The Insider: Designer’s Townhouse in Cobble Hill


WELCOME TO THE INSIDER, Brownstoner’s weekly exploration of the creative ways Brooklynites renovate and decorate their homes. It’s written and produced by journalist/blogger Cara Greenberg. Find it here Thursdays at 11:30AM.

This post is sponsored by Open Air Modern.

Open Air Modern offers authentic mid-century furniture along with out-of-print design, photography, and art books.

1850s HOUSE, 1950s FURNISHINGS — it’s amazing how well and often that combination seems to work. Evidence: the home of interior designer Julia Mack and her husband John, an architect, which they renovated from the ground up and furnished mostly with mid-20th century design classics.

It was in Italy that Mack first realized how brilliantly modern furnishings can be integrated into antique structures. “There’s a longstanding precedent in Europe, where the homes can be older than our Brooklyn townhouses by several hundred years, but the focus is on keeping the decor fresh from generation to generation,” she says. “You see it in old Italian villas and urban townhouses in Amsterdam and London. They often have extremely contemporary kitchen appliances, bath fixtures, and lighting — all cutting-edge modern, within the envelope of a 400-year-old house. I realized that was an idea I wanted to work with in my own home.”

The Macks bought this Baltic Street house as a  ‘neglected dump’ in 2002 and spent a year upgrading the mechanicals. The 20′x40′ four-story building had been used as floor-through rental apartments; the first order of business was pulling out four nasty kitchens and four baths. Happily, the house’s original moldings, panel doors, wide-plank floors, and turned stair balusters were intact, along with a spectacular carved marble mantel in the front parlor.

When it finally came time for decorating, clean white walls formed the backdrop for their collection of mid-century modern furniture. Some is vintage, handed down by Julia’s parents and grandparents; other items are re-issues, many from Herman Miller and  budget-friendly sources like Bo Concept, Room & Board, and Modernica.

Read on and see more photos, plus a source list, after the jump.

Photos: Brett Beyer


The quirky metal wall art is made out of bedsprings. The ornate Italianate mantel seems quite at home surrounded by understated modern pieces.


The super-sleek kitchen, designed by the homeowners, has floor-to-ceiling cabinets of book-matched walnut veneer that provide abundant storage.


The vintage mahogany dining table and teak console are perfectly sympatico with an  ultra-contemporary glass light fixture from Artemide. The paintings are by Cobble Hill neighbor Noel Yauch.


A curtain of nylon string on a hidden track [not shown] divides the master bedroom from a dressing room carved out of the central core of the 2nd floor. The ’40s boudoir chair is a family relic.


Julia Mack’s home office was painted an energizing red.


The Macks found the 1920s soaking tub in place when they bought the house.


Front parlor/living room: Sofa, B&B Italia. Credenza, Bo Concept. White lamp, Fontana Arte. Table lamp, Phosphoria Design. Eames plywood lounge chair, Herman Miller for the Home. Ellipse chair, Modernica. Shag rug, Suite New York. Stools, Herman Miller for the Home. Mirror, Evan Hughes Studio. Wire wall art, Susan Woods. Coffee table, Two Jakes.

Back parlor/dining room: Lighting fixture by Ron Rezek, Artemide. Mirror, Olde Good Things. Chairs, Herman Miller for the Home. Paintings, Noel Yauch, Atlantic Gallery.

Home office: File boxes, Bigso. Painting, Diana Horowitz, Hirschl & Adler.

Master bedroom: Bedspread, Environment337. Curtains, Lamps, Jonathan Adler. Bedside table, Modernica. String curtains, Mxyplyzyk.

Bathroom: Light fixture, Artemide. Sink, Duravit. Towel, Layla. Toiletries, Hasker.

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