Brooklyn Heights

Brooklyn Heights showhouse welcomes public

October 11, 2017 By Jenny Powers Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Photo courtesy of Bella Mancini Design

Hand-picked designers create Heights gem

The borough’s inaugural Designer Showhouse has swung open its mahogany doors to the general public, treating both local residents and out-of-towners to a rare glimpse of 21st century living inside a historic 19th century Brooklyn Heights home.

The Brooklyn Designer Showhouse, housed in a 150-year-old, nearly 7,000-square-foot brownstone located at 32 Livingston St., reflects the work of 16 interior design firms, each tasked with making their creative mark on a single room.

The result of these design collaborations has managed to both honor and capture the essence of the past while simultaneously creating a livable, contemporary home for the present.

While the original floors, moldings and overall footprint maintain the character of the 1910 home, the formal rooms of yesteryear have all but vanished. Rooms traditionally reserved for special occasions have been updated to reflect everyday spaces for the entire family.

Manhattan-based Deborah Berke Partners had full reign over the transformation of the dining room.  “Our design for the Dining Salon reflects contemporary ways of dining and entertaining. We imagined a space that can be used throughout the day from coffee in the morning to afternoon tea to a relaxed dinner to a nightcap. The high-quality, beautifully crafted furniture from Avenue Road is combined with diverse works of art — including paintings, photographs, and sculpture — to create a richly layered space that is full of personality,” shares Kiki Dennis, Brooklyn resident and principal at the firm.

As for the art collection in the new space, Dennis says, “We curated a selection from emerging and mid-career artists. We intentionally selected pieces that had a range of price points, typically between $700 and $7,000 per piece. We hope that this approach will be inspiring to visitors and convey our strong belief that design vision is not limited by budget.”

What’s remarkable is not only the artwork displayed on the walls but also the walls themselves which required that Showhouse vendor Taffera Building and Finishes dedicate a crew of four to work nearly 500 hours to carefully prepare, plaster and paint the room.

According to Showhouse Co-chair Ellen Hamilton of Hamilton Designs, “The clever multi-purpose dining room designed by Deborah Berke Partners brings the formal dining forward decades, as does the front Parlor as imagined by Glenn Gissler. This imaginative and contemporary use of what Parlor space is, is a must see.” In many brownstones, the Parlor Floor has a sad empty feeling as if you are waiting for the guests who aren’t coming,” Hamilton explains.

“Revitalizing the Parlor for modern life means a small but highly functional kitchen like the Showhouse kitchen designed by Ciuffo Cabinetry. A kitchen at Parlor level is not a compromise, it’s a smart choice,” says Hamilton.

“Ciuffo shows that you can have a functional trophy kitchen in a small footprint,” adds Co-chair Erika Belsey-Worth. Both Kiki Dennis and Glenn Gissler embraced the original detailing of their very formal rooms, but furnished them for the 21st century as flexible spaces.  Positioned together with the kitchen these three rooms make a great case for dedicating the Parlor floor to everyday living.”

The process of designating rooms to designers began with a lottery. Firms completed ballots listing their top three room choices to decorate. DUMBO resident Bella Mancini of Bella Mancini Design was assigned her first choice, the child’s room and got right to work on her vision to create a “real life room for a real-life little girl. 

“I wanted people who saw the room to believe a little girl actually lived there,” Mancini says whimsically.  

An unmade bed with crumpled pajamas on it, little toy treasures scattered on the carpet, Pez dispensers lining the mantelpiece and a bulletin board adorned with finger paintings and crayon drawings bring the room to life. “I want you to walk into room and picture a little girl who got up late for school, threw off her pajamas, got ready quickly and hurried out the door, leaving her scattered toys and books in her wake,” she adds.

Mancini, whose firm handles everything from straightforward redecorating to ground-up construction from New York to Texas, shared that having “pure creative freedom” had its plusses and minuses. “There’s no client per se, so you can do absolutely anything you envision but that can be scary too,” she adds laughing.

Until the Brooklyn Designer Showhouse, Mancini swears, “I have said no to every other Showhouse I have ever been asked to do. Between the fact that I thought it would cost a million dollars along with all the required time and the strict parameters, I wasn’t interested, but this time I was interested. I feel so lucky to live in such a tight-knit Brooklyn community, this just felt like giving back, this time it made sense,” Mancini says.

Mancini has a point. While traditional design jobs can be spread over months, a Showhouse timeline is reminiscent of the home improvement shows we see on television. As Kiki Dennis of Deborah Berke explains, “Designers are required to mobilize very rapidly, execute quickly and have quick production turn-arounds. Instead of months, we are now talking days.”

That’s where partnering the right vendors to source and outfit the space come into play, Dennis explains citing a number of custom pieces for the Dining room, in particular the carpets by Crosby Street Studios and the custom fabricated light fixture they designed in conjunction with Bone Simple.   

Although the designers did not discuss their design plans with one another, the house has a natural flow to it as if they did all collaborate.

Showhouse Co-Chair Erika Belsey-Worth attributes that synchronicity to the Showhouse partners like British-based Farrow and Ball whose local showroom on Atlantic Avenue provided their historic palette of paint colors as well as handcrafted wallpaper.   

As for the overall flow of the house itself, Belsey-Worth says, “From the first time we crossed its threshold, we knew that this house would inspire our designers in challenging, unpredictable ways. From the grand proportions of the Parlor floor to the rough garret art studio, we had here the raw material to bring out the best of the best, each room providing a different space for the exciting conversation between Old Brooklyn and new design.”

Like the Showhouse’s charitable benefactor, The Brooklyn Heights Association (BHA) exists to honor the past while celebrating the future in their mission.

The welcome mat is out until Sunday, Nov. 5. Tickets are $40 for the general public and $35 for BHA members. All proceeds benefit the BHA.

For more information on tickets, visit www.hebha.org/events/event/brooklyn-heights-designer-showhouse.

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