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.
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.
Small space: Simple serene townhome
When it comes to designing interiors, Kelly Deck is no newcomer. As the principal of Kelly Deck Design, she estimates that she's been involved in building about 200 homes for clients. And yet the Vancouver designer, who's known for perfectly capturing the modern-organic West Coast vibe, had never actually owned a place of her own until recently because she hadn't found one within her budget that was up to her designer standard.
The opportunity came when Kelly was asked to consult on the design of a seven-unit townhome development in Vancouver's hip Commercial Drive neighbourhood. As Kelly surveyed the site, she was taken by its location: "This was one of the nicest pockets in the area, which boasts a wonderful wine store, an Italian bakery and an organic butcher. I could see myself living here." And, of course, she couldn't pass up the chance to finally create her own dream home from the ground up - even if it was a compact 1,200 square feet.Main floor: 250-square-feet
The main floor is an open-concept space that includes a kitchen and living room.
In spite of the townhouse's small scale, tri-level living appealed to Kelly. "Although the unit is attached, you still get the feeling that it's a home because there's a front door and a set of stairs."
The narrow white kitchen features compact appliances that are integrated into the cabinetry. Because this is the home's only dining area, Kelly splurged on Felt Arper dining stools, which are as comfortable as they are stylish. The counter‐height dining table doubles as a food‐prep surface when not in use.
For the interior, Kelly wanted to create a soothing environment with a Scandinavian sensibility. That means everything from the furniture to the lighting is beautifully sculptural, while the rest of the decor is minimal. And the neutral palette is a selection of white, cream, pale grey and black with wooden and metallic accents.
On the open-concept main floor, homeowner and designer Kelly Deck had all the surfaces, from the base boards to the ceiling, painted white to make the spaces feel cohesive. Kelly chose white oak flooring in a matte finish for the main level and staircase. A custom red cedar coffee table by artist Brent comber is the living room's focal point. says Kelly: "It feels very West coast."
The open shelving in the living room boasts simplicity with elegant trinkets.
For the second floor guest space for a dedicated home office, room, Kelly selected a bed that Kelly incorporated a work area was close to the ground. "When here. a narrow console-style a large piece has a lower centre of gravity, it takes up less visual volume and the ceiling looks higher," she says. Since the two-bedroom home has no extra desk ensures there's plenty of clearance for guests to settle in with their overnight bags.
The guest room has its own ensuite bathroom and work area, so visitors can close the door and relax in their own private space. "It's great for when my parents come to visit," says Kelly.
Kelly used simple meaningful decorative accessories, including books, antiques, artwork and travel photography, to create a curated and cozy (but not cluttered) retreat from hectic days.
Image: Michael Nangreaves / Produced: Christine Hanlon & Morgan Lindsay
Can you tell which moody sitting room serves high or low end decor?
We designed a moody true-to-trends sitting room on both a high tea and a cup of joe budget — see if you can tell the difference.
1 Tree, Elte, $695; 2 Chandelier, Elte, $2,545; 3 Wallpaper, Thibaut at Kravet Canada, $560; 4 Etagere, Art Shoppe, $1,998; 5 Sofa, Urban Barn, $2,999; 6 Lumbar cushions, CB2, $258; 7 Coffee table, Art Shoppe, $3,899; 8 Rug, Elte, $8,505; 9 Armchair, Elte, $2,745; 10 Side table, Barrymore Furniture, $920.
1 Tree, Crown Flora Studio, $295; 2 Chandelier, Elte, $2,085; 3 Wallpaper, Thibaut at Kravet Canada, $358; 4 Etagere, HomeSense, $1,299; 5 Sofa, IKEA, $2,199; 6 Lumbar cushion covers, Inserts, H&M Home, $13 each, $7 each; 7 Coffee table, Elte, $1,895; 8 Rug, Elte, $5,165; 9 Armchair, HomeSense, $500; 10 Side table, Universal Lamp, $395.
Our favourite piece in the room is also the most timeless piece — a brown leather sofa. And so, we've rounded up the best options on the market, at every price point. Flip through the slideshow below to check out our hand-selected picks.
Polyfoam-filled full-grain Seglora leather Stockholm in natural, IKEA, $2,199.
Hamilton leather sofa in mocha, West Elm, $2,799.
Polyfoam- and down-filled waxed top-grain leather Diego in ox tan, Urban Barn, $2,999.
Polyfoam and down-filled full-grain leather Trevor in camel, Crate and Barrel, $5,999.
Foam- and polyfiber-filled top-grain Italian Brompton leather Belgian Track Arm in chestnut, Restoration Hardware, $5,995 US.