Image: Nicole Cohen
After a series of nips and tucks, a derelict brownstone in Brooklyn, N.Y., reaches its full potential – and then some.
Four years ago, Nicole and Jordan Stein made the trip from the maelstrom of midtown Manhattan to a quiet, leafy street in Brooklyn that, compared with the city, felt downright pastoral. They had come to tour a brownstone as part of an estate sale, and immediately saw its potential despite certain drawbacks.
“I definitely had some trepidation because the house was in extremely rough shape,” says Nicole, who designs fine jewellery she sells through her online Etsy shop, ByNicoleAlexis. Conversely, Jordan, a Montreal-born business consultant and entrepreneur, was confident it could be brought back to life – after all, he had watched his parents successfully transform a beat-up Vermont ranch when he was younger.
“Our goal was to marry classic architecture with a modern aesthetic,” says Nicole, who wanted the interior envelope to look original to the house. Though the idea of gutting the space and blasting out the walls was brought up, it didn’t get far. “We bought a brownstone, not a condo,” says Nicole cheekily. “Sure, we have a narrow hallway and a tiny powder room, and yes, it’s a little quirky, but it’s true to the original home.” So the small rooms remained intact and were slowly brought back to code over the course of a year under their contractor’s exacting eye.
Next up? Christine Dovey, a designer based in Oakville, Ont., who has remotely kitted out homes (via email) from America to Norway, stepped in to apply her signature style: ravishing rooms with traditional architectural details in a modern palette of black and white with bursts of pink; spaces in which provocative contemporary artwork often sits alongside antique furnishings.
To deliver an authentic period look, Christine suggested the homeowners invest in crown mouldings. “Nicole wanted something that looked like it was there originally, so we went with big plaster mouldings as a splurge on the living room ceiling but regular crown throughout,” says Christine. Making sure the interior looked more downtown than Downton, the designer balanced the historic architectural elements with what she calls “a mixed bag of edgy yet elegant furnishings.”
In need of some hand holding a little closer to home, Nicole also worked with local designer Natalie Kraiem, who helped achieve the look by choosing key pieces including the rugs and living room artwork.
The sculptural replace in the eat-in area of this Brooklyn, N.Y., brownstone was in such rough shape, it had to be removed and rebuilt. Above it, the enormous antique filigree mirror that belonged to the previous owners lends romance to the space. “We loved it so much we negotiated it as part of the sale of the house,” says homeowner Nicole Stein.
Dripping with crystal beads, the antique brass basket chandelier was a splurge, but Nicole insists it’s a forever piece. “I’m crazy about it too,” says designer Christine Dovey. “I love how it contrasts the rough-hewn wooden table.” The bespoke kitchen peninsula, with its marble waterfall edge, was also pricey, but Nicole had the fabricator use the scraps to make luxurious window ledges. “Everyone comments on them,” she says.
A blend of vintage- and modern-look furnishings gives the formal living room an eclectic, collected feel. Sculptural retro Alky chairs are a fun contrast to the stiff-backed caned settee. Heavyweight-cotton curtains draw the eye up to the 11-foot- high ceiling. They were originally placeholders, but looked so fabulous that Nicole decided to keep them – proving that you don’t always need to spend a mint on custom drapery.
Inspired by the iconoclastic Mexican painter, Frida is a punchy print that presides over this area of the living room, where a brass Sputnik lamp, oversized mirror and sculptural fireplace surround offer exciting diversions.
Wild! This spotted antelope-print runner gives an unexpected punch, introducing a graphic pattern into the front hall. “It’s classic but edgy,” says Christine.
Show-stopping architectural details on the ceiling of the living room’s media area are period appropriate but were non-existent when the couple bought the brownstone. Nicole tracked down a plaster restoration specialist in Long Island, N.Y., and sent Christine samples to narrow down the options. The installation took a week and was definitely a splurge. “It’s a real art. There is literally someone there with a cotton swab and a fine blade forming everything by hand,” says Nicole.
Whitewashed living room features a charming mix of furniture styles.
A DIY-inclined couple turns an 800-square-foot two-bedroom bungalow into the perfect home for their young family.
Homeowner Amanda Robinson transformed the secondhand piano by covering it in grey paint, casually accessorizing it like the rest of the living room and softening its bench with a faux-sheepskin throw.
The whitewashed living room features a charming mix of furniture styles. “I brought softness into the space with the upholstered pieces, while keeping a farmhouse vibe with the antique rocking chairs,” says Amanda.
Homeowners Jason and Amanda Robinson hang out in the bright living room with their sons, Ethan (left) and Aidan.
While blue hues rock this farmhouse, Amanda also popped in some pink tones as contrast.
A fun DIY project or easily picked up at a gardening centre, terrariums are a great way to keep your home green in small ways.
Durable slate tiles define the entryway in this open-concept space. Practical items in natural tones like the bench, mirror and coat rack are artfully arranged so everything looks pulled together.
The kitchen epitomizes Amanda’s love of pale backdrops punctuated with colour and natural tones. “I made the shelves out of wooden boards from our barn and left them unpainted to contrast all the white and to complement the butcher block counters,” she says. Mismatched hardware picks up on the hits of blue throughout the home.
With their young sons and pets (Weimaraner Tessie and cat Nimble) in mind, Amanda chose tongue-and-groove pine planks for the floors, ceilings and walls. “I didn’t want new drywall with two little boys and pets running around,” she says. “It was the best design decision I ever made.”
Amanda knew she wanted a light and bright space and conceived the decor with colour in mind. “This is still a really small house, so I stuck to a neutral palette for the base: white and cream with natural wood tones throughout,” she says.
Amanda and Jason knocked down walls to create an eat-in area that features a free-standing stove surrounded by stone-veneered walls and a thrift-store dining table and chairs proudly bearing a mismatched paint job. “I painted everything grey and then decided to paint all the chairs blue but got sidetracked after one,” says Amanda. “It’s fun and quirky as is, and the boys take turns sitting in the blue chair at dinnertime.”
“The walls in Aidan’s bedroom were in good shape, so we painted them and added pine planks to the ceiling,” says Amanda. “I like the masculine look of the unpainted wood.” The new blue dressers share the space with a thrift-store wicker chair, a yellow-painted hand-me-down stool and rope-hung shelves Amanda crafted from barnboard.
“Ethan wanted everything in his room swimming pool turquoise.” They settled on a seafoam blue that’s more soothing for a bedroom and then incorporated coordinating accents in every room – even on the front door. “If you keep the big things neutral and then add accents in a single shade, it makes everything seem effortlessly connected,” says Amanda.
A bright screen door frame hints at the pops of blue to be found inside the house. Amanda refinished a hand-me-down pine table in grey paint and repurposed it as an easy-to-access storage unit for firewood. Antique Canadian Pacific Railway lanterns found in the barn and on Kijiji layer in more colour and reference the surrounding rustic landscape.
After a fresh coat of paint and some carefully placed furniture, the Robinsons are set to make this newly decorated farmhouse their home.
Homeowner Amanda Robinson used blue paint throughout her home to liven up the soothing neutral palette and provide a link from room to room. Here are her three favourite shades.
Image: Donna Griffith / Styling: Ann Marie Favot
A black and white palette, square-tiled backsplash, shaker-style cabinetry and iconic furnishings blend perfectly in this modern and traditional space.
Armed with a wishlist a mile long, Toronto homeowners Meghan Mann and Mike Shannon took the renovation plunge last year. With the help of designers Vanessa Kwan and Ingrid Oomen of Qummunicate, they transformed their dysfunctional, dowdy kitchen into a stylish dream and fit everything they wanted into its compact 198-square-foot space. The open-concept design now features a work station, an eat-in nook and a peninsula that overlooks the dining area. Its classic-chic look with a contemporary edge not only complements the young couple’s style but also suits the 1910 house’s traditional architecture and its up-and-coming west Toronto neighbourhood’s trendy vibe.
Opening up the 11-by-18-foot kitchen to the rest of the main floor and replacing the back wall with a glass-panelled door and sidelights were the first steps in creating a more airy and light-filled space. The kitchen has a timeless aesthetic, with Shaker-style cabinetry, classic architectural details and a neutral palette, while a few of-the-moment touches, such as the brass hardware and pendant lights, keep it hip. “It’s a brick house with traditional details like beams and mouldings at the front, and we wanted to carry that essence into the kitchen,” says designer Vanessa Kwan.
A banquette serves as part of the casual eat-in area for the couple and their children, Sadie, 6, and Spencer, 2. It features storage in the form of legal-sized filing cabinets, with flush brass pulls that don’t get in the way of dangling feet. Finding a table that fit the space proved challenging, so homeowner Mike Shannon built the base himself and had a piece of glass cut for the top. The Eames chairs are a classic pick, and the chandelier provides sparkle and blends in with all the brass.
The kitchen was designed with family-friendly functionality top of mind: The white quartzite countertops are aesthetically similar to marble but are more durable and require less maintenance; the six-inch-square ceramic tiled backsplash, with its grey grout, is easy to keep clean; and the cork floors are great for kids because they’re soft underfoot and don’t scratch easily. For homeowner Meghan Mann, who works in software sales from home, the desk area (with a lower counter and two pencil drawers) was a must.
The black faucets and window frame above the sink create contrast yet establish continuity with the black-painted door at the back of the room. The dark elements, offering the kitchen a slightly industrial edge, are also a nod to the neighbourhood’s commercial architecture. “The area has a lot of old factory buildings, some converted into lofts or artists’ spaces,” says Meghan. “And they have those steel windows, so we wanted to echo that look in the kitchen.”
Curvy iconic shapes and trendy accents make this kitchen down-right covetable.
Round wood and marble serving board, Indigo, $38.
Michael Thonet beech era stool in Black, Design Within Reach, $365.
Cotton Soiree toss cushion in Natural with feather-down insert, CB2, $63.
Jason Wu for brizo mixed metal solna faucet in Matte Black, Masco Canada, $611.
Brass and glass Luna pendant light with shade in Clear, 12", Schoolhouse Electric, $269 US.
Cowhide Koldby rug in Brown, IKEA, $299.
Conquer that closet clutter once and for all.
Keep your bedroom closet organized and on track with these 6 helpful tips.
From reach-ins to walk-ins, almost every bedroom comes equipped with a closet. While no two are alike, keeping them in order is a hurdle for many. Wendy Hollick, professional organizer and owner of Neat Spaces, shares her tips for conquering your closet disaster through minimizing clutter and maximizing your space's potential. With solutions that save time and money and are stylish, here's how to get things back in order so you can keep track of what you own.
1 Create zones
The first step is to figure out what's going to live in your closet. "You look at your inventory and design around your needs," says Wendy. "Do you have many things that are long-hanging like dresses? How do you hang your pants? Do you share your closet with somebody?" By evaluating how you will use this space, you can create areas to figure out what type of storage you need ... from shoe racks to drawers.
"Purge, baby, purge," says Wendy. If you haven't used something in the past two years and it has no intrinsic value, get rid of it or donate it to charity. As a professional organizer, Wendy has seen dozens of closets over the years and believes over-consumption is to blame. "Eighty per cent of what we keep, we never use," she says. "And we wear 20% of what we own only 80% of the time and the rest just hangs there."
3 Use every inch of space
No square inch should go unnoticed. Many closets are designed poorly and often times the top and bottom spaces aren't used properly or at all. As a rule of thumb, most used items should be stored in plain sight, less-used below and rarely-used up high. To maximize your closet's potential, "you need to look for durability and flexibility," says Wendy. "Look for something that when you install it, can work with you and change with the trends." She suggests using products with epoxy-coated metal rather than plastic-coated metal because of its strength and durability. Wendy also suggests using floor space and high shelves for storing seasonal items and shoes because they can be stacked in clear plastic boxes free of dust and you can still see what's inside.
4 Take advantage of doors
"In a perfect world, all closets would be built with a pocket door," says Wendy. Unfortunately, getting one requires tearing out a wall and that's not always permissible. But this doesn't mean you can't put your swing door to good use without having it eat up your closet's floor space. By using a hanging organizer, you can turn your door into storage for shoes, belts, ties and other accessories.
5 Add a double or pull down rod
Adding another rod to your closet isn't as difficult as it sounds. There are hanging rods that you can put over existing rails for a quick addition to your hanging space. You can even take the alternate, though more expensive route, and use your high ceilings to install a pull down rod.
Either way, with an additional rod, you can organize your clothing into sections. Lower rods for hanging pants and higher-up rods for longer items like dresses and coats. Don't forget to coordinate your hangers and use the proper ones for a uniform, polished look.
"Velvet hangers are great to keep your clothes from slipping, wood hangers are durable but can take up space, while plastic takes up less space and is less finicky than velvet," says Wendy.
"When you look at something that gives you that editorial look, you are more likely to respect it," says Wendy. Treat your closet like a small room, taking into consideration lighting and wall colour. Recessed lighting doesn't obstruct your view and it disguises perfectly in a small space. Light paint colours like white, soft greys and beiges are sleek and reflect light. By adding a mirror to your closet, its reflection will automatically make the room appear larger.
To determine volume and prevent clutter build up, Wendy shares her trick for tracking overflow so you know what to get rid of next season: "Go into your closet and rearrange your hangers so the hook is facing you. When you wear something and put it back, the hook should face inwards. Over time you can actually see what you wear and what you don't from what's left facing outwards."