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.
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Sentri All-In-One Home Monitoring
These smart home security gadgets will help keep both you and your home safe.
The Ring Doorbell means you can always see who’s at your door, even when you’re not home. Once installed, simply download the app and pair with your doorbell. When anyone rings, your smartphone will notify you that there’s someone at your door. You can see them on the wide-angle HD video as well as speak to them. You can also adjust the settings so that you’ll even get a notification when there’s motion around your door, even if someone hasn’t rung the bell! Ring Doorbell, ring.com, $199.
Go keyless! The Schlage Connect Touchscreen Deadbolt means you’ll never need to open your door with a key again. Instead, program a secret code that only you and your family members know to lock and unlock the door easily and safely. You can also program alternate codes for other people; for instance, you could let the dog walker enter and then disable their code once they leave. The Schlage Connect features memory for up to 30 users. Schlage Connect Touchscreen Deadbolt, Schlage, starting at $183.
This small, unobtrusive camera can provide you with so much peace of mind. Once it’s set up, simply launch the corresponding app on your smartphone or tablet and you can see inside your home with live, crystal clear HD video. It’s perfect for checking in on your kids or keeping an eye on the pets. Belkin NetCam HD+ Wi-Fi Camera with Glass Lens and Night Vision, Belkin, $129.99.
Have you ever spent an entire day away from the house worried about whether or not you left the iron on? It’s a pretty bad feeling. But if you can’t remember if you closed the garage door as you hurried out of the house on your way to work, we can help. The MyQ Garage will allow you to control your garage door from anywhere in the world! Once installed, download the free app so that you can open and close your garage with just a swipe of your finger. MyQ Garage, Chamberlain, $129.99.
Like other home security cameras, Canary offers you the ability to record and view live video inside your home. Using the Canary app, you can stay connected to your home with your smartphone, no matter where in the world you are. Plus, it goes one step further by connecting you with police if needed or sounding an alarm in your home to scare off intruders. The device also allows you to monitor the health of your home: air quality, temperature and humidity. Home Security System, Canary, $199.
We know that looks aren’t everything but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention how sleek the Sentri All-in-One Home Monitoring system looks. At first blush, it looks like a simple display for the time and weather. But upon closer inspection, you’ll find that this handy little gadget will fast become the security hub of your home. It’s got a 120-degree wide-angle HD camera, night vision, motion detection, a thermometer, humidity sensor and air quality monitor. Best of all, it can also control other smart devices in your home like the Nest Thermostat, Philip Hue and Belkin WeMo. Sentri All-in-One Home Monitoring, Amazon, $249.
Contemporary clean lines gives this bathroom its timeless look and spa-like feel.
A soothing palette gives this master bathroom its spa-like feel.
"Balance" was the operative word when Sophie Burke and Jennifer Millar created the master bathroom in this new-build Vancouver house. The homeowners wanted the space to emulate an airy retreat – something spa-like but not too fussy. So the designers injected the room with traditional character and contemporary clean lines – a timeless combination showcased throughout the home, which the duo designed as well. They also incorporated equal amounts of sleek and textural elements and functional and decorative features for an interesting yet well-balanced result.
The vanity’s open shelves and extra counter space provide spots to place decorative items and bath-time essentials.
The free-standing bathtub is a sculptural, contemporary element. “It’s large enough to relax and bathe in, but it’s not so big that it overwhelms the space,” says one of the homeowners. The simple linen café curtains offer privacy while keeping the tops of the windows uncovered, allowing for pretty treetop views.
Steel-framed mirrors and simple sconces, which are actually picture lights, inject a retro-industrial vibe.
In lieu of the usual two sinks, designers Sophie Burke and Jennifer Millar used one oversized basin with two wall-mounted faucets. “The sink is shallow enough so that the top drawers of the vanity actually open,” says one of the homeowners. Wainscotting, created out of ceramic subway tiles that continue from the shower, offers texture and character. “We used dark grout and added a chair rail detail throughout, which contribute to the space’s vintage look.”
Forgoing a curb in the glass-enclosed shower, made possible by sloping the floor toward the drain, creates a streamlined feel. “We were able to do that because the house is a new construction,” says Sophie. This application also lets the herringbone marble-tiled floor run right through without being interrupted. “It’s a really nice detail,” she adds.