Into the Wood

Two-Room Apartment In Turn-Of-The-Century Row House

 Location: Cobble Hill, Brooklyn
Rent: $1050 (market)
Square Feet: 1100
Occupants: Tommy Lebo (general manager, Portico Home; a/k/a Pepper Burns, drag performer); Kevin Burns (freelance stylist); Ivanka (cat)

Long, long ago, before the two of you moved here with your mink-colored velveteen pillows, your sand linen couch, and your tiger-maple wood table, Cobleshill, pardon my Dutch, was but farmland called Punkiesberg. Anyway, years pass, Winston Churchill's mother is born on Amity Street. Suddenly it's 1969. Everyone is overexcited about brownstones and Cobble Hill is declared a Historic District! [Both] We never knew!

Me either, until I spent weeks poring over volumes. My research didn't stop with the neighborhood. There was this book at Rizzoli. It cost $140 so I read it for free at the store. It was all about Jean-Michael Frank, the 1930s Parisian decorator, who Kevin said in an earlier discussion is an influence on your decor. [Tommy] The aesthetic came from me more than Jean-Michael. I work with so many fabrics and textiles every day that when I come home, I like something calming. I do like his fabrics.

Tommy Lebo and Kevin Burns in their Cobble Hill living room
Sandra-Lee Phipps
Tommy Lebo and Kevin Burns in their Cobble Hill living room

All Jean-Michael Frank's apartments had creamy vellum walls, chairs made of macassar ebony, and drawer pulls of silvered bronze. He read a lot of Proust. But he had such a terrible life. Two brothers were killed on the French front in 1915, his father threw himself out a window. His mother died in a lunatic asylum. It makes one wonder if such things as white leather couches and fawn walls can make people feel better, bring a sense of order and beauty to an otherwise harsh and incomprehensible world. Though maybe not, because in 1941 he himself jumped out a window. Your spacious apartment has a lot of exposed-brick walls. Every time Kevin says exposed-brick-walls, his fingers flip out, once for each word. [Kevin] I saw Fosse this week.

Kevin, you came to New York in 1986 from New Bedford, a whaling town, where you grew up with a single mother raising five kids which you said was like the Diahann Carroll movie, Claudine. And you, Tommy? I was a landscape designer before I moved from Pennsylvania. I lived for a few months on 4th between C and D— 1992. This was the first apartment in Brooklyn I saw. The rent has only gone up once in seven years, $50. [Kevin] The landlord is a nice man. [Tommy] My iron bed is Victorian. My mother bought it for me as a birthday gift when I was 14. She had it refinished in white which was kind of girly. I took it into the field behind my house and spray-painted it black. I was always into interiors, forever. My mother always said, Why are you bringing that junk into the house? [Kevin] But look at you now. Me, I just bring home shiny tops and sequins. But I've adopted Tommy's views on home furnishings. [Tommy] And we've come together on fashion. When Kevin walks out of his bedroom and I come out of mine, we're almost in the exact same thing. [Kevin] We met at Portico, 1994. I used to work there. I said, Oh no, this one's going to be trouble. We are going to rumble. [Tommy] I said, Who does he think he is? Anyway, Kevin moved in a year later. Kevin is always dressed. He's dressed to drop off his dry cleaning. [Kevin] You never know when fate is going to hit you. Always look good.

Does the same go for the home? [Kevin] Living in New York, when you come home, you should find a certain luxury. [Tommy] Plus we come home and we have this great rapport between the two of us.

So it's not just the sofa. Everyone thought we were crazy. We worked together, vacationed together. People would say, Don't you get sick of each other? [Kevin] Every so often life throws you a person you automatically click with. We just have fun. [Tommy] We've never had a fight, touch wood.

You have a lot of wood.

 
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