About five years ago, Eric Safyan was browsing the South Slope real-estate listings when he spotted one for an old frame house, two stories high and 25 feet wide.
Luckily, Safyan is an architect, so he could deal with the conditions presented by the property, a legal three-family being used as a four, which was “chopped up, with popcorn ceilings and walls.”
“There was a condo next door, built before blocks were downsized to R-6B contextual zoning — a finger building that rose up beyond the fabric of the block,” he said. “They had to buy this house and extract air rights from it to legalize their building. We got a deal because we’re locked into the current square footage.”
Safyan is a Brooklyn native who grew up in Coney Island and went to high school at Brooklyn Tech, then to Tulane and SCI-Arc (Southern California Institute of Architecture) for his master’s. His Gowanus-based firm, which now comprises four people, has a long project list that includes landmarked townhouse renovations and additions in Manhattan, new townhouse design in Brooklyn, and restaurants such as Roberta’s in Bushwick and the Urbanspace Vanderbilt food court near Grand Central Station.
The space he carved out for his own family of four, which includes toddler twins, is 1,200 square feet on the ground floor. There’s an all-new open kitchen with concrete countertops, painted “neutral beige/gray to blend with the living room.”
Upstairs are two rental units. “When we moved in, you could hear conversations from the second floor, so we insulated between the floors and built up soundproofing with cork and double sheetrock,” Safyan recalled. Then he repurposed a leftover roll of cork as a warm and practical covering for the dining room walls.
A pile of rusted metal panels found in a Gowanus junkyard became the impetus for what Safyan calls a “modern industrial palette” in the apartment’s décor.
“I had been eyeballing these panels and thought it would be cool to use them as a wall surface treatment. I chose some that were less rough-looking and used them as wainscoting” in the main living space, the architect said.
A mix of mid-century modern and antique furniture, along with eclectic art and lighting, came from “a total hodgepodge of sources,” including eBay, craigslist, Housing Works, IKEA and the MTA’s website. Safyan even rescued a few pieces from the sidewalk.
The long sofa in the living room is new, from Room and Board. Safyan laid new oak flooring throughout.
Safyan cut found metal panels down to size for unique wainscotting, used to define the living room and on the back of the kitchen peninsula.
Furnishings in the den include an ersatz Eames chair, found on eBay, an antique roll top desk that belongs to Safyan’s wife, an elder-law attorney, and a wooden armchair found on the street and upholstered in orange velvet.
The subway sign was purchased from the MTA’s website.
The kitchen was originally located in more or less the same place it is now, Safyan said. “We wanted to have a modern open kitchen that blends with the living room, so we kept the cabinets and backsplash tile the same palette of light grays.”
The ceramic backsplash tiles are seconds from Heath Ceramics in Sausalito, Calif.
Steelcase office armchairs are used in the cork-lined dining area. The cork “gives a nice warmth and can even be used for tacking up photos,” Safyan said.
Brick paving and a newly built, curved concrete wall replace what was once just “dirt and tree stumps” in the back garden.
[Photos by Jamie Penkethman and Eric Safyan]
The Insider is Brownstoner’s weekly in-depth look at a notable interior design/renovation project, by design journalist Cara Greenberg. Find it here every Thursday morning.
Got a project to propose for The Insider? Contact Cara at caramia447 [at] gmail [dot] com.
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