House of Collection
The second I heard about the House of Collection, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I knew I had to find a way to see inside of the 2,000-square-foot loft often called "a live-in cabinet of curiosities." Luckily, my mom and I were able to take a tour of the private apartment via the New York Adventure Club, and as soon as we walked through her front door, I felt at home with Paige Stevenson and her eclectic style.
Stevenson moved into the then 5,000-square-foot loft almost 30 years ago, when Williamsburg was far from becoming the desirable neighborhood that it is today. She shared the former factory space with as many as 12 other people, but in 1996 the apartment was divided and Stevenson has lived alone or with a partner (and a few cats) ever since. She recently won a 12-year-long court battle to keep the property rent stabilized, and she told the Times in 2011 that she expected "to pay about $2,000 a month in rent."
Most of the pieces in Stevenson's home are found, gifted or donated. She has a preference for metal objects, and she has hundreds tools in various stages of rustiness hung in intricate displays above her couch and in her kitchen. There's a loose method to her madness: if something catches her eye, she'll keep it. She has taxidermy, old photographs, medical objects, mannequins, cash registers, chemistry glass, skulls, dolls, books, vintage clothing, a jungle of living plants and pretty much anything and everything else you can imagine in her ever-evolving collection.
You might not guess by her offbeat tastes in decor, but Stevenson is a bookkeeper by trade. She also rents the loft as an event space and had just finished up a movie shoot in the days before we visited. She sees the house as a gathering space for friends and strangers alike, and said that if you know the address, you're invited to the Easter and Thanksgiving pot-luck dinners that she hosts annually (my mom and I are very seriously considering taking her up on the offer).
Stevenson gave us a guided tour, answered our questions and also let us explore on our own. You could spend days inside of the apartment and just scratch the surface of what she has collected. Someone on our tour asked her how she possible keeps up with all of the dusting and her answer was simple: she doesn't. Stevenson's tastes are obviously not for everyone, but I am enamored with people who live unapologetically on the margins of what society deems as "normal."
I jump on any opportunity I get to see inside of someone's living space, and I think the way that people choose to live says a lot about who they are and what's important to them. New York City is full of interesting people packed into non-traditional spaces and I wish there was a way for me to take a peek inside of every single one of them.
New York is also the perfect place to curate a collection of found objects—apartments as large as this loft are a rarity and stoop sales or taking a carload of donations to Goodwill are often too much of a hassle. I've found several excellent pieces in the trash that I've given a new life to, and I've had to pass on countless others simply because I don't have the space or the means to transport them. I'm glad there are people in the world like Paige Stevenson to give these discarded and overlooked objects a place to shine.