Heroic House Beautiful

Detective Laurel and I are unlikely buddies at first glance. We have been buddies for over 10 years and it may be because we are living vicariously through one another. If this design thing doesn’t work out I have two alternative careers that I would pursue. One is a quick order cook at a breakfast place— specifically Waffle House. I like those round hash brown cooking tins, and the fact they invented something called “Smothered and Covered.” It’s like they designed a new way to eat hash browns. I kind of love that spirit. I also love that the kitchen is open and moving so fast…

The other secret career I would want to have is to be a forensic detective. Specifically because I’d like to spray Luminol…. If you’ve watched those crime shows, then you’ve probably seen the detective spray Luminol over everything, resulting in a pale blue luminescence when there is blood at the scene. The luminescence is attractive, the engagement with the surface is appealing. If it wasn’t for the fact that it had blood involved, I would be all over that career. This is why when I met Detective Laurel about 15 years ago I was instantly her fan girl and have been orbiting with her ever since. Detective Laurel is a CSI Detective for the NCPD. She has not only been on the force for over 30 years, but first went to Pratt for design. She is the Yin to my Yang: this detective wanting to be a designer and the designer dreaming of detecting were meant to be. Each are kinda living each other’s alternate paths. I am proud to call her my friend and kindred spirit. Over the years, she has visited me at almost all my shows at the Piers in NYC, and one of my fondest memories of her is when she brought a buddy and they started using loud voices saying “This is a Crime Scene!, Please Step Back!” They then proceeded to wrap my booth at the Architectural Digest show with bright yellow crime scene tape…If that’s not a fun day at the office for this designer in NYC, I don’t know what is.

Detective Laurel was kind enough to chat with me at her beautiful home in Long Island after her nap from her overnight shift and gave this girl a clue as to what it really means to be an empowered woman. She shared with me her flavor of fierce femininity— a combination of eclectic collector and meticulous gardener, served up with fingerprint powder and evidence tape. 

When I was invited to visit Det. Laurel’s home in Long Island, I did not realize I was walking into an amazingly curated oasis next to a river with gardens that were scheduled to be on the garden tour of her town. I was so amazed and delighted that what I thought was going to be a day looking at fingerprints and clues— maybe even some hand cuffs, was actually a visit to a modern day sanctuary tucked away about 30 minutes outside the city.

AS:  What is your job?

DLT: I am a crime scene investigator for the Nassau County Police Department. 

AS: How long have we known each other? 

DLT: About 12-14 years? Artists know each other. 

AS: What is your spirit animal?

DLT: Horse for their strength and noble nature, turtle for their gentle steady course through life.

[She points at Tankie, her turtle she bought in Chinatown.  She was about an inch big when she got her and now she’s over a foot long.] 

AS:  What does your boyfriend think of the gardens, the décor?

DLT: He doesn’t critique — he only sighs and consents when I ask him to help me pick up yet another “treasure” I’ve found: furniture or something big that I need his help with. My boyfriend is a homicide detective; he teaches EMS, is Chief of the Fire department, and the most ‘straight up’ person I’ve ever known. We both have been serving the community for 30 years or more… neither of us get enough sleep.

AS: Wow—what an amazing thing, to share your life with someone like that. You must feel proud.

DLT:  I do...He is phenomenal. I always tell my girlfriends -You should always ask yourself:  are you proud of him? If the answer is not yes, then move on. Money, cars, etcetera…Those things don’t matter. It’s if he treats you right, makes you feel loved and you feel proud of him.

[Here, I am humbled, filled with gratitude and I realize, I am in the midst of a hero’s house.]

AS: Isn’t your job scary?

DLT: Hmm, It doesn’t occur to me to be afraid—

[Umm….What?? Really? I look around but I don’t see her cape anywhere. I check the coat hooks by the front door… Nope.] 

—I’m not afraid because I’ve been trained how to react to it…and deal with it. The blood and the gore don’t dazzle me. ‘You know what you have to do and you just do it.’ 

[I’ll let that golden nugget sink in for a second—umm, wow again! This lady is so fierce, I don’t even know what to ask next!] 

It's dealing with the living folks that is scary. Not the dead ones—they don’t talk back.

AS: What does dazzle you? 

DLT: Ha! A really good sale!

[Now we’re talking! She is mortal!]

Or a big pile of stuff at a fleamarket or somewhere like that and finding that “gold egg” inside…I’m a huntress. All the time…. Which explains my home décor: buy what you love, eventually it goes together. I change it around seasonally. I call it Asian-fusion, Indo-chic.

AS: May I ask you for some advice?

DLT: On my job, often it seems that when a guy makes a mistake, it’s just the one guy, but when a woman makes a mistake she somehow represents all women. Your reputation and your word is very, very important. Trust your instincts. Be slow to react to people. You have to have people trust you. The golden rule is to be the kind of person you want your partner to be.

[She is referring to her job, but I think this comment works for any kind of partner.]

AS: Det. Laurel, your house is amazing. Did you do all this yourself? How long did it take you?

DLT: It is an ongoing project…I like to surround myself with things that inspire me creatively, I need to stay in touch with that part of myself. Even though I don’t get to do artwork on a regular basis I find that the artist comes out in the way I decorate, or arrange my garden – it is a point of view. We are all a product of our experiences and our environments…both are constantly changing.

We spend the next hour feeding ducks, walking the gardens, and waiting for the clouds to blow away so we can enjoy a pretty sunset. After that we go to the police facility where Det. Laurel will go to start her evening shift.

As we enter the building I notice it’s quiet. It is also stark, gray, and serious—a direct contrast to her colorful, detailed and “moment” filled home. I feel I am starting to understand how this woman’s home is her canvas, her outlet for celebrating beauty that she curates herself to offset what her eyes see every day at her job. I start to understand the magic of design, art, and curating beautiful things. For some people, it keeps them sane, straight, and happy. I am realizing this now…

We are being shown around the office. Detectives are there “bagging evidence.” There are procedures, rules, an evidence room. She shows me the lounge/locker room for the other female detectives— she had painted glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling, which she is proud to show me. I love that.

We go to the large garage bay area, where the “big boy toys” are kept. There are emergency vehicles that I have never seen before. She throws out words like S.W.A.T., mobile command post, and bomb truck. The vehicles look serious and it is the first time I truly FEEL the power of our American Police force. These are not toys—this is serious business. And this is a small department in Long Island.

There is a moment when I was humbled and felt a bit silly to have come all this way to play with fingerprint dust. That moment was when Det. Laurel showed me the Emergency Services locker room. There the members keep all their personal affects and gear. One was covered in acrylic and softly lit – a cubby frozen in time. There were everyday items in there. This man had left to go help on 9/11 and never came back. He was not the only one they lost that day. They honor him daily by keeping his locker exactly the way it was when he left for his call.

AS: If you were able to gift someone as a random act of kindness who would it be and why?

DLT: It would be my friend who is now staying with us who got displaced from her house. 

When Detective Laurel dropped me off at the train station to go back to the city, there was a carnival going on—bright lights, clowns, zeppoles…It was really magical. It wasn’t very crowded and it felt almost surreal. As I waited on the platform for my train I realized that I was changed. I did not interview a woman who was a detective and learn about clues, etc. What I had actually experienced was an opportunity to appreciate, respect, and honor the caregivers and protectors of our community. That to look after us is a burden they take on and there needs to be balance in life. I am so honored to call Detective Laurel Tobias my friend and now my inspiration.

Recently, she shared with me that her partner's kid is autistic and is involved in an incredible organization called Inclusive Sports Fitness, whose mission is to level the playing field by providing access to kids with special needs who want to play sports. They offer them skilled therapeutic services that maximize their capacity to play sports and other recreational activities.

Please join me in supporting this organization by donating here – or if you feel like shopping our sale, we will donate 15% of all proceeds through October to this organization. Use code HERO15 for a discount and receive a gift with purchase.


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