Composer, author and plant-based chef Ysanne Spevack enjoys blending the contemporary and the traditional — no wonder it was “love at first sight” with her home, a meticulously renovated 1890s brownstone in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn featuring many original details. Located within a three-block historic district built by Dutch and German beer makers in the late 19th century, the four-bedroom home has original window shutters and pine floors, as well as a period slate mantelpiece and tin ceiling in the living room. Crystal door knobs and lighting fixtures are a combination of vintage finds and modern hand-made pieces — in short, the house is a Victorian-era dream come true, and “every detail is incredible,” Spevack says. “The second I walked in, it felt like my home.”
Spevack, a composer who has worked with Smashing Pumpkins, Tiesto, David J of Bauhaus and Michael Stipe, trained at the Royal College of Music in London, and is among a small group of prominent female composers in the U.S. Currently, she is creating an epic multimedia choral composition that touches on interactive technology, food and neuroscience. “I compose in my head, so it helps that it’s quiet here so I can hear the notes,” she says, acknowledging the tranquility of her neighborhood, and the antiquity of the brownstone that compliments her compositions so well. Writing music with paper and pencil on old-fashioned manuscript paper, Spevack feels grateful to wake up every day in “this antique visual aesthetic — it puts me in the right frame of mind to create. I’m a neo-traditionalist.”
As an in-demand writer and a chef, Ysanne Spevack has published 13 books on cooking, and is the founder of The Conscious Cook NYC, a catering and personal chef service that creates “modern, mindful, plant-based, paleo, and organic” meals. Her clientele spans the tech and wellness communities, as well as celebrities like the actor William Shatner, actress-model Angela Lindvall and violinist Joshua Bell.
Her house is adorned with objects from far-flung corners of the world, many of which serve as much as practical tools as inspiration. For example, Spevack often uses an mbira or thumb piano brought by her friend, fine art photographer Alex Brattell, from his travels in Africa in the early stages of writing music, rather than a piano. “The mbira gives me harmonies and melodies that are less obvious but equally beautiful to Western ears.” Spevack says.
In the kitchen, a Sabatier paring knife and handmade chopping board embody the philosophies of deconstructed simplicity that have informed her cooking, as much as her music. “In terms of cooking, I am low on gadgets — I mean, I have a VitaMix but that’s it — everything pretty much happens with my paring knife,” she says.
The chopping board was a gift from a friend who went camping in Oregon, and is “so beautifully-made, it makes me feel creative when I see it.” The rising importance of social media and Instagram within the culinary scene has lead to pressure for presentation over taste and texture says Spevack. In such tech-obsessed times, her knife and chopping board help keep her grounded, no matter how innovative her recipes — even her egg-free, sugar-free meringue remains firmly rooted in old-school ideas about food.
Ysanne Spevack has lived around the world, and her most recent home before New York was in Los Angeles. A pair of 1890s cherubs from a gallery there called Century Guild represents not only her desire to create a home that is welcoming to love, but also her circle of creative friends in Los Angeles. Likewise, an Alexander McQueen dress and a pair of custom Terry de Havilland shoes (she says she was the latter’s “shoe muse”) offer a reminder of her time living in London and that city’s glamour.
Her favorite part of the house — the bathroom — has an original cast iron enameled tub, a big overhead shower and a custom-vanity made from Bluestone sourced in upstate New York. “It’s the best room in the house,” Spevack says. “The candelabra has a dimmer switch; it’s very romantic.”
The dining room features a set of hand-carved cherry wood and cream damask chairs set around a round table with a sea-faring nautical tablecloth. “I didn’t have a dining area for the first six months that I was here, which for me is a big deal because I make dinner every night,” Spevack says. But it was important to her to find a dining set that would match the character of the house. It took six months to locate the chairs and table, but the wait was worth it. “Now it’s the perfect place for a tea party — there’s something about that cream fabric that makes you want to get some girls over for tea and cake.”
She made the nautical-themed table cloth on her sewing machine using material from Mood Fabrics. The sea-faring theme is an expression of her wanderlust. “I have lived in Asia, America, Europe and have spent a good amount of time in India, Japan and South America,” Spevack says. “I feel alive when I am moving around; so when I am at home, it’s inspiring to have reminders of my travels around me, as well as the possibility of new travels ahead.”
Photos by Samantha Goh.