Every week, our House Calls feature takes you into homes with great style, big personality, and ineffable soul. Today we look at Carlo Geraci’s home in Brooklyn, where the tastemaker has made good living his art form.
Carlo Geraci sits for an interview fresh from the roughly seven-hour flight from London to New York City, but he’s far from jetlagged. The tastemaker and lifestyle expert was doing the makeup for a wedding party in the British countryside and, judging from his bio and the offhand way he mentions the event, it’s not an uncommon assignment. At any rate, he has a foolproof anti-jetlag formula. "I take a 4 p.m. flight out of London, and arrive about 7 p.m. I force myself to stay up until 11 or so, and then I go to bed," he says. "I get up and I feel fine."
That’s just one of the many tips Geraci drops during a conversation. He is a font of answers for seemingly any question surrounding his specialties: dwelling, table (food, settings, and flowers), and beauty. Those are the cornerstones of his business, Carlo Says, and the foundation for his pleasant Park Slope loft apartment and garden.
He arrived at both his profession and residence by chance. "I decided at a very young age that I only wanted to work doing something I absolutely love," Geraci says. "I didn’t want to work in something like finance or accounting, sitting at a desk and looking at numbers all day. I wanted to do something creative." He learned about food, gardening, and entertaining from his Mexican-Italian family, and an adoring Italian landlord he grew up calling Nana. "She didn’t speak English, and I didn’t speak Italian, but we had a kindred relationship," he says. "She would start cooking shortly after 4 a.m., and the family would come by in shifts for bread, pasta, and pizza. She didn’t stop cooking until she died at age 83."
Eschewing college ("I was never that into the curriculum."), he went to San Francisco where he studied makeup artistry under one of the city’s cosmetics divas, and later went to beauty school. Eventually, he was written up for his skills in Allure magazine, and that nugget of fame sent him to New York, where he had long wanted to live.
In the years that followed, he worked in beauty at Barney’s and built a loyal and celebrity-studded clientele who followed his advice on makeup and eventually started asking him about his ideas for flowers, food, interiors, and entertaining. In 2007, he launched Carlo Says to address a variety of aesthetic needs. "I would hear my clients talking and they would say ‘Carlo says to do this...’ and ‘Carlo says to buy that...’, so I decided to use the phrase for my business name," Geraci explains.
Around that time, his Upper West Side apartment building was sold, and he needed housing. A client offered up an apartment in Brooklyn’s Park Slope. "She kept telling me it was a hot neighborhood, but I didn’t want to make the commute," he says. "Eventually, I decided I’d try it out for a year, and that was 11 years ago."
What lured him across the bridge was the interior space and outdoor area, although it was merely a patch of dirt when he moved in. "I knew I’d never find something like it in Manhattan," he says.
He set about fixing up and decorating the three-level unit as if he were the owner rather than a tenant. "I have put a lot of effort and money into my apartment. I may not own it, but it’s my home and it is important that I feel comfortable where I live," he says.
He started by painting the place. "By painting it, I get to know it," he says. "You see how the light moves across the space." After a few tries with other shades, he’s settled on Benjamin Moore’s Antique Pewter (Carlo says: Remember the name of your paint color by writing it behind a light switch in the room). He sealed the exposed brick to make the masonry’s hue richer and keep the mortar from crumbling.
He furnished the space with an eclectic mix of modern and classic pieces. "My style is warm, inviting, and comfortable," he says. In the living room, "eclectic" includes antiques, vintage, and new pieces living together. A 10-foot-tall antique mirror (he obtained it in a trade with a client) leans against an expanse of brick. A vintage midcentury leather-and-walnut chair (Carlo says: Only clean wood with furniture oil, such as Howard's Feed-N-Wax), and a contemporary sofa sit around a Regency brass-and-glass table.
In this room, a fully stocked midcentury modern bar is at the ready. The Danish piece is sober wood on the outside and lined with glitzy mirrored panes on the inside. "When the doors open, the party starts," says Geraci. When it comes to cocktails, or anything really, he likes it simple, and he keeps the ingredients for classic Old Fashioneds, Manhattans, and martinis at the ready. In fact, spontaneous gatherings are one of his ways of life. "I love to entertain," he says. "I find preparing for a gathering of 10 or 12 people very relaxing." (Carlo says: Tonics from the Jack Rudy Cocktail Company can elevate a simple cocktail to a sublime drink.)
The bar itself was discovered at a store called Horseman Antiques. "My friends joke and say that they go into thrift and antique stores and see dusty boxes of stuff, and I go in and come out with gorgeous things," he says.
One thing that’s constant in the space is change. "I have different linens, tableware, and pillows for each season," he says. "In warm weather, the fabrics and colors are light; in the winter they are darker and heavier." Seen on the sofa are the summer pillows. (Carlo says: Keep the pillow label inside the case. If something is spilled on it and you need to replace it, you’ll have the manufacturer information close at hand.)
Upstairs, Geraci removed carpet and installed a hardwood floor, being careful to match the existing floor downstairs. "The key is to check everything with the landlord," he says. "I feel that I’ve only made the space better, and she loves what I’ve done."
Many people ask Geraci how he keeps his bed perfectly made and, of course, he has a tip. Carlo says: Dry the sheets to the point where they are dryer than damp; they are simply humid. Make the bed with the sheets in this condition and smooth them out. If there is an odd wrinkle, iron it out in place with an iron on the lowest medium setting. The result is a photo-worthy bed.
Downstairs, in the kitchen, Geraci removed the upper cabinets in favor of shelves, and retiled the countertop and floor. The space is decorated with a framed dishtowel from Italy, Fornasetti plates, and (in the adjacent entry hall) hand-shaped coat hooks by Areaware that act as sculpture when empty.
Perhaps the star of the show is the garden, the aforementioned dirt plot. "That was a key selling point for the place, I really wanted to transform it," says Geraci. He started by hiring someone to help him cut down some ailing trees and excavate and remove years of broken bottles and other junk. Once the space was flooded with light, it started to come alive as long-dormant plants blossomed, and he added more.
The clearing of the lot unearthed large pieces of flagstone, which he had installed like pavers. Pea gravel makes up the rest of the "floor." A tiered herb garden in pots provides flavor for food and cocktails. A potting table is more often used as a buffet for the nearby table. "I didn’t really know much about gardening at first," Geraci says. "But I learned by asking a lot of questions at nurseries and at the Chelsea Botanical Gardens and reading Martha Stewart books and magazines."
Looking at the time and work that’s been put into the project, you have to ask: Would he regret the effort if he had to leave? "Not at all, it’s been totally worth it," he says. "I sometimes wonder about how I would feel if I had to move, or if I decided to live in Europe for a bit. If something like that happened, I wouldn’t regret a thing. I can’t tell you how much money I’ve spent on things I can’t take with me. But if I had to leave it behind, I’d go feeling like it was a job well done and that I enjoyed every day of my life here."