Today Curbed sits down with Nicki Clendening to talk about her Harlem apartment, which serves as both a home and an experimental design space. Clendening partnered with fellow designer Callie Jenschke in the NYC-based Scout Designs, an interior design firm that also operates Mercantile, an online shop. Here she discusses her constantly changing apartment, her (unusually thrifty) process, and a flea market friend named George.
When Nicki Clendening first moved into her two-bedroom Harlem rental, now a den of impeccable and eclectic taste, it had the "classic white walls" look, a product of a city improvement plan that involved rescuing the derelict building and bringing in renters as expediently as possible. That speed led to some shortcuts on the design side, or as Clendening says, "the cheapest of the cheap." Nowhere was this more apparent than the bathroom, with its "ick tile" and "Home Depot $20 faucet." In an attempt to distract from the shoddy fixtures she couldn't change, the designer pasted marbled wrapping paper to the wall. Pictures of the now-stunning bathroom have been reblogged and repinned thousands of times since first appearing on the Internet, a fact that makes Clendening feel a little guilty about her craft skills. She admits, "It's not super well done. Had I known it was going to be so popular I probably would have tried a little harder."
? Before visitors to the apartment make it to the bathroom, they're struck by the bold dark walls in the living room. Clendening says her siblings like to "tease by walking in with flashlights, but I love it. [...] People are definitely scared to death of it, but it doesn't make your space feel smaller." The walls were painted and repainted—"I don't know how many times"—before she settled on this near-black tone, inspired by a cavernous dark-walled design destination called De Vera.
The cream-colored couch was one of the most successful products of the designer's penchant for bargain hunting. Found for $125 at a branch of NYC's charitable Housing Works thrift shop, the "down-filled, really well-made sofa" was originally covered with washable cotton, but Clendening eventually "bit the bullet and had linen slipcovers made for it," from cloth sourced inexpensively from the Garment District linen specialist Grey Lines Linen.
? The sofa is hardly the only thrift store find in the apartment. In fact, Clendening claims there are very few things in the apartment that didn't come from a flea market or thrift store. Her favorite is the Antiques Garage, where a "really great dealer" named George sets up shop every Saturday and Sunday. Lighting is "super important" as well; she's not a huge fan of overheads, so she sources inexpensive lamps from the thrift circuit instead. For safety and reliability, the lamps are "always rewired" and new shades are added—one such find is a grape-bunch table lamp (above). The cost, she explains, is always a "fraction of the cost of what you would pay at Pottery Barn or West Elm or wherever people shop for lighting." Spoken like a true thrifting addict.
? There are a few pieces Clendening refuses to part with, like the marble dining table she's hauled around for nearly two decades. The top, a single piece of pink marble, was once a flooring tile in Charleston, S.C., where she "went to school and lived for about 10 years." Clendening found the marble through "someone who was in the construction business and redid old houses" and paired it with a $20 table base. Now it, and a similarly hefty slate shelf, are the bane of the designer's brothers, who have repeatedly helped her move. Despite the few heavy sentimental items, the apartment and its contents are constantly in transition. "I move things around a lot," Clendening says, "whether its art or object d'art. Things get put up and brought back down. It is in flux, but I think that's just sort of the nature of the business I'm in."
? In the bedroom, a restful gray paint lines the walls while a wooden sideboard, once used for tool storage in her grandparent's barn holds up some thrifted curios. Next to the bed, a painting of the Eiffel Tower is a reminder of Clendening's roots. It was purchased in college for $25. These are the personal touches that the designer loves about doing up her own place. "We are the client," she says. "No one tells me what I can bring in, I don't have to get it approved. I just painted my kitchen a color that I totally screwed up. I don't know what I was thinking. But I don't have to vet that, I don't have to get it approved, and I think there's a great freedom there."