Real Estate

For One Rockaways Couple, Lockdown Was a Creative Windfall

A box holding silicone in Emma Hastil and Daniel King’s home office carries a slogan that could be the couple’s motto. “What are you waiting for?” the cardboard box asks. “Make it now!”

The silicone lives on a shelving unit packed with supplies — lint roller, wood paint, primer, eyedroppers, sandpaper — for the couple’s many creative endeavors. Amid the pandemic, they started an apparel and housewares company called Locus of Occult, which they run out of their two-bedroom apartment in Rockaway Beach, Queens. Below the crowded shelves sit stacks of white T-shirts and five-gallon paint buckets full of Jesmonite, a composite resin they use to make trippy lamps and Memphis-inspired terrazzo bookends.

Playfulness and creativity have been part of Ms. Hastil and Mr. King’s relationship since the day they met in this apartment.

One afternoon in the summer of 2019, Ms. Hastil, now 30, was at a nearby beach with a friend, and feeling down. “Let’s go to Dan’s apartment,” she remembered her friend saying. “He’ll make you feel better.”

The three of them spent the rest of the day riding bikes along the boardwalk, dancing on Mr. King’s roof to Michael Jackson and disco, and going skinny-dipping under the cover of night until the Parks Department caught them.

$2,309 | Rockaway Beach, Queens

Emma Hastil, 30; Daniel King, 37

Occupations: Ms. Hastil is a clothing designer; Mr. King is a photographer. They own an apparel and housewares brand.
Their favorite place to buy silicone: “There’s a theater warehouse on Long Island called Silicone & Epoxy Technology, and they gave us tips on what kind of silicones we could use,” she said. “They supply fake blood and spray foam for all the D.I.Y. horror filmmakers on Long Island.”
Collaborating with the neighbors: Mr. King worked on a photo project with Gambino Prince, a local rapper: “I was just walking through the shops with a camera, and he came up and said, ‘Do you want to shoot my music video?’”

“After moving here, I became part of the community and understood more of what is out here,” said Ms. Hastil, who moved into Mr. King’s apartment during the pandemic. “Not just the beach in the summertime, but the off-season, and the community that stays year-round.”Credit…Tom Sibley for The New York Times

The pair didn’t exchange numbers that night. They had both recently ended relationships, and their mutual friends warned them, Ms. Hastil said with a laugh, to “stay away from each other,” worried it was too soon for both of them.

But in October, she finally reached out, and the two began spending time together — and falling in love — in the Rockaways.

Ms. Hastil, a clothing designer, has loved the Rockaways since she moved to New York City in 2009. And as her relationship with Mr. King deepened, so did her relationship with the beach. “After moving here, I became part of the community and understood more of what is out here,” she said. “Not just the beach in the summertime, but the off-season, and the community that stays year-round.”

That community was part of what first drew Mr. King, a photographer who grew up in Sydney, Australia, after a decade of living on the Lower East Side. He began spending time in the Rockaways thanks to a skateboarding friend who grew up there, and moved to the neighborhood in 2018.

“It reminds me of Australia here,” he said. “People are brought together by the ocean in the summer, because it’s a shared outdoor space. But that sense of community lasts throughout the winter, whether that’s a bonfire at the beach or a game night.”

The couple make many of the molds for their bookends, incense burners and clocks out of cardboard, and then sand each piece by hand in the kitchen sink.Credit…Tom Sibley for The New York Times

In March of 2020, Mr. King was getting ready to depart for a three-month work trip, and Ms. Hastil planned to be gone for a month after that. So she moved into his apartment to see him as much as possible before the long separation. When the pandemic hit, she stayed, moving out of her 200-square-foot studio in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, in September.

The couple thrived in lockdown. “It’s like the honeymoon period,” Mr. King said. “We played backgammon and cards. We were drawing a lot and dancing during the day. What grounded it was being able to walk on the beach.”

Their casual crafting soon became more serious. For months, Ms. Hastil had been looking at sculptures made from Jesmonite, a material sold in England that creates a stone-like ceramic finish when cast. To make the astronomical shipping costs worthwhile, she ordered 77 pounds of it.

“You want to have enough material to do something after the first three failures,” she said. “Otherwise you’ll lose motivation.”

Soon they were making bookends, incense burners and clocks that looked like an astral projection of the Cogsworth character from “Beauty and the Beast.” They make many of their molds from cardboard, and sand each piece by hand in the kitchen sink.

You can now find Locus of Occult’s goods in a number of countries, including Australia and Japan. They also fill Ms. Hastil and Mr. King’s apartment, along with other D.I.Y. projects and found art.

The drill press that sits in the middle of the couple’s office lived in the dining room for a while, because Ms. Hastil “liked its bright color.”Credit…Tom Sibley for The New York Times

In their living room, an early lamp prototype resembling a Technicolor cairn sits atop a small table that the couple made by covering an olive-oil box with small black-and-white tiles. Across the room is a large plastic slice of pink-frosted cake that Mr. Hastil found on the street. Nearby is a candy corn-orange wood chair that the couple made in the office. A few large prints of Mr. King’s photos, some made for the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, hang on the walls.

Mr. King and Ms. Hastil have proved themselves expert at finding opportunities for creativity in the droll nooks and crannies of life. They have turned lockdown into an art project, trash into art, a foam box into a papier-mâché table painted in squiggles.

In this apartment, even industrial tools double as design objects, like the drill press that sits in the middle of their office. For a while, it lived in the dining room, but not because of space constraints. “I liked its bright color,” Ms. Hastil said, with a shrug.

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