March 1, 2011

Make Yourself at Home: Cindy Allen Invites You into her Brooklyn Heights Home

Since I became editor in chief of Interior Design, 10 years ago, hundreds if not thousands of designers have opened their doors to us, so I figure the time has come to return the favor. Yes, it’s taken a while, but I’m sure you know how it is. You imagine other people living in their perfect spaces, entertaining, creating beautiful lives. And you think, Once my house is just so, I’ll do those things, too. But the reality is that most of us never arrive at perfect. When you have friends you’re completely comfortable with, you ask them over anyway, and I’m now inviting you, the readers, to be my guest in the Brooklyn Heights apartment that I renovated and furnished with my loving husband and design partner, Marino. 

It started out as two apartments. We were originally living in one of them but, you see, we’re big folks and, because I have a habit of gathering objects and people, the fit was just too tight. So it’s the quintessential New York story. We’re living in one apartment, craving just one more room—and then our schoolteacher neighbor casually mentions to my husband, while they’re both throwing out the trash, that she’s moving to Vermont. Without missing a beat he says, “We’ll buy your place.” Truth is: We didn’t even know what it looked like other than the fact that our apartment essen­tially formed an L around hers and, combined, they would give us a roomy (by New York standards) 1,700 square feet. The first time we walked into the place, it was already ours. 

Cotter DeFehr Architects’s Brendan Cotter and Kathryn DeFehr, who conveniently live upstairs, drew up the plans we needed to gut and combine the two units. The goal was to make it seamless but, surprisingly, not to break through every wall to create an open loft. Instead, we turned most of the neighbor’s apartment into a bedroom wing. Much more elegant, I think. That’s one of the many things I learned from my Italian spouse. In Europe, they don’t rip everything out—you meander between rooms. Now I’m addicted to it. One element we did unify was the floor. The prewar parquet creaked, and it drove us crazy, so we ripped it up and replaced it with oak strips stained a milky gray. Getting the tint precisely right meant mixing it by hand. 

Furnishings are members of our ever expanding family. As an editor, you become adept at mingling styles from every period and, just like the magazine, our collection is all about the mix. Residential meets commercial. Contemporary lives alongside vintage. What I truly love is to be on the hunt, whether at work or play, at an auction, online, and, especially, through our pages. If things get overly woody, my husband is always the first to say, “Enough, basta.” Although I would like to point out that he did help me find the eight Paul McCobb chairs in the dining room, one by one.

We are both on the same page, however, when it comes to repurposing things or even turning something on its head, like we did with a couple of light fixtures. The large ceramic lamp in the entry was reincarnated from a vintage vase bought at auction, hung from jute rope, and fitted with an LED. In my husband’s studio, the top of the built-in desk is surfaced in faux-wood vinyl flooring left over from a photo shoot. The pair of sofas in the living room look vintage but are actually new contract designs, so sculptural that it was love at first sight when I spotted them at the NeoCon World’s Trade Fair eight years ago-and I’m still smitten. I also get weak in the knees for sculpture in all forms, whether wood, metal, or cast stone. I consider them friends: You just can’t have enough. Real-life pals Jayne and Joan Michaels of 2Michaels and Larry Weinberg of Weinberg Modern feed this addiction by always being on the hunt for me, too. I think it’s called design codependency.

You see relationships all over our apartment-with both rising stars and members of the magazine’s Hall of Fame. Two Dutch designers, Bart Eij­king and Patrick O. de Louwere of Studio Lawrence, recently pitched me a supercool striped felt wall hanging that was a near-exact match with enameled panels we’d had made for our credenzas years ago, and I said, “I have to buy that.” So now the felt stripes hang proudly in our living room and guest room. Scott Strickstein, a young designer I met at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair, made the chandeliers in our living and dining rooms. He was showing small porcelain honeycomb lights, and I asked, “Can you make me those? But much, much bigger.” The master bedroom’s Eames chair, wearing a knit sweater, is a combo that David Rockwell donated to an auction to benefit the Peace House Foundation, and the enormous paper lantern over the bed is by everyone’s favorite, Ingo Maurer.

Next to the master bedroom is what we call the treasure trove, an “off limits” room overflowing with finds from journeys near and afar. I feel very at-one with designers who always have a warehouse somewhere—we all just love to collect. Some of the pieces here may not see the light of day until we complete our next project, a Civil War-era farmhouse on 100 acres upstate. At this point, it’s gutted, and it won’t be ready to welcome friends for who knows how many years. Don’t let your subscription lapse.

alpha workshops; jon m. cory studio: furniture refinishing. angel threads: drapery workshop. kuang’s usa co.: general contractor. 

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