California-Born, Brooklyn-Based Designer Invites Us In

Chad McPhail Lives With His Boyfriend And Dog

Welcome to The Home Issue, reader!

We’re going to be spending the next few weeks nestling in for the cold winter months. In addition to busting up inside some local abodes, we’ll be spending some time looking at design, art, games, books and ideas to keep you occupied until things start heating up.

Brooklyn-based interior designer Chad McPhail starts things off on a hospitable note: he and his boyfriend, Grizzly Bear guitarist Ed Droste, opened their door to our vagabond editor and photographer. See what transpired, after the jump.

Andrew Belonsky: What is home to you?

Chad McPhail: Um, I guess it’s the place that you – especially in city like New York – where you escape to, like a lot of people in New York have houses that look like other places: that look like Greece, that look like New England, that look like whatever, because people are in New York all day long and their house is their place to –

AB: It’s security? What style were going for when you moved in here. What’s your security?

CM: Well, Ed’s from New England. His family has been there forever, so he sort of brought that, I guess. I’m from California and went to design school, so I’m big on Mid-Century stuff and Southwestern, Southern California. It’s a combination..

AB: Iconic American aesthetics?

CM: I’m a big believer in context. To me it would be weird to design this house in French or something like that. It’s where you are: you should keep the context.

AB: Where in California did you grow up?

CM: Orange County.

AB: Going back there now, is it the same as what you see on television? That representation?

CM: Sort of. The Real Housewives of Orange County – that’s the one that always comes to mind – there are people like that, totally.

AB: Was that your experience?

CM: No. I mean, I had friends whose parents were like that, but not everybody.

AB: And what was your childhood experience like?

CM: I was raised by my mom and my step-dad and my sister, who is my half sister. They all still live in California. I lived in Orange County from when I was two. I was actually born out in the desert near Yucca Valley, which is sort of near Palm Springs, but not as nice as Palm Springs.

My real dad’s a sheriff, retired now. My parents divorced when I was really little, so I was raised by my mom and step-dad in Orange County, which was a very different lifestyle than my dad in the desert. I guess it was a good childhood. I grew up going to Disney Land on the weekends and stuff like that, it was very Southern California.

AB: Were you a close family?

CM: Yes. They’re divorced now – my mom and my step-dad are divorced, but we’re close to one another individual, as opposed to a family unit.

AB: Did you always want to design?

CM: When I was little we, would go house shopping – I would go with my mom and collect all the house plans and draw furniture plans. I was about six. I think I always wanted to do something like that. My mom asked me when I was thirteen what I wanted to do and I said, “I want to do design or architecture” and I was on the path from that moment on.

AB: Did you get to design your room when you were a kid?

CM: When I was a kid I didn’t. By the time I was in high school, I had gone to Ikea and picked stuff out.

AB: What was your high school room like?

CM: It had bright colors and posted of Smashing Pumpkins – it was a high school room. I was always really clean, though, so it was always clean.

AB: Is Ed clean?

CM: He’s cleaner than he used to be!

Chad and Ed found their dog, Beast, on; they found their bed frame on eBay and they met on Friendster. Zamyatin was right…

AB: How long have you guys lived here?

CM: I’ve lived here about a year and a half. He’s lived here two years.

AB: How long were you dating before?

CM: Two years.

AB: Did it change the relationship at all?

CM: He’s away a lot because of tours. We knew we could do it because he’s gone so much. And I work during the day, so he would be home while I was away and I would be home while he was on tour, so we have a lot alone time, which is important. Has it changed our relationship? Yeah, it’s closer to a real relationship than I’ve ever been – not in a bad way, just more relationship-y. We have to get home, we have to clean the house. It’s a lot more “we”.

AB: Do you want to stay in New York forever?

CM: For now, yeah.

AB: What is about this city that you like so much?

CM: It’s New York. It’s been an idea since the time I was 12-years old. Now I’ve been here so long that it’s home.

AB: Were these shelves here when you moved in?

CM: No, we put them in. They’re from a used lumber place on Metropolitan. They were like eight dollars a piece. They were nothing… Part of the reason that we like this building so much is that the details are original, but that also means all of the wiring is original and all the plumbing is original. It’s ancient. It’s being held together by scotch tape.

AB: How old is this building?

CM: It was probably built between 1900 and 1915, somewhere in there. This has never been a fancy neighborhood. It’s always been a working class neighborhood and the buildings reflect that. It’s not like the kind of construction that you find in Brooklyn Heights or Carroll Gardens, where it’s this nice middle class brownstones. This is very working class. Between the whole apartment, this was probably home for two households – maybe not families, but households, so the construction’s shoddily done. So, we started to put these shelves in and you opened the wall up and it’s held together with – there was newspaper shoved in there in some places, so we had to reinforce this whole wall. It was going to be a very easy thing to do and it suddenly became a nightmare.

AB: You like that shoddy construction?

CM: Again, it’s context. You see the Domino Sugar plant when you’re walking down the street and you know that this was built for people who worked in places like that. I like the history.

AB: Williamsburg has been called the most toxic place to live in America.

CM: It probably is, yeah.

AB: Doesn’t that worry you?

CM: Um, I mean – a little bit. I wouldn’t want to raise kids in Williamsburg. Everything in New York is toxic: the air, the water. That’s what you trade off living in the city: your health.

AB: And your sanity sometimes.

CM: Mental and physical health, yeah.

Chad’s grandmother made the tissue paper collage on the right. The piece, constructed in about 1979, hangs above a working Ms. Pac-Man game. On the right you’ll see the couple’s book shelf. It used to be a shoe rack
AB: Do you have a favorite time period?

CM: In terms of design?

AB: Yeah.

CM: Growing up in California, my grandma lived in a modernist house. It was very “angled roofs, 60s, Southern California tract home,” so that really influenced me a lot. She was an artist, too, so she had a lot of really great art that she did. It wasn’t anything fancy by any means, but it was 60s ceramics, California ceramics and abstract art. 1960s design. I grew up around that a lot, so that is nostalgic to me.

I think Ed – older things like that are nostalgic for him, because he grew up on in Boston and Cape Cod. I think that – actually, your first question about home, that has a lot to do with it, too, at least for me: nostalgia, feeling comfortable. I don’t want to live in Orange County, but I want to take things that I remember fondly and bring them to my life now.

AB: Tell us about your job.

CM: I work for an architecture and interiors firm called MR Architecture + Decor.

AB: Do you think those two – do you think it’s better if architecture and interior are taken together?

CM: In the working world?

AB: In concept.

CM: I think so, because I think all too often, people come at it with an annoying, snobby architecture and head-in-the-clouds decorator. It doesn’t need to be like that. Part of the thing that I like about my work so much is working with people who came from architecture backgrounds. I learn from them and they learn from me. That’s more interesting.

AB: How long have you worked there?

CM: I was an intern in college, then got hired full time and worked there for about two years. Then I left to go somewhere else and now I’m back. I was gone for three years and now I’m back.

AB: So what do you want to do ideally?

CM: I don’t know. I think I want to own my own – the trajectory for success for this business is to own your own firm, because that’s when you have control over everything, but the amount of time and amount of stress that you have to devote is, I think, is scary. It’s too much to me. Right now I’m happy doing what I’m doing. That’s enough, I guess. I don’t need to figure out what I’m doing yet.

AB: What has been your favorite project?

CM: The stuff that I’m working on now is pretty exciting. Part of the reason why I came back to this firm is that I felt more experienced and that couldn’t happen again. Also, the company’s changed. We’re doing a condominium project in the West Village where we’re in charge of the interior, so we’re designing all kitchens for all the units, all the bathrooms, the lobby spaces, the amenity spaces, like the gym, the spa –

AB: Fancy building?

CM: Very fancy building. It’s on the West Side Highway near the Richard Meier buildings and it’s green. It meets all these criteria for energy efficiency and that’s been great to learn about, because I didn’t know anything about that before.

AB: So, what do they do – they obviously have to use steel and stuff.

CM: Part of it is that a percentage of the materials have to come from within a 500 mile radius. It’s a point system – you can get the point or you can not get the point. You get a certain number of points – there are certain criteria level of certification. If you get a certain percentage of your materials from within a 500 mile radius, then you get x-amount of points. That reduces the amount of transportation, carbon dioxide…

AB: What do you think of all the new buildings going up? I work in Chelsea and I spend a lot of time in the West Village and every block it seems like –

CM: It’s insane how much of New York is under construction – in Manhattan, Williamsburg, everywhere! I think probably 90% of the stuff going up is complete crap. The problem with New York architecture: it’s so expensive to build and you invest so much money to make things happen, that corners are cut in terms of design and aesthetics, so what goes up is not top quality product, because people are trying to make as much money as they can, because they’re spending so much money to make these things. So much of New York architecture is developer-oriented and dictated that you don’t get a great product. There are certainly exceptions, but most of the stuff going up isn’t very nice.

AB: They’re never, ever going to be able to fill up all these apartments. And if they do, it’s just going to be rich people.

CM: Yeah, well, that all ties into New York changing.

AB: Do you feel like you’re contributing to the gentrification of America?

CM: Oh, yeah. Moving here was one thing – that contributed. Doing what I’m doing for a living, that certainly contributes. I’m contributing to it, but – it’s happening anyway, so I’m living off of it. It’s there and you take part in it. I make my living off of rich people coming to New York, but the thing is – New York has always changed. Always. To want to keep it from changing doesn’t make sense. You should be here and take advantage. That’s what New York’s about, anyway: taking advantage of the opportunities and the things you can do here. Right now, that’s a major opportunity for people: servicing the rich.

AB: What other city in the world would you live – not in America.

CM: My favorite city that I’ve ever been to – to live – is probably Rome. I love Rome. I don’t know if I could live in Paris, but I love Paris, too. Obviously. It’s great. I think I could probably live there – either one of those places – for a while.

AB: Do you speak French?

CM: Poorly.

AB: Do you speak Italian?

CM: Barely – um, no. No.

Chad made us dinner after the interview: a Rachel Ray-obtained recipe for Chicken Chorizo Stew. Ed, meanwhile, mixed cilantro and gin for a refreshing tonic. They were good.