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.”
McCluskey painted the walls and ceiling dove gray to give the room a warm, cozy feeling. Her inspirations range from her grandmother’s cottage in Scotland to the biopic Bright Star about the English poet John Keats. “l have an allergy to bright, hideous ceiling lights,” says McCluskey. Instead she uses candles, lamps, and the nonworking fireplace, which holds fairy lights from Pearl River and Sterno cans hidden by logs. The couch is a vintage-thirties design from Housing Works, covered in a heavy orange-velvet curtain. “It gives the room something inviting amidst the seventeenth-century gloom,” she says. Most everything was sourced from the street, thrift stores, or flea markets (Clignancourt in Paris and the 26th Street Flea Market in Chelsea are among McCluskey’s favorites), but these Louis XVI bergères, found on the antiques website Ruby Lane, were a rare exception. “They were a fortune,” she says. Photo: Thomas Loof
Photographs and other art line a wall in the sitting room, including a large collage by McCluskey, who studied at the Glasgow School of Art. She painted the table, too. The door leading to the kitchen is hung with a heavy silk-linen curtain from Bed Bath & Beyond. Photo: Thomas Loof
The couple met in 1989 at an Indian restaurant in London, where Cantelon was playing piano. McCluskey hand-painted her husband’s Irish-linen jacket. She recently started Vous-Vous (vous-vous.com), a design consultancy specializing in clothes, furniture, and interior design”“items of distinction,” says McCluskey. McCluskey transformed the claw-footed coffee table by inlaying it with glass. She stenciled gold fleurs-de-lis on an old wooden trunk from a New York flea market. McCluskey mixes vintage prints with her own charcoal drawings. “We’ve spent years collecting from all around the world,” she says. “Nothing’s worth more than $10.” Photo: Thomas Loof
With its black-and-white floor, mint-green walls, and cabinets, and just-so clutter, the kitchen was meant to evoke an Alice-down-the-rabbit-hole feel. “It’s almost like a little magical corner,” McCluskey says. “There’s always Radio 4 playing, something like, “And the shipping news from West Liverpool is “’” To create a makeshift, but authentic-looking, hearth, McCluskey topped the stove with a mantel she found in the trash. Photo: Thomas Loof
She buys fresh flowers from Chelsea Market and mixes them with silk substitutes picked up from her travels. The school chairs are vintage; McCluskey repainted them and added cushions. Photo: Thomas Loof