During the early days of the pandemic, I had the absolute pleasure of “meeting” Laura (@kimonodragonnyc) as she was just launching her online vintage jewelry store. The gorgeous pieces she lovingly curates are undoubtedly a reflection of her equally beautiful home in Brooklyn, New York.
After graduating with a degree in art history and a masters in education, Laura became an art and English teacher in Thailand, France and Hong Kong before settling down with her partner in New York City. As a facilities and administrative professional, she also spearheads her company’s charitable program.
Laura was gracious enough to take a break from styling and treasure hunting to join us Easter Sunday on Secondhand Roadshow. Check out her episode on my IGTV series.
Your mother is an interior designer, and you have an extensive background in art. What caused you to dive full force into interior design?
Growing up, my parents moved a lot for my dad’s job. I saw my mom decorate houses to the nines all across the country. She was so passionate about it. We always had the Better Homes & Garden magazines, we were always pulling out catalogs. She’s very by the book, and would hand draw floor plans.
I was able to watch her pull together a room and learned basic building blocks of design. But I didn’t have the chance to do it for myself until my partner Jim and I moved to New York about four years ago. I spent seven years in my 20s traveling around the world and teaching. I never really had a “home.”
I had all this time coming up with ideas and things I wanted to do, and this is my first real home. All the creativity just unleashed at once, and it’s been so fun. But Jim is now very mad because he says there’s no more space for anything!
My mom has always been a key influence, and my older sister has the most amazing house. Her design aesthetic is spot on with a lot of Hollywood Regency details. Her husband is an architect who brings a modern element into the home decor. They’re great influences and I’m very happy to have that.
I’m very interested in women who cohabit with men but have a feminine decor style. How does that work with you and your partner? Does he care or does he allow you to do whatever you want?
I’m very fortunate. Jim and I have been together for eight years now, and he knows my style and he’s always given me carte blanche when it comes to design.
Laura calls Jim over to answer my question. Jim says, “Laura has about 85% of the house so I’ve got my own little room that I get to decorate. I don’t mind her style. I like it, she makes the house look nice.” Jim is excused and I’m convinced he and Laura are #couplegoals.
Jim also loves going thrifting, he loves vintage. He grew up in Sydney and his mom was always a big vintage lover and thrifter, so he’s used to that. He’s the one who will recommend renting a car on the weekends and going up to Elephant’s Trunk or Newburgh Vintage Emporium in upstate New York. I’m very lucky!
To your point, if I lived alone, there would be more pink and it would probably be more feminine: more pink, more velvet, more tassels! I love a good tassel, I have them on all the doors.
As a child, whenever my mom would pass a garage sale, I was always repulsed by “old people stuff.” Did you gravitate to vintage when you were growing up?
My mom and sister think it’s funny. Ever since I was little, I was obsessed with garage sales and rummage sales. We had this big summer event called Rummage Day on our school’s hockey field. It would be covered with people bringing in their stuff.
My older sister at the time would say, “It’s so gross! It’s old people’s stuff, it’s dead people’s stuff.” But I loved it. To me, there has always been an element of the thrill of the hunt. To this day, that’s never ended. The joy, the adrenaline rush that I get from finding a really high quality piece for pennies? There’s no comparison. (Except my love for you, Jim!)
I would love to hear how your online jewelry store came to life.
I have always loved vintage jewelry. My grandma on my dad’s side loved jewelry, at the same level that I love it. That came about because of her. As children, we would go to her house and cascade ourselves with all her jewelry – rings on every finger. It was a bonding experience and so fun because what girl doesn’t love pretty things?
When we were living in Hong Kong, I had an idea of having a shop on the side. But given our geographic location in Asia, it wasn’t quite possible. We moved to New York City and I thought, “Okay, we can do it here.” But I work full time, and it was only during COVID and working from home that I could actually spend time doing it.
Kimono Dragon was born last March when I did the branding for it, legally became an LLC and it’s really taken off from there. Starting a small business is terrifying. My initial thought when I started on Instagram was, “Will anyone like my style?” Because it’s so over the top. It’s “more is more,” there’s lots of gold.
The response has been really positive. I would love to start doing this full time maybe next year. We’ll see, it’s a really exciting adventure to be on.
I’m very proud of you and watching you grow. Your trunk shows are very well done – it’s better than QVC!
I really enjoy it. It’s a lot of thanks to Jim – he does the filming, he answers questions. It’s become a full family affair. When I’m down in Florida, my 17-year old sister will film, Jim will answer comments, my mom will ship things from Florida. She started hunting for me!
Tell me about your favorite secondhand pieces.
Over 90% of the pieces in our home are secondhand. There’s also so much history and love to a piece. One of my favorite finds is the chandelier that’s hanging in our master bedroom. It’s a beautiful 1960s Italian chandelier with blue glass teardrops and purple flower crystals. I found it at a great thrift store here called Housing Works. They do great work in the community, and I’m probably there every weekend.
I saw it sitting in the corner in a severe state of disrepair: the crystals were all looped off and it was super dirty. It was definitely a “diamond in the rough” moment: you see a piece that has potential and you think, “You are mine!” I spent a lot more having it restored by someone in Coney Island than I actually spent on the piece, but it looks amazing.
I think having a great light fixture can really pull a room together. It’s kinda like that final element of the room. I look at that piece every time I walk into the bedroom, and I just love it.
I’m surprised you didn’t mention those vintage ceramic leopards you brought back from Wisconsin…
Those are definitely a good story and a dedication to my love of Hollywood Regency. Yes, they’re up there. The chandelier, the leopards and my malachite x-benches would be my top three. These are the things I would try to throw out the window or carry if there were a fire. They would take priority over all the jewelry!
Were those malachite x-benches a curb alert that you had reupholstered?
I found them on a terribly rainy day in Williamsburg and they were covered in beige ratty carpet. They were on the curb outside of a random store, and the woman said, “Oh, you can have them for $30 for the pair.” And I thought, “I know what I’m going to do with them.”
I had them reupholstered in malachite fabric which was so cost effective. If you buy a malachite x-bench, it’s going to be about $400 per bench! I found some great fabric that was really cheap, like $20 a yard on fabric.com or Spoonflower. I get asked about them the most out of any piece in the home.
How did you bring those ceramic leopards home from Wisconsin?
I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. A lot of people are surprised to learn that Milwaukee has a lot of amazing estate sales and great antique stores. My mom and I love to hunt together, and we went to one of our favorite shops.
Our eyes locked across the room: I caught a glimpse of one. I’m pretty sure I tripped and hyperventilated at the same time trying to get to it, only to realize that there were two leopards. They’re original and marked 1970 from Italy, mint condition.
They came from an estate in California of this extremely wealthy socialite and traveler. She’s still alive and traveling, but she didn’t want them anymore. She grew up in Milwaukee and she loved this store, so she sent them there. They came from California to Milwaukee unharmed, and then I had them shipped via UPS to New York completely unharmed.
I’ve had a lot of offers for them, and I just can’t let them go. Once you name something, it becomes part of the family! I’m very glad I kept them. I was hesitant because Jim said, “You already have a leopard in the bedroom. We live in New York City, where are they going to go?”
If there’s a will, there’s a way, and we made it work. They’ve become the mascots of Kimono Dragon. You’ll see them in pictures with the packages, they’re on Reels. I like to dress them in the jewelry. They’re Giovanni and Gianni – it’s really fun!
What are some of your favorite places in New York to treasure hunt?
Housing Works is great, they have multiple locations across the city. Recently, it’s been the Chelsea Flea. I actually found two real malachite obelisks from a dealer there. I feel a little guilty, I played dumb pretending I didn’t know what real malachite was. So I got the two of them for like $85?
Yes! I might have done the little hair flip and the wide eyed look behind the mask. But it worked! Those are definitely my best flea market finds. They go with the whole neoclassical vibe on this table.
Our favorite place to go is actually Newburgh Vintage Emporium, it’s upstate about an hour north of the city. They have two warehouses filled with beautiful furniture. That’s where I found my first ceramic leopard. It’s just treasure hunting at its best: really great prices and really nice dealers. It’s just a great experience. When you come to visit, Jim is our chauffeur – we will be going there.
I’m bringing two empty suitcases.
That’s what I do – and bubble wrap. I never travel without bubble wrap.
What do you enjoy the most about living in New York?
The hype about New York City is real. I visited maybe once or twice in high school before we actually moved here for Jim’s job, and I had mixed feelings about it. We were living in Asia in a warm climate for six years, and I am not a winter girl.
But the reality is, you fall in love with the city. It’s crazy, it’s ridiculous. You see the most absurd things like pizza rat! It’s filled with life, and there’s not another city that I’ve visited or lived in that has the energy that New York does. I love the city because you can be whoever you want to be, and you will find your people here.
The city has so much to offer. We have great vintage shopping, great flea markets, and probably the best food scene.
I think the energy of New York City is unparalleled. But best food scene? That’s debatable. I can’t wait to visit you in person, Laura. Thank you again for sharing your home with us!