great rooms

House of Julio

Artist and fashion designer Julio Espada’s floor-through apartment in Prospect–Lefferts Gardens reflects his former shop’s aesthetic.

Julio Espada’s airy living room features paper curtains he hung on sawed-off broomsticks, along with furniture and art he has collected over decades, including a custom camp cot he uses as a guest bed. He has left the walls empty. Photo: Wendy Goodman
Julio Espada’s airy living room features paper curtains he hung on sawed-off broomsticks, along with furniture and art he has collected over decades, including a custom camp cot he uses as a guest bed. He has left the walls empty. Photo: Wendy Goodman

Originally, I lived down in the downstairs apartment,” Julio Espada says as we sit at the dining table in his light-filled open living-dining room. “Literally two weeks after I moved in, it was announced we were going into lockdown.” About three months later, the family living upstairs decided to move out of the city, and their parlor-floor apartment, where he lives now, became available. This gave him access to more sunlight and the backyard, which he still has plans to tame, but not too much. During those early, isolating months, his friend Marc Jacobs got in touch with Espada and asked him to work with him on a project for British Vogue, to reimagine what fashion would look like post-pandemic. The two first met at Perry Ellis, where Jacobs was the designer from 1988 to 1993, and Espada was a creative consultant brought in at the end of Jacobs’s reign, when he launched his notorious “grunge collection” before leaving to start his own label. Espada’s fashion career also includes working as artistic director of Emilio Pucci from 2000 to 2003.

Espada had spent his entire life living on the Upper East Side after moving from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to New York in 1973. But Brooklyn “was pioneer territory to me,” he says. To turn the parlor floor into a home, he tapped into his experience designing his own showrooms. Espada, who became a fashion designer in the ’70s, gained a cult following once he started his own label, the House of Julio, and opened his Julio store on Lexington Avenue in 1975, which then moved to Madison and 72nd in the Rhinelander mansion from 1976 to 1980. His clients included Babe Paley and Jackie Onassis, and Richard Avedon photographed his ad campaigns with the supermodels of the day: Patti Hansen, Apollonia van Ravenstein, and Janice Dickinson. The store’s sleek, minimal interior by architect Ron Doud and Robert Currie, the renowned window-display director at Henri Bendel, was designed to reconfigure easily as the collections changed. Today, Espada’s home reflects that same ease with pieces he has collected over decades, each with its own story.

The pieces in the entry vestibule include a Japanese tansu chest and a Noguchi lantern. “In the shop we had three of the one size larger, which is the biggest,” Espada says of the lantern. “Sometimes at night or on a dark winter day, it’s nice to have it be the only light on. The atmosphere is comforting. It’s really like having a floating moon.” Photo: Wendy Goodman
“In an apartment like this,” Espada says, “it’s all about the light, so the curtains were the last thing. I didn’t want anything fancy, and I thought, I am just going to put up paper. I went to the party store and got the paper with the plastic backing that normally you put out for a picnic. And then I went to the hardware store, and I saw unbleached wood brooms and I had them cut, and I found these little brackets online.” He hand-polished the wood with wax for a smooth surface. “I started using those curtain clips because every café in Europe uses them, and why not?” Photo: Wendy Goodman
Espada designed the screen to look like planks of floating wood. “Coming from a fashion background, the most important measurement is a yard, so I wanted it to be a yard high — an homage to the yard! The wood chair and cushion-topped ottoman are from a German company called E15 and they are the thinnest molded plywood furniture ever made,” Espada said. “They were showroom samples that had gone to trade show after trade show, but it turned out they were in really good shape.” Photo: Wendy Goodman
Espada has a collection of small sculptures by American artist Alma Allen, who now lives in Mexico, and who was featured in the Whitney Biennial in 2014. “I bought these when he had a little wooden ironing board on the street near Balthazar, maybe in 1995? They were made when he had no money to buy materials, so he would take furniture that he found on the street and sculpt it into art, so one piece would be made from a dining table or the back of a chair.” Photo: Wendy Goodman
The dining table at the opposite end of the living room is a folding table Espada found online. The glass pieces on top include a Baccarat wine bottle with a stopper designed by Van Day Truex (1904–1979), a crystal bowl designed after an 18th-century piece originally done in silver by Paul Revere, and a smoke-gray 18th-century Italian glass container, distinguished by a fold-over lip of the glass at the top. Photo: Wendy Goodman
A detail of the top of one of two George Nelson cabinets with a ceramic cardboard box by artist Michael Harvey. The wood cigarettes and matches are by artist Lisa Naftolin. Espada’s painted paper leaves are peeking out of the ceramic cardboard box. Photo: Wendy Goodman
“I have an active art practice,” Espada says. “I did an exhibition of my drawings at Hostler Burrows and I did a paper fashion exhibition at PS1 in 1980.” Holding a long paper container with a painted top, Espada explains, “This is a technique called veil painting. Some people believe that opaque colors hold back emotions, and it is only through veil painting that you feel alive to what your spirit is trying to express, physically, so I started doing this.” Photo: Wendy Goodman
At the beginning of the lockdown, Espada made paper leaves and covered the wall of his first apartment downstairs with them. Photo: Wendy Goodman
The yard off Espada’s kitchen is an urban wilderness. He has plans one day to tame it, but only slightly. Photo: Wendy Goodman
Espada’s bedroom overlooks the yard with “my favorite bed cover designed by my dear friend, artist Kiva Motnyk. The campaign chest and table are both from 1840.” Photo: Wendy Goodman
Julio Espada during lunch outside at one of his favorite restaurants, Winner in Park Slope. Photo: Wendy Goodman

More Great Rooms

See All
House of Julio Espada