Decorating a 1-Bedroom for Comic and Rabbit

by Penelope Green
photos by Jacquie Hemmerdinger
July 20, 2003

New York Times
Real Estate section

On hot summer days, Amy Sedaris likes to switch on her electric logs which glow darkly in their fake brick surround like the crinkly red paper in a liquor store window at Christmastime and watch visitors squirm.

Amy frosts cupcakes in her living roomThe other day, Ms. Sedaris, the comic performer and writer, was a bit twitchy herself, rocking double-time in a wooden rocker, sipping iced tea from a glass ringed with citrus stencils, the rickrack edges of her full skirt fluttering at her knees, her tiny feet in their straw platform shoes tap-tapping the floor.

Ms. Sedaris, 42, is a kind of Martha Stewart gone haywire, who funnels her considerable kinetic energy into decorating and then redecorating her 700-square-foot one-bedroom apartment in the West Village.

Recently, it was festooned with, among other things, hair color samples (note: they make nice key rings), laminated chocolate easter egg wrappers and coconut shells (use an electric drill to poke out the eyes and drain the milk, then slice the shell in half for a handy bottle-cap catcher).

Ms. Sedaris is clearly fascinated by a sort of twisted Americana, a David Lynchian mood and territory (but with a zippier soundtrack) she limns in her work like her novel-parody, "Wigfield: the Can-Do Town That Just May Not," written with Paul Dinello and Stephen Colbert, both buddies from her Second City days, and published last month by Hyperion ($22.95).

Her fascination is also reflected in her home, which has been newly redone with the help of a friend, the designer and photographer Todd Oldham, and in which she lives with a rabbit named Dusty.

Indeed, the apartment was mostly renovated for Dusty, a shy year-and-a-half-old Mini Rex prone to gnawing the spines of books and also because Mr. Oldham, who with his tool kit and can-do spirit is the best sort of friend a single New York woman can have, thought the apartment was getting too cluttered. Among the decorative items Ms. Sedaris collects: squirrels, plaster food, tree stumps, toadstools.

Ms. Sedaris's admiration for Mr. Oldham, whom she met on a photo shoot for Black Book magazine four years ago, is vast. She described a kindred spirit, but with a better tool belt. Detailing his work prompted a reverie. She said: "The dream guy would be the guy who builds the dioramas at the Museum of Natural History. He'd be a nerd; he'd be obsessive." She continued, rocking faster and evoking a mythical woodland scene and its creator: "He'd make the leaves, the trees, the beaks."

Around Ms. Sedaris's fake fireplace, Mr. Oldham built plywood cabinets and bookshelves, which he peppered with cutouts of wood-grain shelf paper, a deadpan ode to suburban rec rooms. The twin themes of suburbia and a woodland grove play well here. The walls are lettuce-leaf green; a boomerang table sits atop a leaflike cutout of green indoor-outdoor carpeting, beside which runs a darker green "path" of the same hairy carpet a runway for Dusty.

Plaster toadstools nestle together at the base of a knobby tree stump, which unfolds in sections to reveal a hidden bar. Ms. Sedaris's brother David, the comic essayist, left the bar in her care when he moved to Paris a few years ago.

DUSTY'S cage is in the bedroom, which is otherwise known as the Dandelion Room, said Ms. Sedaris, who has a four-inch-high white picket fence leaning up against a wall for Dusty to chew. Split-level and with a penthouse, Dusty's cage was fashioned by Mr. Oldham from plywood and installed as a built-in under a window. Dusty has a ramp, and a box of hay; Ms. Sedaris has a shelf top for photographs of her family. You find yourself staring, eager to match the photographic representations with the characters painted so vividly in her brother David's collections.

There's a screen door into the living room. "I like to hear it slam," Ms. Sedaris said.

Amy's kitschy kitchenMr. Oldham refaced the cabinets in the tiny galley kitchen with that wood-grain shelf paper, and more goofy cutouts. He raised the spice rack, lowered the phone "I could reach it with my toes if I had a heart attack," Ms. Sedaris said added a bulletin board and then painted the walls pink with chocolate brown trim.

"Todd said the paint should make my skin look good," explained Ms. Sedaris, who spends three or four late nights a week baking cupcakes here one one-dozen tray at a time and delivers them to her favorite neighborhood merchants, her friends and to the audiences of any performances she might give.

Ms. Sedaris moved here 10 years ago, after four years with the Second City comedy troupe in Chicago. She moved in with Mr. Dinello, who was then her boyfriend, as well as five guitars and a dog. The rent was $1,500 a month. She has lived alone for the last seven years, though Mr. Dinello is still a close friend. Three years ago, they created the cult television show "Strangers With Candy" on Comedy Central. Two years ago, they glued linoleum squares onto the kitchen floor. Last year, they wrote "Wigfield" with Stephen Colbert.

"Not exactly," Ms. Sedaris said, explaining that she cannot type. She does not own a computer or a cell phone; her television, which she rarely watches, is hidden in one of Mr. Oldham's cabinets. "Paul and Stephen wrote most of `Wigfield,' " she said. "I'm not sure I contributed much beyond pacing behind them as they worked and annoying them." This weekend, the trio is performing sketches from the book at the Lucille Lortel Theater, just around the corner from Ms. Sedaris's building.

Built in 1931, it is one of the few Art Deco buildings in the area that's still a rental property. The lives of its residents many of whom are artists, writers, and young New Yorkers still describe a certain slice of creative New York. The novelist Dawn Powell lived there for the two years before her death in 1965.

"It definitely has the home feeling," said Ms. Sedaris, who now pays $1,900 a month in rent. "I have no desire to buy or live in another area. I'm fine with renting and I'm fine with my apartment, though like everyone else I'm afraid of the way New York is changing."

Ms. Sedaris said that this year she has a yen for a summer house. "It must be nice to have different things somewhere, different books, certain curtains," she said, "and it must be fun to go and visit them." She is assuaging the desire by collecting fabrics with a nautical theme, and by taking a summer job waiting tables at Mary's Fish Camp, around the corner on Charles and Fourth Streets.

"They don't have to pay me," Ms. Sedaris said. "I just want to wear cute outfits and talk to people."

© 2003 New York Times.