Like many city slickers, starved for space and seeking a deeper (and more convenient) connection to nature, 42-year-old artist Nicole Patel and her family fled the confines of their one-and-a-half bedroom apartment in Brooklyn for greener pastures in New York's Hudson Valley. What Patel found was perhaps more than she and her husband, their young son in tow, had anticipated: a well-preserved, light-filled rental flat in a circa-1850 Victorian house in the village of Nyack—population: 7,000—not far from the Hudson River.
Nyack is the birthplace of realist painter Edward Hopper, who gained fame for his luminous works in oil and watercolor, which—as in his famous Nighthawks—explore the interplay of light and shadow. "There’s a quality of light here that reminds me of [Hopper]," says Patel, when asked about her own home in the house's ground floor apartment, where sun pours in via 17 windows, many of which are original.
Patel’s work avoids figurative scenes like those found on Hopper’s canvases. Instead, she wraps gossamer threads across muslin on a wood-backed frame, creating grids and other geometric patterns. Patel says she's found particular success with architects and designers, because, she half-jokes, "architects love lines and squares." "The work is really easy to live with," she adds. The goal is for each piece to balance holding the viewer’s interest and being as simple as possible.
"The furniture and the space are really a platform for the things going on: family, friends, food, toys, art…" Patel explains. "When the house is tidy you don’t necessarily see it, but in reality out come the Legos, out comes the new clothing," she says (her husband, Sweetu Patel, runs menswear shop C’H’C’M’ in lower Manhattan). "Those details of your life may change, but the foundation supports the landscape."
If that sounds vaguely reminiscent of Buddhist theology, that’s because it is: Patel, a longtime Buddhist, has unsurprisingly had her faith inform her take on life at home. "A cable company once called to ask if we wanted an upgrade, and I was like ‘we don’t have a television.’ And you could’ve heard a pin drop. I was arranging roses in the background," Patel recounts, laughing gamely.
Patel’s professional background also informs her home life: She did a stint at Italian modern furnishings company B&B Italia and once worked as a "holistic" home organizer and interior designer, helping clients create order in their spaces first by "cleaning closets and under the fridge" and then tackling repainting projects, lighting, and more. "I worked with people of all sorts: Shopaholics, people who’d just lost a partner…" she says. "It was a very intimate way of working. Our stuff carries a lot of emotional charge."
As far as "stuff" goes, Patel and her husband keep it to a minimum, even living with a 5-year-old: They came into their clean-lined, contemporary furniture by working in the industry and Patel considers herself lucky in this regard. Her pragmatic advice to those who aren’t so fortunate: "Buy once and buy the best you can afford." When asked about what it’s like to live so minimally with a young son—considering that kids can be thing magnets, Patel is realistic. Things aren’t always perfectly tidy, but "we keep things to a minimum, toy-wise."
And besides, there’s all that nature to enjoy. "I wanted to bring my son closer to [the outdoors]," Patel says. "We have access to the backyard, and a wraparound porch with a table and chairs. We walk to town on most days for groceries and the library or the park," Patel waxes. "It’s bucolic here."