In the Kitchen:Lisa Przystup

Writer Interview and Images by Aimee Brodeur

It was a pleasure driving Upstate to visit Lisa in her new home. I've always been so impressed with her personal aesthetic, her eye for floral arrangements, and most recently her ability to design a home. Stepping into her light-filled kitchen, it was easy to see that it was a place where the pancakes stack high and there’s plenty of space for everyone to lend a hand. At the same time, she and her husband Jon have found a way to make the house feel romantic and secluded where they can pour a glass of wine and wind down at the end of the day.

When did you move to New York, and what did you initially come here to do?

I got my master’s degree in journalism in Boston, and after graduating I felt like the next logical step was to try and get a job in New York writing. We operate under this assumption that magazines have fulltime writing staff, so I thought I would just work for a magazine. The truth is that most magazines no longer have fulltime writers- it’s all freelance work. That was eye opening. So I waited tables and freelanced, and I also felt like I was constantly pitching stories.

What types of stories were you pitching?

A lot of fashion pieces. I really like fashion, but I found out I don’t love the industry as much. I hit a bit of a wall with pitching so much. It wore me down. I’m a very goal oriented type-A personality and I felt like I was doing everything in my power to make it happen. I finally pitched a story on this group of women who were doing flowers. They went for it, and I realized how much I loved what they were doing.

Was there an “ah-ha” moment like, “This is what I want to be doing” while you were writing the story on them?

No, not at all. It was really off handed, like, “Maybe I’ll try this for a little bit because I feel pretty burnt out on freelance writing.” I actually stopped pitching stories and started pitching the fact that I was now doing flowers.

Did you open up a studio and go all in on that business?

No, I actually just did them out of my tiny railroad apartment in Greenpoint. I felt kind of like a fraud, making my house into a studio. I felt like, if I should do this, I should do this ALL the way, you know? Get a studio, get a team. I talked to a lot of people who reminded me to just run my business at my own capacity- there’s nothing that says you have to be all or nothing about it. Keep a low overhead, do small things, and do whatever makes you happy.


“I talked to a lot of people who reminded me to just run my business at my own capacity- there’s nothing that says you have to be all or nothing about it. Keep a low overhead, do small things, and do whatever makes you happy.”

 

I really did enjoy the arranging of flowers, but the trappings of running a small business- I realized that I’m just not calibrated for that. If I had partners, I could have pushed through a little bit longer. I don’t like to take risks, and having a small business is a big risk in and of itself. As that phased out I have come back to writing again fulltime. 

So tell us a little bit about your kitchen on a typical day.

We usually wake up and sit right here for breakfast, for about the first hour or so of the day. Right now, because we’re just coming off of summer, we’ve been outside working a lot and are not in the kitchen at all for a large chunk of the day. Since there’s no take-out restaurants up here, we cook a lot more than we do in the city. You can’t just call for Thai food and have it delivered. So… you’re cooking, which is great. It’s also great because now we have a big enough space where we aren’t negotiating for counter space or chopping vegetables on the dresser. When we got this place we were like… “LOOK AT ALL OF THIS COUNTER SPACE! I could be here, I could be there… any place I want!” I also had this dream where I would be able to do the dishes while looking out a window.

Oh yeah, I don’t think that exists in most New York City apartments.

Right. Not just staring at a wall and scrubbing for a half hour. So anyhow all of this is to say is that we usually head to the grocery store and then come back and begin cooking around 4:30pm or 5pm. Cooking dinner can be a 3 hour experience. Afterwards we will have a glass of wine and head to the living room. There have been many times where we both say to one another, “It felt nicer in the kitchen.” So we end up just hanging out in the small dining nook in the kitchen until we go to bed.

Since you spend most weeknights in your apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, are there any differences in your routines between the two locations?

I feel like it’s actually pretty similar. The main difference is counter space, and with that there are things we can do up here that we wouldn’t attempt in Greenpoint. There is no way we would ever try to cook Thanksgiving dinner in our Greenpoint apartment- that would be insanity.  You can’t just cook a small Thanksgiving dinner. I mean, how do you just cook half of a sweet potato casserole? The one time we tried to do it we had leftovers for a week and a half.


“There is no way we would ever try to cook Thanksgiving dinner in our Greenpoint apartment- that would be insanity.  You can’t just cook a small Thanksgiving dinner. I mean, how do you just cook half of a sweet potato casserole?”

 

When you first moved into this house, was the kitchen much different? What did you do to redesign it?

When we first saw the house we really liked it, but it cost too much. In a way it gave us a lot of freedom, because we were like, “There is no way we are going to get this, so let’s just put in an offer and see what happens.” When you don’t think it’s possible, you don’t get that attachment to it. They ended up accepting our offer, so we went to work on the space. I distinctly remember the first thing I wanted to do was paint. I have always had this dream of having white floors. I know it sounds absurd to have a country home with white floors, but I wanted to make it happen. I try really hard not to be that person to ask people to take their shoes off, but instead I’m like “It’s okay, I’m just going to follow you around the house awkwardly while I scrub down the floor behind you!” (laughing) I feel like I have kind of let go of that perfect look over time.

Our first seasons in the house were fall and winter, and I think that naturally you have more of a nesting feeling during that time of year. It worked out great, since we didn’t feel overwhelmed by projects that could be done outside and focused our energy on doing what we could do inside.

How did you tackle choosing what to work on first? I could imagine it’s hard to pick a place to start.

When we came in, we had such a big checklist of all of the things we wanted to do. You get to a place when you are redesigning a space where you have to take breaks. You can’t try and do it all at once.  We got to a place where we felt, “This is good for now.” Financially, emotionally, and creatively- you can’t plow ahead full steam without taking breaks. They are just as important as actively working on the house.


“When you don’t think it’s possible, you don’t get that attachment to it.”

 

Any challenges over the last year that you didn’t consider?

I change my mind about things all of the time. Jon, my husband, will be like, “Oh my gosh, we just found a spot for that dresser and now you want to move it again?” I was like, “You DO realize this house is going to keep changing, right?” (laughing)

I do the same thing in my apartment. I get an itch to try moving things around at least twice a year.

Right? You gotta just try it out. I think to myself, “What if I unlock something here? What if this is the ultimate transformation that will change our lives!” (laughing sarcastically)

Have you ever looked to any books, blogs, or other sources to draw inspiration from for your own space?

Remodelista is such an amazing resource. Also, I love Athena Calderone’s interiors and kitchens. She has the blog Eye-Swoon. Her kitchen is beautiful. One other place that I draw inspiration from is this blog sfgirlbybay, which  has a great collection of images and books. Domino is back, and I like to flip through that too.


“You get to a place when you are redesigning a space where you have to take breaks. You can’t try and do it all at once.”

 

There aren’t many specific people who inspired the house, but there is a specific aesthetic. I wanted it to be white with shades of brown and other natural colors- maybe part of that has to do with living in Arizona. I moved there after high school on a whim. I was 17 years old and the thought process of a 17 year old is usually like, “Let’s just do it.” I wanted to be somewhere totally different than where I grew up, which was just outside of the DC area. I wanted to go somewhere where no one knew me and I could have a different experience. Arizona is a really special place. I still go back and visit Tucson. It’s so beautiful.

Can you show us some of your favorite pieces in your kitchen?

My favorite piece is a bottle brush because it’s beautiful and it serves a purpose. There is something really beautiful about a bottle brush. You can scrub the bottom of a bottle and the sides at the same time, and the OCD person in me just LOVES that. John Derian has all of these beautiful bottle brushes. He makes the most beautiful, functional things. Another thing I love is this Shaker basket, which I found out about on Remodelista.  It’s used to keep garlic and onions and allow air to get to them.


“There is something really beautiful about a bottle brush. You can scrub the bottom of a bottle and the sides at the same time, and the OCD person in me just LOVES that.”

 

I’m a big mug junky… I’m actually not allowed to buy them anymore.  I like my mugs to match my jumpsuits. (laughing) I love the weight of this one and how you can see the real ceramic on the bottom. I’m a sucker for all speckled stoneware.    

Is there a particular piece that is sentimental to you?

This [teapot] is a wedding gift from my Uncle in Japan. My mother’s family is Japanese, and they all came to upstate New York for the wedding, it was pretty special. The color on this thing is crazy. It’s one of my favorite things. It comes with this stand, which you’re supposed to put a candle in to keep it warm.

Did you add this backsplash detail behind your oven? I love it.  

Yeah I did. That was actually an idea from this great company called Jersey Ice Cream Co. I saw that they did a copper one and we decided to do brass since it fit with the other fixtures we had.

Any investment pieces that you are glad you made?

We’ve actually been super frugal. One of the nice things about moving into a new house is that people buy you a lot of gifts. I don’t think we’ve spent a lot of money on anything in this kitchen, they’ve either been gifts or we figured out a way.  


“Everyone wants to be in the kitchen, even in this big house. If people are here, we spend even more time in the kitchen. It’s so nice. Even after dishes, we’ll grab a seat at the kitchen table, have a glass of wine and decompress for a second.”

 

What cooking appliances are your must-haves? What pieces do you use every week?

We really love this skillet, which is Jonathon’s grandfather’s. They have a cabin in Pennsylvania that he would go to with his family. It was built by his uncle and they would always cook breakfast there on this skillet. We cook everything on it. Eggs, pancakes…

Are you ever OCD about anything in the kitchen?

Oh my god. I wish my husband was here for you to ask me that question. Dishes. I’m totally OCD about dishes and hyper-particular about how they are done.

Can you tell us the story of your dinner table? Do you always use it or is it for special occasions?

We kind of mix it up. What’s nice about this place is that it’s super cozy and feels informal.  When we first moved in we would eat at the dining room table a lot, but it’s so grand that it feels kind of silly. It gets amazing light in the morning, so I often have breakfast over there and dinner in the kitchen. There’s something about a kitchen, where everyone starts gravitating towards it.  Everyone wants to be in the kitchen, even in this big house. If people are here, we spend even more time in the kitchen. It’s so nice. Even after dishes, we’ll grab a seat at the kitchen table, have a glass of wine and decompress for a second.