Entrepreneur Bradford Shellhammer’s home is an ever-evolving display of color, art, and self-expression
It figures that the idea of sharing an address with an art house cinema would appeal to Bradford Shellhammer. The New York–based eBay executive has a habit of redecorating his living quarters with such regularity that it might rival the rotation of movies in the theater below. Every Shellhammer production tends to be colorful, theatrical, obsessively organized, and genial. The impeccable 2,800-square-foot Greenwich Village loft he shares with husband Georgi Balinov is no exception. “These walls weren’t orange two weeks ago,” Shellhammer greeted me, his smile discernible behind the face mask. “I rotate or swap out furniture; I trade and sell things,” he explains. “Otherwise I get bored.”
Balinov and Shellhammer had only been at the apartment for a year when COVID-19 shut down much of New York City. They spent a year and a half renovating the space that was once a method acting school run by the great theater actor Lee Strasburg. “We’d lived in Airbnbs and friends’ places for 19 months, and it was tiring not having a home, not having most of our things. My art! My toys! My shoes! Those months taught me how important a home, a safe place, and the oasis of my collections is to my mental health,” Shellhammer wrote in his blog to mark the month they moved in.
Reinvention is, in fact, Shellhammer’s metier. He is best known as the cofounder of two million-dollar e-commerce start-ups, Fab and Bezar. Before that, he had stints as an admissions counselor, a fashion and nightlife blogger, a design writer, a Design Within Reach and BluDot employee, and a business consultant—all before his 45th birthday. For good measure, he’s also the vocalist for Rough, a band he started with designer Tom Dixon.
When I visited Shellhammer in December, his living room had been transformed to an homage to Yves Klein, with well-chosen accents in the artist’s distinctive vivid blue, complemented by a row of paintings by artist Luis Urribarri. The guest bathroom nearby carries the IKB theme, down to the bottles of Malin-Goetz soaps chosen for their blue lettering.
The art on the walls reveal an eclectic and inclusive curator. Framed gay culture ephemera, an imigongo panel from Rwanda, and an unsigned painting salvaged from the streets of Brooklyn abut works by Keith Haring, Josef Albers, Milton Glaser, Yoko Ono, and Andy Warhol, Shellhammer’s idol.
“My biggest influence is Andy Warhol, without a doubt,” he explains. “For me, he represents the idea that life is not black-and-white.… He straddled high and low, art and commerce.” Of the 15 or so Warhol lithographs in the apartment, Shellhammer says, he bought several on eBay. “Yes, there are real Warhols there!” he says.
In the open kitchen is a generous long table framed by Shellhammer’s collection of vintage IKEA glassware neatly displayed on a high shelf. “Design is super addictive once you find the stories of the people who made it,” he says, sliding open a closet with 400 pairs of shoes meticulously organized by color. “Part of living with all this stuff is that you have to keep it in order, otherwise you’ll go crazy,” he says.
Shellhammer’s knack for collecting carries into the home office, where a towering glass bookcase teems with toys picked up from various trips—a feature that now doubles as a colorful videoconference background. “People at work take pictures of my apartment and make it their Zoom background just to play with me,” he laughs. It also spills into a powder room, where rows of Alexander Girard’s witty wood dolls stand in attention.
Surrounded by the totems of his glamorous globetrotting, Shellhammer is reminded of his childhood in Maryland. “I grew up poor. We barely had an art class, let alone knew that it was an option for me. But when I look back at those early days, the self-expression was there,” he says. “I found this article that had been written about me in the local newspaper recently.… The first paragraph talks about how I had taken a blade and cut out pictures of Morrissey, Madonna, and the Cure and made my own wallpaper for my room. And it literally says, ‘The carpet of the bedroom is freshly vacuumed and everything is in order.’’