24 Hours With… Cold Picnic
Meet Phoebe Sung and Peter Buer - partners in life and love, and the design minds behind everyone’s favourite boob-tastic bath mats. After studying fine art, the two found themselves embroiled in corporate careers, leaving little time for creativity. Starting Cold Picnic as a side project, the brand quickly flourished, quitting their office jobs to produce the tongue-in-chic pieces that have become synonymous with their brand. Now juggling two kids, two dogs and a burgeoning brand, we asked the NYC couple how they get it done…
“Our makeshift home office.”
“Peter makes the best coffees.”
“Peter and our baby, Coco.”
What time do you wake up and where?
Peter wakes up around 6am. That’s when our one-year-old gets up and he stays up with her. I sleep in until around 7am with our three-year-old in her bed. She fetches me at some point during the night or early morning. I insist this arrangement is fair because it is the only way she will sleep in.
What’s the first thing you do in the morning?
I usually breastfeed the baby while Peter makes us coffee - he makes the most delicious coffees! Plus a steamed milk for our older daughter. She’s very into her morning milk mustache.
Where are you usually based?
We live and work in Ridgewood, Queens.
What does your average day look like?
We have the baby home with us all day, so her first nap is sacred. It’s our longest uninterrupted stretch of work time, and usually flies by as we check emails and catch up. Our factories are mostly in India, so everything happens while we’re sleeping due to the time difference. Once the baby wakes up we throw together a quick lunch - maybe a salad or a crunchy brown rice bowl to use up leftovers and vegetables from the fridge. Then it’s meetings or more computer work before the baby goes down for a second nap and one of us leaves to pick up our other daughter. The rest of the day is a blur of tag teaming and stolen moments to dash off an email, tidying, playing with or reading to the kids, dinner, bathtime, bedtimes, finishing any loose ends from work.
Then it’s time for my favourite part of the day, where we eat chips and fruit in bed while watching one episode of a TV show. It’s heaven. On the weekends we usually have either late breakfasts or early dinners with friends. Sometimes we go to a park or to the Queens Zoo.
Do you have any rituals?
We take turns walking our daughter to preschool every weekday. She loves school but some days wants to stay home with us, so it helps to have her walk her dog to school each day. I think it gives her a certain mystique with the other kids! On special days the whole family will walk her and bring along our younger more rambunctious dog Daisy.
Where is your studio located and how do you get there?
We work from home. There’s an office that's been waiting on a desk which still hasn’t arrived. So for now the dining room table makes a good makeshift workspace. For now, with the little ones, working from home is a good fit.
“We’ll make a big batch of congee and then have it with different toppings several times a day.”
“We do stock photography in house. This is not our official setup!”
“Our daughter painted this lantern in her room. The painting below was a wedding gift from our friend Camilla Engstrom.”
How would you describe what you do?
We design soft goods for the home - mostly rugs and bath mats, but also pillows, blankets, and now wallpaper and upholstery.
How has your background influenced who you are today?
Everything I’ve always loved has found its way into the brand - natural parks and wild spaces, film, novels, animals. The same is true for Peter, with the exception of football which hasn’t found its way in yet (and never will!) I grew up in a very “new” neighbourhood, in a classic suburb. Peter grew up by the seaside in Brighton, England, in a stone cottage. Everything was already old and beautiful, so that’s his comfort zone. We’re sort of opposites in that respect, and that contrast is something we’ve embraced in Cold Picnic - nostalgia and freshness, comfort and tension. Contradictions keep things from getting too literal.
How did you get your start in fashion?
We both took the long route. Fine art, then fashion design, then corporate jobs, then textile design with Cold Picnic.
What was the impetus behind starting your label?
Cold Picnic started as a side project - we were bored at our jobs and wanted to challenge ourselves and get a chance to be creative. It was essentially a series of projects where we taught ourselves how to make things. We puttered around for years before the bath mats and rugs and everything else finally materialised. We wouldn’t have it any other way though. I think anything meaningful needs to develop on its own. Everything we worked on in those early days informed and inspired what we made later on.
“Colour matching with baby Coco.”
“We gave this room a head to toe look. Plotting the same in different prints for other rooms…”
“Aviary at Night wallpaper in our hallway, and Freckle Flower wallpaper and a crocodile runner we had custom made for our stairs.”
What are the most important factors for the brand?
Colour, storytelling, unexpected harmony.
How do you get into a creative headspace?
We used to spend whole days dedicated to gearing up to design - looking at old collections, watching movies, making collages, paintings, taking photographs… Now we just have to sit down and work. You never know when the kid will get sick or her school will close for an outbreak, and suddenly a week’s gone by. Designing is the reward too - we get to do it after we’ve finished all the boring stuff, so when we have a moment we try not to waste it. The one thing we still do is look at movies and take screenshots to create a gallery of inspiration. It just helps to look at colours and compositions that move us.
Whilst working, where do you go and what do you do to take a break?
Weekday work hours are precious so we generally keep our heads down to get as much done as possible. I do spend most of the morning daydreaming about lunch and afternoon coffee.
Who would you most like to see with your pieces in their home?
I used to always say Kris Kristofferson or Werner Herzog. But somehow I’m not sure I can see either of them with a boob bathmat!
“Storytime before bed.”
What’s on your bookshelf right now?
I’m reading Breaking And Entering by Joy Williams. I just finished her novel The Changeling and loved it - it was so sharp and strange. I’ve also had a book called A Ring Of Bright Water by Gavin Maxwell on my shelf forever, but I don’t want to start it because I’m afraid it will make me sad. Peter is reading a Stephen Fry book about Greek myths. He usually also has an endless, epic science fiction book going on in the background.
What do you usually do for dinner?
We usually cook dinner. I do a lot of prep over the weekend for things we’ll use throughout the week - shallot confit or homemade mayonnaise or scallion oil. We just got a pressure cooker and are obsessed so we’ve been making a lot of stews, risottos, congee with different toppings, or soups. We get a lot of veggies from farm deliveries, and then I stress about how to use them all up. That sums up my approach to cooking - overshop then fret about how to use everything without any waste.
What time do you go to bed?
Around 11pm, sometimes later. Peter usually falls asleep a half hour or so before me.
Last thing you do before you sleep?
I no longer look at my phone when I wake up but looking at it before bed is a habit I’m still trying (and failing) to break. I try to read at least a chapter or two before the book slips out of my hand.
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