When the Scottish-born, Grammy-nominated singer Angela McCluskey recalls visits to her grandmother’s cottage in Glasgow, it sounds a bit like a fin de siècle pastoral novel. “A fire burned bright constantly,” she says, “and tea and cake always seemed to be set up.”
So when McCluskey moved to New York with her husband, Paul Cantelon, an award-nominated film composer, she dreamed of re-creating that Scottish idyll. Last spring, after living in a Tribeca loft for seven years, they stumbled on a listing for a tiny garden apartment in Greenwich Village. “It’s ridiculous,” Cantelon told her. “It’s too small, too expensive.” They soon signed the lease.
Decorating on a nonexistent budget, McCluskey relied instead on sleight of hand. The compact living room got a fresh coat of dove-gray paint, with a touch of high gloss on doors and window frames, for a vintage literary-salon feel. Three Sterno cans crackle in a nonworking fireplace, and everything is candlelit. She painted the bedroom Tiffany blue and stenciled the walls with concrete fleurs-de-lis. Save for a pair of Louis XVI bergères, what furniture didn’t come from Housing Works was salvaged from the street and upholstered or painted by hand. “I love nothing more than an empty room and $100,” she says.
With tastefully disheveled stacks of antiquarian books, a heavy scent of Mariage Frères tea, and Fréhel playing over the speakers, McCluskey admits, “It’s a close shave between this and an old-lady’s apartment.” What saves it from parody is her own powerful personality, which comes through on every surface she touches and paints or stencils over. “People make that silly mistake of doing things right,” she says. “I like to do things wrong.”