Around the time Brooke Shields turned 16, she and her mother/manager, Teri, bought a townhouse on the Upper East Side.
“It was quiet and it was luxurious, because we had space in New York. We had a backyard. It was such a privileged and safe way to grow up in the middle of Manhattan,” says Ms. Shields, 57, who has starred in television series and Broadway since her days as a child model, actor and professional Calvin Klein jeans enthusiast. musicals, books written, jewelry designed, the digital platform Beginning Now was founded and played in a number of films. (Her latest, “Holiday Harmony,” will be released this week on HBO Max.)
But circumstances and bank balances change, and as the years went by, “I had to simplify my assets, so to speak,” Ms Shields said.
“As I got older, I worked less and had to make decisions. I ended up getting married and my husband just hated New York,” she continued, referring to Andre Agassi, the tennis star. “He talked me into selling the house, and the day I had to give it up was so sad because of all the Thanksgivings in that house and all the memories.”
Brooke Shields, 57
Endless Love: “All the things I loved about living in the Upper East Side mansion are what my family experienced here. We have all these traditions that my daughters really get into and are a source of comfort to them.
Ms. Shields moved away, divorced, remarried, bought a downtown loft with her new husband, Chris Henchy, a screenwriter and producer, and had two daughters, Rowan, now 19, and Grier, 16.
But eventually the loft started to get cramped and the search was on for a brownstone.
“This had been a dream for me because I wanted my kids to have what I had with my Upper East Side home: to have a neighborhood feel and to have the space that is so hard to find and so expensive in New York,” said Mrs Shields. “We looked everywhere, but one place was more depressing than the other.”
Finally, a broker drew the attention of Ms. Shields on an early 20th-century Greek Revival building in the West Village that had been converted from a single-family home to an eight-unit apartment complex.
She was immediately sold. “It was broken up and really destroyed, but it was like I could see the whole thing in the future,” she said. “I called my husband, who was in LA — this was before you could do full-length videos on your phone — and I said, ‘I know you’re not here to see it, but I just have a crazy feeling.'”
They bought it, closed the deal in early 2008, and hired MADE, a Brooklyn-based design and construction company, to do a gut renovation. The couple’s brief for the house was simple: put it back the way it was. As far as possible, they wanted to take out what was there, repair it and put it back.
“We tried to keep as much of the floors and stairs as possible,” said Ms. Shields. “The coffin corner was enormous for me, because it was original to the house.
Everything seemed to be eligible for rehabilitation. When the basement was excavated, several solid rocks were excavated, “and we put them in the backyard as crutches,” Ms Shields said. The coal bunker was saved and repurposed as an old ship’s wine cabinet – Mrs Shields’ 10th anniversary gift for Mr Henchy. In some cases, things were salvaged from elsewhere: the stone fireplace mantel in the living room was salvaged from the Plaza Hotel when it was renovated in 2008.
Mrs Shields wanted the decor to evoke a London mansion. For help, she and Mr. Henchy turned to their friend David Flint Wood, a British designer. He pushed them to a mix of furniture, materials and periods: hand-blocked Zuber wallpaper, Asian porcelain, neoclassical Italian tables. Jute and Lucite are also represented.
The collaboration resulted in spaces that are chic but warm, that combine the elegant with the whimsical. In the living room, Louis XVI style armchairs and a French Empire chest of drawers sit alongside small framed pictures of rabbits, portraits of Mrs. Shields’ daughters wearing candy crowns, and a Keith Haring heart painting, a gift from the artist.
“I don’t like being sober or serious,” said Mrs. Shields.
And she definitely doesn’t like to fetishize her assets. “I grew up saving things, and by the time I wanted to wear something, it was either out of style or didn’t fit,” said Ms. Shields. “So now my attitude is, ‘What am I waiting for?'”
The crystal glassware on open shelves in a corner of the kitchen? She drinks it. The decanter she successfully bid for at auction at Chatsworth House, one of England’s grandest homes? She pours whiskey out of it (admittedly, good whiskey).
She pulled open a drawer of utensils and took out a handful of sterling silverware she’d collected from various sources. “I like the fact,” she said, “that I can sit down and use something that was in someone’s house forever.”
Because Ms Shields grew up surrounded by unpacked boxes – “My mother never moved in anywhere” – she originally planned, she said, “to make this house completely done.”
But she has backed away from such finality. “I get new things and I find new things,” she said. Right now, she’s fiddling with the barware setup in the living room — it includes a sterling silver cup that her grandfather, Frank Shields, an amateur tennis player from the 1920s and 1930s, won in a tournament. And taking into account the recent arrival of a shipment of Murano glasses, the spoils of a family trip to Italy, she reconsiders the tablescape on the sideboard in the dining room. Mrs. Shields is also considering complementing the side table with her growing collection of crystal match spires.
“I’m going to Oklahoma soon and I bet there are some great little antique shops there,” she said. “What do I need? Nothing. But I have the strikers of the game. Now I would like to find a real candle snuffer.
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