Interviews

Off Duty: Chelsea Hunter Harrison

Written By James Kicinski-McCoy

Photography by: The Bleu

I drove to Atlanta for work a few of weeks ago and brought my teenage daughter with me for what was to be a short, two day, overnight stay. She’s been asking to come with me on one of my work trips for years, and since this one was going to be fairly simple, it was the perfect opportunity for her to tag along. She got a glimpse into what mom does for work while traveling and we spent the downtime exploring an unfamiliar city, eating good food (she’s my only non-picky or allergy-stricken eater), and popping into little shops along the way. After day one (an off day) in ATL that included an incredible dinner at 8Arm — think focaccia and honey whipped ricotta, peaches and heirloom tomatoes, duck and figs  — and gelato for dessert, we woke up early the following morning with two photo shoots on the agenda. We stopped for a patio breakfast of tacos, blue matcha, and chai at Muchacho (a very cool spot that reminds me of Sqirl in L.A.) before heading to Roswell, which is a charming little town about 25 minutes outside of the city, for our first shoot.

There we met Chelsea Hunter Harrison, a 30-something aficionado of food, esthetician in training, and mother of cats, plus one tiny son. I’ll preface by saying that this was one of my top five favorite interviews to date. Chelsea is refreshingly down to earth and easy to be around. I could have spent all day with her. She welcomed me and [my daughter] Plum into her well designed home, which she and her husband are still in the process of building alongside her parents estate. She jokingly calls it “the compound” because it also happens to be right next door to her sister’s house — truly a family affair. If you want to learn more about what life is like for this close knit bunch and start your week off with a sense of calm and kindness, go pour yourself a cup of coffee and read below where Chelsea candidly talks life, school, transition, and style.

Tibi dress. Converse sneakers.
Tibi dress. Converse sneakers.

How do you typically spend a day off?  “What’s a day off? Kidding, but I am in school four days a week and work one to two days a week right now. So, my rare unscheduled days are usually spent playing catch-up around the house —laundry, cleaning, grocery shopping. But, we usually make time to go out for a coffee and croissant as a family or go to a park or farmer’s market. And, during the summer we spend a lot of time in the pool.”

Do you sleep in on your days off?  “Never. I usually wake up around 6:30. I’ve always been an early riser and our bedroom is all windows with no shades. If it’s an especially cloudy morning, I may sleep in until maybe 7:30.”

How many times (if any) do you hit snooze?  “I rarely even set an alarm, only if I’m traveling and have to wake up especially early. But if I do, I usually save myself enough time to snooze once if I’m exhausted.”

What’s the very first thing you do when you wake up?  “Coffee first thing. It’s hard to get alone time as a mom, so that first half hour of solo coffee gets me centered for the day. I check my phone for any urgent emails and then sit and read a few minutes before packing my lunch and [my son] Luc’s.”

What’s on your bedside table?  “I don’t have a bedside table. Our room is almost completely empty other than a bed. But, I do usually have a stack of books beside my bed along with a hair clip or hair tie.”

What’s the story behind your home and how long have you lived there?  “We loved living in Atlanta, but rent kept rising and we were in extremely small spaces. We realized that we could have a lower monthly payment by taking out a loan to build on my parents’ property instead of paying rent. My husband is a fabricator, so he knows how to build anything and I love architecture and working with small space. My parents thought we were joking when we asked if we could live on their land, but they came around. We designed the space with an architect and left a lot of elements unfinished, so we can work on it ourselves over the years. We’ve been in the space three years now, but we still have a lot of projects left to do. We moved in when I was nine months pregnant, so we have been preoccupied with other responsibilities.”

What has the home building process been like?  “The building process was excruciating at first. There were so many delays and so many mistakes made by our contractor. And, we lived in my parents’s unfinished basement during construction, so we were really ready to get the project done. But, once we got to move in, it has been really fun. After renting for years, it is such a joy to be able to work on our space and make whatever changes we want to without getting permission from a landlord.”

What design elements that you have (or plan to) implement are your favorite?  “Our bedroom windows are the highlight of the house. We put our whole budget toward them and did builder’s grade for everything else. I still have to pinch myself sometimes. Do I really get to wake up in a glass bedroom!? And, the room changes completely with the season. It’s so dynamic.”

What’s it like living so close to family?  “Living close to family — attached to my parents and next door to my sisters — is mostly a blessing. But, it is intense. I was so grateful to have so many adults around when I was a new mom. I was desperate for an adult to talk to and so grateful my mom and sister come home earlier than my husband. And, it’s nice to be able to depend on each other. Having a whole community makes things so much easier. We even have a shared vegetable garden between our houses. But, we have had to work through some boundaries. I am an introvert and need some alone time and quiet, and we have had to figure out how to communicate that need for space without hurting each other.”

What are a few favorite things that you cherish in your home and why?  “I am an exceedingly unsentimental person, so the things that I love in my house are actually some of the most practical. I love my coffee maker, The Technivorm Moccamaster. It doesn’t have any digital nonsense or a million settings and it makes the most consistently good coffee. I also love my set of East Fork Pottery breakfast bowls. They’re the perfect size for so many things, and I use them constantly. Plus, they are beautiful and made by wonderful people with ethics I admire. I also have a rubber or silicone vase that my friend Megan Huntz gave me that I’ve repurposed as a paint brush holder. I don’t know why exactly, but it brings me so much joy.”

Tell us about the art in your home.  “I’m constantly changing our home and decor around, especially since our house is still not totally finished. So, none of the art feels like it’s in its permanent home. My favorite piece is a painting by Sheyda Mehrara that she and my husband surprised me with for Christmas a few years ago. I also have a beautiful textile piece that my cousin Eliza Geshel did for me. She’s a textile artist currently living in France sharing an art studio in a cave with her artist husband, which sounds like something out of fiction, it’s so dreamy. I have a large painting done in silk screen currently framed above the sofa. I’m not sure if I’ll find a place for it here long-term or give it to my mom, but it hung above the sofa in my grandmother’s house for over 50 years.”

Where do you find / shop for home decor?  “I’m so picky, but also on a budget, so I’m very slow to get home decor. A lot of what we have has just come to us. When I want to shop in person, I usually end up at Youngblood Boutique and Highland Row Antiques since they are next to each other. I also like East Fork and Star Provisions for kitchen items. Online I like Deiji Studios for linen and Need Supply for small home items. I really don’t buy much for the house because I don’t like clutter, and we have most of what we need for now. Until we finish the stairs, it’s hard to know what we need.”

Any favorite, must-read books?  “I love to read and have a hard time picking favorites, so don’t hold me to this list, but here are five books I loved: The Wind Up Bird Chronicle (anything by Murakami honestly), House of Leaves, Beloved, 100 Years of Solitude, and Just Kids. I realized that most of the books I read have been written by men, so for 2019, I’ve been trying to read books written by non-men. The last few books I’ve read are Where the Crawdads Sing, Little Fires Everywhere, Normal People, Bandit, and The Secret History.”

Favorite Netflix series / movies?  “Oof, this is hard. As soon as this is published, I’m going to think of something I really love and forgot to mention, but I really loved The OA (Brit Marling is my doppelgänger, especially before her character gets cleaned up and brushes her hair) and Russian Doll.”

Any good podcasts you recommend?  “I love Radiolab, This American Life, and How Stuff Works as my ongoing ones, but I love a mysterious series one. Obviously Serial and S-Town were great, but I can’t believe more people aren’t talking about the Missing Richard Simmons. It was fascinating! I also try to listen to Radio Ambulante sometimes to keep up my Spanish.”

Coffee table books and magazines you love?  “With a toddler, anything on a coffee table gets destroyed, so we’ve been keeping that area clear right now. But, if he ever grows out of it, I’d love to get some art architecture books to have out.”

Favorite candles?  “I love the Na Nin and Boy Smells candles. I try to find candles that come in a reusable vessel like the ceramic ones from East Fork.”

Signature scent?  “Maison Louis Marie No. 04. I prefer the roll on. For some reason, it smells better than the spray.”

Song currently on repeat?  “I’m at the mercy of a three year old and he demands Petula Clark ‘Downtown’ constantly. I’m a square who mostly listens to NPR in the car.”

This is Fern.
This is Fern.

What are your hobbies?  “I love to read. I hate to run, but I love to walk and could walk all day. Yoga. Does going out for a cappuccino and croissant count as a hobby?”

Night in or night out? How do you spend it?  “Night in! I like to cook at home and drink wine on the back porch. Then, watch Fleabag or read a little and call it a night. I’m pretty much always asleep by ten.”

Tell us about the trio of cats.  “We have a male tabby cat named Emily, a black Japanese bobtail naked named Roman, and a grey cat named Fern — all rescues. We actually only planned on having two cats, but just before we got married my husband found four kittens. They were only two weeks old, and we had to bottle feed them. We found homes for three of them, but we became so attached, we kept one, Fern. She was so small when he found her that she fit in his shirt pocket.”

Vintage pants. Old band t-shirt. Young Frankk necklace.
Vintage pants. Old band t-shirt. Young Frankk necklace.

Describe your personal style / style philosophy.  “My style is super laid-back. Comfort is essential to my style. If something is uncomfortable, I just won’t wear it. I keep things pretty basic, but I don’t take myself too seriously. I don’t feel like I wear anything crazy, but my sisters would disagree. I don’t wear a lot of accessories mostly because I’m too practical and don’t add on anything unnecessary.”

What’s the one thing in your closet you would save in a fire?  “My Reike Nen white patent leather boots or my mom’s 1969 Gunne Sax dress she wore to prom.”

What do you wear when you’re spending the day comfortable, at home, and off duty?  “Jeans and a t-shirt, and slides or converse. Although, sometimes I like to wear my more fun clothes on my days off because at esthetics school, we have to wear scrubs.”

Who, what, where inspires your style the most?  “I get a lot of inspiration from Instagram. I love following people that put together unexpected combinations that seem effortless and comfortable. Some of my favorites are Reese and Molly Blutstein and Blanca Miró Scrimieri. And strangely, I find inspiration for fashion and home design in some of the picture books I read my son at night, especially the Ezra Jack Keats illustrations. I love Peter’s outfits in Whistle for Willie and want my bathroom to be Peter’s in The Snowy Day.”

What are three things on your want list?  “I really want the Burberry Patent Leather T-Bar shoes with the huge lug sole, but they are more of a dream because of the price. I want another pair of Darner socks in a more basic color. And, I’m always on the hunt for really good t-shirts — either vintage or just really comfortable — that I can add to my rotation.”

Your five wardrobe staples, go…  “Boyfriend-fit jeans, a really broken-in t-shirt, Converse sneakers, a dress that feels like pajamas, but makes people think you put some effort in, and an oversized pullover because I’m always cold.”

Favorite designers / brands and why?  “Oh, that’s hard. I love Bode — not only because Emily manages to maintain her artistic vision without falling into trends, but also because I grew up with her and her sister and have always admired her exquisite taste. Cecilie Bahnsen makes me want to get married again just to have an excuse to buy one of her dresses (although I actually wore pants at my wedding). Megan Huntz is my favorite local designer. Everything she makes is so thoughtfully tailored; if it looks good on the rack, it’s ten times better on the body. I really like Maryam Nassir Zadeh. She has such fun pieces and a really wide range. Lately, I’ve been loving Simon Miller, too.”

Very favorite online shop?  “Need Supply.”

Dresses or jeans?  “Jeans, but I do love a good dress and respect that it’s a complete outfit in one piece.”

Heels or flats?  “Flats.”

Vintage or new?  “Vintage.”

Suzanne Rae top. Imogene + Willie jeans.
Suzanne Rae top. Imogene + Willie jeans.

Breakfast / brunch of choice?  “Coffee and a croissant.”

Coffee or tea? How do you take it?  “Coffee, black, and lots of it.”

Favorite local cup?  “Fellows Cafe is the only good coffee in Roswell. In town, I love Three Heart or Chrome Yellow. There’s tons of good coffee in Atlanta.”

Fave cookbooks?  “Tartine Bread, Plenty, Feast, and Bar Tartine. I need some more actually!”

Your go-to dinner recip when at home?  “I love to make arepas. I used to go to Caracas Arepa Bar in the East Village all the time when I lived in NYC and spent years trying to recreate their sauce. I finally made one that I actually like better at this point. It’s mango and garlic-based. And, the arepa has avocado, plantains, and queso fresco.”

Favorite local restaurant and your go-to order?  “We don’t make it out much lately, but my favorite place is 8ARM. The Chef Maricela Vega is brilliant and a voice for ethics in the food community. The menu is always evolving, but I went for brunch recently and had a board of snacks that had some of the most unbelievable flavor combinations.”

Regular Postmates / takeout order?  “I’ve never used Postmates or Ubereats and we rarely get takeout. If and when we do, it’s usually wood-fired pizza from this local place called Pizzeria Luca or we get Thai food. I like all the curries with tofu.”

Any supplements you take/magic elixirs you make or swear by?  “I always want to have a magic elixir I swear by, but I’ve never felt sure any of it was really doing anything beyond placebo, nothing I could feel at least. The Lord Jones CBD does put me to sleep if I can’t sleep though. And, Supergood makes an amazing golden milk powder with CBD. They use Diaspora Co. turmeric which is the highest quality and most ethically sourced.”

Any most-loved kitchen gadgets? My friend Emily convinced me to get a water carbonator, so I wouldn’t buy so much La Croix and Topo Chico. I wanted a pretty one since my kitchen has no where to hide anything, so I got the Aarke. It’s beautiful and doesn’t take up too much space, and though it was expensive, we aren’t buying La Croix every day anymore. I love my East Fork and Heath ceramic pieces. Having a manual pasta maker has been great, too. Another thing Emily talked me into. It’s just a cheap one I got on Amazon, but it does the job.”

How do you stay active? Do you work out?  “My physical activity is lacking right now. I go to school and work and watch Luc, so there isn’t much time left for activity. But when I am active, it’s usually walking and yoga. I’m actually a certified yoga teacher. Once I finish esthetician school, I’ll finally have a little time to take care of myself. I can’t wait.”

What does self-care look like for you when you’re off duty?  “Because of the three year old, self-care has had to become more subtle. Right now, it’s waking up first to get some coffee time alone and spending a little time on my skincare routine. Maybe having a glass of wine in the late afternoon with my mom and sister while Luc plays in his sandbox.”

You decide to treat yourself, how do you indulge?  “Croissants. And, I indulge often [laughs].”

Tell us a bit about what you do.  “I’m currently working the front desk at Aviary, the best place to get a facial in Atlanta, in my opinion, while I am in school to become a facialist myself.”

Was it always skincare?  “As a career, no. I’ve always had problematic skin and have tried so many products and lines over the years. I think I was drawn to skincare so that I could really understand the science behind the claims that brands make. I come from a family of educators and ended up working at the small, progressive school that I attended for high school and middle school until I had my son.”

Who or what has been your biggest inspiration?  “My boss Amy Leavell Bransford has been a huge inspiration to me. She is the best at what she does and she’s shown me that you can make your career whatever you want. She makes her own schedule, wears jeans and a t-shirt to work, stands by her values, and puts all her effort into her skills instead of some notion of what a spa professional should be.”

What does a typical work day look like?  “Work days are so great. I wake up early, but don’t go in until 9:30, so I get quality coffee time at home in the morning. Then, I go in and spend the day checking people in and out and doing the laundry. I hate doing laundry at home, but I love doing it at Aviary. It’s quiet and the items are always the same towels and sheets, and it’s kind of meditative folding them. I’m neurotic about making the most perfectly bundled sheet sets. For some reason, I take a lot of pride in that. I just feel like whatever your job is, you should do it the best way you can.”

Typical work lunch?  “Usually, an everything-I-find-in-the-fridge kind of salad. I get a wreck jar and add whatever I can find. Often chickpeas, beets, walnuts, feta, bell peppers, avocado, sun dried tomatoes, and a little balsamic vinegar.”

Keys to productivity?  “I’m not great at being productive, but I am a big list-maker. I’m constantly writing down things I need to do and buy, or things coming up in my schedule. It’s more about the act of writing them down, so I can prioritize. I often lose track of my lists, but just having written them down gets my brain organized.”

What are the bare necessities when taking care of the skin?  “This is what I wish I had known when I was younger. It’s more important to have a good order / system than to have one great product. The main things you need are a good cleanser, a good exfoliator, a good moisturizer, and an SPF. You can add on serums and toners if you want to do more.”

Favorite skincare line that really works and is worth investing in?  “I’m obsessed with Biologique Recherche. I started with the P50, but now I’m sold. They put tons of effort into researching and continuing to learn and grow. They are definitely a line you want to get advised on how to use though. They only sell through estheticians and doctors for that reason. For an easier-to-access line, I love Marie Veronique and especially her line with Kristina Holey. The products focus on restoring the skin’s barrier. She has products with pre- and probiotics to encourage a healthy microbiome on the skin.”

Any exciting news or projects on the horizon?  “I just got to be involved in an exciting new campaign with a major beauty brand. It’s starting in September, so it may be out [it is, see it here!] by the time this is published.”

Written by: James Kicinski-McCoy

James Kicinski-McCoy is the 40-something Founder and Editor-In-Chief of The Bleu. She likes tequila, picks fights with her husband so she can have the bed to herself, and is trying to figure out that work / life balance.

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