Photography: Roy Beeson
A former face of Boss, Calvin Klein, and H&M, Garrett Neff may be the closest thing we have to a male supermodel, one who’s posed for Vogue, appeared on 30 Rock as a young Jack Donaghy, and counts Karl Lagerfeld as a colleague and friend. It may be surprising then that the 31-year-old Delaware native and founder of swimwear line Katama chooses to make his home not in some loft in NoHo or waterfront property in Dumbo — nope, Neff lives with a roommate (!) on the Upper West Side.
“It’s definitely not some super cool, sleek neighborhood,” Neff says, “but that’s actually the way I like it. You don’t run into people from work or have to deal with a scene, like in the Meatpacking or something.” The model, who was discovered at the Miami International Airport in 2005 (and soon began working for Ralph Lauren and Abercrombie & Fitch), may owe at least some of his longevity to this low-key demeanor. Unlike some pretty boys who flame out after a few years, you won’t see Neff ’gramming from the club or posting butt shots on the beach — his feed feels much more, well, mundane: old family pictures figure heavily, as do work images and evidence of healthy living.
Known in the fashion world for his work ethic (and his down-to-earth reputation), Neff’s home feels like a spiritual extension of his personality. “So much of New York feels out of your control,” he says, “so when I was thinking about my home, I really wanted it to be my own sanctuary, so it’s all very comfortable and organized, but not sterile.” Though Neff has lived in New York since 2007, he only moved into this apartment in 2012, when one of his fraternity brothers (he graduated from Bucknell in 2007) inherited his parents’ apartment right off Central Park West and was looking for a roommate. The out-of-the-way location came with an unheard-of amount of space — all the better to accommodate everything Neff’s acquired over the years: artwork by friends like Jeremy Kost and nightlife photographer Hanuk Hanuk, midcentury family heirlooms, souvenirs from jobs abroad. “I’ve gone through phases, for sure,” says Neff, “There was a time when all I wanted were really chunky, heavy, masculine things. I’ve gone through midcentury modern phases. Everything just sort of finds its place now that I have the space.”
For someone with no formal design training, Neff has shown a surprising knack for understanding interiors — lush green plants complement antique pieces of wooden furniture, a series of white frames punctuates a darkly painted wall, and a circular motif softens a whitewashed bedroom. Much of Neff’s furniture pays homage to New England (he often spent summers in Martha’s Vineyard), and it’s probably fair to say that the apartment has something of a Lands’ End aesthetic, but that would overlook the mementos from Europe and South America and the original pieces of modern art. “I like mixing the old with the new,” says Neff, “and things with actual sentimental value, whether it’s a piece by a friend or something I inherit from a grandparent or a souvenir I bought abroad that reminds me of a time in my life.” Which isn’t to say that Neff is above the occasional piece from Restoration Hardware. “That’s also the beauty of New York — if I really need something, I can go out and get it, and it’s not going to look out of place or big box.”
Being on the Upper West Side has the added advantage of proximity to the garment district in midtown Manhattan, where Neff often scouts fabrics and trim for Katama, now gearing up for its second summer season. Are there other things the neighborhood (known for Barney Greengrass, Zabar’s, and being the stroller capital of Manhattan) has going for it, though? “There’s not a whole lot going on, I gotta say,” laughs Neff. “The avenues are really wide, and it takes a long time to walk everywhere, unlike Tribeca, where I used to live and everything was half a block away. But you find your gems. My go-to spot is this Peruvian joint called Pio Pio, which is rotisserie chicken, or if I’m feeling adventurous I’ll walk 10 blocks to this country diner called Good Enough to Eat.” As someone who’s professionally wearing a bathing suit year-round, though, Neff knows one way that the Upper West Side beats Tribeca: “I’m literally across from Central Park and the reservoir. I mean, being able to run in that park is the dream.”