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.
Take a tour of this chic condo space.
Furniture and textile designer Lori Harrison is a neat freak living and working in a small space. Here’s how she keeps her home looking stylish.
Textile and furniture designer Lori Harrison is inspired by imperfection – she once recreated the peeling plaster of a building’s facade she saw in Venice, California, on a toss cushion to glamorous effect. But when it comes to her home, Lori is committed to creating the picture of perfection.
From the harmonious earthy palette that looks sharp against the white walls to the bespoke accessories, every inch of the 900-square-foot, one-bedroom condo she shares with her husband, Michael Clark, is mellow, meaningful and cohesive – key in an open-concept space.
When the couple bought the place last year, in an intimate, three-storey Art Deco building in an upscale midtown Toronto neighbourhood, they loved the layout of the petite but already renovated apartment. So they used sparsely placed and low-slung furniture – some of it designed by Lori herself – and clean contemporary lines to make the small space feel large and evoke a cultured air.
The woodsy details and large fiddle-leaf fig tree give the living room of this Toronto home a comfy California feel. Mismatched side tables look relaxed and artsy – the one on the left is Lori’s design.
No backsplash? No problem. “I kind of like that there isn’t one, because it looks more contemporary,” says Lori of the gorgeously restrained kitchen, with its space-saving built-in walnut dining table that offers extra counter space when needed.
Sticking to simple decor, Lori uses minimalist aesthetic in the kitchen and throughout the home.
The streamlined bank of cabinetry – deep and wide for optimum storage space – with barely visible hardware is framed by a sleek Corian countertop and doesn’t read too kitcheny in the open-concept room.
Lori’s artistic temperament is evident in her casually chic home office. “The white bust is actually my neck – I made it for a university project – and the bare-chested illustration I did in high school,” says the talented artist.
“I wanted to colour coordinate the books in the office, but my husband [Michael Clark] wouldn’t let me,” says Lori. The wire chair is paired with one of her prototype toss cushions.
The couple’s tastes – he’s into traditional, she likes contemporary – are established in the hallway vignette, with a handsome cabinet Michael bought in Cambodia topped with modern artwork.
With soothing fall colours, luxe linens and Lori’s own artwork, the bedroom boasts a relaxed, pared-back vibe.
Homeowner Lori Harrison of Lori Harrison Designs is content in her live/work abode. It’s perfect for creating her artwork, textiles and furniture, which are available online and in shops across North America.
Image by: Tracey Ayton
A romantic retreat isn’t as far away as you may think. A few easy additions to your home can turn your space into the perfect escape made just for two.
No matter what your living situation is, it’s important to have a space in your home where you and your special someone can retreat to and reconnect. Whether it’s a nook, a favourite spot on the sofa, or the bed itself, create an area that’s comfortable, cozy and made for both of you.
From lighting to memorabilia, there are a number of easy and thoughtful ways to instantly turn your bedroom into a romantic escape. So put away the passports and get comfy because you two are staying in tonight.
Image by: Stacey Brandford
There’s something comforting and intimate about the tactility of textures. The indescribable softness of a knit throw blanket, the luxuriousness of a faux fur rug, or the delicateness of a lace appliqué. By incorporating these textural elements into your space, you can instantly incite that sense of touch and instill a feeling of romance.
Image by: Janis Nicolay
Creating a place in your home that you actually want to spend time in means it has to be comfortable and cozy. So, it’s time to layer up your space. Throw blankets and toss cushions are an effortless way to inject colour and texture into any room, and there’s no beating the satisfaction of nestling into a soft little nook with your love.
Image by: Ashley Capp
There’s nothing romantic about harsh, bright white lights, so unless you have a thing for sterile hospital waiting rooms, be considerate of your bedroom lighting. The essential here is keeping your lighting options low and warm. A beautiful chandelier on a dimmer switch, for instance, can add instant drama and ambiance, while vintage sconces can create a pleasant soothing glow. Not able to install either? You can never go wrong with candlelight.
Image by: Janis Nicolay
Do you ever notice you’re more drawn to rooms decorated with plants? Fresh florals have always made fabulous decor accents, but they’re also known for improving your home’s air quality, as well as being mood boosters. By adding plant life to your bedroom, you’ll find it becomes a more livable place that you’ll both want to spend more time in, too.
Image by: Tracey Ayton
While it may not be ideal to eat three meals a day in bed, having a breakfast-in-bed for two every now and then is one of life’s simple luxuries. In fact, breaking the usual morning routine and enjoying a cozy meal first thing is a great way to spend a little extra time together and reconnect.
Image by: Michael Graydon
Even a simple nook can be turned into an enchanting retreat. Find a corner to fit a love seat or dress up a small alcove by the window — when there’s just enough room for two, it’s the perfect excuse for an extra cuddle.
Image by: Christy Wright
Create a space that’s for both of you, where you can both feel at-home and relaxed. Take each other’s styles and comforts into consideration, or add some photos or keepsakes to conjure cherished memories, and you’ll have a cozy spot where you both feel welcome.
Image: Donna Griffith / Styling: Morgan Lindsay
Thanks to a designer’s masterful eye, this modest modern kitchen serves as a lesson in making the most of the space you have.
If not precisely planned, a tiny kitchen can lead to chaos of all sorts: appliances dominating countertops, overstuffed cabinets that barely shut, even cookware stashed in the oven. The trouble with this Toronto couple’s 235-square-foot cooking quarters came down to its awkward U-shaped layout, which divided the kitchen into two distinct zones: a prep area and an eating nook.
To maximize the kitchen’s storage capacity, Veronica traded in awkwardly positioned uppers for glossy white and oak-look cabinetry that extends to the ceiling. “The original cupboards left all this untouched space above them, so it was important to reclaim that and take advantage of the 10-foot-high ceiling,” she says. The homeowners now use the extra storage to stow away off-season items and other specialty kitchenware.
The pre-reno space featured a pantry that protruded into the nearby hallway. “It resembled a front hall closet and felt very removed from the kitchen,” says Veronica. So the designer got creative. To better incorporate a new pantry into the room, she had custom floor-to-ceiling cabinetry installed in the same spot and then had matching fake doors added to the bump-out wall directly beside it. The clever addition looks like a large unit that was always part of the kitchen.
Though 24-inch-deep cabinets constitute the majority of this kitchen’s storage, Veronica chose to recess the doors above one countertop to add depth and function, ensuring the prep surface is accessible. Incorporating whitewashed-wood-look doors also lends warmth to the predominately white space. “All-white kitchens can come off as cold,” she says. “Introducing wooden elements is one of the best and easiest ways to increase interest.”
Instead of limiting counter space to the kitchen’s cooking zone, the designer had sleek quartz countertops installed along an entire wall, extending into the eat-in area. “This design choice reinforces the idea that it’s one integrated space,” she says. The shallow countertop underneath the TV also acts as a sideboard thanks to the built-in cupboards below, where the homeowners store everything from formal dishware to electronics.
The kitchen’s eating nook is one of the most well-loved spots in the home. It’s where the couple sips coffee every morning and retreats after a long day. Keeping this in mind, the designer didn’t want to be constrained by choosing only compact furniture. She instead used large cushioned dining chairs that “encourage the homeowners to stay longer,” she says. The round aged-elm dining table balances the look and is easy to navigate around.
The original U-shaped kitchen layout impeded traffic flow and separated the cooking hub from the eat-in area. The new linear layout boasts a modern free-standing island equipped with an undermount sink, which allows the couple to move around and entertain guests with ease while cooking.
While outfitting the small space, Veronica was careful to create cohesion. The existing maple flooring was swapped out for the same stained oak that’s carried throughout the rest of the main floor. The new accent cabinetry mimics the look of the dining table. Even the cabinetry hardware mirrors the chandelier’s black framework. These repeated decorative details ultimately tie the room together.
"I wanted there to be huge visual impact when you entered the kitchen, but I also didn't want to compromise the view to the backyard garden," says the designer of her decision to add the stick-like chandelier to the eat-in area. "It was important for the light fixture to bring something unexpected to the space," she adds. "A drum shade, for instance, would have fallen flat. It would've been too predictable."