Mad Men “Lite” Takes Flight
A California palette gets cozy with mid-century furnishings in Brooklyn
In 2010, California natives, Tom and Alex, purchased an 880-square-foot apartment in Brooklyn after renting in Manhattan and Los Angeles. They were drawn to the unique history of the Clinton Hill Co-ops built in 1941 by the U.S. Navy as housing for workers at the then-bustling Navy Yard. The buildings became rentals after World War II and eventually went co-op in the 1980s. The unit that the couple bought was on the second floor facing a courtyard, and hadn’t been renovated since the mid-’80s. It retained the original parquet floors, faux-granite Formica countertops, and a badly-configured floor plan that wasted a lot of valuable space. While the non-functional kitchen/dining space was the impetus for the project, by the end, every wall, ceiling, and floor had been either gutted or resurfaced to stunning effect.
Tom, a real estate agent with Corcoran’s Fort Greene office, knew that a more functional, ergonomic space with better flow and storage could be achieved within the existing walls. When it came time for their own apartment refresh, the couple turned to Sweeten alums and designers Casey and Kumar of Studio Miller Atre for a conceptual design that matched their lifestyle and design taste. Their project was posted on Sweeten—a free service that paired them up with a vetted contractor. Tom had, in fact, recommended Sweeten to other clients in the building and had seen the transformations firsthand (See Samantha and Sean’s kitchen reno!). Their Sweeten contractor was chosen to execute the vision, while the designers consulted in tandem with their architect, David, on design and code issues.
Casey and Kumar established a palette and a mix of materials that would evoke the homeowner’s beloved home state within a contemporary mid-century look. Alex’s grandparents were artists and had given them several pieces of original mid-century artwork they had painted. A modern surround was an ideal way to showcase those pieces “without fully recreating a ‘Mad Men’ set.” As a purser flight attendant with American Airlines, Alex has quite a passion for classic commercial airliners like Braniff International Airways from the ‘60s. Several collectibles designed for the airways by textile designer Alexander Girard can be found in their home.
To begin, given that the dining/kitchen area flowed directly into the living room, Casey and Kumar wanted to design a partition to allow for visual flow while providing definition between the two spaces. The solution was a series of vertical, floor-to-ceiling walnut slats that tied into the walnut cabinetry in the kitchen, as well as the floating walnut decorative wall panel in the living room. “The whole concept was to establish a good visual flow and continuity from room to room,” explained Alex. A favorite purchase was a modular Vitsoe 606 unit that became their workspace in the living room. “It was designed by German industrial designer Dieter Rahms, and first produced by Vitsoe in Denmark in 1961,” said Alex. “We were looking for a simple, highly flexible desk/wall unit that also looked really good.”
In the dining area, the designers dropped the ceiling by five inches to allow space for wiring to the dining room pendant, as well as recessed lighting that runs on the Lutron Caseta dimming system. Due to the age of the buildings, the electrical system was often overloaded by modern-day appliances, and the installation of a new panel now supports heavier usage. They also took the opportunity to add electrical outlets in more convenient locations throughout the apartment.
Seen through the walnut slats, the kitchen’s white-and-walnut theme was offset by a geometric tile backsplash and Caesarstone countertops. Matte black hardware provided simple, linear contrast while wooden pendants added warmth. The dishwasher and sink were moved to more logical locations, while full-height uppers and the wall of cabinets surrounding the refrigerator provide ample storage. In the new island, there are deep pull-out drawers for pots and pans, as well as integrated plastic bins for trash and recycling, making it simple to wipe crumbs and other debris from the island directly into the trash can.” The extra countertop surface allows multiple people to work in the kitchen at the same time.
While the initial goal was to improve the kitchen, Alex and Tom decided to completely redo the bathroom. The bathtub was switched out for a walk-in shower with a large, sliding glass door, and a pedestal sink was replaced by a vanity with storage. Now, the space feels luxurious, thanks to the walnut, white, and black palette anchored by a bold leafy wallpaper along one wall. They also indulged in a Toto washlet toilet, with a heated seat and dryer. “This is arguably our most treasured new possession,” joked Alex.
Lastly, the bedroom received a refresh. Closet doors went all the way to the ceiling, powder-coated wire shelving from Home Depot were added, and automatic lights were installed—a “game-changer,” said Tom. Behind the headboard, the couple pulled in a textured grasscloth wallpaper at Casey’s suggestion. “She brought us countless options for material choices we never would have considered on our own,” said Tom. “Her solid design instincts allowed her to really tune into our personal tastes and preferences.” On display in the newly redesigned space are designs by Alexander Girard, including a reproduced Braniff Airway in-flight blue throw and a vintage black-and-white printed pillow. Alex’s Braniff Boeing 707 model, built from a plastic kit, now hangs from the ceiling in the bedroom.
Their Sweeten contractor was the perfect choice for executing their vision—in personality, budget, and in his attention to detail. “His team was brilliant in their execution of Casey and Kumar’s design concept and worked with them to make sure every detail was as indicated. He was always available when we needed to work something out, and consistently offered the solutions we required. The quality and finish of the work are both top-notch,” Alex shared.
Looking back, Tom and Alex share that the most difficult thing about the renovation was “wrapping our heads around spending bigger sums of money. Neither of us had been through this process before, and there was a certain trepidation even after we had committed to construction.” They were, however, able to finance the project with equity that they had built since owning the apartment. And as a real estate agent, Tom knew that the substantial increase in the apartment’s resale value justified the overall cost. “In the end, we reminded ourselves that we are both staunchly home-centric people who place a great deal of value on the comfort and serenity that only a beautiful, functional home can give us,” he said. “Not only did it feel like 300 square feet was added to the apartment but we soon realized after this project was complete that it was worth every single penny.”
Thank you, Alex and Tom, for sharing your incredible home transformation. We love your style!
KITCHEN RESOURCES: PID Engineered wood flooring: custom. Custom cabinets: Interiors Palace. Vinci Pulls cabinet hardware: Schaub & Company. Fresh Concrete countertops: Caesarstone. Geometric tile backsplash: Ann Sacks Tile. Sink: Kraus. Faucet: Grohe. Fridge/dishwasher/stove: KitchenAid. Lighting: Room & Board. Woodcut print: Eve Stockton.
LIVING ROOM RESOURCES: Lighting: Design Within Reach, Artemide, Pablo. Milo Baughman blue recliner: Design Within Reach. Green and bronze frame lounge chairs, Milo Baughman for Thayer Coggin: ABC Carpet & Home. Sofa and ottoman: Room & Board. Pillows: Martyn Thompson. Alexander Girard blanket: Vitra. Storage unit: USM Haller.
BEDROOM RESOURCES: Bed: BluDot. Black George Mulhauser Plycraft lounge chair with ottoman: vintage. Reproduced Braniff Airways blanket: Herman Miller. Pillow with vintage Alexander Gerard fabric: vintage. Lighting: Pablo.
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