Max and Lexy’s Kitchen


MAJOR ACCOMPLISHMENT to report down in Philadelphia: my son Max and his girlfriend Alexis, who bought an 1870s house in Fishtown in June of last year, now have a beautiful, functioning kitchen.


They’ve been working on it all spring and summer. (Go here to see how the room looked in May.) First, they tore out what was there before, reducing the 120-square-foot room to studs. Then, working mostly on the weekends and almost entirely by themselves, they created a kitchen a mother would envy, with abundant storage space and a slew of bells and whistles.


Max, who is a woodworker, rented shop space and used it to build custom  cabinets with those swanky smooth-gliding drawers. The cabinet boxes are birch ply, with solid maple doors and drawer fronts.

Below, century-old brass cabinet handles from architectural salvage emporium Provenance.


Then, both Max and Lexy primed, brush-painted, sanded, and painted the cabinets again (and again, and possibly again — I lost count). They painted the walls, too — Benjamin Moore’s soft Palladian Blue — and installed and painted the tin ceiling.

IMG_1213Left, beyond the stainless fridge with the ice/water thingie in the door and the 8″-wide pull-out pantry that nicely fills otherwise unusable space, you can glimpse dangling BX cable and open ceiling beams for a sense of what remains to be done in the apartment.

Coming next: a subway-tile backsplash above the butcher block counters, below.


Since I haven’t had to personally live through it, this kitchen seems to have come together reasonably fast, though I gather it’s been eons in young-person time. Onward, soon, to the bathroom and the rest of the apartment, much of which still resembles a construction site. But first, I hope they’ll give themselves the luxury of a few weekends off to savor their progress.

Before & After: Prospect Lefferts Kitchen


JANE ROSENBAUM, a Boerum Hill-based interior designer, sent me these before-and-after shots of a kitchen she masterminded in a Prospect Lefferts Gardens limestone. She described the ‘before,’ below, as “icky ’70s.” I couldn’t have put it better myself.

1 - prereno 15

1 - prereno 19

The ‘after’ is clean and timeless, the kind of kitchen that will look fresh for many years, with an attractive arch-shaped pass-through into the coffered dining room and a slew of storage. I’ll let Jane, whose business is called Jane Interiors NYC, tell you what she did and how she did it:

“My overriding desire for this kitchen was that it look fresh and young, like my clients, as well as like it belonged in the house.

There is a direct view of the kitchen from the front door, so one goal was to expand the view to the backyard. I just love when you come in a front door and can see out to the back. I also wanted to let more light into the kitchen and the dining room. Raising the height of the door and window, below, and making the door wider and the window taller accomplished this. In the pre-renovation kitchen, the refrigerator was blocking the window. Moving the refrigerator to the opposite end of the kitchen made all this possible.


My clients wanted a kitchen that would allow the cook to visit with guests, without their having to be in the kitchen. Cutting the arch into the dining room, below, which mirrors the shape of the arch at the other end of the kitchen, also made both rooms brighter.


They also wanted white kitchen cabinets and a look that was harmonious with the period of the house. At the time this house was built [around the turn of the 20th century], kitchens had separate freestanding pieces, like Hoosier cabinets, china cabinets, and wall-hung sinks. I wanted this kitchen to look more like  furniture than appliances and cabinets. I used as little hardware as possible, designed custom wood cabinets in a tall, narrow shape, and used integrated appliances and stove hood. I also used a half-inch as opposed to the standard 3/4-inch countertop. I believe this is very important to keeping the room streamlined and makes it work with the dimensions of the detail on the front of the cabinets.


I chose an Italian cooktop, above, oven, and dishwasher because they were more delicate in appearance and did not have the bulky handles of American appliances. I also wanted the view from the dining room to be of beautiful, period-like case goods as opposed to kitchen cabinets. My clients are tall, so the countertops are a few inches higher than standard.

The front parlor, which opens to the entry hall, dining room, and living room with fireplace, has a light blue and brown color scheme, and the original tile in the bathroom is white with a blue border. I used these colors for inspiration in the kitchen and dining room. The large-scale subway tile and glass tile detail are white and blue. The cabinets and woodwork are white with gray/blue undertones, noticeable only in paint made with natural pigments. The walls in both rooms are two shades of pale blue, and the dining room ceiling coffers and insides of the built-in china cabinets are yellow.

The kitchen floor tile is gray-brown. Large plank-shaped tiles, rather than square ones, make the flooring look dressier and less kitchen-like. The plank shape also allowed me to run the tile horizontally, as opposed to vertically, to give the illusion of more width in the kitchen.


I used every square inch of the limited space by taking the cabinets to ceiling height, moving the sink to the other side of the room in a row of cabinets, and building cabinets over the arch, above. Drawers that pull out from the kick plate beneath the cabinets hold baking sheets and a step stool.”

To see more pictures of Jane’s work, go here, or call her at 347/495-7580 for a consult.

Seeking Storage, Finding Brooklyn


THE SITUATION IS DIRE: 11 cartons and 8 plastic bins, holding a lifetime’s worth of family photos, children’s artwork, published and unpublished writing, already pared down to what I consider essentials. Sitting out on the floor of my bedroom in piles, they do not attractive decor make.

And on the other side of the room…


Unless I get some kind of giant credenza, armoire, cabinet, or other closed storage piece –– and I have a 6-1/2-foot wide alcove just waiting to receive one — there’s no point even painting the walls (just as well, since I haven’t decided what color to paint them).


Here’s where I’ve looked:

  • IKEA, where I tried to get my head around the ultra-sleek cabinet, above, ultimately deciding to honor my vow not to buy anything made of particle board
  • Find, a Gowanus warehouse documented in a previous post, where I considered and decided against several rustic pieces imported from India, mainly because nothing was quite the right size for the space
  • Hip and Humble on Atlantic Avenue, which had an armoire approximately the right size and shape, but with cutesy floral carving I couldn’t abide
  • A just-opened and potentially fabulous resource, Film Biz Recycling on President Street near 4th Avenue, a repository for film-set leftovers that just re-located this week from Queens — but I wasn’t parked legally so I just ran in long enough to ascertain there weren’t any armoires in stock


Today, nearing my wit’s end, I checked out a place I’d read about somewhere: Trailer Park, on Sterling Place near 6th Avenue in Park Slope, above, which sells vintage furniture as well as custom pieces made of reclaimed barn wood. The place is so full of the very stuff I used to collect — ’50s lamps, vintage tablecloths, American art pottery — I couldn’t believe I’d never known about it. I brightly asked the fellow in the shop, “How long have you been here?” thinking surely he’d reply, “We just opened last month.” He said, “Oh, about thirteen years.” And I thought I knew Brooklyn!


I admired the 1970s German science posters ($150) and checked out the other offerings closely, but the pieces made of recycled barn lumber by Amish woodworkers, above, were too plain and stolid for me, and the large armoires more than I wanted to spend (about $1,600) — and they didn’t happen to have any vintage ones on hand.

So on I went to Re-Pop on Washington Avenue near the Brooklyn Navy Yard, first perusing their website and zeroing in on a couple of mid-20th century credenzas — not a style I was tending toward, I’m pretty done with that — although in my present circumstances, the main thing is to get something that fits, dammit, so I can start unpacking these boxes before my lease is up.


It was also my first-ever visit to Re-Pop, above, which has been in business about four years, and my first time in that area — Clinton Hill East? — in ages. So it was a revelation to see that the proximity of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway is no longer a deal-breaker when it comes to luxury apartments. 275 Park Avenue, right under the BQE, is a converted 19th century chocolate factory, a distinguished brick building that now houses an organic market, Fresh Fanatic, below, and a Mexican restaurant, Mojito, on the ground floor. I can’t tell you how incongruous I find the gentrification of these blocks in the shadow of the BQE. I once considered them irredeemable — but I was wrong about that, too, apparently.


Re-Pop is stuffed with vintage modern furniture at good prices, chosen with a keen eye for mostly non-pedigreed but stylish designs. They have a load of kitschy ’50s lamps, all with original shades. I seriously considered two pieces, each under $600: a long, low credenza of good shape and size, but I didn’t love it as a piece of furniture, and an unusual blonde wood 9-drawer dresser, but I don’t need a 9-drawer dresser.

So I came away without that vital storage piece, but not empty-handed. See my new lamp, below. It works beautifully in the living room, and actually provides enough illumination for reading.


No vember


WHEN I WAS ABOUT 9, my uncle taught me this ditty:

No birds No bees No flowers No trees

No wonder…November.

I still find it amusing, even though it’s not true. The goldfinches are still at the thistle feeder. I saw bees burrowing in the catmint just the other day. My cimicifuga sent up about a dozen white bottle-brush flowers, and even the rhododendrons, below — which I thought didn’t bloom this year because the deer had eaten all the buds — have a few stunted magenta flowers on them, months behind schedule. The trees are still pretty leafy, and seem particularly brilliant this autumn.


Perhaps because I’m leaving? Tomorrow I’m heading to Brooklyn to start my experiment in leading a double life — the Hamptons/New York City circuit that so many take for granted, but for me is a whole new chapter.


On Monday morning I’ll be in my Prospect Heights pied-a-terre, awaiting delivery of most of the furniture I put into storage a year-and-a-half ago, when I came out to live in East Hampton full-time. That was by default, as some of you may remember, when the Brooklyn place I was to have moved into around the same time I closed on this Hamptons cottage fell through at the last minute.


Above: Awesome sarcococca, male of the species

I feel like I have unfinished business back in Brooklyn. I’m getting excited about volunteering at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, taking $10 yoga classes at Shambala, going to BAM more often, hearing some klezmer music, shopping at Sahadi. But most of all, having a city home again, furnished with city stuff. The orange Ligne Roset chairs, the steel and glass coffee table, the Nakashima-esque side table my son made, the inlaid 1950s Italian cabinet we bought in Tuscany and had shipped home, the 8-foot-long beige chenille sofa with cat-scratched arms. Maybe inanimate objects shouldn’t matter so much, but somehow they do. Even more than memories, I think, they’re about identity. It’s been hard sometimes, these past 18 months, to remember who I am in a new place, new house, surrounded by new (pre-owned, of course, but new to me) stuff.

November will not be boring. After settling into Brooklyn, I’m off to Maui for a week (yes, I know, too bad). I’ll be exploring the island with my daughter, who lives there. I’ve got our itinerary planned out. No modern resorts; we’ll be staying in vintage B&Bs. I’ll visit some botanic gardens and flower farms and historic houses and maybe even go to the beach. Then I’m heading down to Philly to cut a hole in a wall that should make one of the apartments in my Queen Village building much pleasanter and more livable. Thanksgiving will be upstate with lots of cousins.

It won’t be until December that I begin to figure out how this pied-a-terre thing really works.


Photos by Debre DeMers

BROWNSTONE VOYEUR: Small Space, Big Ideas in Cobble Hill

Brownstone Voyeur is a joint project of casaCARA and Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn. Look for it every Thursday on both sites.



THE FIRST THING Amy Samelson did when she bought this Pacific Street co-op seven years ago was “strip everything as bare as possible.”

Amy, an interior designer whose work includes both commercial and residential projects, immediately did away with “every annoying piece of door hardware, bad lighting fixture, and switch plate.” She also pulled off cheap parquet flooring in the living room and ugly ceramic tiles in the kitchen and bath.

‘Annoying’ was probably the least of it. All the different materials had the effect of visually chopping up the diminutive 500 square feet on the third floor of a brownstone where Amy lived and worked until recently (she has since relocated in the neighborhood).


“It was small space broken down further,” she recalls. “I made every effort to create one unified space, without a lot of finicky detailing.” To that end, she painted all the walls off-white, including the handsomely textured brick wall in the living room. She did the same to existing baseboards and moldings so they would, as she puts it, “visually fall away.”

To further make the apartment all of a piece, Amy installed sea grass carpeting, a natural water-repellent material, throughout the apartment, even in the kitchen area and bath.


The effect is pared down and serene, neither particularly minimal nor coldly modern, with warmth and variation from differently textured surfaces, like the white-painted brick wall, sisal carpet, and stainless steel table used as a desk.

Furnishings are few but iconic, including an Alvar Aalto chair, George Nelson side table and sculptural African wood stool.

In the living room, a simple box spring and mattress with a canvas slipcover from IKEA doubled as a sofa and guest bed. Even mundane objects like CDs and media components have “color and size relationships and form,” Amy says, and are candidates for open display.


Orderly open shelves reflect Amy’s belief that objects like books and file boxes “can be an artful expression, if arranged beautifully. It’s an upfront organization effort,” she says, “but once you’ve done it, it functions day by day.

A stainless steel table from a restaurant supply store served as both desk and dining table. Standing lamps create intimacy. “You don’t want light from the ceiling coming down on people’s heads.”


In the bedroom, below, translucent door panels, with hardware of brushed stainless steel, enhance the illusion of spaciousness. The bedroom closet wall was painted dark khaki; linen drapes in lieu of closet doors add texture and save space.



On the rear deck, below, Amy upholstered a wide platform with tailored cushions and affixed a pivoting market umbrella. Pots of ornamental grasses can winter outdoors.ss_100006480

Large photos courtesy Amy Samelson

Small photos by John Bessler for Better Homes & Gardens magazine