffee table: similar. Pink side table: Target, similar.
On living with books: We recently built these bookshelves because things were getting out of hand. Just piles and piles everywhere. When we moved in seven years ago, Edward Orloff built shelves in the dining room, and then we hired our bookstore construction crew to build these in the living room. Our design is about as meticulously thought out as our art hanging, which is to say we drew it on a napkin.
On cozy sectionals: We are loungers. This particular sofa is so deep that when I sit on a couch that’s a normal size, I’m like, where’s the rest of it? But I love it, it’s so comfortable. It has also been used as a trampoline for several years now.
On evening hangs: It’s deeply uncool but my husband and I are morning people and we are utterly useless at night. We just watched Severance, which was very good and very scary. We also watch Top Chef with neighborhood gal pal Gail Simmons, and we’re still watching Survivor!
Dining chairs: Article and Herman Miller. Swan head: John Derian, similar. Pink painting: Kindah Khalidy.
On sparking joy: Mike and I have been together for almost 20 years. I am a hoarder from a family of hoarders. He’s a minimalist from a family of minimalists. It has been really funny to watch our house evolve — or devolve, depending on your point of view. My decorating philosophy is, don’t think too hard and just do what makes you feel good. If we come across something that sparks joy, it joins the parade. If one of my children creates something beautiful, I hang it up immediately. A ‘happy birthday’ sign was up for a year, and eventually Mike was like, we HAVE to take this down. But I feel like it’s always somebody’s birthday.
Love seat: West Elm, similar, recovered in Block Shop remnants. Pillow, similar. Artwork: Maira Kalman, Dasha Tolstikova, Carson Ellis, Joana Avillez and Emma’s children.
On family art: Gabi, our children’s babysitter and the love of my life, gave us the Simpson artwork for my birthday. You can do it on Etsy and other sites. I mean, Matt Groening is not doing it! For the past few years, I’ve also been collecting original art from picture book artists. On this wall, there are two pictures by Carson Ellis, who is my favorite, favorite illustrator — one from her book Du Iz Tak and one from her book In The Half Room.
Pendant lamps: Schoolhouse. Squiggle pitcher: Sophie Lou Jacobsen. Yellow stools: Abc Carpet & Home, similar. Runner rug: Block Shop. Wallpaper: Flat Vernacular.
On go-to family meals: Our #1 most cooked dish is this sheet pan red onion tomato feta broccoli situation from the New York Times Cooking app. That is always what we cook when we’re 100% brain dead and can’t possibly think about it.
On playful wallpaper: The kids love it. I love it sooooooo so much. It’s hours of entertainment. You can play so many games: ‘Find the red car, you’ve got 30 seconds.’
Cheese candle: East Fork. Splatter bowls: Helen Levi. Pink cake stand: Salter House. Books Are Magic mug: Books Are Magic.
On a buzzy new book: This Time Tomorrow is my autobiographic time travel novel. This book is what kept me sane during 2020. I couldn’t write from March to October, but once I had childcare again, this is what came out. I know it’s a joke to say it’s an autobiographic time travel novel, but it’s also literally the truth. It’s fiction, but it is also very much just a story about me and my dad on the Upper West Side in the ’90s.
On writing about family: My dad went into the hospital from August 2020 until Thanksgiving. He was so, so sick. I was able to visit him once a week, and we would talk about everything — writing, books, our families, ourselves — and it was wonderful. That is where this book came from: I needed a place to process my feelings, and this was the best way I knew how.
On her dad’s reaction: I really thought he was going to die. So, it feels wonderfully hilarious and beautiful that he can read my book. We were talking the other day about the Curb Your Enthusiasm episode where Albert Brooks stages his own funeral, and my dad said, ‘That’s a good idea, I want to do that!’ And I was like, ‘Dad, I just wrote a whole book about you.’ And he said, ‘Yes, but what would the poets say?’
On living with uncertainty: If I’ve learned anything from the last few years it’s that you just don’t know what’s going to happen. I am a Taurus, so I like things to be steady. And one of the things that I’m still learning to get used to is unsteadiness. If you went back 10 years and told me that Mike and I would own a bookstore, I would be like, ‘Really?! Why??’ [laughs] But I also find that comforting, the idea that, yeah, I’m 42, but it still is possible to evolve and grow and have things not always stay the same.
Bunk bed: Casa Kids floor sample. Yellow stool: Land of Nod, similar. Striped rug: Dwell Studio, similar. Bunny artwork — James Marshall, from a book signing when I was a kid. Dracula bedding: Ikea. Whale bedding: similar. Tall white bookcase: Ikea, similar. Table and chairs: similar. Curtains: Target, similar. Rocking chair: Eames.
On a playful vibe: The climbing wall and net were here when we moved in. It would be such a dream room for some really sporty, climb-y children. And I don’t have those children. We look at it as an art installation.
On late-night conversations: Miles usually falls asleep in like three seconds. But River often sneaks downstairs to have a talk with us about something. He always comes with a topic because he knows we’ll be like, ‘What are you doing? Why are you coming down?’ So, he’ll be like, ‘I was just thinking about…’
On beloved stuffies: Miles is very devoted to his. He told me the other day that he was writing a story about his stuffed animals but he wanted to throw his class off the scent so they didn’t know they were his so he said they were River’s. I said, ‘I promise you, every single kid has stuffies.’ But he didn’t believe me.
Floating bookcases: Design Within Reach. Antique armchairs: Chelsea flea market a thousand years ago. Artwork over the bed: Susan Bee. Bedding: John Robshaw. Reading lamps: West Elm, similar. Trunk: flea market.
On raising readers: River taught himself how to read when he was four. It was like a scene in a weird movie where the child just opens a book and starts reading it. But while Miles has always loved books, he’s just starting to learn to read at six. We read with both of them every day, and our house is filled with books, and obviously we talk about writers and illustrators all the time. I have total faith that as long as they, as kids, see how wonderful books are that they will make their way to being readers in their time. I think the danger comes when kids feel discouraged. With Miles, we’ve been practicing at home, and the other day, I gave him one of his baby board books, and it was so much fun! It doesn’t matter how many words are on the page, the point is to enjoy it.
Sofa and ottoman: Abc Carpet & Home, via Craigslist. Bookshelves: Crate and Barrel.
On a room of one’s own: My office is bright and quiet, and my cats keep me company. I have all my books here and all my ridiculous stationery, and I just sit up here working, reclining on the sofa with my computer in my lap. It makes me so happy.
On writing rituals: I used to have a more specific schedule, but now I think, oh, I can write for three hours on Tuesday, so I’ll write for three hours on Tuesday. I work better in the morning, but at this point, I’m constantly toggling between writing and bookstore stuff, so whenever I can have a chunk of time, I use it. I’ve never been particularly precious about writing. Any time, I will take it.
Emma’s dress: Mara Hoffman.
Lastly, a lightning round:
Summer beach read: My #1 book to recommend that comes out this summer is Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin. It’s incredible, like The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon meets The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. It’s about love and friendship and video games.
A meaningful book to you: Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems is one of my all-time favorite books in any genre. It set me on fire as a teenager and I love how he saw New York. And they’re funny.
A book with a steamy sex scene: I love Emily Henry, of course. In her new one — Book Lovers — there is some sex in a grotto that was quite good.
A mystery that kept you on your toes: My mom is an obsessive Louise Penny fan. I really liked Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz, and another good mystery is Who Is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews.
A book that made you laugh: Cult Classic by Sloane Crosley comes out in June. She’s of course best known for her essays, and this is her second novel and it’s genuinely hilariously laugh-out-loud funny.
A book that kept you up all night: I didn’t want to stop reading The Dead Romantics by Ashley Poston. It’s a rom-com, only one of them is a ghost!
Thank you so much, Emma, and huge congratulations on your newest novel. xo
P.S. More house tours, including a rainbow bookcase and a Minnesota home with the cutest dog. Also, Emma and Mike’s wedding on Cup of Jo in 2008!
(Photos by Alpha Smoot, styling by Oliver Cano for Cup of Jo.)