Hollister Hovey ’00 and Sister Porter Transform Blogging into a Business
By Laure Stevens-Lubin, Photos by Porter Hovey
Visitors to the loft that Hollister Hovey ’00 shares with her younger sister, Porter, in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., might find themselves at a loss for words—but not for long. Antique tennis racquets sprout from a porcelain umbrella stand, which is nestled against vintage luggage that has some tales to recount. Tin toys share curio cabinets alongside scientific artifacts and botanical prints. A taxidermied swan wings through a flurry of cotton blossoms, while a papier-mâché leopard that Hollister crafted in the third grade sprawls alongside a zebra-skin rug on the floor before the mantel.
“Your home should be a layered document of who you are and where you have been,” Hollister said of her style. “That doesn’t mean your home needs to be full of antiques. But a few key pieces to foster conversation can go a long way.” Over the past few years, the journalism major, who manages a dual career as a communications consultant and an interior designer, has, with her sister, fostered a newsworthy conversation about style that has taken her to unexpected destinations.
Exotic Gallivanting Ways
Hollister described one of her key design philosophies: “You should let your home reflect who you are and where you have come from, where you have traveled, who your family was.” And so it follows that her aesthetic sensibility reflects the influences of her parents, Porter and Lana Hovey. “My mother grew up in Nebraska, the daughter of a suburban 1950s housewife and a railroad engineer. She was a dreamer and felt wanderlust in a deep way,” she said. Lana, who had always wanted to move to the East, received a post-graduate fellowship at Radcliffe. From there she took a job with Mademoiselle magazine and went on to a career in public relations. “Mom and Dad were introduced at a party given by a woman (Fern Mallis) who now runs Fashion Week,” Hollister recounted.
Porter Hovey père grew up on the East Coast and traveled widely in his 20s, living on a farm in South Africa, running a gold mine in Bolivia and a taking a boatload of cattle to the Philippines. “He had exotic gallivanting ways—he was a big fan of Tintin,” the rambling European comic-book hero, she said. “He really exposed us to that perspective.” He worked in the field of business management. Lana passed away in 2002. From his home in Kansas City, Mo., their father takes a keen interest in the daughters’ blogs and adventures.
And the sisters inherited his traveling tendencies. Between the two of them, they’ve journeyed to London, Paris, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Prague, Berlin, Barcelona, Marrakech and Budapest. They try to do one big trip a year and sprinkle in lots of short weekend getaways. “We just go for pleasure, but inevitably end up finding loads of inspiration in every place,” said Hollister.
Her favorite destination so far has been Istanbul, where they spent ten days in 2009. “Istanbul is the perfect mix of East and West, and the modern elements are just as wonderful as the old," she explained. The shopping was not what she'd expected, however. "The much-hyped Grand Bazaar seemed incredibly overpriced and full of replicas," she said. "But there's one little area of shops with great relics from the Constantinople days that we finally found off the main artery about seven days in. We bought loads of treasures from there, Ottoman epaulettes and gold-threaded military belts and a canvas-and-leather top-hat box." The military belt now adorns a dressmaker's dummy in Porter's bedroom.
Hollister found shopping in London the easiest given their Anglophile tastes, but not quite as fun without the challenge. "In London, shop after shop seemed curated to our taste perfectly, but that, ironically, made it seem less special than if we discovered one little treasure where we weren't expecting it."
The sisters have inherited their father's taste for exotic objects as well. "He mowed the lawn in a pith helmet and carried a machete for garden work. Mom's dreaming, combined with Dad's artifacts, worked out nicely for their colonial aesthetic," Hollister explained. The sisters were born in Lincoln, Neb., where their parents had moved after Lana's mother died. "Dad just thought of moving to Lincoln as another adventure," Hollister said. The girls grew up there and in Mission Hills, Kan., a suburb of Kansas City. As a child, her TV viewing included "lots of period pieces" on PBS and "Masterpiece Theater." She also whiled away the hours at the local natural history museum, cultivating her penchant for taxidermied creatures.
Hollister majored in journalism at W&L, but she was always interested in aesthetics, taking many art and art history classes. One of her favorites was an independent study in sculpture with Larry Stene, professor of art, in which she designed and built a chair.
"It was multimedia. I did welding and carving. I loved using my hands and building something functional," she recalled. Outside the classroom, Hollister browsed the Lexington antique malls, acquiring a camelback sofa and an Argentinian saddle to decorate her dorm room. "As an undergraduate, I didn't really have the money to invest in a lot, but I had a few key pieces that I really loved." Her first big eBay purchase, an Ivory Coast sculpture of a man wearing a pith helmet, "started the slippery slope of spending."
Two weeks after graduating, Hollister became a wire reporter for Dow Jones. She worked her way onto the pharma and biotech beat, covering North American drug makers. In 2005, she moved to Lazar Partners Ltd., in New York City, a communications advisory firm that focuses on health care; she's a senior director.
At the same time, she and Porter, who is a photographer, licensed real estate salesperson and blogger, moved into the large Williamsburg loft. "I really began a new phase of my life then," Hollister said. "I made two major changes at once, starting a new job and moving." Before then, she had lived in small Manhattan studios. "I had a twin bed until I was 25," she said. "When we moved into the loft, I got my first adult furniture. I began to live like a grown-up."
Around 2007, she began blogging about design, in part as a way to curb her expenditures. "I started my blog as a way to organize all the objects that I collect and love," she recalled. She also has a clickable gallery of objects of desire-some she owns and some she'd like to own-on her Tumblr site (see p. 29).
The New York Times took notice in 2008, when the Home and Garden section featured her in "Shopping with Design Bloggers: Picks from Hollister Hovey." The reporter called her style "an eccentric version of decaying WASP-y, Teddy Roosevelt by way of John Derian," the New York decoupage artist.
Soon the Hovey apartment became the focal point for the blog, and for the second Times mention, in a 2009 article titled "The New Antiquarians." (Porter and Hollister posed for the photo in fencing masks.) The third appearance in the Times, last December, described the trendy Edge condominium they decorated for Peter Jenkins, an executive at the Booz & Company management-consulting firm and a co-founder of Stranger Records. That project led the sisters to unveil Hovey Design.
Hollister juggles the family business with her position at Lazar, while Porter runs Hovey Design alongside her other pursuits. "It's not easy to balance a full-time day job and a design consultancy firm," noted Hollister. "So it's great to have Porter fully dedicated to the company."
Hollister contributes after work and on weekends, roaming the borough for possible buys. "I've always found that the moment you need to find something, it becomes elusive. So, I just make a habit of popping into the little junk, curiosity and consignment shops around Brooklyn to see if anything wonderful has come in," she explained. Such browsing "has led to some seemingly huge impulse purchases, the most wild being a 1940s Louis Vuitton trunk on what was supposed to be a coffee run."
The sisters, who are 33 and 29, work well as a team. "We've always been close. Even if we are very different in some ways, like many people who live together, we finish each other's sentences," said Hollister. "Since we weren't in high school together, we didn't have that competition that siblings closer in age might have, although we can sometimes fall into the big sister-little sister dynamic. That's why it is great that Porter is taking care of the day-to-day business. It puts her in a position of control, which is a nice place for a little sister to be once in a while." Their current collaboration is not a home but a book; Rizzoli will publish "Heirloom Modern" in the spring of 2013.
Truly Modern Thinking
With her love of stuffed creatures, Hollister is a bit surprised at the lack of commentary regarding what some might view as a controversial aspect of her taste. "With the taxidermy, I view it much more as a scientific, naturalist's aesthetic than that of the hunter with trophies. However, these animals did die and someone took time to preserve them for some form of eternity. It sort of pays homage to them as beautiful creatures to highlight them in décor," she explained.
About a year ago, moths infested her favorite piece-a merino sheep with wonderfully regal spiral horns. She had to throw it away to prevent more damage to the rest of the collection, let alone to her clothes. "It was incredibly sad and felt quite wasteful and tragic, because there is some uncontrollable tendency to become connected to them more than you would some ordinary inanimate object," she said. A new favorite piece is a scarlet ibis, which she added to the menagerie through Craigslist.
Her most beloved objects, however, come from the Hovey family home. "We had a life-sized portrait of a hunter with his hound that our mom found when we were kids, and a beautiful oval, leather-top desk from my dad's stepfather. That is my favorite piece of furniture," she said. The fine, one-of-a-kind quality of such items lends them "a distinctive beauty. They aren't mass produced and disposable. They have been made with care and have withstood the test of time," she said.
"It's not about living in the past, though. It's about having an honest appreciation for the people and lives that were lived before us and what that means today," Hollister continued. "Truly modern thinking takes the past into consideration. It's about incorporating that into our lives to make the current that much more relevant and interesting."