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Apartment Crush: Fly on the Wall

By Dominic Maggiolo on April 13, 2011

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

Post by Dominic and Nancy

Some of you might remember the call-out we did a few weeks ago about the new column we’re starting.

Well, here it is! After quite an influx of demands, we finally bring you our first Apartment Crush tour.

We dropped in on Professor Adam Oliver Brown’s fossil-filled downtown apartment to scope out the cozy space he shares with his cat, Dr. Tuxtable (a Cosby show and tuxedo enthusiast), as well as with several other little creatures.

Name: Adam Oliver Brown.

Neighborhood: Right near the Pretoria Bridge on the Canal.

Size: 2 bedrooms.

Your style: Me. My apartment reflects the various aspects of my life, my interests and my personality.

Apt 613: Hi Adam! Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Adam: I live a double life: as an academic by day I’m a professor of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Science in the Dept. of Biology at the University of Ottawa; by night I am an artist, having performed music, theatre and dance internationally for most of my life, as well as sitting as a director on a number of boards of arts organizations. This Yin and Yang approach to science and art makes for a busy life, but a fulfilling one and it stems from my upbringing in a family of artists: my father is a musician and a dancer, my mother is a photographer and a dancer and my brother is a visual artist.

Apt 613: We’ve noticed you have quite the collection of skeletons and bugs in your place – can you explain the story behind these unlikely ornaments?

Adam: I find that objects of nature have an inherent beauty to them that is especially poignant for an evolutionary biologist. The small variations in features make for a mosaic of shapes and forms that have a chaotic element to them, but they are still bound by the laws of nature. This diversity of form and function was what originally inspired me to study ecology and the environment and these objects continue to remind me of why I am so fascinated by the natural world around us.

I started collecting insects as a biology undergrad while working a summer job for the US Forest Service in 1997. That summer of intense ecological research and exploration primed me for graduate studies in insect ecology and launched what has since become a passion for insect collection and preservation. While most people don’t give insects the time of day in the wild, they can be easily fascinated by the intricate details of these delicately jeweled little robots of the animal kingdom when presented in display boxes and I find that they make beautiful wall decorations as a consequence.

Ever since, I’ve been collecting and displaying insects from wherever my travels take me, and therefore each display case tells a story of its origin. For example, I was in Peru last spring filming a Nature of Things documentary and came back with a solid collection of large and unique insects from the Amazon. Each one has its own tale to tell, not least of which was in the conversation I had with the Canada Custom border agent who couldn’t figure out if my insect importations were 1) legal or 2) sane. I successfully argued for the first point but won’t do so against the second. Sanity is relative anyway.

Apt 613: Tell us about all the art on your walls.

Adam: The photographic prints are all of my mother’s work, whose portfolio is mostly composed of portraits. Many of the pictures are of team photos of an English traditional ritual dance form that I do, known as Morris Dancing. This unusual activity is a large part of my life, for example, as a co-founder of a formidably sized youth team in North America, we will be traveling to the UK this coming summer to put on a stage show in London and to perform at the world famous Sidmouth Folk Festival afterwards. The prints are all from my brother, Luke Brown. Luke is by far the biggest rock star of the family. For example, alongside H.R. Giger and Alex Grey, he decorated the walls for the 60th anniversary party for the discovery of LSD, thrown by its discoverer Dr. Albert Hoffman in 2003 and more recently Luke and his textile producing colleagues designed the costumes for the Romulins in the latest Star Trek movie.

Biggest challenge: It used to be keeping the roaming fluff-balls of cat hair in check until Pucky the Wonder Vacuu-bot came along. Now I spend much of my time watching the robot vacuum wander about the apartment bumping into things. It is much more entertaining (and productive) than watching the dusty bunnies roam around.

Best compliment (or insult) you have ever received about your place: At first, many say “wow, this is cool!”, but then we quickly move on and get to some quality hanging-out activities.

Best DIY Project: I’m not much of a tinkerer, besides; the apartment was redone like new before I moved in so it required no upkeep or tweaking. However, just about everything that went into the apartment had to be pre-assembled from the boxes of bits I brought home from IKEA – a formidable challenge, even for a scientist who is used to following complicated protocols!

Biggest indulgence in your apartment: My most recent indulgence was the purchase of a JBL iPod speaker, which allows me to wake up to my tunes instead of a raging alarm clock.

Hidden Gems in your apartment: Due to my activities as a studier of nature, I have spent much of the past 20 years tromping around in many of the world’s wild places and have collected many items of natural history. One of my most exciting finds was an Ammonite fossil (coiled mollusk shell) found on the Minganie islands in the Gulf of St Lawrence. The fossil, about the size of your hand, is split down the middle and upon opening it up; you find that quartz crystal has infiltrated the coil into the inner shell space… quite the geological rarity!

A big THANK YOU to Adam for letting us invade his space! To get your place featured on Apartment Crush, please contact Dominic and Nancy at

You can check out his personal website here .

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