My aunt and uncle announced their intentions to move to New York City two years ago at my niece’s wedding. I remember thinking, “Why would anyone choose to move there? I mean, it’s a cool place to visit (I had been there a few times), but living there would be stressful and chaotic.” Still, I listened to my aunt talk about Central Park blanketed in snow and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons being inflated, and her eyes sparkled. I told her it sounded magical. “That’s exactly what it is” she replied. Though I was skeptical about their choice to move to New York permanently, I was just glad it wasn’t us moving there, and we agreed to come visit within the next year.
During that brief, pass-through visit on a family vacation, we were tourists, and I remember walking through Times Square asking once again, “Why would anyone want to live here?”. The noises, the sights, the smells…the over-stimulation!
This is where I was standing when I questioned New Yorkers’ sanity!
Fortunately, I got a tiny taste of local Brooklyn culture the one night we were able to visit with my aunt and uncle in their new apartment, and it was nothing like all the attractions NYC is known for. We had a glass of wine on their fabulous rooftop deck and walked a few blocks to what is now one of our favorite spots in their neighborhood, Fortunato Brothers. It was that night that my aunt asked me to design their main living area. I was thrilled to work on such a cool space but I honestly wasn’t looking forward to traveling back to chaotic NYC. Fast forward to last week when I flew to NYC with my oldest daughter, Hannah, to install their living area and I ended up changing my tune completely.
The view from my aunt and uncle’s rooftop deck in Brooklyn.
While there, I never once set foot in the touristy areas and in fact only ventured out within a few blocks of my aunt and uncle’s building to buy flowers and eat at local restaurants. Hannah spent two full days traipsing all over the touristy spots in NYC while I happily stayed back and worked at the apartment. After only a few days of experiencing the New York I had never seen before, which included the tiniest jazz bar filled with insane talent that may never be seen outside of those walls, I declared, “Now I know why so many people want to live here!” It’s quaint, made up of kindhearted people willing to work together as a community, and chock full of unique, local eateries and shops. This was the New York my aunt and uncle had fallen in love with, and I was now smitten, which is wonderful because with the completion of each project, I leave a little bit of my heart wherever it is, and I’m so glad I was able to fall in love with a city I once thought was unlovable.
Tiny jazz bar filled with amazing talent every Sunday night – Ba-sik
Designing their living room was fun because my aunt and uncle are up for just about anything style-wise, and it was fairly easy thanks to existing beautiful, light-wood floors, concrete ceilings, black-framed windows, and an all-white, marble, and subway-tiled kitchen. Just like Project River Renee, this was a remote design job so everything needed to work out precisely, and to my delight, in spite of a few hiccups, it turned out better than I expected!
I am so proud of this project and I hope you enjoy seeing how I gave this small NYC apartment BIG style.
-the design board we started with-
See those concrete ceilings and light-wood floors? They made my design job a breeze!
The Milkyway Lamp by Noir was our jumping off point. It was the first design element that my aunt and uncle said yes to, and it absolutely embodies New York, especially when lit.
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On the other side of the room, we chose these CB2 shelves to replace a tired love seat that was too large for the space. The original plan was to use the Jude Bookshelf, which my aunt and uncle LOVED, but we opted for the versatility of the two separate shelves in case they ever need to move them (this is a typical, tiny NYC apartment so you have to get creative with where you’ll put your Christmas tree).
We chose this Moroccan Trellis rug because they have two older dogs and they decided they’d rather replace the rug as needed instead of making an investment in a rug that’s too precious for their lifestyle. They also loved the style, and the fact that it’s such a great value was simply a bonus!
I integrated some of my aunt’s treasured pieces into the accessories I planned for the shelves. My personal philosophy is that design should be personal or it will lack heart. To this end, I spent weeks hunting for a mix of antique items, shiny new trinkets, and unique, quirky objects that reminded me of my aunt and uncle in order to achieve a collected look I knew would blend with my aunt’s memories. There is still margin for them to punch it up with color or holiday decor should they choose to do that.
One day during the install we went hunting for a few local treasures in order to reflect their love of Brooklyn. We came up short everywhere except one shop that was going out of business. I saw this print in a frame with broken glass, and when I inquired about the price, the owner said I could have it. As luck would have it, when I looked at the source of the art, it was French. This was special because my aunt was born in Paris and travels there frequently with her family; an unintentional but delightful connection.
This brass sculpture was a hit with the whole family, and sitting next to one of my aunt’s favorite vases, it drives home the truth that mixing old with new is always a good idea.
Finding a sofa that was the right scale and checked every box on my aunt and uncle’s wish list was a challenge, but they finally fell in love with the appropriately-sized, extremely versatile, and completely durable Drake Reversible Sectional in the Distressed Velvet (Metal) fabric. This is the perfect sofa for smaller spaces, and I can attest to the comfort and beauty of this piece.
Using a Susan Connor textile in my aunt and uncle’s apartment was a must because Susan’s studio is in Brooklyn, so this was another ode to their community. I actually had the pleasure of meeting Susan the final morning of my stay in NYC and I can’t wait to share about my visit with her in another post soon.
These fantastic chairs were our choice both for scale and style, but we were all pleasantly surprised by the amazing texture and how comfortable they are. The quality is truly outstanding.
During the design process, my uncle fell in love with the art of Hutch Dano, a Southern California artist, so we commissioned a piece as a surprise for my aunt. They lived in Santa Monica for a brief period and both still love the L.A. area, so this was another design choice that held a special connection for them. Hutch created art that was truly meant for this space, and my aunt and uncle were thrilled with the addition (title: “Loud”).
Now, are you ready for the juiciest part of this post? Behold, the “before” photos:
It’s amazing what good design can do for a space, not only from an aesthetic perspective but also from a functional standpoint. Nothing was working for them with their previous furniture, and they wanted a comfortable, cool, desirable space that their son (my cousin) could bring his high school friends home to hang out in, and since they entertain a lot, they wanted it to function well for flow and conversation. The last few nights I was there, we all sat in the living room just remarking about how the room feels like a New York jazz club and is the perfect backdrop for conversations, rainy days on the couch, and family memories for as long as they are there.
I hope you enjoyed reading about the process of Project Brooklyn Beauty as much as I enjoyed working on this very special design that not only transformed the way my aunt and uncle live in their space but also changed my perspective on one of the greatest cities in the world and helped me fall in love with the people and culture of New York.