Pianos, Pillows & Piaf: How one artistic Astoria resident designed her apartment

Photos: Ruthie Darling/BORO

“The piano is actually from the apartment upstairs. The tenants left in a hurry and the piano was abandoned up there. My landlord brought it down in the elevator and I tuned it up.”

This stroke of good fortune, followed by some restoration, seems to be the theme of Ashley Harrell’s darling apartment in Astoria.


A California transplant, Harrell lived in the West Village for two years before deciding she needed more space and light, so she moved Astoria, a neighborhood that so many artists call home. A multi-instrumentalist, singer, actress and beer maker, Harrell designed her home to reflect all of her talents and interests.


In and around her piano, you can see a ukulele and guitar hanging on the wall, but hidden away I found a violin (“I just started learning to play; I’m terrible!” she grimaced), a clarinet, an autoharp and an accordion.

“My dad likes to send me instruments for my birthdays. This year I received a squeeze box — it’s kind of like a small accordion,” she explained.

Take a cursory glance around the space and you get the sense that this apartment dweller is very well traveled.

Turkish lights hang above her bed, a Mexican house tile sits above the entrance to the kitchen and a wall hanging made from reclaimed Indian saris adorns the wall in her bedroom.



It turns out that Harrell has worked on various cruise ships as a singer, picking up treasures on her travels. The nautical theme carries over from her cruise ship work into her bedroom, where Ashley has created wall art out of old family photographs, photos of the ships her family came to America on and their ship manifests.

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Music is not Harrell’s only creative outlet. Her home is an ongoing project.

“I made the lighting out of old PVC pipes that I painted and then hung from the ceiling,” she said. The mannequin legs hanging from the ceiling, complete with chipped white paint that gives them a vintage feel, were a thrift-store find, she told me.


I was definitely feeling the vintage vibe in her space—she even had Edith Piaf playing on vinyl as I arrived. Très chic! The liquor cabinet was a vintage Craigslist purchase, but instead of filling it with booze, this creative Astorian turned it into a fold-out sewing table.


“I’m taking classes at Mood Fabrics,” Harrell said. “I’m trying to make a dress. Look at this fabric—cute, right?”

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Harrell doesn’t only scout out these incredible finds, but she restores them herself. Take, for example, the adorable pink floor lamp that brightens up her living room.


“The lamp was just out on the street,” she said. “I rewired it and then added this cute owl shade. I also found the chandelier on the curb,” she said of the lighting above her kitchen table. “It was completely broken, but I brought it home and began fixing it up. That was a very long and involved project, but so worth it.” The revamped chandelier, which is painted fire engine red and adorned with strands of crystal beads, certainly adds glamour to this Queens kitchen.

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Some finds, luckily, didn’t require so much TLC.

“The picnic set is vintage,” she said of a cute green suitcase housing dishes, cutlery, and containers to pack a lunch. “I picked up in London.”


Harrell is quite a dab hand in the kitchen, as it turns out. She works at Big Alice Brewing in Long Island City, and she recently started to make her own beer at home.

“It’s my dream to one day open a space that combines a brewery with a performance venue,” she told me. “A place where you can sip a microbrew while listening to bands play or watching a theater show. Maybe we’ll even have yoga in the space in the mornings.”

What I most enjoyed about Harrell’s place was the wonderful way she mixed patterns and colors so effortlessly. Her bed is a shining example of this. The pillowcases are sourced from every corner of the globe and, though they do not necessarily match, they blend symbiotically together to create a relaxed, bohemian feel. I also loved the wooden palette headboard. Very Pinterest!

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As we sat down on her delightfully soft sofa, I noticed she had some Fanny Brice sheet music displayed on her music stand.


“I am in the process of creating a one-woman Fanny Brice show,” she explained. In fact, before meeting me, she had spent the afternoon in the archives at Lincoln Center researching the project.

So, Ashley, am I to understand that today you made beer in the morning, researched your one-woman show in the afternoon and then sat down to be interviewed by me about your interior design skills in the evening?

“Yep, I’m always busy with something!”

Harrell’s art begins in the home and extends out into the world from there. A true artist inside (her home) and out.


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