When writer-director Brady Schwind moved to New York from California in 2010, he rented a roughly 600-square-foot pad in what he thought was an average former tenement. After he learned the building housed a brothel in the early 1900s, he decided to embrace its Victorian past. “I didn’t have a lot of money to furnish it, and someone mentioned the various flea markets,” he recalls. “I ended up buying almost 90 percent of what you see from [those vendors], and I don’t think anything cost more than $200.”
“The first thing I knew I wanted was the red walls—partly because of the brothel and partly because I grew up in Dallas and you see a lot of [colorful] walls [there],” explains Schwind. To achieve the desired effect, he chose Ming Red, a special-order Sherwin-Williams shade. “It has the right balance of blue, orange and purple [tones],” he notes. “You can match a lot of different colors with it.” To wit, he fills the living room with an eclectic mix of furnishings, including a chandelier from the JCPenney catalog (jcpenney.com) and an antique gold bench from a vendor named Adel at the West 25th Street Market. Other eye-catching accents, such as blue Chinese antique-replica vases from the Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market (W 39th St between Ninth and Tenth Aves; hellskitchenfleamarket.com; Sat, Sun 9am–5pm) and a crimson oriental area rug from Macy’s (151 W 34th St at Seventh Ave; 212-695-4400, macys.com), round out the room.
The theater connoisseur pairs his higher-end flea-market finds with family heirlooms and items from bargain stores: A clock and a crystal decanter from the Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market rest atop a petite wood table from the West 25th Street market. The sterling-silver chicken statue was a gift from his stepmother. “[It’s] elegant, but silly,” says Schwind of the metal figurine. “You always want something unexpected.” The oval mirror came from JCPenney (locations throughout the city; visit jcpenney.com), while the upholstered-velvet chair and the horse statuette were both snagged at the outdoor bazaar in Hell’s Kitchen.
Schwind displays two vintage photos of silent-movie starlets (Olive Thomas, left; Mary Miles Minter, behind lamp) in frames he purchased at T.J. Maxx. They sit atop a copy of At This Theater by Louis Botto, next to a turn-of-the-20th-century reproduction of Louis-Robert Belleuse-Carrier’s Velleda monument, discovered at the 25th Street Market. “A Victorian apartment needs a bust,” he explains.
As an homage to his dramatic-arts background, Brady mounted seven turn-of-the-20th-century theater magazines on his living-room wall. “I like the idea of having little collections,” he says. “I got all of these for $40 at the West 25th Street Market.” He also spruces up the room with several dragon plants from Home Depot (locations throughout the city; visit homedepot.com).
Schwind admits he got lucky with this set of three tomes, which he came across in the rare-books department at the Strand Book Store (828 Broadway at 12th St; 212-473-1452, strandbooks.com). “I don’t think they knew what they had,” he says. “They were only $30 apiece, but they’re presentation scores given to stage manager Ruth Mitchell and autographed by Stephen Sondheim.” His prized possessions support a blue-and-white vase from the Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market, which sits on a small green marble stand from T.J. Maxx.
This window treatment had its origins as a duvet cover. “My stepmother was moving from a Victorian house in Charleston to a beach house with a totally different vibe,” says Schwind. “She’d packed it up, but I saw it while visiting and told her those were my colors, so she split it in two and sewed it into panels.” Schwind added the gold tassels—picked up at Daytona Trimming Co. (251 W 39th St between Seventh and Eighth Aves; 212-354-1713, daytonatrim.com)—as a textural embellishment.
“My mother actually made [these ceramic mirrors] when she was pregnant with me,” notes Schwind. “The most difficult thing when furnishing an apartment is finding great art; you have to find something you can put on your walls in the interim, so mirrors were my solution. They always look good and they’re less expensive [than artwork].”
Though he holds a full-time job as artistic director for theater company the Transfer Group (transfergroup.org), Schwind often works from home. “This is where I do my writing,” he says, referring to the 180-year-old desk snatched up at the West 25th Street Market. He purchased the bench at the same time and from the same vendor. “They didn’t go together, but it was the end of the day, and the guy didn’t want to deal with [lugging it back],” he recalls.
Schwind sourced this brass double lamp from the same JCPenney catalog as the living-room chandelier. The jade pencil holder is a treasure he found in Chinatown, where he frequently goes to pick up affordable knickknacks. “Asian objects have a sophisticated flair,” he enthuses. “You can usually find things [in Chinatown] that look nice, but aren’t that expensive.”
A black-and-gold Asian plaque from the Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market hangs on a textured, cardinal-hued backdrop, created with Sherwin-Williams EasyChange wallpaper (sherwin-williams.com). “It’s meant especially for rentals,” points out Schwind. “It’s easy to put up and take down, and it comes in thousands of variations. Even if I [owned] a house, I’d probably use this because it’s super malleable and you can move it around as it dries.”
Schwind’s “surrogate godparents” Tony Cointreau and his partner, Jim Russo, gave him this vintage poster. “I think it came from the 1850s,” he guesses. “It goes so perfectly with the apartment, and I love yellow. It lends a nice, personal touch.”
The kitchen countertops are strewn with tchotchkes, such as theater magazines, crystal candlesticks from Schwind’s mom, a pair of papier-mâché boxes that once held a few of Schwind’s Chinatown purchases and a Victorian-era photograph from the West 25th Street Market. “There’s something in the composition that makes you kind of feel like you’re in her world,” he says of the black-and-white portrait.
A pair of ceramic figurines from Chinatown store H.Y. USA Co. Ltd. bookend a vintage radio picked up at Thrift & New (602 Ninth Ave at 43rd St; 212-265-3087). A petite painting of a countryside scene, procured from the Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market, sits atop the old receiver.
Since he rarely cooks, Schwind uses his dishwasher as storage space for old lighting fixtures, unused kitchenware and a mask from Sleep No More.
This small wooden table was the first piece of furniture Schwind placed in his apartment. “I told my Australian friend, Ryan, that I was trying to find a little computer table, and he brought me this,” he recalls. A series of plates from Bed Bath & Beyond (locations throughout the city; visit bedbathandbeyond.com) and fresh flowers add a splash of color. The self-professed “big coffee drinker” uses this Cuisinart machine—a housewarming gift from another friend—constantly.
“I’m fascinated by early Americana,” says Schwind. “Growing up in the South, mammy dolls [like this one] were always symbols of comfort and home.” The oilcloth doll in his kitchen was a gift from a friend, and originally served as part of a promotion for Aunt Jemima syrup in the 1930s. It depicts Jemima’s daughter, Diana.
A condiment was Schwind’s secret weapon when it came to refurbishing this antique copper fire extinguisher. “It was completely corroded,” he recalls. “But I read online that you could restore the metal by rubbing ketchup on it, so I grabbed a bunch of packets from a nearby McDonald’s and cleaned it in the bathtub.”
An oddly shaped bedroom initially presented a challenge for Schwind, but he solved the problem by situating his bed at an angle, rather than flat against a wall. “It adds visual interest, and it makes the room look bigger,” he observes. Schwind covers his Sleepy’s bed frame with a vividly patterned Ralph Lauren duvet and matching square pillow from a Macy’s sale, while his red, 500-thread-count sheets were purchased from a street vendor.
While he was putting his bedroom together, Schwind remembered that his grandparents owned this pair of paintings. “My grandfather’s parents lived in China,” he says. “These were from 1904 and hung in their house for years.” A wicker divider from a vendor at the Antiques Garage continues the Asian theme.
Schwind scooped up this 1920s emerald-green chandelier from the Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market. “Putting it up was a true test of patience,” he jokes. “Apparently you’re not supposed to use the wattage we have now [for this fixture], so I can’t turn the dimmer all the way up, but I just love the color.”
“These were the very first things I got for this apartment,” says Schwind, referring to the pair of wooden folding chairs that he snagged from the Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market. “They’re turn of the 20th century and probably came from a movie theater—the kind that used to show nickelodeons.” The poster that hangs above them references Schwind’s all-time favorite Broadway musical, The Wizard of Oz, and was procured from the West 25th Street Market. Pillows from Home Depot and Pier 1 Imports (71 Fifth Ave at 15th St; 212-206-1911, pier1.com) warm up the room.
A second poster from The Wizard of Oz features the Tin Man and was also a West 25th Street Market find.
One corner of Schwind’s dresser shows off a few meaningful trinkets: the mammy doll that belonged to his grandmother; two more autographed photos of silent-film stars, acquired at different alfresco markets; and a tin canister from the West 25th Street Market that he uses to hold loose change. “I think every room should have a little blue and white,” he notes of the vessel.
Schwind rests his favorite old cowboy boots on a ceramic stool from a Chinatown shop.
On his bedside stand—another Angel Street Thrift Shop treasure—Schwind arranges an Ivanhoe brass key on top of three books: Tommy and Grizel by J.M. Barrie, The Secret by Rhonda Byrne and OK! The Story of Oklahoma! by Max Wilk. A lamp from the JCPenney catalog and two more vintage photographs of silent-film actors (Ramon Novarro and Maude Fealy) sit behind the stack.
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Antiques Garage (112 W 25th St between Sixth and Seventh Aves; hellskitchenfleamarket.com; Sat, Sun 9am–5pm) “You have to go with an open mind,” advises Schwind. “It’s best not to approach it with an ‘I want this specific thing’ mind-set.” He particularly likes this bazaar for furniture, vintage magazines, art prints and unique trinkets.
H.Y. USA Co. Ltd. 81 Mulberry St between Bayard and Canal Sts (212-393-1122) “You can find affordable, elegant pieces that add some flair,” he enthuses of the shop, which he frequents for small blue-and-white accents.
West 25th Street Market (W 25th St between Broadway and Sixth Ave; hellskitchenfleamarket.com; Sat, Sun 9am–5pm) “This one is outdoors and tends to carry lower-end wares,” says Schwind of the alfresco flea where he found his gold couch. “You need to have an eye for detail.” He advises visiting often to sift through the items, which tend to change weekly, though many of the vendors stay the same. “You begin to develop a relationship with the sellers and learn where they’re from and what they’re doing.”