In the mid-1980s, Elizabeth Marvel got into some unspecified trouble at Interlochen Arts Academy, a boarding school in Michigan, got the boot, and was thus unable to complete the portfolio required for admission to Cooper Union and the Rhode Island School of Design.
“Art school was my dream,” Ms. Marvel said.
Dream dashed, she bummed around London for a while and saw lots of theater, including a production of “A Touch of the Poet” starring Vanessa Redgrave, a revelatory experience.
“I was fascinated by her and what she was doing,” said Ms. Marvel, who decided to audition for Juilliard, where, she had reason to believe, high school grades and test scores (as well as deportment) mattered not a whit. She was accepted, and so began a life of many parts — a presidential candidate on “House of Cards” and the president on “Homeland,” to name two — and many apartments.
“So many places,” said Ms. Marvel, who plays Goneril in a new gender-bending Broadway production of “King Lear,” with Glenda Jackson in the title role. “But I never went above 23rd Street.”
For years, she and her boyfriend, now husband, the actor Bill Camp, owned a fifth-floor apartment in a walk-up on Charles Street, in the West Village. “It was beautiful, like living in Paris,” Ms. Marvel said, smiling at the memory. “It was just a fantastic building full of artists and artists’ families.”
But one by one they left, and the neighborhood went with them. “It was all finance people and models,” she said. “The bodegas went away. Our local grocery store, Strawberry Fields, went away. Bleecker Street turned into Rodeo Drive, and there was no neighborhood left.”
Elizabeth Marvel, 49
How she got that look: “There is no thoughtful, mindful decoration. We’re given many things by people. And if it’s people we’re fond of, we keep the things.”
Thirteen years ago, when Ms. Marvel became pregnant with the couple’s son, Silas, locating a new neighborhood became a top priority. They found their spot on the edge of Red Hook, Brooklyn, a place where, in a delightful throwback, stickball games were plentiful, street life was vibrant, and one or another local elder was always outside in a folding chair to keep a watchful eye on the children.
There, too, they found the ideal place to put down roots: a loft in a converted factory.
“When we walked into the building, we knew it was where we wanted to live,” Ms. Marvel said. “It’s a great industrial space with great industrial light, and it suited us both.”
The look and feel of the two-bedroom unit could be best summed up as evolved commune crossed with cosmic dormitory.
“I was a Deadhead for a long time,” Ms. Marvel said. “That’s the cloth I’m cut from. I’m sort of an accidental actor. My husband, too, is a hippie.”
A hippie who plays hockey. There are, at casual count, 11 hockey sticks stashed around the apartment, and as many guitars, because the residents are, as Ms. Marvel put it, “music monsters.”
But not design monsters. “There is no thoughtful, mindful decoration,” Ms. Marvel said. “What stays in this house is anything that makes us smile when we look at it.”
Therefore, two brightly colored paper chandeliers dangle from the ceiling in the living room. And, therefore, the walls are hung with many posters advertising shows by George Clinton’s Funkadelic and Parliament-Funkadelic. And, therefore, visitors will also encounter several pictures of Frank Zappa by the rock photographer Neal Preston, a framed pen-and-ink sketch from one of R. Crumb’s notebooks — “I’m a big R. Crumb collector,” Ms. Marvel said — and a framed sheet of acid blotter paper, a 1970s drug-delivery option.
“Johnny Depp once told my husband that we need to have a little gold hammer attached to it and the words ‘break glass in case of emergency,’” Ms. Marvel said with her big, infectious laugh.
She would be hard pressed to explain the provenance of the furniture, which is basic and comfortable. Her focus is more on the rugs, of which there are a bazaar’s worth. They are part of a disparate collection of objects from trips around the world.
Some of those objects — including a Humboldt squid’s beak and a garfish — are stored in a glass-fronted case referred to as Silas’s cabinet of curiosities. “We’re a happy traveling family,” Ms. Marvel said. “We spend our money on travel, and we bring stuff back.”
There was little opportunity for getting and spending when she and Mr. Camp, 57, began keeping company 30 years ago (they married in 2004).
“One of the first Valentine’s Days my husband and I spent together when we were young and on fire and had no money, he stood out in a storm with a glass vase and collected raindrops,” Ms. Marvel recalled. “I think that was the first gift he ever gave to me.”
Last year, Mr. Camp made up for it with a multimedia confection by New Orleans-based artist Chris Roberts-Antieau: an embroidery-covered deer’s head. “It’s just extraordinary,” Ms. Marvel said.
Since moving into the building a dozen years ago, she and Mr. Camp have learned that they share the space with ghosts. “There are absolutely ghosts,” Ms. Marvel said. “There’s one that comes by the elevator near the garbage chute. It’s definitely a cold spot; it’s intense.”
She added: “There’s also a something in the hall near our bedroom, a visitor that comes and goes — not malevolent, but it makes its presence known.”
They’ve adapted. “With industrial space, there’s a lot you have to get used to,” Ms. Marvel said. “Yes, it’s creaky, but so are my husband and I. We’re well suited to it.”
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