Living It Up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan

by Annie Werbler

We are so excited to share the second of Dana Arbib‘s favorite homes to visit, considering her own place somehow manages a crisp and earthy aesthetic all at once. Her work for A Peace Treaty has Dana crossing paths with all kinds of clever creative types, including Christan Summers and Ivan Martinez, who just so happen to live in An Airy Modern Greenhouse in Brooklyn. Across the East River on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Susan Joy — a fashion stylist, creative consultant, and guiding light to developing designers — lives in a 1,300-square-foot penthouse duplex rental apartment with a private roof deck, a terrace, and two private balconies. “When A Peace Treaty was accepted into the CFDA Fashion Incubator,” Dana explains, “I asked the powers that be to have Susan Joy on-boarded as our official mentor. The thing about Susan is that she looks like a sweet Australian fairy, but actually tells it like it is and shoots from the hip like no one I have ever met before. Susan’s apartment is truly a reflection of herself: It’s as artsy and eclectic as her personality. She is not afraid of color, and embraces the unexpected.”

Case in point — when Abby the housecat was left behind after a neighbor moved out of the building, Susan welcomed her with open arms. “Two years on,” Susan shares, “She’s the house guest that never left, happily ensconced in her LES oasis.” Abby isn’t the only one. “I love the neighborhood,” Susan admits. “It’s changed so much since I moved in 11 years ago, but it’s still a wonderful mix of old and new. It’s the old immigrant Jewish LES, Chinatown, burgeoning art district, bustling restaurant scene, young and old all mixed up and changing and evolving constantly.”

The many roommates who have shared the space with Susan have also left their mark on the apartment. For example, Nader Rajab, a digital product strategist, currently mixes his contemporary street art with Susan’s vintage furniture. The pair also have a spare room to rent out to visitors. “The spaciousness comes not so much from the square footage,” Susan adds, “But from the open sky all around — and the ability to open doors and windows. Having a cross breeze in summer is something for which I’m eternally grateful.” Without a proper dining room, Susan often finds herself eating outdoors whenever the weather allows. The entrance to the unit is also located through the terrace, “so you have to go outside from the elevator hallway and then inside again. It’s very special having that connection to the exterior. It’s a fantastic perspective-changer to walk outside and reconnect with the city from a new point of view before entering the apartment. It’s quite magical,” she says.

The perfectly imperfect arrangement provides a welcoming, not stuffy, vibe. With many prized opulent and gilded elements, Susan still hopes that her home feels more like “decaying grandeur” than anything too precious. —Annie

Photography by Genevieve Garruppo

Living It Up on the Lower East Side, on Design*Sponge
The eclectic mix of decor in Susan's living room includes an overdyed Persian rug, furniture with French-inspired styling, and throw pillows she made for the sofa.
Living It Up on the Lower East Side, on Design*Sponge
Susan Joy in her Lower East Side living room with artwork by Matthias Czaja. "My roommate Nader and his foundation Foreign Neighbors put on his first US show," Susan shares.
Living It Up on the Lower East Side, on Design*Sponge
"I really love having no TV in the living room," Susan admits. "The focus is now on conversation and catching up with friends." Artwork by Matthias Czaja.
Living It Up on the Lower East Side, on Design*Sponge
Susan reveals she has a weakness for books. "Cecil Beaton's scrapbook is such an extraordinary item. Every page is so rich with inspiration and details of interesting lives and projects," she says. Animal-themed objects keep her prized collection in place.
Living It Up on the Lower East Side, on Design*Sponge
A handwoven baby alpaca scarf from A Peace Treaty does double duty as a throw blanket over the back of the living room sofa. "We have no buildings to the south, so it’s a clear view downtown to the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges. We can see all three bridges from the apartment," Susan shares. Beside the window hangs a “Gaza Strip” artwork by Blu.
Living It Up on the Lower East Side, on Design*Sponge
"What I love about my home is the light, the air and the cross breeze...I feel connected yet removed from the city." - Susan Joy
Living It Up on the Lower East Side, on Design*Sponge
Framing the doorway to the terrace is a large money tree that was a gift from an old roommate almost a decade ago. "I love living with the door open," Susan offers. "It’s such a subtle thing, but it’s a totally different mindset and way of life to have a door open to the world –- even if it’s just our terrace."
LivingU on the Lower East Side, on Design*Sponge
Abby the cat -- the house guest who never left -- loves the terrace. It is also Susan's favorite spot in the apartment. "In summer it gets overgrown with wildflowers, and we get every kind of bee visiting, including bumblebees, which I’d never really seen before –- we don’t have them in Australia," she explains. "The passionflower vine is really cool –- each flower blooms for just one day, then dies. So it’s a wonderful surprise every day to see how many flowers there are that day."
Living It Up on the Lower East Side, on Design*Sponge
Back inside, Susan displays her collection of every Vogue and W magazine since she arrived in the city in mid-1999. "This looks really obsessive but it just shows how long I’ve been in NYC," she jokes.
Living It Up on the Lower East Side, on Design*Sponge
Susan's own bedroom is full of romantic antique finds collected over more than a decade in the home.
Living It Up on the Lower East Side, on Design*Sponge
A gallery wall features a painting of roses by Susan's grandmother Winifred Joy, a detail of painted hands by French Neoclassical painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, and a pin board with fabrics, photos, postcards, artwork, jewelry, buttons, and assorted random treasures.
Living It Up on the Lower East Side, on Design*Sponge
Susan found the chinoiserie armoire at a vintage store in Brooklyn. On it hangs a design by A Peace Treaty for W Hotels. "Nothing's more luxurious than lounging around the house in a silk robe," she says.
Living It Up on the Lower East Side, on Design*Sponge
"I love French moldings," Susan reveals, "But living in a new rental building without any pre-war charm, I decide[d] to paint them in." Because her nickname is Swannee, she has several swan-related items around the bed.
Living It Up on the Lower East Side, on Design*Sponge
A crisp white bathroom is given life with a vintage cut-glass decanter used as a vase, and one of her own Maison Swan candles.
Living It Up on the Lower East Side, on Design*Sponge
With a custom-made outdoor mattress for lounging, the roof is yet another slice of heaven. "We’re really on top of the world up here," Susan offers. "With clear views of Manhattan in many directions."
Living It Up on the Lower East Side, on Design*Sponge
Susan's penthouse apartment is spread out over two floors and a roofdeck.

Suggested For You


  • Beautiful and inspiring home!! But the open windows and terrace doesn’t work with a cat in the house! It gives me the goosebumps! Let’s hope the poor cat never wants to hunt a pigeon in the
    parapet! =(

    • Agreed. We used to live in a fifth-floor walkup with a terrace, and I never let my kitties out there without a harness and leash because I was terrified they jump overboard accidentally.

  • Am I the only person in the world who hates flies with a passion? I look at all the open doors and windows and love the look but hate the little beasties that move in with the breeze. I’m just saying. LOL
    I envy your fabulous terrace and your views.

  • I love the French vibe and the endless summer vibe–2 cool vibes in all ;-), and the comittment to collecting what you love.

  • Gorgeous home! It’s a refreshing change fro the succulent, tapestry, macrame look that is the fashion now. The mix of vintage, personality yet still tidy and airy is appealing to me now