Tour a Shanghai-Meets-Hollywood Studio

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Illustration: Jason Lee

Interior designer Brett Leemkuil says that at a young age, he already had somewhat of a maximalist sensibility: “My childhood bedroom was a symphony of golds, yellows, browns, and had a feature wall of treillage Mylar wallpaper.” Today, he lives in a 465-square-foot Sunnyside, Queens, studio apartment that feels out of a different place and time. 

The designer turned the dining alcove into a bed lair by layering fabric and mirrors over jewel-tone-painted walls throughout, and treated the space like a theater set: The walls, upholstered in malachite sheeting fabric designed by Hutton Wilkinson for Home Shopping Network, are also hung with leopard rayon velvet backed with coral shantung silk — but the sheeting fabric doesn’t back the entire wall; it just covers what is visible to the eye. The central mirror (which Leemkuil picked up off the street, painted Kelly green, then glazed in a soft gold) is flanked by four other mirrors that he bought at his local 99-cent store, which, he says, “help create that feeling of openness and grandeur.”

Leemkuil, who considers himself “an old-school, hands-on decorator,” has spent years digging through flea markets and junk shops and found the 19th-century Chinese pith paintings — which he framed and hung in his foyer in their original glass-fronted boxes — while rummaging through bins at the 26th Street flea. And he trawls eBay to find more Culver barware in his favorite mushroom pattern. Leemkuil has created a bar worthy of Nick and Nora Charles from The Thin Man, which he made by removing the shelves of the entrance-hall coat closet and adding reverse glass paintings, framed petit point, and rope trim. Leemkuil says he lives by the late Hollywood design icon Tony Duquette’s mantra, “Beauty, not luxury, is what I value,” though he didn’t actually visit Duquette’s Beverly Hills home, Dawnridge, until a few years ago. “Becoming aware of Tony Duquette confirmed I wasn’t out of my mind. Going to Dawnridge was like coming home for me.”

*This article appears in the November 16, 2015 issue of New York Magazine.

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