A Window In: Claire and Ali’s Artistic Apartment

Claire Gohorel is a textile designer living in Brooklyn. Her designs are inspired by museum collections and her experiences as an anthropologist. Ali is an artist and educator living in Brooklyn. His artwork—primarily prints and drawings—aims to defamiliarize ordinary things to see them again for the first time. Their apartment is full of bits of their own work and travels, and that of their friends and family’s. Hear how they strike a balance below.

Colorful paper garland from Claire’s mother. Ali’s juggling balls he picked up in in Mexico City (under the television).  Raphael Griswold made the large paintings above the TV. 

+ Can you share more about your apartment and how you came into it?

Claire: Our apartment is on the third—the top—floor of a small building on the border of Clinton Hill and Bed Stuy. It’s the only apartment Ali has ever lived in in New York City—he started by subletting from his friends, the smallest room with only a sky light, no regular windows. That was back when he moved from Western Massachusetts in 2012. Some time passed, the roommates left New York, and I moved in, in 2014. I moved from an apartment on Dean Street in Crown Heights where I lived above a church. 

Sheets are from The Company Store. The lamp is from Target.

+ There are so many wonderful pops of color throughout your home. What relationship does it have to your space? 

Claire: Thank you! We love color and the energy it brings to the apartment. I grew up in a household filled with color. My mom is an art teacher and also worked as a home textile designer in New York City in the 80s. She is bold with color and mixing prints. She is unafraid to paint murals on her walls and change things up every year or so. 

Ali also has a love for making colorful wooden furniture, like our orange/terracotta television console, and he likes customizing found furniture. One of our favorite pieces is our coffee table. He found a coffee table with a glass top and sleek metal legs on the street. A neighbor with young kids had discarded it because the edges of the glass top were a hazard! He removed the glass, replaced it with OSB plywood, and spray painted the legs turquoise. The OSB plywood has such a nice pattern/texture to it. Friends often comment on it and ask where we got it! 

+ Did you stay in NY during the height of the pandemic? How did your home make space for your then? And how did you—and do you—continue to make space for your home in your life?

Claire: We left New York before the stay-at-home orders took effect in March. At that time I was finishing up my final semester at the Fashion Institute of Technology, where I’d gone back to school for a degree in textile design. 

Ali: And I was teaching printmaking and graphic design at Wesleyan University. Both of our schools had gone virtual, so our “classrooms” were pretty portable. Claire’s parents asked us to come and stay in Delhi, NY, her hometown, where we could have some more studio space. 

Claire: We stayed there through the completion of the semester and arrived back in Brooklyn in June. Since we returned to our apartment, we have reorganized the studio room. Ali replaced my old desk chair—a rickety metal stool—with an ergonomic chair for long hours at the drafting table. Ali primarily works out of his studio space at the Brooklyn Army Terminal Monday through Friday, so I have the home studio to myself during the weekdays. We like to sit together in the home studio at night to draw and listen to the radio. We are both applying to jobs and residencies, trying to find work. 

Weavings they made at Trama, a women’s weaving cooperative in Xela, Guatemala (left); the intricately embroidered collar of a huipil from a market in Xela; a felted artwork by Claire’s mom; and a tea towel from Stockholm. 

+ I have few friends who love a good old radio (or still have one!). I’m intrigued by the one at your dining room table (with cassettes too!). Can you share more about it?

Ali: I love this device. I once told Claire, jokingly, but also seriously, that I have a few cherished objects. They include a rocket ship-shaped pepper grinder, a wooden back scratcher shaped like a goose’s head and neck, and this Sony radio/cassette player. None of these cherished objects are particularly valuable—I got the radio for 50¢ at a tag sale in Western Mass—but they are simple and durable. We keep it tuned to 93.9FM, partly because we listen to a lot of WNYC, but also because the dial is incredibly finicky and it’s hard to find any specific station. Actually, even 93.9 often only works if you’re standing in just the right spot. The tapes range from albums made by friends and garbled old classics to mixes from this awesome record store in Portland, Oregon called Mississippi Records. 

+ When it comes to art, community, and your apartment, where do these worlds meet?

Claire: With each phase of life, each school or job, we have made friends with creative people whose art makes our home feel like home. 


Ali: On the wall behind the television are two paintings by my friend from college, Raphy Griswold. Behind the electric piano is a painting by Grace Jackson, a friend from grad school. The colorful painting framed in gold above the dining table is by my friend Margot Werner who I met in Brooklyn.

Ali’s workspace. He makes handmade books, drawings and paintings here. He also works from a studio in the Brooklyn Army Terminal which has printing equipment. Similar lamp and vintage pencil sharpner.

+You spent years working in cultural institutions around New York City, has that impacted your work and how you approach the design of your apartment?

Claire: Working in museums and learning from colleagues about the conservation of objects gave me an interest in collecting and maintaining objects over a long period of time. It also made me appreciate how cracks and imperfections tell a story about the life of our objects, like a favorite tea cup or old wooden pepper grinder. 

Ali: My rocket ship.

Claire: It makes me sad to see how much people throw away. Connected to that, I think my training in anthropology and my fieldwork experiences inspired my love for the value of handmade objects and belief in supporting artisans. In Ghana, I learned how to make traditional beads for the Dipo puberty rite, starting with scooping thick mud for molds and smashing recycled glass materials, to forming beads in a kiln with bicycle spoke tools. We love to bring handmade items into our home. 

+Your jewelry is organized like art sort of—is that for aesthetic or function?

Claire: A little bit of both! When Ali and I first started dating, I had a lot of jewelry hanging all over my room. I love making my own necklaces with beads from the bead district. As a birthday gift one year, Ali made me a rack to keep things more organized and later he made me a rack for my earrings. I like being able to see the pieces when I’m getting dressed in the morning. 

+ Your space is what I like to call a working and living space. How has it made room for both of your expanding careers and a relationship at once?

Ali: In 2012, when I first moved in, I had the living and working all folded on top of each other. With two roommates, I had to somehow fit everything into the smallest room in the apartment. The answer was lots of shelves—I used to be obsessed with making shelves. Claire helped me grow out of that phase. We also gave away a lot of books. 

Claire: Yeah that room was a little scary—all this stuff perched and hanging over the bed, in-progress drawings tacked to the walls. By the time I moved in, Ali had moved his art practice into the other real bedroom, because it has a window and mode of egress, which we now call the studio. At the time, I was going to school for museum anthropology and writing my thesis, and so he built me a desk where I could write. I moved my new desk into the guest room to write, which was originally his bedroom (with the skylight). 

Ali: About two years ago my friend Raphy and I decided to take the plunge and rent a studio outside of our homes. We found a space in Brooklyn Army Terminal that could accommodate our own art practices and leave a little room for our print shop which we call The Press. It’s getting a little cozy in there, reminiscent of my old room—shelves and stacks—only without the bed. 

Claire: The move was well-timed because when I went back to school for textile design, we carved out more studio space for me. 

As life and interests change, we have made other changes to the layout. Ali started taking piano lessons a few years ago from a friend, so we made room for an electric keyboard in the living room.

+ Is there something sacred about living and working in New York, in Brooklyn, specifically right now?

Claire: We appreciate the city so much, especially things we took for granted before the pandemic, like sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on the subway or in a theater. There is less reason to rush, there are more opportunities to take a slow walk down the block and wave hello to neighbors. We cherish our walks to Herbert Von King Park, where we see people boxing, practicing djembe, choreographing drumlines, playing tag, and sleeping in the sun. Even though the patterns of our days may be different, New York is still the same place as it was. Full of life, energy, ambition, humanity, conflict, and love existing together. 

 

Thank you Claire and Ali!

(Photos c/o Claire. This post has affiliate links. If you choose to purchase something, I may earn a small commission.)

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