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.
Stunning bathroom design with vintage appeal
A clawfoot tub and marble herringbone flooring are just some of the beautiful vintage features in this stylish bathroom.
After moving into their 125-year-old rowhouse in downtown Toronto last year, Jane and Jeff Wood did a few cosmetic fix-ups to update the charming home, but the dark, cramped, showerless bathroom needed a complete overhaul. The couple enlisted designer Cameron MacNeil to create a bathroom that better accommodated their family. Expanding and reconfiguring the space, he incorporated the original tub and added an expansive shower and double vanity. He used classic materials like marble and brass for a fresh, light look that suits the rest of the house.
The inside of the original clawfoot tub was re-enamelled and its outside painted black. “The bathtub is really beautiful,” says homeowner Jane Wood. “It’s six feet long but quite narrow, and apparently it’s a style that’s hard to find now.” A wall of oversized eight-by-12-inch bevelled subway tiles (which offer visual interest without being too busy) and a marble-topped ledge continue from the glass-enclosed shower for a seamless look.
A fresh seaside-chic lake house
This cozy lake house in Port Carling, Ont., boasts a fresh seaside-chic vibe while paying homage to old-school Muskoka.
Nestled on the south shore of Lake Rosseau in Port Carlin, Ont., this 6,800-square-foot six-bedroom house is decorated the way one would dress when visiting: in a crisp Polo Ralph Lauren Oxford shirt and comfortable, well-worn chinos paired with Sperry Top-Siders. It's a timeless look that's coastal, casual and effortlessly chic with a neutral palette at its core.
"The homeowners wanted to capture that warm, windswept lake house aesthetic but with a relaxed, cozy Muskoka feel for their young family of four," says Cory DeFrancisco of Mukoka Living Interiors, who designed and built the home from scratch, finishing in 2013.
Like a friendly smile and a firm handshake, the entryway makes a confident and inviting introduction to the home.
"A lot of old cottages have those tunnelling hallways in their guest cottage or service quarters, and this beadboard wall treatment references that," says builder and designer Cory DeFrancisco.
This small boathouse sunroom is literally right on Ontario's Lake Rosseau: On windy days, you can feel waves crashing up through the floorboards.
"We took up 90 percent of the wall with windows," says Cory of the gorgeous great room, where the ceiling's oak beams guide your eye directly to the view. "The overstuffed sofas are insanely comfortable," he adds. "They're slipcovered in high-quality Belgian linen that gets softer with each wash.
Though the spacious kitchen is crisp, white and polished, simple details, such as the grain of the reclaimed-oak floors and the texture of the brush strokes on the hand-painted cabinetry, keep it humble and homey. "It's a new take on a traditional cottage kitchen, with all the modern amenities," says Cory.
A big weathered farmhouse table paired with slipcovered seating and sophisticated lighting that doesn't block the view equals a dining room with easy elegance. But the best feature of this space is that, with the doors open, you really feel like you're eating alfresco.
Even though this home is grand, the family who lives here wanted an overall feeling of togetherness, so Cory kept it largely open concept.
The west-facing Muskoka room, with wall-to-wall windows, is so bright that it can pull off the charcoal walls. "The darkness acts as an anchor, while the light that shines in highlights the furnishings," explains Cory. The modular sectional is meant for the outdoors (so go ahead, get it wet) and can be reconfigured when company comes to create multiple sitting areas.
The whole master bedroom is very generous, but its sleeping area is quite small. In it, you'll find only an upholstered bed, two small side tables and a 180-degree view of the water.
The large window behidn the free-standing bathtub overlooks a garden and granite. "It's hard to make boulders sound nice," says Cory with a laugh, "but it's a beautiful view."
"All of those elements are, I think, what makes it feel authentic to Muskoka. There's nothing ornate in the whole place," says Cory. And just 35 feet away, in the boathouse, the look is much the same. The palette is almost all white and the dress code is bathing suits - after all, the lake's right there. Take one step out the door, and jump right in. The water's perfect.
Home of Sue de Chiara of The Zhush
Discover how an amateur decor enthusiast made a career out of what she loves.
It all started eight years ago when she was redecorating her home in Westchester County, N.Y. “I was working with a designer who was introducing me to magazines for inspiration and trying to push me out of my comfort zone,” says Sue De Chiara, the blogger behind the popular decor-inspiration destination and online store The Zhush (pronounced “je” + “oosh”). “When I started looking up designers I liked, I stumbled upon some blogs, which were much easier to email and share.” This was pre-Pinterest, before blogs became ubiquitous, and Sue decided she wanted her own curated collection of inspiration. So with her brother’s help, she signed up for a blog. “It was mostly for myself – I didn’t have any personal info on there,” she says. But then comments started rolling in, and Sue was encouraged. “I was off and running. I refined my taste, polished the blog and in 2009 launched The Zhush. My first post was about Burberry infinity scarves.” Since her start, Sue moved to a new house in Connecticut in 2014 and wrote about the design – which she did with the help of designer Lauren Muse of Muse Interiors.
After getting her inspiration from magazines and blogs, Sue has been able to create her own style, mixing patterns and colours to end up with an original home decor.
In the fall of 2014, Sue joined Calling It Home’s One Room Challenge, a six-week series in which design enthusiasts make over a space, chronicling on their blogs the successes and setbacks they encounter. For her first time participating, Sue took on a tall order: renovating the kitchen of her newly purchased home right before moving in. “We were scheduled to move in right when the challenge ended, so I thought it was perfect timing,” says Sue. “But that’s not how the real world works. It was an enormous project, and contractors don’t care about my move-in or blog deadlines. Throughout the whole thing, I kept repeating, ‘I shouldn’t have done this. I shouldn’t have done this.’” Against all odds, Sue finished on schedule (save for some furniture that had yet to arrive), and though she loves the results, she learned her lesson. “For the 2015 fall challenge, I took on only a small guest bathroom, I have a very clear work-back plan, and I’m not moving. I don’t want to jinx myself,” she says, “but it’s going well.”
French-inspired lotus wallpaper and brass details make this pretty powder room feel like a true escape.
Midnight blue constellation-look wallpaper on the ceiling of Sue’s son’s bedroom adds depth and whimsy.
“It was a bit cost-prohibitive to wallpaper all the closets,” says Sue, “so I did the one that’d be seen the most.”
“Splurge on a stunning light fixture and a really great rug, and you can get away with saving on a lot of other things,” advises Sue on budgeting for decor. One of her favourite items to save on is artwork. “Find prints on Etsy or get creative and make your own,” she adds. The artwork on display in Sue’s place, such as the silhouettes of her three kids along the stairs in the front hall, is personal and special to the family. The portraits were created by artist Carter Kustera with Benjamin Moore paints.
“I love paint,” says Sue of the best way to quickly and inexpensively refresh a room. “On walls, on furniture – paint is a great option because if it doesn’t work out, you can just make it white again.” The butler’s pantry is a perfect example of paint saving the day: “When my husband and I looked at the house before buying it, the wooden cabinets in the butler’s pantry were stained a dark mahogany. They were very masculine and stodgy,” she says. “I instantly knew I wanted to paint them a very dark high-gloss blue, taking the pantry from a men’s club cigar room to a fresh, bold jewel-box space.”
The key to creating a home office you actually want to spend time in? “Surround yourself with the fun little things you love but aren’t to the tastes of the people you live with,” says Sue. “Your home office is where you get to express yourself.” In hers, Sue indulged in girlie accessories, which she shared on Instagram, including a bedazzled-lips telephone and an Yves Saint Laurent print.
“Bold, whimsical wallpaper is perfect in small doses on ceilings or covering rooms you don’t necessarily spend tons of time in – it’s a nice surprise,” says Sue, who keeps the walls of her main living areas neutral, but has fun in petite spaces.