Headlines are hard. Take this story, for example. The headline as written is pretty straightforward and totally self-explanatory. You are about to go on a home tour of the art-filled, beautifully designed Fort Greene home that HGTV Star finalist, POD Design founder, and New Jersey Institute of Technology professor Brooks Atwood and his lovely wife Estelle Nichols Atwood (who has long worked in fashion, including, among other places, at Zero Maria Cornejo) share with their dog, Sissy. So, basically, that’s all in the headline, right? But when writing about such a fun and vibrant space, which just happens to be occupied and put together by two of the more fun and vibrant people you’ll ever meet, you want to do better. Other ideas were tossed around: “Design Like a Rock Star” (something that Brooks says, not infrequently) or “At Home with Beauty and the Weird Beard” (an early favorite, but in the end, too vague) or “Out of the Gutter and Into a Brownstone” (a reference to where the couple first met) or, well, the more unorthodox titular possibilities are endless. Which is why, ultimately, I decided to go with simple. Because, really, with a home like this and people like Brooks and Estelle, you don’t need to do anything but step back and let the surroundings make things come to life.
I visited the Atwoods’ apartment, located in an elegant brownstone on a stately, tree-lined Fort Greene street on what might wind up being the hottest day of this year. As soon as I stepped into the garden apartment though, after being greeted quite vocally by Sissy, Brooks and Estelle’s dog, the burden of the summer heat lifted and I was struck by how a space could feel so cool and so warm all at once. Although the couple has lived in Fort Greene for close to four years now, they’ve only occupied this apartment for a few months. If it were me—or most people I know, for that matter—the apartment would still be littered with half-packed boxes and unhung art would be stacked haphazardly on the floor. Instead, the kitchen is newly painted with a mixture of chalkboard paint and red-and-white candy stripes and original art (by both Brooks and Estelle) is hung all over the apartment, interspersed with mementos like the flower crown Estelle wore when the two eloped in Northern Ireland. In short, the apartment is the perfect blend of lived-in and lively, a dynamic space that still feels settled into.
The same embrace of whimsy and spontaneity that defines the design of their home is also evident in the story of how Brooks and Estelle met. Estelle tells me, “We met five years ago through mutual friends at a birthday party at The Gutter. I was kind of done dating, and so was he. But still he chased me all night. And I avoided him until he ended the night with magic tricks, which actually ended up sealing the deal.”
Brooks interjects to admit, “I was a total idiot wearing a leather vest, but it totally worked.”
Estelle laughs, “He likes to say he picked me up out of the gutter.”
“Well, I did!”