This is what I can afford without eating water crackers for the rest of my life,” Harry Heissmann says while standing in his ten-by-twelve-foot living room, a cabinet of curiosities where every object tells a story, down to the grass-green Papuina pulcherrima tree-snail shell. Heissmann bought the one-bedroom apartment in a 30-unit prewar complex on a quiet street in Brooklyn Heights in 2003; he lives there now with his partner, Mark King. Heissmann, a decorator who has worked with Albert Hadley for the past eight years, has not a shred of big-space envy. “Honestly, if I lived in a house with twenty rooms, it would still look the way it does now,” he says.
The Germany-born Heissmann has been gathering for as long as he can remember, starting as a toddler with shells and stones. The defining moment came when he was 14 and visiting a friend of his mother’s who lived in a castle on the Rhine. The owner let Heissmann take one thing. He selected a tulip-shaped Art Nouveau lampshade, and became obsessed; first Art Nouveau, then Art Deco, and so on. He financed his 1995 move to New York by selling most of his vintage German cast-iron-Christmas-tree-stand collection.
The present mélange was collected from friends, flea markets, and of course eBay—which he has had to stop using. “It makes it more complex,” he says. “All of a sudden you are looking at someone’s collection in Alaska and you think, ‘I have to have that!’ ” The dwindling of the city’s flea markets might help him edit, but Heissmann misses the weekly trawl.
“Collecting is like a disease,” Harry says with a sigh. “Like a good disease. It never ends.”