There’s Always Room for More Art in This Maximalist Apartment
A cocoon of cool things.
Published Feb 13, 2020 1:00 AM
Walking into Meghan McNeer’s Williamsburg, Brooklyn, apartment—a rental she’s lived in for nine years—is like taking a lap inside her brain. I know this because I’ve walked through her front door countless times—to eat takeout, plan whatever trip is coming next, watch a classic movie, or lay on the floor with her 1-year-old corgi, Niles. See, if you know McNeer, or even if you don’t, you’re always welcome at her place. “The apartment has such good energy, and it’s definitely because I treat it not as a house but a home. I constantly want to have friends in it laughing and talking about how crazy it is to live in New York, and for it to be that safe haven in the storm,” she explains. Even though she lives alone, it never feels like it.
The decor is bold, in a way that noticeably lacks fear. From the freehand painted stripes in the bathroom to the three gallery walls in her open living space, it’s clear that my friend, the newly appointed creative director at the Callaway and a contributing editor at Domino, approaches decorating with a confident “if I like it, it works” attitude—her unconventional book stack being the perfect example.
The apartment is the only place McNeer has ever lived in New York City, a rarity among renters, who tend to pick up and leave year after year. When her best friend moved out, she converted the smaller bedroom into half-closet, half–guest room, and visitors get “a whole experience,” she says. This includes, but is not limited to, towels visually different from her own (so there’s no confusion), shampoo bottles with custom labels, embroidered pillows that read I love you so and Please don’t go, eye masks, robes, a stack of themed travel books, a carafe of water (next to nuts and Tylenol, just in case), and my personal favorite: a gallery wall of the framed self-portraits guests are required to leave behind.
Not one to be limited by her square footage, McNeer is known to host dinner parties for 20-plus people, shifting furniture and adding a folding table to seat extra attendees. There’s always a playlist for cocktail hour, followed by family-style food and music with a new vibe, then espresso, the distribution of takeout boxes for leftovers, and a guest book to sign on your way out the door. No dishes are done, no ambience ever broken.
I know what you’re thinking: Where does she keep all her stuff? An entryway storage unit, a year-one IKEA buy aptly named Narnia, is a treasure trove, as the name suggests. Then there’s a credenza (gifted by her sister) in the living room, which acts as a linen closet of sorts for her entertaining essentials, and crates underneath her bench for art supplies. Vessels displayed by color sit atop her kitchen cabinets, and more storage hides under both beds. McNeer’s prized possessions, though, live on the shelves in the corner of her living room.
Every item tells a story—and there are lots of items. Furniture finds aside, what I always want to know about are the tales behind what’s hanging on the walls. It’s an even mix of photography, art, and framed objects that normal people wouldn’t consider art, like…a fishbowl. To earn a place in her home, a new item simply has to pass the “Do I love it?” test before being fitted for an acrylic box or just the right frame.
There’s a dining room gallery wall comprised solely of black-and-white photographs—the most neutral area of McNeer’s apartment—and an entryway display that climbs up the staircase, which features one of her favorite photographs she’s ever taken, of a dog at a dance party in Atlanta. “What I love about that photo, and photos in general, is that whenever I look at it, I’m immediately transported back to the moment that I took it,” she says.
Her most recent art quest, a hunt for vintage naked lady portraits for her 1960s-inspired bathroom, was three years long. “It proved to be harder than you could imagine, because I think women of that time were a little more reluctant to be photographed topless than your average woman now,” she says.
The living room collection is the most diverse of them all. McNeer treats hanging art as “an organic process,” starting with the largest pieces, balancing color and texture, then filling in smaller frames as she goes. The only rule: Once something is hung, it doesn’t move.
It’s easy to forget her space is a rental: McNeer has added a bold accent wall (Farrow & Ball’s infamous Hague Blue) in the bedroom, painted both bathrooms floor-to-ceiling in bright hues, and, most recently, refinished her dark, dated kitchen cabinets. (She picked a soothing sage color from Benjamin Moore to complement the backsplash and countertops.) Other small-but-mighty personalizations she’s made over the years: temporary wallpaper, scratch-and-sniff wall decals, fresh light fixtures (including an IKEA lantern hack), and new doorknobs (a steal on Amazon). “I don’t think something has to be super-expensive to look good,” McNeer explains. “I get pieces of furniture I can afford at the time and give them my own touch if they’re not special.”
For McNeer, maximalism is a lifelong love. “I’ve always liked collecting things, but I think in my 30s I fully came into the ‘captain wearing crazy jewelry, hoping she doesn’t end up in Grey Gardens’ era,” she says laughing. We often joke that I’m her mini-me: We live in the same neighborhood, thrifted the same vintage red lips telephone, and share the same sentiments about color (always more). I can only hope in the years to come, I grow into the kind of welcoming host, thoughtful color curator, and magic maker she is.