Mother Essentials: Phoebe Sung of Cold Picnic

Written by Katie Hintz-Zambrano
12:00 pm
10/27/22

Portrait by Kathy Lo

If you’ve seen a rug with boobs on it, you know the work of Phoebe Sung. Alongside her husband (Peter Buer), the New York-dwelling mother of two is the co-founder of the 12-year-old label Cold Picnic—known for its bold, humor-infused home textiles. And now—inspired by becoming parents to daughters Freya (almost 4) and Coco (1 1/2)—the couple is launching its first apparel designs in the form of cozy, graphic sweaters in adult and kid sizes. To celebrate the occasion, we caught up with Phoebe to gather her top Mother Essentials of the moment—mommy & me knitwear, included!

Affection Collection Sweaters. “After our first daughter was born, I loved her so much it was like I wanted to gobble her up. I certainly wanted to match clothes with her. And kids clothes are so cool! I always thought, I’d be all set if I could just have this in an adult size. But on the rare occasion I found it, it was never the same. Never androgynous or over-the-top in that special offhand childlike way. So we decided to try to fill that space.” Cold Picnic Sweaters, $140-$250, Cold Picnic.

Tony’s Chocolate (🍫 Caramel Sea Salt, Obvs). “Our vices are so much more modest than they used to be. At the end of the day, my husband and I sit in bed and eat a bowl of fruit, along with either chips or chocolate, while watching a TV show. Tony’s has been edging out the chips for me.” Milk Caramel Sea Salt Bar, $2.39, Tony’s Chocolonely, Thrive Market, Target.

A Treasury of 8 Books. “This was a real find from an online used bookstore. We rediscovered Tomi Ungerer at the library and it was a thrill because his illustrations suddenly brought me back to when I read his books as a child. I’d completely forgotten. The early stories are pure hearted and dark and bonkers and there’s always more going on in the drawings than the story goes into. Both our daughters love them, but we have to keep the youngest away, as she’s a recreational page-ripper.” A Treasury of 8 Books by Tomi Ungerer, $37, Bookshop, Amazon.

Aviary Reversible Quilt (Baby Size). “We recently introduced the baby-size quilt. Our daughter brings them to school for naptime, they’re so lightweight and snuggly.” Aviary Early Spring/Late Summer Quilt, $220, Cold Picnic.

Fantastic Mr Fox. “This is our older daughter’s favorite movie. She can pretty much recite it. Other movies come and go, but at this point it’s become her comfort go-to and we noticed that it shaped a lot of her sense of humor and fashion choices. She even decided that we would all be the Fox family for Halloween. There are definitely worse things than to have this movie on repeat. And she decided I would be Ash, the Jason Schwartzman-voiced son, who I’ve always identified with.” Fantastic Mr Fox, Directed by Wes Anderson, via Disney+.

All About Scabs. “My older daughter and I love to go into our neighborhood bookstore, Topos, and sit in the corner and read to each other from the books in their very good used children’s section. This was an especially good find. It talks about blood and cuts and germs in a way that’s completely fascinating to a small child, without being at all gory or scary.” All About Scabs by Genichiro Yagyu, $4.29, Thrift Books, Amazon.

Air Fryer. “We don’t have central air and in the summer we avoid using the oven because it just heats up the entire house. So we rely on the instant pot and the air fryer. They’re a real commitment real estate-wise, especially in a New York apartment, but the air fryer especially is such a workhorse and so much faster than preheating the oven. I even use it for toast. On special days we’ll cook bacon in the air fryer in the morning and later in the day use some of the bacon fat to dress chickpeas, which get perfectly crunchy in there. Even when the kids won’t eat, they’ll eat bacony chickpeas.” Instant Vortex 6 qt 4-in-1 Air Fryer Oven, $119.99, Target, Amazon, Best Buy.

Homemade Condiments. “There are two DIY condiments we always have on hand. They’re both simple to make, last ages in the fridge, and transform nearly anything into a meal our girls will eat. One is scallion oil: made by pouring nearly boiling vegetable oil on a bunch of thinly sliced scallions seasoned with sesame oil, msg, and soy sauce. The oil cooks the scallions and it makes everything—from scrambled eggs to plain rice to any cooked vegetable—taste like heaven. The other is our friend Ioana’s mayonnaise that she makes for her restaurant La Cantine. It’s the best mayonnaise recipe I’ve tried and our kids love it, raw eggs and all. It’s revolting to watch the littler ones dip though, they go in with their whole hands and then their faces and breath smell like garlic the rest of the day.”

Ilia Tinted SPF. “I think I saw this on a lot of the other mom lists. Lol. I’ve never been comfortable with foundation or tinted moisturizers, but after my second child I developed a bit of melasma on one cheekbone and I always feel like you can’t use the really good skin treatments when breastfeeding. But the Ilia stuff is great and it’s SPF 40. I mix it with my moisturizer to dilute the pigment.” Super Serum Skin Tint SPF 40, $48, Ilia.

The Pork Store. “It’s only a block away and they have something called Summer Salami, which kids love. It’s all made in house and delicious. And there’s a fresh fish pop-up Fridays and Saturdays and we always get the salmon. We use half for sashimi—it’s that fresh—and the kids eat the other half. They fight over the skin, which we crisp up (in the air fryer ofc).” Ridgewood European Pork Store.

Napkins. “We go through a lot of napkins every day. Our baby is very independent—she will not let you feed her. But she’s in a phase where she only wants to eat Chinese chicken soup with rice, from a spoon. You’re not even allowed to hold the bowl steady. And she refuses a highchair. You watch everything spill out of the spoon in slow motion on the way to her mouth. There’s no point in cloth napkins that you have to keep pristine, but you also want to hide what you can, so we try to design into the potential messiness of mealtimes.” Set of 4 Napkins, $55, Cold Picnic.

The Queens Zoo. “Zoos generally make me sad, but the Queens Zoo makes me really happy. It’s kind of like the island of lost toys—many of the animals are rescued and for the most part not very exotic at all. There are two flightless bald eagles—one was hit by a plane near JFK and the other was shot down by a hunter. Orphaned pumas and coyotes, bunnies, a donkey. And a beautiful aviary in a Buckmester Fuller-designed geodesic dome with walkways that wind all around and through. At your highest point you’re basically in the trees with the birds. It’s wild. We spent so much time there over the pandemic we even designed a collection around it.” QueensZoo.com.

Embroidery Personalization. “My mom used to do really intricate, lovely embroideries. I’m not a skilled embroiderer *at all* but I love embroidering notes and messages on clothing and napkins as gifts. The writing is clumsy and probably not totally legible, but hey it’s the thought that counts. My daughter likes to help until she gets bored.”

For more Mother Essentials, peep our recent features on Sach Paneer founder Jasleen Kaur, Essential Labor author Angela Garbes, The Mamas author Helena Andrews-Dyer, Olivia J founder Shae Jones, author Brynne BarnesTisha Thompson of LYS Beauty, Blueland’s Sarah Paiji Yoo, Heirloom’s Sri Bodanapu, Lady Falcon Coffee Club founder Buffy Maguire, the mama-duo behind Spring & Mulberry chocolate, Dear Bella Creamery co-founder Alice Cherng, designer Becky Hui Chan, author Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, ByHeart co-founder Mia Funt, Backdrop founder Natalie Ebel, Oui The People founder & CEO Karen Young, author-illustrator Grace Lin, the co-founders of ODDOBODY, Happy Family Organics’ CEO Anne Laraway, YA author J.Elle, kid-lit authors Karen Chan and Suzanne Greenlaw, the founders of EADEM, and Minimalista author Shira Gill.

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