“…I like the wild stuff,
or what some people call ‘the dead 50s’ …
I’m not sure anyone else does kitsch quite like me.”
Cullen Meyer is a wee babe — just 27 years old — but goodness crikey, he has a jump on us: He has been collecting vintage for more than a dozen years already. This ambitious young man searched tirelessly for more than four months to find a time capsule apartment in Brooklyn, just so he could display his collections. Which oh by the way, are MIND BOGGLING, your eyes are going to pop right out of your heads. And what a treat we have today: His friend Paul Quitoriano has photographed the apartment Just For Us.
Oh, did I mention that when Cullen initially reached out to me, I knew he had such a great story that I sent the tip to my friend Steve Kurutz of the New York Times? Steve — who wrote the big story about Retro Renovation last fall — knows a great story when he sees one. So, Cullen is in the New York Times today — YES: Cullen is in the New York Times today — woot!
I have been sitting on all these photos for more than two months … tortured… until the big newspaper story had time to hatch; I didn’t want to interfere with Cullen’s crack at the big time.
That said, NYT may be big, as in “All The News That Fits, We Print”, but we’re online, so we can go on and on and on as digital is cheap. We get Cullen’s mega story — and 40 fabulous photos of his apartment. Amaaaaazing.
So buckle up, here come a gazillion photos from Cullen’s Brooklyn apartment, along with his story.
WARNING: Cullen’s collections include some cheesecake porno chalkware and salesman sample calendars featuring topless dames, etc.; if you are offended, either do not proceed or cover your eyes. The rest of you pervs: The photos are kinda in the middle somewhere, don’t sprain your index finger scrolling too fast.
I have been reading your blog for years and love it. I have been collecting/hoarding the most wild 1950s kitsch I can find since I was about 15. 12 years later, I have created an interesting aesthetic/unique slice of mid-century design that I think your readers might find fun. I have held off for years of publishing/showing photos of my space, but I think people would enjoy it.
Sadly, I live in NYC and don’t have a 50s house yet and am only 27. I lived in the West Village for eight years, and made my apartment as retro as I could.
I decided I wanted a bigger space and put up a craigslist ad for four months looking for the least renovated mid-century apartment. I finally found one after four months of constant searching, in Williamsburg Brooklyn. It’s a great story…
So…my apt search. Well, my search started after already living in New York for eight years. I had moved just after turning 18 to go to college. After one year in the dorms I was ready for my own place, and I found a great deal on a one-bedroom in the West Village off Washington Square Park. It was your typical renovated blah NYC apartment, but I did move as much of my 50s collection as I could cram in and made it as retro as I could.
After seven years in the apartment, not only had I accumulated an unholy amount of more antiques, but I was ready for a real sized apartment (my 1st bedroom was 12×7).
So I figured since I was going to try to move, I would actually try to find an unrenovated mid-century apartment. This, I knew, was almost impossible. The modus operandi of NYC, especially with lower rent apartments is to constantly gut renovate when people move out and get rid of all the great original details.
The only thing people really started to preserve was Victorian details, mostly found in Brownstone buildings in Manhattan and Brooklyn. I had never even seen or heard of anyone with an original 1950s apt or apartment that had even been redone in the 1950s and had been preserved.
So for four months I contacted ever realty company I could asking them to watch for an untouched 50s apartment, and most just laughed, wondered why I would want that or told me I would never find it. I also ran a constant craigslist ad for my very specific hunt.
One day, during the fourth month of looking, I get an email from a broker in Williamsburg Brooklyn, saying she has my apartment and I needed to come to Brooklyn ASAP to look at it. As I was unable to leave during the day I rushed over right after work.
What she told me sounded too good to be true. She told me that a friend of hers had just bought the building next door to him and was going to fix it up and rent it out in a few months. He asked her if she wanted to handle renting the apt when it came time so she went over and looked at the space.
She either saw my ad that day or the next day when she was creating craigslist ads for other apartments she was trying to rent. She saw that my ad said I wanted the most unrenovated 1950s apartment possible. She called my now landlord and told him not to touch anything more (as they had literally just started to renovate) until I got there to look at it.
She was telling me how 50s this place was she couldn’t believe it and that I was going to sign the lease the minute I walked in. She tells me this, again sounding too good to be true, but the place was a few blocks from her office, so we walk over. At the time the 1st floor was supposedly reserved for a family member, but I was given the opportunity to rent either the 2nd or 3rd floor apartment.
I walked in, and I couldn’t believe it, I had never seen anything like it in NYC. All original bathrooms, built-ins, window valances, everything. What had happened, was the same family had owned the building since the 1920s when it was a single family house. When their children had grown up and were out of the house by the 1950s, the parents decided to renovate the top 2 floors to rent out and make extra money and live on the ground floor. Apparently within six months or the first year, they hated their first two tenants so much, that they kicked them out, reclaimed the entire house for themselves and never rented it out again.
Someone from the family lived their until a very old age a few months before I saw the apt. When I saw the apartments I took (the top floor with a little better layout and original pink bathroom) and asked the landlord to preserve all original details, and even asked for some scraps of scalloped wood edging that had already been removed from somewhere. I also told him he should preserve the 2nd floor, the one I didn’t take, and that those details and a mid-century look was really a plus and a selling point for my generation (or anyone with taste).
Really the only thing my landlord had done was put it in new windows (thankfully). The kitchen floor was damaged and had to go, but since I got in so early in the process I asked my would be landlord if he would put in a black and white check linoleum floor if I took the apt, and he said yes! Everything was totally original, except for some reason the sink in my apartment had been replaced in the 80s-90s with a bad Home Depot thing.
Although the original built in cabinets are wood, I’m guessing that there was a steel sink and maybe a leak caused some rust and it was tossed. Me being a crazy purist/refinisher, I asked my landlord(who just happens to be plumber) if I found a period sink and restored it, if he would put it in for me and he said yes.
So I found a great Youngtown’s Sink in upstate New York, picked it up with a friend, refinished it and he put it in for me. So, needless to say, my now favorite broker in the world was right and I put down a deposit that day to sign a lease the following day.
I did do some minor restorations, like restoring all the original kitchen hardware, removing all the paint etc ( and also learned at the time as I took the hardware off that the original kitchen had been the same pink as the bathroom).
I also painted every inch of the apt and moved a lot more of the antiques I had stored at my parents house to Brooklyn, as I finally had the space and right backdrop to display things. I’m sad to say, there is about as much pictured in my apt still in storage, so hopefully one day I can upgrade again to a period house. But for now, I honestly think I couldn’t have found a more 1950s apartment in the amazing condition it was in in NYC.In short it took me about a year to paint everything etc. I also collect vintage linoleum and have linoleum and chromed quite a bit of the apartment.
As you can probably see from the pictures, one of the biggest parts of my collection are wild 50s lamps including moss and majestic.
The apt also have the original pink bathroom, which I have tricked out a little more. I photographed my kitchen, dining room that I turned into a bar, living room and bathroom. I have yet to photograph my bed room and another small room.
And like every good mid-century collector, I have about as much furniture pictured in storage waiting for my dream 50s house that will have room for everything. Sadly, its a rental so I don’t have a vintage stove or fridge which is the one thing I would change.
Thanks again for your blog, its the one blog I check everyday. I’m sure you are constantly crazy busy, but hope to hear from you soon.
Thats pretty much the story of finding my apt. I have a lot more renovating stories. Like, I collect old linoleum and all the pieces around my apartment with linoleum surfaces trimmed in chrome I did myself. And I refinished or refurbished just about everything I have. But anyway, after all that rambling I will stop.
Thanks again, Pam.
You’re welcome. But don’t stop. Don’t EVER STOP. I ask Cullen how he got into retro. So young!
My parents are big collectors, but of Victorian antiques. I started collecting vintage clothing and 50s antiques at about 13. I still sell vintage clothing on the side to private clients and dealers, movie industry etc. I studied journalism for 2 years at NYU and then got my bachelors degree in fashion design from Parsons.
Since graduating, I’ve worked in trend forecasting as a historical/vintage expert connecting historical trends in fashion and interiors to modern trends for our clients. I guess I’m like an inspirational expert. I’m also working on my first line of men’s/unisex accessories that should be out this fall.
In regards to my apt, I do have a lot… However part of my job is still going to every major flea market and antique show around the country [emphasis Pam’s OMG], and if I see a ‘dream’ piece, I still buy it because I know I’ll never find it again. And, yes sadly, if its too big to fit in the apartment it goes into storage. That being said I sound like more of a hoarder than I am, ha. It’s just that things from the 50s were so big! I can’t help but run out of space, especially in NYC square footage. The majority of stuff in storage is lamps and lighting, which is my favorite thing, and I can’t pass up. I think I have about 50 Moss lamps alone, obviously not all at my apt. I like the wild stuff, or what some people call “the dead 50s”, and I’m not sure anyone else does kitsch quite like me. Also, I would really love to get into set design for movies etc. While I collect 50s stuff, I really know every decade and think I would be great at period pieces or even hyper stylized period pieces. However, I feel like costuming and set design are an even tougher world to crack then acting. It seems impossible to get into it unless you know someone or have done a union movie, but you can’t be in the union until you’ve done a movie, and know will hire you to do a movie unless you’re in the union (one of those catch 22 type deals).
I, Pamela Kueber, Queen fer a Day o’ the Retro, Doth Hereby Anoint You, Cullen Meyer: Crown Prince of Kitsch. You have done well. You will go far. We’ll say we knew you when. Don’t forget us.
Thanks so much, Cullen, for sharing your story and thank you so much, Paul Quitoriano, for the photos. No more blog posts for a couple of days. This is gonna take time for everyone to digest; let’s bask.
And we now have music video, too! Thanks to Christopher Considine for the fantastic music!
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