The sweeping chintz curtains that hang in the bedroom of photographer Genevieve Garruppo’s Brooklyn apartment offer a window into the past, oddly enough—one that’s admittedly composed of a hearty mix of half-truths and fill-in-the-blank fantasies, but nevertheless sheds a glow of nostalgia on the space’s surroundings. The story goes like this: Decades ago, the photographer’s late uncle Frank, who cleaned the units of permanent residents at the Carlyle Hotel, brought the curtains home after a redecoration deemed them no longer needed. Years later, Garruppo got her hands on them and carried them to college, then three subsequent rentals.
For most everything in her apartment, there’s a tale to be told. Much of her decor—artwork, collectibles—was unearthed at her parents’ place in Patchogue, New York. “That attic has had waves of things coming in and out,” Garruppo says. “Sometimes, my aunt would remember something and go dig up there to find it for her house. Other times, I would just be home on a random Saturday and look around. When I was a kid, my sister and I would play dress-up with old dresses and Army uniforms from the Vietnam War. I had a super-colorful and imaginative childhood—part of me wanted to keep those memories alive every day, so when it came time to decorate my own apartment, I really went for it.”
With more than 70 years of history tucked away up there—Garruppo’s family has inhabited the house since the 1930s(!)—the photographer found herself constantly drawn to items from two specific sources: Uncle Frank, and his sibling, Uncle Peter. “My mom’s brothers passed away from AIDS in the early ’90s. Frankie was hilarious and managed to get his hands on some amazing pieces. Peter, also a photographer, actually took portraits of Andy Warhol. My grandmother was a really warm and understanding woman, so when a lot of my uncles’ friends’ families shut them out, she welcomed them,” she says. “In turn, a lot of art ended up in the attic.”
Later down the line, Garruppo found her headboard, a few paintings by her uncles’ friend Armondo, two kimonos they owned (which became the start of her own mini collection), and face masks by artist Adam Kurtzman (which she eventually got tattooed on her leg).
“If there was a fire, I’d grab my hard drives and the masks,” Garruppo says. “I have vivid memories of being in my Uncle Peter’s apartment on Bowery when I was a kid. He would put them on, and I thought they looked like a comic book strip. The red is the hero, the green is his sidekick, and the gold is the villain.”
Not every find, however, was dug out of the attic. Take the portrait that Garruppo’s paternal grandmother sat for when she visited Puerto Rico around 1980. “Before she died, she told her, like, 20 grandkids to put a Post-it on whatever they wanted. I sat with her one Sunday evening and said, ‘Grandma, I want the chandelier.’ That’s now at my parents’ house—it would never fit in Brooklyn—but one day I’ll hang that baby up. After she died, no one claimed the portrait, so I happily took it. I love how judgy she looks—she wasn’t the warmest person, but she got shit done. Only she would travel somewhere and sit for a damn portrait.”
Over the past three years, with no roommates to hold back her eclectic style, Garruppo filled her nest with her family’s history. “I really came into my own in this apartment,” she says. “My taste has everything to do with how I was raised and who I was raised by. These heirlooms keep me inspired—which is important when you take photos of design for a living!” Now, however, she’s decided to move out and return to the place where it all began—her parents’ house—allowing the winds to take her wherever they will for the next year.
Her books, disco ball purchased on Amazon, and, of course, the masks, have already made it back to her childhood bedroom in Long Island, and only time will tell if she uncovers even more magic up in the attic. For now, it’s these little things that really matter. “Home should have things that you look at and smile,” she says. “Maybe that’s cookbooks, like for my sister, or maybe it’s art from your crazy gay uncles. It’s about where your heart and mind feel complete. And for me, right now, that’s with friends and family in Patchogue.”
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