Lyon Porter’s Urban Cowboy B&B
Brooklyn’s hidden gem, Urban Cowboy (available to book on Splacer) is Lyon Porter and Jersey Banks answer to community cool. Situated on a quiet residential street the duo transformed their dream home into something akin to a bed and breakfast. Mind you this BnB sports a look that Porter describes as ‘Southwestern Deco’ rather than the lacy curtains, cats and mysterious smells so often associated with this sub-genre of the hospitality industry. The original Urban Cowboy in Greenpoint has a sister in Nashville — this outpost was once a BnB that fit the aforementioned stereotype until Banks and Porter got their hands on it. Their passion project turned business has an emphasis on community and experience giving guests the chance to share a living room and kitchen, think hostel chic. We met at the site of Porter’s newest design project, The Treehouse, to hear about design, travel and Urban Cowboy’s almost name, Bruce Spruce (or Bruce Bruce, we’re still not sure).
SPLACER: Tell me a bit about what Urban Cowboy is for you.
JERSEY BANKS: I think one of the biggest things for us is that we are exactly what we would be doing normally in life. It’s not so much a strategic plan of ours that we have, we are just living our lives and part of that is that we’re both interested in building a community in whatever it is we’re doing so the idea of having a great space where people want to come and hang out is kind of intuitive to us. We’ve always done that throughout our lives, try to create the best hang for everyone so doing it as a business just makes a lot of sense. I don’t think we even really thought about it.
SPLACER: What was it about New York City that attracted you?
JERSEY BANKS: I’m actually from Colorado. But I stayed because this was the one place that…I mean when I came to New York it was the one place I was afraid of, I was like everywhere else seems like I might get bored real fast, so it was just like when I graduated it still had that appeal. I still wanted to make it here. She’s a temptress, New York City, she wraps you up and either she spits you out or she keeps you for a long time. She’ll show you everything you want and everything you can have and then tell you that it’s not so easy. She kept me, so I stayed!
SPLACER: What were you doing before Urban Cowboy?
JERSEY BANKS: I actually did real estate with Lyon, that’s how we met, I worked in his office for a very brief stint and decided I hated real estate and wasn’t going to show up to work anymore, so I didn’t. It was great! And surprisingly I managed to stay friends with him and when he thought of this he was like “Jerz, I have an idea for you, why don’t you be involved in this,” and I said, “no.” But somehow he convinced me, he’s got a way with words.
LYON PORTER: Yeah, it just kind of happened. Someone asked me what I did when I was down in Nicaragua on a surf trip and I was already designing the space I was just going to make it my dream house. They asked me what I did and I was just like, “I’m opening a bed and breakfast.” Just came out. Then I came back and I was like, “we’re opening a bed and breakfast,” and that was it.
SPLACER: I have to ask. The name Urban Cowboy, John Travolta inspired?
LYON PORTER: It’s more about the fact that in Americana and popular culture cowboys represent the ideal of American freedom. So it was really more about freedom than the movie, but you know why not. We had to pick a name. A magazine was doing a piece on us and they were like, “you need a name to give us, what is this thing called,” and I was like the Urban Cowboy…
JERSEY BANKS: We also spent many days and hours on thesaurus.com looking up different weird names.
SPLACER: Where did the cowboy theme come from?
LYON PORTER: I had already designed it. I love southwestern style. I love things that look better when you beat them up, that’s kind of my design aesthetic, it’s like your favorite leather jacket. Like that couch [a beaten up brown leather couch] it’s already been partied on many times by the owner, but it keeps looking better and better — less shiny. It’s just one of those things that’s part of the aesthetic, the rugged cowboy theme, so it just kind of came out of that and us wanting to build our own little world in the city.
SPLACER: How did you end up finding the Greenpoint space?
LYON PORTER: I’m a real estate broker. I had been looking in this area for a long time.
SPLACER: There is a second Urban Cowboy in Nashville. How did that end up happening?
JERSEY BANKS: Nashville is kind of magical. We took a vacation to Nashville and we stayed with a good friend of ours.
LYON PORTER: It was our first vacation since opening. We were open six months and we hadn’t had a day off and everyone who kept coming through Brooklyn were saying one word: Nashville.
JERSEY BANKS: So we arrive in Nashville and we’re staying at our friends house. So we’re like, we’re in Nashville for the first time we have no idea what we’re doing. We found the closest dive bar we could, it’s called Dino’s. It turned out to be one of the oldest dives in Nashville. And we’re talking to the bar owner who’s sitting there smoking a cigarette, long white beard, his ex-wife still works with him and she’s behind the bar bartending. They start talking about some bed and breakfast that’s up the street and they don’t remember exactly where it is.
LYON PORTER: And we’re just drinking like just like we’re here to explore. So they said, “it’s just up that way.” So we just started driving around. We came across this crazy huge victorian mansion. And it just had this sign that said, ’Top o Woodland,’ because it’s at the top of Woodland Street.
JERSEY BANKS: And it was just on a bedpost. It was just a sign on a headboard.
LYON PORTER: And she’d just painted ‘Top o Woodland’ on it. So we went and knocked on the door, no one answered, and I called the number and she’s like “look I’m upstairs, I don’t give unscheduled tours.” It didn’t really look like it was open. I told her I owned a bed and breakfast and she was like, “I’ll be right down.” So she gave us a tour and you know we’re nudging each other the whole time. There’s like fourteen foot ceilings and crazy pocket doors and five fireplaces that are all intact. It was just a gem. It also had all of her stuff. A lot of stuff. There was purple paint and like lace victorian wedding dresses hanging over the beds.
JERSEY BANKS: And rose patterned carpets.
LYON PORTER: It was like what you think of when you thing of a bed and breakfast. Not necessarily what you want to go stay in.
SPLACER: Floral madness!
LYON PORTER: Exactly. There was wall-to-wall floral carpet that was one hundred years old and smelled like her two poodles. I asked her if she would ever sell it and she said, “for the right price.”
JERSEY BANKS: Mind you that was like three hours into being in Nashville.
LYON PORTER: So we got across the street that kitty corners having another cocktail and we were like…so we found the next Cowboy. Let’s go see if we like Nashville and then we fell in love with the city.
SPLACER: What are some of your favorite features of the Urban Cowboy spaces?
LYON PORTER: The eight foot diamond window here. I’m really about geometric patterns. In Nashville I did Southwestern and Art Deco and I mashed them together into Southwestern Deco. So there’s this kind of recurring geometric theme. I love the pull chain toilet. I highly recommend you pull it, it’s really satisfying. I also love my signature all white kitchen. A kitchen is always the focal point of any room and the fact that the island is so huge makes it social. I love the illuminated headboard downstairs. The copper and nickel bathtubs.
SPLACER: So in New York what are your favorite kind of spaces — favorite buildings or favorite parks?
JERSEY BANKS: Wow, that’s a good question. Obviously I like our spaces that we created. But I don’t know, I like places where my friends are. So I like places where there are good people and good energy. I worked in nightlife here in New York City, oh yeah I’ve done it all, you work twenty-four hours a day in this city, so I’ve always liked that kind of intimate like dark hole. But on the flip side of that New York has all these amazing and beautiful light and airy spaces as well. You know theres all of these old constructed buildings that have 14-20 foot ceilings and you get all of this light and air and it’s just so unique to find when you think about how crammed the city is. So I like spaces that seem a little bit out of ordinary for the city. They’re clean and fresh.
LYON PORTER: I love the National Arts Club on Gramercy Park. It has crazy turquoise ceilings that was inspirational for the turquoise ceilings in Nashville. I had to wallpaper it because apparently putting real turquoise on a ceiling is expensive.
SPLACER: If you were going to give some tips to somebody designing a space or decorating a space, what would you say to them?
LYON PORTER: If it’s a personal space I would say do things that lend themselves really well to getting beat up. Don’t do fabric couches, do antiqued leather couches. Do materials that age well, repurpose things and give them a new life. I love taking an old porthole and making it a window. I think that where you found them and what they are gives them a little bit more of a story and a little bit more of a soul versus just like going online and clicking a button. I mean you have to do that for some things, but I think picking one piece that can carry every room. That’s a big thing, just one statement piece per room. For instance a big diamond window or a couch that’s bigger than most peoples apartments. You know these types of pieces can carry a room and then you’re filling in with some other things, but try to have at least one really amazing piece that you’ll actually spend money on and you’ll take the time to find and it speaks to you.
Words & Portrait of Lyon by Katy Hallowell