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.”
Above left, an Andy Warhol shoe ad from the seventies hangs over the couch; the Tramp Art spool ottomans were found in Palm Beach and at a flea market. The wallpaper and curtain fabric are a Miró print.
1. The Cher illustration is by Heissmann’s best friend, illustrator Robert DeMichiell.
2. The seaweed-and-vine brackets are from the estate of French decorator Madeleine Castaing, bought at a Paris auction. The pink gazing balls are from a garden store.
3. The round plaster table is by Syrie Maugham. Under the glass dome is a turn-of-the-century shell basket with moving flowers on springs.
4. The cane chair and ottoman hold Keith Haring’s “Radiant Baby” pillow, which Heissmann bought at the Pop Shop years ago. Next to it is a Fornasetti tabletop with vegetables and fruit, bought at a Shelter Island tag sale for $5.
5. The sixties fake fireplace comes complete with crackling sound effects and a lightbulb to simulate fire. It is flanked by forties chrome- and-painted- metal altar candles. Above, a Takashi Murakami.
6. The two cast-iron painted white rabbits were a gift from Albert Hadley.
7. The fifties Italian painted terra- cotta snail garden stool is used as a coffee table.