There’s something about Frank Muytjens’ building on the North Brooklyn waterfront—it looks just like it’s about to untie itself and slowly slip out into the East River. With the mass of an old steamer ship, and a perfect berth just in from the shore, the historic former food warehouse brings to mind the great shipping cities of the Old World—London, or Amsterdam—rather than the luxury shorefronts of the New.
On a cool, rainy summer afternoon, the sense of the sea, of ports, is unmistakable. The approach to the building’s entrance leads right to the river. Fog seems just about to roll in. All of which is more than fitting for Muytjens, a native of Amsterdam and the workwear-loving head of men’s design for J.Crew. After years in Manhattan, Muytjens has recently taken up residence in Williamsburg for the most practical of reasons: he needed to be somewhere that would also allow his now one-year-old Vizsla (Dutch, a Hungarian hunting dog), who was a birthday gift. “I came to see it on the recommendation of a friend… I loved the narrowness of the windows, the height of the ceilings.”
Muytjens wears a timeless denim shirt (and a peek in his closet reveals several dozen more) that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a shipyard once upon a time, but is now more than chic enough for a trip down to Zebulon, his favorite local watering hole (if a relentlessly cool, impeccably curated French boite can be called a watering hole) or a jaunt over to Darr, his preferred source for the natural scrub brushes and patinated vintage work lamps that are so popular these days.
As one might expect from the man who brought elegant retro-contemporary suits roaring to the fore at J.Crew, and oversaw the transformation of the Tribeca Liquor Store bar into the company’s first menswear shop (without killing any of the old bar vibe), Muytjens’ apartment shows a more than glancing appreciation for things vintage. In fact, when asked his home design philosophy, he says plainly, “I like old things, antique things with a patina… there’s never really a plan, it’s just intuitive: I buy things and they just come together. And the older you get, the more you know what you want.” Old metal shop-stools sidle up to a classic mid-century blond wood table, and a patchworked piece of textile covers the seat of a slender metal chair. A cunning, expandable, paint-spattered bench plays host to art in frames along one wall, while an old metal fan fills the space above an end table.
Covering the table in the living room, and along the wall in the bedroom, tidy stacks of magazines, some of which have made the transatlantic crossing with him, pay tribute to Muytjens’ youth, and a different kind of vintage inspiration. A pile of issues of The Face (Adam Ant!) from the early 80s makes him nostalgic. “I lived for those magazines, especially The Face. It was everything I always ever wanted and needed.” I.D., Arena, and Fantastic Man are also represented, sharing pride of place with art and photography books.
On a dresser in the bedroom, an Edward Weston monograph becomes part of a silvery still life with leather-covered notebooks—one a beloved old Filofax—dried thistles, an earthenware vase, and feathers in a cup. A reproduction of an Old Master painting ties the whole thing together, and echoes the light and textures that fill the apartment. In fact, the place is full of Old Master moments, from the handblown glass on the living room windowsill and the dried branch in an iridescent bottle on the bookshelf to the gleam of Dutch’s auburn coat against the Oriental carpet. There’s even a copy of a meticulous portrait done by the master of the house. “It’s my mother… I took a painting class at the New York Academy of Art and did it for her seventieth birthday.”
Apparently you can take the designer out of the Netherlands, but you can’t take the Dutch out of the designer. •