Friday, April 29, 2016

Home Tour: Hugh Duthie's Colorful DUMBO Condo


All photographs by Stan Williams
It was the magnificent eastern sunlight and the towering ceilings that attracted the creative eye of Hugh Duthie to his 1,200 square-foot condo in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood. The Toronto native, an advertising and marketing executive, considered three apartments when starting his hunt for a new home in the fall of 2007: one in Harlem, one in Long Island City and one in DUMBO. “All great neighborhoods,” he says, “but I bet on the right horse!”

Back then, DUMBO (an acronym for Down Under the Manhattan and Brooklyn Overpasses) was an up-and-coming community with an on-the-rise hipster factor and was somewhat void of business and services, but attractive because of its industrial feel, its proximity to Manhattan and its easy access to transportation. Today, DUMBO is a shopping destination, a real estate developer’s goldmine and a welcoming place for young families seeking to be near the expansive parks along the East River.

Hugh’s one bedroom, two-bath apartment includes a small study that doubles as a guest room and an outdoor living space on the building’s roof. Throughout the color-packed space, Hugh’s personality prevails: a clever design sense with a sense of humor, a knack for balance and proportion and an eye for beautiful, unusual objects that exude a sense of history and drama. He likes to say that his friendly was inspired by the production designs of a Pedro Almodovar film.


“I never thought I had any particular style,” he says. “ I just have stuff I like. And obviously, I love color. Everything for me has personal meaning and history. Somebody once described my style as Ralph Lauren on acid.”

Upon entering Hugh’s place, the visitor passes a chalked wall filled with scribbles and notes leading into a living room bathed in warm sunlight. (“I always loved the idea of a chalkboard wall,” he says. “Every kid that enters my apartment is armed with chalk…Needless to say, they love it.”) A purple wall on the north side of the living room is an appropriate setting for an exotic canvas.

“’Malevolent Flamingos,’” I call it. It was painted in the 1930s by a friend of my grandmother who, apparently, was a noted furniture painter,” he says. “I love it because they’re not kitschy 1950s flamingos; they’re angry as hell!”

The painting perches above a green sofa, which was the first purchase Hugh made for his new apartment. “ He purchased it at ABC Carpet & Home Outlet Store in the Bronx," he says. “I can’t even remember how I schlepped it back.”


A trail of midcentury faience plates found at the Sixth Avenue flea market in the 1990s leads to parade of tin foil elephants on a neighboring shelf. Created by artist and sculptor Dean Millien, Hugh found the metallic pachyderms at one of his favorite local DUMBO galleries, LAND, which supports artists with developmental disabilities.




In front of the window is a Knoll sofa in its original fabric. “It’s the world’s most uncomfortable love seat, but it looks fabulous!”  Wedged in its corner are two pillows with sentimental value. The needlepoint elephant was made by his mother and was Hugh’s last gift from her before she died, and the Canadian maple leaf reminds him of his hometown of Toronto. On the floor is an antique turtle spittoon that if you step on its head, its shell pops up. “It was in my parents’ summer cottage when I was growing up, and I think at my grandparents’ before.”




In a nearby corner is another example of Hugh’s gift for thrift:  an acrylic, mid-century lamp that he picked up at the Brooklyn Flea sitting. It’s sitting atop a glass table salvaged from a previous employer that went belly up. Next to the lamp is a tin emblazoned with Queen Elizabeth II early in her reign.

In front of the table and lamp is a pair of rocking chairs from West Elm that frame a Paul Smith ottoman he bought in Paris and hauled on the Eurostar back to London, where he was living at the time.


Across the way is a dining area centered on a table he had made in Vietnam. The seating is a combination of chairs plundered from the same previous employer and Victorian Gothic pieces that his mother found at a garage sale and he upholstered with laundry bags from the Majestic Hotel in Saigon.


Hanging above the table is a trio of glass orbs that reminded Hugh of the Victorians’ obsession with terrariums that they filled them with plants they discovered all over the world. “I, it turns out, cannot keep a cactus alive, so my plants have been replaced with inanimate objects: a miniature Concorde and crystal heart, a Canadian Mountie and a bird. “They sit on pink aquarium gravel because I think of it as a glamorous trip to the moon via  ‘The Valley of the Dolls.’”




The Pepto pink kitchen showcases an array of found objects that sit happily with eye-catching notables. A pair of Jonathan Adler busts hangs out with a metal picnic basket and a Budweiser ice bucket that doubles as a utensil holder.


Should you request a cup of tea, Hugh, who admits to being infatuated with the British Royal, might ask you to pick your favorite queen, prince or princess emblazoned on one of the mugs he has collected over the years.  


In the bedroom is where a guest will witness Hugh’s most proud DIY moment: a wall filled with paintings, prints, photographs and more, all hung by Hugh himself. (“That’s a helluva lot of picture hooks!”} The rich, masculine Benjamin Moore blue walls serve as a dramatic backdrop for framed pieces in a variety of sizes. The framed late-19th Century painting on the right is called “Vestal Virgins,” by Edouard Richter.

It was a wedding gift from his grandparents to his parents, but his father despised it. “My mom thought it was grand.” Hugh says. ”It was in our house the entire time I was growing up. You can see a small nick in the bottom where I threw a temper tantrum at the age of six or something and whacked it with a Hot Wheels car."

Hugh found the chaise longue in a London junk shop and recovered it in upholstery he had already purchased because he loved it so much. The Coca-Cola cooler serves as a side table that holds a West Elm fish lamp. “I have a semi-phobia of fish,” Hugh says. “I thought it would help, but it did not!”


 The scenario on this wall is reflected in the mirror that hangs above the bed. A wooden mannequin arm that Hugh picked up at the Sixth Avenue flea market holds the bedside lamp. “I liked the arm, and it needed to hold something, so I put a reading lamp in it.”

While his home is his haven from the outside world, the one thing that makes him happiest when he returns is Masie, his Wheaten Terrier. “She’s a rescue dog, much like my furniture finds.”

The Elegant Thrifter







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