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.
Serve your guests these delicious and oh-so-simple to make chocolate tarts!
Enjoy these simple to make and easy to customize chocolate mascarpone tarts
We’ve all been at a dinner party and witnessed the dessert snub – a guest’s nose not-so-subtly turned up at something the host or hostess has laboured over. That will never be the case with these delectable mini tarts, thank you very much. Simple to make and easy to customize, they come with options to suit every palate. We’ll raise a dessert fork to that!
1 To make the pastry, beat the butter with the sugar in a medium bowl until light and fluffy; beat in the egg yolk and vanilla until combined.
2 In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt; add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and stir until smooth.
3 Divide the pastry among eight 4" mini tart pans with removable bottoms, pressing the pastry into the bottoms and up the sides of the pans; prick the bottoms all over with a fork.
4 Refrigerate the pastry shells on a rimmed baking sheet until chilled, about 30 minutes.
5 Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line each shell with foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake on the bottom rack of the oven for 8 minutes. Gently remove the weights and foil; continue to bake the shells until the pastry is no longer shiny, about 10 minutes more. Let the shells cool in the pans on a rack.
6 Meanwhile, make the filling. In a large bowl, beat together the mascarpone cheese and icing sugar until smooth. Fold in the whipped cream in three additions. Divide the mascarpone mixture among separate small bowls. Add your flavourings of choice and scoop the mascarpone filling into the tart shells.
7 Add your desired toppings; serve.
Makes: 8 tarts
Try one of our four favourite flavours
1 Double Raspberry: Fold a dash of raspberry liqueur into the mascarpone filling; top the tart with fresh raspberries, strawberries and blueberries.
2 Rose & Pistachio: Stir rosewater into the mascarpone filling; top the tart with edible rose petals and chopped toasted pistachios.
3 Mocha: Leave the mascarpone filling as is; top the tart with chocolate-covered espresso beans and white chocolate shavings.
4 Pomegranate Mint: Add a few drops of mint extract into the mascarpone filling; top the tart with pomegranate seeds.
Have fun experimenting with your own flavour combinations - the possibilities are endless!
Get a luxe look in under $100 with these beautiful decor accessories.Looking for big impact on a small budget? We challenge some of Canada’s designers to share how they achieve a modern luxe look for less than $100.
“Splurge on a marble tile backsplash – a small area like this can come in for less than $100 if you do the labour yourself.” - Nam Dang-Mitchell, Nam Dang-Mitchell Design.
“Sheathe an obtrusive bulkhead in reclaimed barnboard to add character and interest. The wood we used here was actually found in an abandoned barn in the country.” - Nam Dang-Mitchell, Nam Dang-Mitchell Design.
“Make a sculptural centrepiece inspired by real cherry blossom branches. Strip the bark from an interestingly shaped branch and remove the buds from a silk flower or two. Glue the buds onto the branch in an organic pattern for an effect that will last for seasons.” - Ryan Martin & Amy Kent, Croma Design.
“A chic way to save money while searching for your dream dining room light fixture is to install an ultra-affordable three-foot-wide Chinese paper lantern. The white globe looks fantastic, plus it glows softly when lit to create a wonderful atmosphere for dining.” - Colleen McGill, McGill Design Group.
“Make a bland room bold by painting stripes on the walls: vertical for low ceilings, horizontal for high.” - Scott Yetman, Scott Yetman Design.
“Luxe up a room by upgrading your toss cushion inserts from fibre to decadent down. IKEA ones are cheap – they’re the best-kept secret!” - David Overholt, David Overholt Interior Design, 416-944-0358.
“When I travel, I love to buy vintage prints and fabrics. Framing the prints in inexpensive frames and creating a collage of photos is a great way to make a big impact. I also love to stretch the fabrics on frames made for canvases as they are works of art in their own right.” - Alykhan Velji, Alykhan Velji designs.
“If the word stencilling conjures images of bad 1980s sponge designs, prepare to be amazed. Royal Design Studio has amazing Moroccan and Indian-style stencils you can use on furniture, stair risers, floors and walls for an ornate, impactful look.” - Samantha Sacks, Sam Sacks Design.
“Why not test out your creative skills and try your hand at some abstract expressionist painting? Grab a canvas and some acrylic paints in your chosen colour scheme and, who knows, you could be the next Jackson Pollock!” - Jessica Kelly, Jessica Kelly Design.
“A ceiling medallion adds instant architectural appeal, formality and elegance to a space. These ones were less than $75 each!” - Trevor Ciona & Curtis Elmy, Atmosphere Interior Design.
“Make personalized art with your own Hipstamatic or Instagram snapshots – the apps have beautiful filters, and smartphones take good-quality photos. Choose an inexpensive frame and splurge on the mat for a high-end professional effect.” - Samantha Sacks, Sam Sacks Design.
"Give an instant lift to your kitchen cabinetry with new hardware. Restoration Hardware’s Duluth pulls in polished nickel make a striking style statement.” - Colleen McGill, McGill Design Group.
Is there anything better than sliding into a bed laden with good quality sheets? At the end of the day, I can't wait to stretch out under my fresh, soft covers and nestle my face into a good cotton-covered pillow. We spend a third of our lives in bed so quality sheets are key, but how do you get quality for your money? There's no doubt that most consumers believe the higher the thread count, the better the quality, but this isn't entirely true. With the help and expertise of Joanna Goodman, owner of Au Lit Fine Linens, we expose the truth about thread count and what it takes to find quality bed sheets.
Simply put, thread count is the number of threads woven into one square inch of fabric. This number is based on the threads woven horizontally ("weft") and vertically ("warp"). Extra threads can also be woven into the weft threads to increase the thread count. These added threads are called "picks" and are added in the overall count, which is how some sheets end up having thread counts in the thousands. This is why the idea that high counts equal better quality isn't really accurate. Consider this: Joanna says most weavers will say the maximum number of threads that can be woven into one square inch of fabric is 500 to 600. Though the number is arguable and, according to Joanna, "depends on the mill you deal with," it gives you an idea of where the line is between single-ply, unpicked weaves and ones that add threads here and there to bump up the count.
Joanna lists three things to look for on the label: if it's Egyptian cotton, where it's woven and, lastly, the thread count. While thread count is a bit misunderstood, the buzz around Egyptian cotton is true. "The very best cotton in the world is grown in Egypt. So Egyptian cotton will be of a better quality," Joanna says. She also recommends pima cotton, which is grown in America, "though not quite as exceptional as Egyptian." When it comes to weaving, however, she swears by the Italians as being the "master weavers of the world" due to their "long tradition of weaving" and use of the best Egyptian cotton. Be sure the label says 100% or pure Egyptian cotton though, otherwise it may only contain a small percentage of the good stuff. As for the thread count, look for a minimum of 200. From there, it's all about preference!
Joanna's one key piece of advice is to watch out for extremely low priced, high thread count sheet sets. A complete sheet set with a high thread count for $100 or less is probably not the dream bargain you think it is. As Joanna believes, "you always get what you pay for." The price tag for bed linens will vary depending on the sheet size and what items you're buying, such as a duvet cover, sheet sets, or pillowcases. "A superior quality 200 thread count queen set (including flat, fitted, two pillowcases), made of Egyptian cotton and woven in Europe, could retail reasonably for about $150-$250," says Joanna.
After going through the quality checklist, go with what feels best for you. If you're looking for a durable linen, Joanna recommends any percale from thread count 200 to 800. Percale is any cotton woven with a 200 thread count or higher and will be more durable than a cotton satin of the same thread count. It's also less likely to pill than cotton satin because it has a denser weave. Love the feel of a cotton button down shirt? Joanna advises a crisp, dense 200 thread count percale. Prefer a silkier sheet? Go for a 300 to 600 cotton satin. If you want lighter sheets, Joanna says, a 400 thread count sheet can be soft and light, while an 800 percale would be soft and dense. The higher the thread count, the more likely multiple-ply thread is used or picks are added, making the fabric denser and heavier.
Now you know that quality is not just about the number, so don't let numbers rule your bed! Remember what to look for on the label and be wary of too-low prices for supposedly high quality items. Beyond that, go with what you prefer. Get a good feel of the sheets before buying. Whether you're unzipping the packaging or lying down on a display bed, make sure the fabric feels good against your skin and soon you'll be having sweet dreams!
Find out how to keep your new linens crisp and clean with our tips to whiter-than-white sheets.