[Ed. note: This feature first appeared in print in spring 2011, but was lost to the internet... We figured it was still worth a look.]
Which came first, Bird, or high-end eclectic Brooklyn style? Walk in to any of the three Bird boutiques (Williamsburg, Cobble Hill, or Park Slope) and you’ll see all the ingredients that have become shorthand for best-dressed in the borough: dramatic, statement dresses; simple but luxe t-shirts and undergarments; sculptural shoes and clog boots; an array of designers’ designers, many from New York, and a healthy assortment of interesting scarves and tights, non-standard jeans and leggings, and handmade jewelry.
All of this (and maybe what you’re wearing right now) is thanks to Jen Mankins, Bird’s owner and, for lack of a better term, curator. Originally from Texas, Mankins attended Brown, where access to RISD students and their sensibilities clearly laid the groundwork for the quirky, international, handmade, art-based aesthetic that Bird later came to espouse: the most recent outpost of the store, in Williamsburg, features regular shows of art and photography—one recent project, showcased early this year, featured one-of-a-kind dresses made from hand-painted fabric, and hand-decorated blankets, by Brooklyn-based arts collective Fort Makers.
The intersection of art, fashion, and life is clearly visible in Mankins’ house, which she shares with her Swedish husband (her college sweetheart) and a collection of much-loved houseplants. The Ditmas Park apartment is but a waystation, as the couple renovates a small, older house a few blocks away with the assistance of architect Ole Sondresen, the designer of all three Bird outposts. But these don’t feel like temporary digs: chez Mankins is more finished than many NYC residences occupied for decades.
Influences are varied, and colors are bright: the fabrics of Josef Frank, from the store Svensk Tenn in Stockholm, present in all the Bird boutiques, make several appearances here as well. In the living room, a drawing by Mina Perhonen (a Japanese clothing and accessories line) shares space with art by friends, and artists who’ve exhibited at Bird, or artists who are friends who’ve exhibited at Bird. The line blurs quickly between home and the store, art and fashion and travel souvenirs.
His-and-hers bookcases (to go with the his-and-hers closets, and bank accounts) are carefully arranged by color, a librarian’s worst nightmare, but an aesthete’s delight. And the design decisions are his-and-hers too—according to Mankins, “A lot of how we decorate is inspired by, or actually sourced from our traveling: we’re usually traveling together, and finding things, so it’s not like I come home with a giant stuffed tiger and he has to ask me 'Where do you want to put that?’”
Still-lives feature small woolen animals, some from Mexico, and others by Tamar Mogendorff, whose work is available at Bird, and owes a thing or two to the stuffed-animal makers of Oaxaca. Jonathan Adler’s versions of 60s design rub shoulders with actual sixties pieces, and the Technicolor palette jumps from pillow to poster, uniting the whole in a cheery gesamtkunstwerk of home, shops, and clothing, all very seriously considered, but not taken too seriously.
When asked her philosophy on decorating, Mankins’ final words to the wise? “Buy what you love, then it all goes together. Even though they’re all seemingly disparate [pieces], even though it’s all crazy, it all goes together.”
Bird's Nest: At Home With Jen Mankins