Stepping into Rebecca Romijn’s Chelsea home is like stepping back in time. Amidst all the newness that is happening in Chelsea and Hudson Yards, Rebecca has managed to carve out a little bohemian paradise for herself, her two daughters, and husband. She painstakingly restored this old beauty while furnishing it predominantly from eBay and the New York City based non-profit thrift store, Housing Works.
As if that wasn’t enough work, last week she launched her first fine jewelry line, Charlie Dolly, named for her twin daughters. She invited us into her home to talk all things renovation and stove top potpourri…
How would you describe your home in three words?
Rebecca: Well, I’m a preservationist of old homes. I’m very protective of old homes, especially with all the developments happening in the Chelsea area. So preservation would be one. I’m also very connected with the old Chelsea, the Bohemian side of Chelsea. My husband was born and raised on 17th and 7 Ave, my best friend lives at the Hotel Chelsea and I was born and raised in Berkeley, California, so the second would bohemian. And the third… elegant.
What do you want people to feel when they’re in your home?
Rebecca: Well, I want you to smell my delicious stove top potpourri.I always put stove top potpourri on. It’s cinnamon and oranges and cloves simmering in water on the stove and it makes the house smell like Christmas. So we were here for Christmas and I had it going for a month. I had a low simmer of stove top potpourri burning the entire time.
So what do I want people to feel when they come in? I want them to feel feel a little wave of maybe some sort of nostalgia or sentimentality that connects to something from their own personal backgrounds. Like, « Oh my God, my grandma had this, » or, « My mother had a collection of these. »
I grew up with a Dutch grandmother who was an avid Belgian and Dutch antiques collector. I really grew up loving old things, not just old houses, but old things. And aside from the fact that in terms of sustainability, it’s the way to go. I feel like it’s the socially environmentally responsible thing to do.
It’s also special because everything’s got a story. So I’m hoping that some people come in and connect with something that is my personal expression.
That also connects to the ‘old’ Chelsea.
Rebecca: Well it’s all newness. This was no man’s land for so long and I lived here all through the nineties in New York and I always regretted not buying anything. And 10 years ago I was like, « Wait a minute, I’m going to always feel that way. And I found the listing for this home and the artist woman who lived here for 40 years with her husband, she didn’t let me see it for a full year. She was not letting anyone in to see it.
And I waited and I waited and I waited. And after a year we were finally let in to see it. But I also had just realized that they were going to start the Hudson Yards development and then the Penn Station development. And I was like, « It’s going to change the whole landscape of this part of Manhattan. »
And I love the bohemian side of Chelsea and I felt even more protective of this house and wanting to keep what it is.
So what was the hardest part of the restoration of the house?
Rebecca: It required a tremendous amount of work. The artist woman who I bought it from and her husband had paid whatever they could to keep it together as much as they could, but they had taken it over from squatters who had been living here and it was really in bad shape and I had to figure out a lot of things, but I feel like three years into it when all of a sudden we realized that the whole backside of the building was sitting an inch away from the rest of the house, that was the big one where I was like, « Whoa! How much is that going to cost?! »
And I furnished everything. I have a lot of stuff in storage. I furnished everything basically from eBay. But Jerry, my husband had a request which was, « Will you please furnish whatever you can from Housing Works? »
So he grew up right next door to Housing Works. That’s where his mom and dad still live. And so his mom shops at Housing Works every single day and obviously they do their amazing windows, they have their options every week, they get the best stuff donated to them and it’s a great cause and I really wanted to honor that and so I bought a lot of things from Housing Works.
I really tried to keep it as Chelsea local as possible.
Let’s talk about the jewelry. You recently launched a fine jewelry line, Charlie Dolly. Can you tell me why and what was the inspiration behind it?
Rebecca: The inspiration came from my love of fine jewelry, which started in my twenties. I hadn’t actually seen fine jewelry until then. I was born and raised in Berkeley, Oakland, California in the seventies and eighties in a very laid back Bohemian household. There were no diamonds anywhere
Then I started a modeling career and I was lucky enough to be around fine jewelry for the first time and I became really kind of obsessed. And then I saw some loose stones for the first time and I was like, « I think I love loose diamonds. » I don’t like settings. So I thought, how do I take diamonds away from settings altogether? Why can’t people put holes in diamonds?
At the time it wasn’t really a possibility. I mean I think there was a time where people have been drilling holes through diamonds, but these are laser pierced diamonds.
And so actually three years ago I managed to meet with a manufacturer who could do this, who could laser pierce a diamond, which is much more precise than drilling a diamond. I bought a sketchbook and started sketching designs and my daughters got really involved and which is what the line is named after, Charlie and Dolly. I actually have over 100 drawings in my little book, but I had to consolidate to a little capsule introductory collection.
I’ve got all these grandiose ideas, but this is all I could afford right now. So this is what we’ve got and I’m really proud of it. And it’s exactly, the idea I always wanted, of a floating diamond that can turn and capture light. I felt like it was, the timing was right and there was something I had to offer that was slightly new to market.