The owners of this row house in Brooklyn, New York wanted to find interesting ways to bring in colour and light, as well as accommodate their pets.
The client, an artist, poet and professor and her husband, a poet and administrator required spaces for each of them to live and work and to display their extensive collection of art and books. The design brief also called for special accommodations for their two shy but inquisitive cats to be able to navigate through small and high places and escape from unexpected guests.
Architects BFDO designed an open, airy living space on the parlour floor lined on one side by a full-length bookshelf, art wall, and cat circulation and lounge space.
Shelves project to create steps for the cats to climb up to a continuous open ledge where they can observe activities from a high vantage point. Trap doors allow the cats access to rooms above at either end of the house.
Inset in the shelf wall is an art piece designed by the owner: a diorama of a living room concealed behind a front door painted to match the front door of the house. Other recesses house the owners’ collection of hand sculptures and a series of Rubik’s cubes recovered with cloud images also designed by the owner. At the centre, a skylight brings light all the way past the second floor down to the level of the living space.
“The floor is organised into four separate areas: the living room, media room, dining area, and kitchen, which pinwheel around the ‘functional wall’ floating in the middle third of the space,” explains Alexandra Barker, principal, BFDO Architects. “The wall creates a hallway zone on one side to contain storage and access to the powder room and basement.
On the other side, it defines the media room seating area and provides a place to conceal air conditioning. It also screens the kitchen in the back from the living room in the front. A two-story wall of glass at the back of the house floods the interior with light. A balcony and stairs lead down to the rear yard.”
Upstairs, the studio occupies the back half of the floor. A balcony in the window wall allows the client to step outside for quick breaks from work. In the corner, she commissioned a skylit ‘nest’ to have a concealed, elevated space to write and think, and the structure is formed from dimensional lumber and wood elements recycled from the house.
Downstairs is a ‘cat-free zone’ intended for guests. The front room has been designed as a workout space, while a guest suite occupies the back third of the space. A strip of windows and glass doors lead to stairs to the rear yard and pops of colour in the form of yellow-hued columns, a green bench, and melon popsicle shelf niches tie the space to the rest of the house and keep the lower level bright and inviting.
Materials in the house were recycled when possible: the existing panelled wood doors, doorknobs, and hardware were reused and the pine flooring was refinished. A wood storage unit was incorporated into the shelving wall and playful touches of colour on the existing stairs, front doors, and vestibule emphasise the carved detail and silhouettes of the existing woodwork.
Photography by Francis Dzikowski/OTTO