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.
A small Toronto bachelor pad is transformed into a modern masculine retreat.
A carte blanche mandate, a modest budget and a lot of trust transform a small Toronto bachelor pad into a modern masculine retreat.
Take one young man, add a brand new condo and zero furniture, and you’ve got one empty bachelor pad. “When I first moved in, I put the television on the floor and used lawn chairs as furniture,” says homeowner Josh Isaacman of the small two bedroom Toronto condo he bought last year. Clean, contemporary finishes, such as espresso-stained hardwood floors, and a sleek kitchen with a combination of light and dark kitchen cabinetry, meant the space was a blank canvas just waiting for the right artist.
In pursuit of something fresh, modern and masculine, Josh hired designer Stacey Cohen to help choose furniture for the condo. But she did way more than just furnish and decorate. “Stacey came in and had a great eye for everything; she just did it all,” says Josh.
At only 750 square feet, the condo needed to be functional above all else. "Lack of storage was one of the biggest challenges in the space," says Stacey.To address this, the designer took advantage of the 10-foot-high ceilings, using a combination of wall-mounted pieces to create storage and accentuate the height.
Every home entryway, no matter how tiny, needs a mirror, a spot to drop keys and a place to perch while putting on shoes. Stacey managed to squeeze in all three elements into a seriously small footprint.
Designer Stacey Cohen in the 750-square-foot masculine modern condo she designed for homeowner Josh Isaacman.
Sleek storage cabinets mounted on the back-painted glass wall in the living room hide tech gear and other belongings. Small square ottomans tuck away underneath and can be pulled out to offer more seating.
She also created inexpensive artwork decor for Josh based on his interests, such as sports and architecture.
In order to maximize seating, Stacey had the grey sectional sofa custom made to fit one corner of the living area.
Josh uses the condo’s second bedroom as a home office. A custom-made glass desk and slim shelving units give the small room the illusion of more space. The desk is made of Starphire glass, which has a clear blue tint instead of the usual greenish cast.
In lieu of a designated dining area, the kitchen’s breakfast counter saves precious floor space for more lounge-style seating. The T-back metal stools give the room industrial edge.
The gleaming glass wall and custom bed create a focal point in the master bedroom. Wall-mounted storage cabinets from IKEA, nightstands from CB2 and other off-the-rack purchases offset these more expensive elements.
The cool grey palette is carried from the rest of the condo into the private spaces.
When the modern Toronto condo was complete and furnished, Josh had no regrets about giving Stacey carte blanche. “She really understood my taste without me even giving her much direction,” says Josh.
SAVE: 1 Storage Cabinets: Affordable big-box storage cabinets are the key to maintaining order in the small space. 2 Frames: Inexpensive personalized artwork in affordable IKEA frames has a high-end gallery look. SPLURGE: 3 Glass walls: Custom back-painted glass walls add architechtural interest to this new-build condo. 4 Sectional: Another custom piece, the sectional couch fits perfectly in the living room and offers ample seating.
Image by: Stacey Brandford | Styling: Morgan Lindsay & Stacy Begg
A PR maven updates her Toronto kitchen to create a chic space with staying power.
Christine Faulhaber is no stranger to trends. “It’s my job to be on the pulse of what’s new and now,” says the head of Faulhaber Communications, a PR and marketing firm in Toronto. When this in-the-know gal’s kitchen got an update last year, it was destined to have a covetable current look. But first, the 420-square-foot space – which hadn’t seen more than a coat of paint since the ’80s — needed to be brought into this decade.
Seeking help to gut the room and start over, the well-connected homeowner pulled out her loaded Rolodex and called in designer Amy Dillon of AyA Kitchens and Baths. “For the most part, we kept the layout pretty similar,” says Amy. “But we tweaked things to improve usability.” The upgrades included replacing cabinets with space-saving pullouts, swapping bulky appliances for sleek, well-integrated options and supplanting the old island with a longer narrower one that accommodates seating without impeding flow.
With function taken care of, Amy focused on the finishes, opting for elements befitting this fashion-forward professional. She cites the sleek two-tone cabinetry, open storage and a feature wall sans uppers as examples. “Trends can date themselves down the line,” says Amy, “so I incorporated them in a subtle way, using a neutral palette.” The über-popular encaustic-look backsplash tiles are case in point. “The slew of prints is a bit aggressive,” admits Christine. “But they’re monotone, so it’s a safe choice.” Time-tested additions, such as Mid-Century Modern-style seating, grasscloth accent wallpaper and copper accessories round out the room, cementing its staying power.
Designer Amy Dillon grounded the white cabinetry with dark grey accents — but only a few. “I wanted the space to age gracefully, not look like that typical two-tone kitchen you see so much,” she says. Marble-look Caesarstone countertops, which flow into a waterfall edge on the island, help achieve that goal.
For the dining area, Christine went with one of the hottest trends — Mid-Century Modern furniture — and chose chairs in a punchy shade of blue.
Though Amy chose minimal modern flat-panelled cabinetry, she varied the look by incorporating some open storage. “Display space is important to me,” says Christine, who showcases cookbooks and collectibles, such as her grandmother’s porcelain teacups. “These types of pieces give the space character and make it feel more like the rest of the rooms in the house.”
Christine fell for the bold encaustic-look backsplash tiles immediately. “The prints — there are 33 in total — are mostly traditional, so they have long legs,” she says. For a slightly more current effect, she had her contractor double up on the watery pattern, the only contemporary motif in the bunch. “The backsplash is a safe place to try a trend,” she advises. “Worst-case scenario, I tire of it in 10 years. I’d probably want to change my kitchen by then anyway!”
Christine incorporated touches of copper, the metal du jour, starting with a Tom Dixon pendant light in the eat-in area. The zone received the same space-smart treatment as the rest of the kitchen with dual-tone built-ins.
The whimsical artwork printed on Plexiglas is actually an image from a photo shoot Christine produced five years ago to mark the 10th anniversary of her PR and marketing agency, Faulhaber Communications. She used classic grass-cloth wallpaper as a backdrop to amplify the piece.
(Photo by: Joe Kim | Recipe & Food Styling: Tanya Eng)
End your Sunday nights with a classic Canadian treat — maple butter tart pie.
Try your hand at this divine recipe, which takes the nationally revered butter tart and makes it even better by turning it into a whole decadent pie, subtly flavoured with our next favourite thing, maple syrup. What does that mean for your final course of the day? As large a portion as you desire and more of that sugary, buttery filling in every single bite. Oh, Canada!
1 In a food processor, pulse the flour, sugar and salt. Add the butter and lard, and pulse to a fine crumble.
2 Add the egg and water. Process the mixture to a loose, crumbly meal.
3 Work the pastry into a 1"-thick round disc, wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. On a lightly floured surface, roll the pastry into a ¼"-thick and 12"-round disc.
4 Roll the pastry around a rolling pin.
5 Unroll over a 9-½" springform pan.
6 Work the pastry into the edges of the pan, forming a loose, wavy crust. Chill for 10 minutes.
7 To blind bake the pastry shell, line the pastry with parchment paper and cover the bottom with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 15 minutes in an oven preheated to 350ºF; remove the parchment paper and pie weights.
8 To make the filling, whisk together the maple syrup, sugar, melted butter, eggs and vinegar in a bowl.
9 Pour the mixture into the baked shell and place the pie on a baking sheet.
10 Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour on the centre rack of the oven. The pie is done when the top is golden brown but the centre is still wobbly. Let cool before serving.
Serves 8 to 10.
(This recipe was originally featured in our October 2014 issue.)