Books line the walls of Andreas Kokkino and David Daniels’ Bedford-Stuyvesant brownstone. There are dozens of them – perhaps hundreds – and they’re all on the floor. One day, they’ll find a home on the shelves the couple hope to build in the coming weeks and months, but for now, they serve as decoration. Arranged in neat rows and tidy stacks along the house’s perimeter, they make for an oddly elegant trim. Call it accidental chic.
Andreas and David – a couple for over five years and residents of the building for two – are no strangers to happenstance. Their careers have led them to places neither had expected. Andreas, once an aspiring actor, stumbled upon a stint in fashion that led to six years as an editor at T: The New York Times Style Magazine, and more recently, a burgeoning career as a freelance stylist – he counts Kate Spade, Interview, and El Pais as clients. David, once interested in film, has now found a place for himself in the art world, at the Manhattan office of the London-based Lisson Gallery.
Like their book-lined brownstone, shared with a spunky Standard Poodle called Wanda, they’re full of stories. They love to travel, garden, cook, and entertain – in fact, their next project before the bookshelves is the completion of their outdoor deck and backyard. When finished, it’ll be the perfect venue for summer barbecues, for late autumn leaf piles, and, for the affianced couple come spring, a much-anticipated wedding.
This portrait is part of our ongoing collaboration with ZEIT Online who present a special curation of our pictures on their site.
Andreas, where are you from and what brought you to New York?
Andreas: I’m from Chicago. My family still lives there, so I go back quite often. I moved to New York 19 years ago to study theater at NYU.
And what was your trajectory after that, that led you to fashion?
Andreas: After school, I was working in a restaurant here in New York, and one of my customers was the fashion designer, Hussein Chalayan. We started dating, and since he’s based in London, I moved there. I was involved in the production of his shows in the late 90s and early 2000s, and since he had such a small company at that point, I was involved in every aspect. Through him, I realized that I wanted to be a part of the fashion world.
When I moved back to New York after we broke up, I started working with KCD in show production. I met the stylist Bill Mullen on the second show I worked on, and he said the most amazing thing to me: “What are you doing next week? Do you want to go to Milan and work on the Versace show with me?” I said yes, and ended up assisting him for four years. I like to say that I went to the University of Bill Mullen. He taught me how to be a professional.
It sounds like everything fell into place serendipitously.
Andreas: It did. After I left him, I ended up at T: The New York Times Style Magazine where I started working as a design editor. I left after six years, and have been full-time freelance since. I recently joined the agency Art Department and I’m excited to expand into new territory – more magazines, more photographers, more clients. I love my job. I want to work every day.
Did the two of you meet in the fashion world?
David: We met online, five and a half years ago. I was at NYU, studying art history.
Are you from New York originally?
David: I’m from Maine. I moved to New York when I was 18 and started school a couple of years later. I moved here to work in film, but after working as a freelance PA for a year, I realized I didn’t enjoy it. I was doing a lot of art department work at the time, so I decided to study art history. I started an internship at an art gallery, Bortolami Gallery, about the time I met Andreas. I started working there as a registrar. And now I work in sales. It’s interesting, as Andreas was saying, opportunities arise in funny ways. I fell into this career through friends – it wasn’t like I woke up in the morning and knew I wanted to work in an art gallery.
When did the two of you move to Bed-Stuy? Do you know the history of your building?
Andreas: We moved to the neighborhood four years ago, but we bought this place two years ago. The woman who lived in it was here for 60 years plus. There were drop ceilings, fake wood paneling on the walls, and magenta shag carpet. Everything else was brown. We redid it all: electrical, plumbing, everything.
You must have had a vision for it if you were willing to take it as it was.
David: It was really quite hideous, but you could tell there was something beneath it. We liked the block, too. It’s very social. We sit on the stoop; we know our neighbors.
Andreas: When we painted our front door red, all of a sudden everyone knew who we were. It was our introduction to the neighborhood. Also, Wanda is our mascot. People know her. Kids will be across the street on their stoops, shouting, “I love you, Wanda!” The block has watched her grow up – when we got her, she was ten pounds.
What are some of your favorite items here?
Andreas: The yellow chairs in the living room – I grew up with those. Somewhere, there’s a photo of my sister and me sitting on one of them. Our dad’s an architect, which is why we have some crazy things.
What was it like, decorating as a couple?
Andreas: Our tastes came together very naturally actually. David had some really great pieces; I had some great pieces, and when we moved in together, we thought, “oh, everything works.” Then we added things, like this coffee table from Ebay that was 25 dollars, and the couch in the living room that we re-upholstered.
David: A lot of our things came from our families, or were handed down by our parents. My pieces are the more traditional ones: the Empire chest, the library table in the kitchen. It makes sense, since I’m from Maine where things are very traditional, and Andreas is from Chicago, where’s there’s a lot of great modern architecture.
Andreas, do you find that you’re drawn to a similar things aesthetically when it comes to both fashion and interiors?
Andreas: No, I think they’re very separate. They’re very different. Design is more “forever” than fashion. In fashion, I can be in a hip-hop mood one day, and a preppy mood the next. But when it comes to the house, that’s more of a constant. One of the things I love about fashion is that it’s disposable. It keeps your attention that way.
Who do you draw inspiration from, fashion-wise?
Andreas: I find the most inspiration from youth culture. Kids on the street. Teenagers. One day, when we first moved here, I was walking home from the train and there was a kid wearing three pairs of shorts so that you could see every waistband. He had no shirt on, and a pair of Nike slides with socks. On top of that, he was wearing a cape made out of a Disney Princess beach towel, and he was just walking down the street, business as usual. I found that very inspiring.
When you moved to Bed-Stuy, it wasn’t the most popular neighborhood in terms of real estate. Now, that’s changing. What’s your favorite part of living in this area?
Andreas: I love how quiet it is. I don’t want to say “suburban,” but it feels like you’re away from the city.
David: It still feels a little bit like a secret.
Speaking of secrets, where are your favorite places to spend time in the neighborhood?
Andreas: We go to Saraghina a lot. It’s an amazing place that serves real Neapolitan pizza. We think it’s the best pizza in New York. They opened right when we moved to the neighborhood.
David: There’s a beautiful garden there and they have great coffee, too. There’s an espresso bar on one side, and pizza ovens on the other. It’s exactly what you need in a hangout spot. We also like going to Saratoga Park with the dog. It’s a lovely little square. There are kids playing and older neighborhood folks sitting on benches. Wanda is a celebrity there. She has groups of kids chasing her, it’s like Beatlemania!
When you need an escape, where do you take holidays?
David: We love Fire Island, because it’s close. We’ve gone there for a number of summers now. We love the beach, the coast. That’s the common denominator for us. We also want to go to back Greece next summer to visit Andreas’ family.
What’s a typical Sunday for you?
Andreas: We listen to the radio, and David will probably have made something in the kitchen. What did you make the other day? Blueberry cake? He’s a great baker.
David: We like to have friends over. We like to have brunches. We’re much more likely to have people over than to go out.
Photography: Greg Kessler
Interview & Text: Shoko Wanger