The Insider: Actress-Turned-Designer Steeps Townhouse in Eclectic Global Influences

For anyone who’s ever admired the atmospheric interior of Cobble Hill’s Henry Public, a dead ringer for a 19th century tavern, and wondered “Who designed this place?”, much of the credit goes to Jen Albano of Jen Albano Spaces.

Along with her husband, Matt Dawson, and other collaborative partners, Albano is an owner of the popular watering hole. In recent years, she has attracted a following as an interior designer of townhouses, small commercial spaces and the occasional out-of-town vintage home. “People have just been finding me,” she said.

Formerly a stage and screen actress, she segued into the field without formal training. “I’m outside the fray in that respect,” she said of her unique approach to color and decor. “It grew out of my love for storytelling and visuals. Most of my clients are artistic people who might not ordinarily hire someone to do their house.”

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Case in point: the owners of this vibrant, unconventional townhouse (who have since decamped, with regrets, for their native Australia), which Albano decorated largely around her clients’ collection of modern Aboriginal art.

Some years earlier, the couple had done “a very basic self-renovation” of the four-story brownstone, configured as an owner triplex and garden rental, Albano said. “I redid the kitchen to an extent, but this was not a renovation.”

There were no structural and few mechanical changes. “But there was lots of stuff everywhere — textiles and books and musical instruments,”  Albano recalled. “They wanted me to edit and clarify what they had to create one story, and deal with practical matters” — that is to say, storage.

Among other things, Albano designed extensive custom built-ins, emphasized original detail with wallcoverings and fresh paint colors, installed new tin ceilings in some places, refinished the existing floors, hung the homeowners’ impactful art collection and integrated long-owned furnishings with new purchases.

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Jen Albano Carroll Gardens

Graphic patterned wallpaper in the entry hall establishes a playful tone.

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Jen Albano Carroll Gardens

Albano cut up two Turkish kilims from Atlantic Avenue’s Kia Carpets to create an eye-popping stair runner.

An iridescent grasscloth wallpaper from Twenty2 “bounces light around,” the designer said.

The ceiling fixture is made of Jadeite, a jade-green milk glass popular for dishware and accessories in the WWII era.

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Jen Albano Carroll Gardens

The clear emerald used on the parlor’s double doors and elsewhere in the house is an archive color from Farrow & Ball. Her clients responded immediately to the suggestion. “They were very game,” Albano said.

The arched-top cabinet and seat in the entry hall is a custom piece Albano designed to fit in an existing niche.

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Jen Albano Carroll Gardens

Albano mixed a blue sofa belonging to the homeowners with a wool room-size carpet from Elizabeth Eakins, topped with a flat-woven area rug and a Moroccan tray table.

The painting is by an Australian aboriginal artist of the present day.

Linen and silk floor-length drapes combine elements of formal and rustic.

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Jen Albano Carroll Gardens

A TV screen is hidden behind the folded doors of the new cabinetry. Diamond shapes with what the designer calls “an inlay look” were achieved with paint. Rattan inserts allow stereo components to breathe.

The spun brass Orbit sconces came from Brooklyn’s Workstead.

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Jen Albano Carroll Gardens

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Jen Albano Carroll Gardens

A mirror by Manhattan-based Egg Collective hangs over a marble mantel in the middle parlor, or music room.

The vivid paintings, including the one in the dining area below, are contemporary Aboriginal works.

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Jen Albano Carroll Gardens

Chairs by mid-20th century American designer Edward Wormley surround a small square table for intimate family meals.

The Venetian glass ceiling fixture by Barovier is vintage 1960s, one of two in the house.

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Jen Albano Carroll Gardens

Without reconfiguring the appliances, Albano removed an IKEA kitchen and retrofitted a new kitchen with custom millwork of painted hardwood.

She added a new tile backsplash, and reused the existing marble countertop on a new island.

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Jen Albano Carroll Gardens

Block print wallpaper from Les Indiennes and drapes with an ombré stripe add charm to the master bedroom on the second floor.

The custom-upholstered Oscar bed is from the British company SCP; the ceiling fan came from Big Ass Fans.

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Jen Albano Carroll Gardens

Another block print wallpaper decorates the nursery alcove, where a rattan hanging chair stands in for the more typical rocker.

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Jen Albano Carroll Gardens

Pale pink walls in a third floor bedroom allow the Aboriginal painting above the mantel to stand out.

[Photos by Gieves Anderson]

Check out ‘The Insider’ mini-site: brownstoner.com/the-insider

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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