Cullen Meyer, Crown Prince of Kitsch — 40 photos

“…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.

Cullen writes:

Hey Pam,

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.

Best,
Cullen

You’re welcome. But don’t stop. Don’t EVER STOP. I ask Cullen how he got into retro. So young!

Well,

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).

Best,
Cullen

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.

Cullen Meyer

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!

 All material as published here is copyright RetroRenovation.com 2012
No material in this story may be published in any format without written permission. 

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Comments

    • Cathy says

      Dottie, as I was trying to find the words to describe my feelings after seeing and reading this…well, you summed it up the best.

  1. Siri says

    SO THRILLED this is here! When I saw the NY Times article online last week, I thought “I better send this to Pam”…but then megalife took over. I see that kindred souls always gravitate towards eachother. My collection is about 20% Cullen-worthy and I guess about 80% compromise, but I salute you, Cullen…for going the whole way. I do live, part-time, in NYC, and would love some day to come visit. Big cheers to you!

  2. says

    Wow! How inspiring! Just when I tell myself i’m not so kitsch, I see what Cullen has done in such an amazingly fun way and I say, “How totally fun and inspiring!”
    As he says, “Nobody does kitsch like he does.” I really think his over the top, power of color makes his spaces awesomely unique. He doesn’t hold back, and that is what makes it so powerful. Thank you so much for sharing Cullen’s story and fun design, and as for you Cullen, the best of luck to you in all you aspire! Keep it up and you’ll do awesome!

  3. Chris says

    Wow! I could hardly take it all in! I will need to go back and look again, and again for fear of missing something!! Thanks for sharing! This is AWESOME!

  4. KakiMack says

    I have no words, except that I am in complete and utter awe. And jealousy.

    Well, and what Dottie said.

  5. Beth says

    Wow! Brings new meaning to ‘go big, or go home.’ What a talent to make everything meld together without looking like a cluttered mess. Well done, Cullen!

  6. Heidi says

    Cullen, what an amazing collection and so beautifully displayed! I see a very few of my own collectibles in there. Keep us posted with your work and upcoming collection. See you at Brimfield! :)

  7. says

    I have been coming back to these pictures all weekend. Every time I look, I spot a little something else. Thank you again Cullen and Pam for sharing.

  8. TappanTrailerTami says

    Ok, new tactic (since I don’t have a Fountain lamp) so no hope of booking the chapel….LOL………

    Cullen, can I just be your dusting and light bulb changing lady? Pleeeeeze?

  9. TappanTrailerTami says

    Oh, one other question: Cullen, do you know who the manufacturer is of your condiment/menu rack that is over your kitchen table? That is just so cool, and I need one because the back of my stove will be above my breakfast bar…similar to how the back of your cabinet is exposed.

    Thanks!

    Tami

  10. Tracy says

    Awesome!!!!! I love love love it!! To start out so young and have all that already! Of course one of my favourites is the pink bathroom! I can see you having such a wonderful house in the future! What a great job you have also to find things! I think I would end up spending my paycheque whilst doing my work! Excellent post and pictures!

  11. Janine says

    I have a pair of chalk ware oriental style lamps he would love. They even have the original aluminum tiered shades. Everyone says they are ugly. They just want me to sell them the shades, but I wont separate them. They are perfect the way they are.

  12. Joe Felice says

    OK, WTF??? Cullen’s previous life was obviously in the ’50s, as that’s where his soul is, and what a soul it must be. I sure wish I could visit this apartment and meet Cullen in person. Where, on earth, does he find all this stuff? And there’s just as much in storage? Hey, Cullen, why don’t you offer some of that unused stuff for sale to those of us who would really appreciate it? I know Pam doesn’t allow people to sell on here, but you could show it, and then link the pics to ads on craigslist, couldn’t you? While I admire the apartment, it’s a bit too crowded and junky for me, but that’s just my own personality, so that’s not an indictment. There are several pieces I wish I had, though. Cullen, I think you are a rarity. Most mid-century connoisseurs are fogies like me, who actually lived during the time, and who remember how happy and innocent they were, completely different from today. I think we hearken to those simpler times, when America was great. I’ve not met people of Cullen’s generation who could give a hoot about what our country used to be like. And don’t get me started on the music! “Hey, Mister Bass Man. . . ” Lucille, let’s rock!

  13. says

    There are so many great pieces in this collection that I am blown away. The design is fantastic for sure… but… the abundance of it all really takes away from the quality.

  14. Mattie says

    I drooled over these photos yesterday, and last night I dreamed I was at a party at Cullen’s place – and I never wanted to leave! What an amazing, fantastic collection!

  15. Chicago Char says

    Cullen is a testament to figuring out what you enjoy doing and success will follow. I am thankful his parents were supportive (and posted sweet comments) as seemingly have been his landlord(s). I adore any style of living that reflects an intellectual curiosity and personality. No stark hotel-like soulless vanilla boxes intrigue me. I hope there’s dramatic consumer backlash against the taint of mentally ill hoarding to accumulator collectors who enjoy having “stuff”. Upcycle, repurpose, save the planet.

    If I witnessed a rescued pet enjoying his home too I’d be in daydreamland. I too understand the pang of revisiting items that are in waiting to be displayed, especially my fabrics. I am impressed most of all that Cullen has followed through on his projects. Inspired. Now on to find the NY Times article.

  16. LoVeToReTrO says

    Are the draperies shown original to the apartment or are they old curtains in really great condition? Or, were they made to “look” like the perfect match for the space? Where in the heck do you find the time to look for these things? I’ve searched it seems like forever and I can’t find anything that looks like these items, let alone in good condition. It seems like resalers are getting more and more saavy about any kind of item that may be “vintage.” Cullen’s apartment is a beautiful thing…thank you for sharing!

  17. Annalee says

    I cried when I saw your Apt Cullen. Absolutely amazing, breath taking. I had no idea there was another person on this planet who loves ’50s as much as I DO!! :D

  18. says

    In the words of Liz Lemon “I want to go to there” Such an inspiration, a beautiful time capsule of mid century design and retro keepsakes! Thank you so much Cullen, for showing us your treasures!!! This will be forever bookmarked as an inspiration tool for me, truly gorgeous!

  19. Nancy Johnston says

    OMG – This is absolutely wonderful! Love, love LOVE your home! Your collections are beyond awesome. We are not worthy.

  20. Peter says

    Well, the uniqueness of color choices from room to room make the space look larger. Also, the fridge, although new haws its advantages in that it will be reliable and vastly more efficient. Those old compressors have a nasty habit of being loud, hot and expensive. Besides, all those magnetic letters mask any appliance newness.

  21. says

    Hey! We have that very same nursery rhyme and game linoleum “rug”. We found ours hidden under h****** [edited] wall to wall carpeting when we bought our house in South Philadelphia About 12 years ago. I guess it’s a good thing the rug covered it, because it kept it in good shape and from getting tossed out over the years. I carefully cleaned and sealed it, and now it serves to cover the floor of our kids’ room – in the exact same spot where we found it.

    • pam kueber says

      Hi James, those rugs sure are beautiful. As with all vintage materials you put into use – you may want to have the rug tested to ensure you know what materials are in it – consult with a properly licensed professional.

  22. Sheri says

    What an awesome display of vintage decor!!!!! Bravo!!!
    I have the same Nursery Linoleum Rug/Carpet, what year was it produced, I can not find a date on mine only the lot #20067. What would it be worth today???

    Congrats and Thanks,
    Sheri

  23. says

    Oh Great Rah of All-Things Retro, I bought a 1950’s motel in Brevard NC in April of 2011 and am smack dab in the middle of taking ‘er back to mid-century
    eclectic. Everything I do is left-of-center and has a sense of humor (right down to the herd of flamingoes in the front lawn). I have scoured the lands looking for ideas and ran across this and am just bowled over with your sense of style. How you managed to cram 1000 kitschy pieces into 20 sq ft and make it look super fab is beyond comprehension. If you are interested in a bigger challenge, check out my website http://www.thesunsetmotel.com and shoot me an email ‘cuz I need a retro wiz like you to take us to the next level.

    • Cher says

      Lori. The Old Above on ebay is great for vintage lighting. Ross is awesome knows his stuff and is happy to share his knowledge with you.
      I just built a 1920 to 1930 house and am now remodeling my in laws lake cabin built in the late 50’s early 60’s. Ross also has lighting in storage so you can shoot him an email for what you are looking for. He may have it. Your project sounds like a blast!

    • Shawn Ivy says

      Oooooh, I am in Asheville and will have to plan a stay next time we are out in Brevard camping and hiking!

    • pam kueber says

      I know this seller. His stuff is super duper expensive. But, yes, comes rewired. That said, I think you can get stuff WAY WAY cheaper if you find it yourself and have it rewired by someone locally.

  24. robert perez says

    Cullen,old man,a friend turned me on to your website and it is amazing what you collected beinf so young and indeed gifted what with the combination of both color and your perchance for choosing th e”right”vintage piece for each of your rooms in your Brooklyn apartment,which I dare say must be quite a large place to decorate,but,you seem to efforlessly place each piece in it right setting or “erA’,cool hope to see more and I love all the cool lamps!

  25. Joe Felice says

    I still say that Cullen is a reincarnation of a ’50’s soul. He does it all so effortlessly, as if he had done it all before. That is a gift, just like being able to paint, draw, write poetry and compose music. The rest of us can only dream of being half as gifted in that department. When I put all my junk together, it just never quite looks like the “kitsch” that I envision. LOL I once had a friend who worked in the display department of the May Co. (now Macy’s here in Colorado), and he could take things discarded from old window displays and decorate an entire home like it was done for Better Homes and Gardens! (Didn’t have HGTV mag in those days!) And he did it in a half hour. That was the amazing part.

  26. Becky says

    Really cool that such a young man has amassed such a huge collection. But honestly, I think I’d get a headache if I had to spend any length of time in his place!

  27. Jack Salvador says

    hi Pam, Cullen,

    Very cool collection, lot’s of amazing items. Cullen you’re obviously in love many times over with your items – a good place to be.

    I got very excited when I saw that we have exactly the same blue Amstrong 4596 linoleum rug in our bedroom in Albany, New York.

    We’d love to get more information about the ‘rug’, and some other cool 50’s items.

    Unfortunately, we are actually in the process of closing the house since our Dad passed, and may have to part with the items.

    • says

      Hey Jack,

      You can get my email from Pam, or from my facebook page, and I’d be happy to do my best about answering your questions.

      Best,
      Cullen

  28. susan stewart says

    aghkgh! i can barely speak! love love love your devotion to your kitchin’ addiction! and regarding your 50 moss lamps…so, that’s where they’re hiding! i’m a lover of the moss myself, and other fab mid-cent lamps. used to live in an area with lots of older folks and so tried to have x-ray vision to see through their walls to spot them. when we sold at antique shows, my aka was “lamp whore”. but, alas, now i have but a few at home though my radar is permanently “on” for them. oh, baby, i’m breathless from viewing your pics…..carry on, cullen!
    susan

  29. Kathi Kibbel says

    I LOVE all your stuff Cullen. You have great taste and a fun sense of style. I feel like I could plop down on your couch and spend days at your place and never see it all. Your awesome

  30. Pam Quinn says

    All I can say is WOW!! AND I love your Wise words about getting something while you can because you won’t find it again! So true. Now how do I convince my husband of that…hmmm.?
    All the best to you Cullen!
    ~Sincerely, Pam Quinn

  31. Dahlia T says

    One thing that I remember back in the 70s growing up in Spanish Harlem was the front door long iron security stick. Placed into slot on the floor, then attaching and sliding it in place. I’ve been looking for at least a photo of it to no avail….love your dedication, your apt looks awesome.

  32. Renee DJ says

    LOVE LOVE LOVE the apartment!! :) I love that old kitschy retro look.
    I wish I could see it in person! ha ha

    My bathroom has the old Dresden Blue color toilets, sink and tub. But its mixed with modern. I try to decorate with pink shower curtains, accessories..etc.

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