‘It was a conspiracy and a joy,’ says Michael Chen, architect and founder of studio MKCA, of his relationship with the owners of this home. During sometimes three-hour-long meetings with the couple (a tech investor and a public-school art teacher) about colour and culture, nothing was too bold or too out-there to be discussed.
In fact, for Michael, who was keen to avoid falling into the aesthetic stereotype of a Brooklyn brownstone – think white walls and a drab kind of tastefulness – this openness to experimentation was a delight.
There was, he says, ‘a gleeful embrace of colour’ in this property.
There are no apologetic ‘pops of colour’ (a term Michael loathes), but rather a wholehearted enthusiasm for saturated shades. In the main living room, Benjamin Moore’s ‘Palazzo Pink’ paint stretches across the walls and the ceiling, while a jolt of the brand’s ‘Eye of the Tiger’ livens up the home office.
When work began on this 335-square-metre property in the desirable New York neighbourhood of Clinton Hills, however, things looked a little less positive. ‘We are architects, so we are frequently in the most terrifying building on the most beautiful block,’ jokes Michael, who remembers the sight of crumbling mouldings, peeling paintwork and a creepy basement full of doll parts.
‘It was,’ he adds, ‘a complete horror show.’ But, ripping everything out and starting again proved to be an exciting opportunity.
As well as painstakingly recreating most of the 19th-century details, the MKCA team also seized the chance to make intelligent adjustments. ‘In some places we edited the geometry a little bit to make it more pure. A little bit more itself,’ explains Michael.
The clients have a love of Wes Anderson, which can be seen in the colour palette, but it was also the director’s fondness for symmetry that had a big influence on this home. ‘It is very, very easy for a building of this type to become a series of disconnected episodes. I was looking for a thread to link the spaces together,’ adds Michael.
One of those unifying moments is the central hallway, with its sweeping staircase, sky-blue walls and bright shaft of daylight that emanates from the skylight above. American artist and master of manipulating light and space James Turrell was at the forefront of Michael’s mind when creating the circular aperture, which he sees less as a window and more as a ‘cosmological phenomena’.
Another is the carefully mapped out gradient of coloured cement tiles that demarcates the different zones of the property’s open-plan basement level – kitchen, dining area, snug and terrace.
Here, and throughout the rest of the house, the furniture is cosy and low, perfect for what the clients describe as a lazy lifestyle. ‘They wanted a lot of places where they could be watching television, largely in a horizontal position,’ says Michael with a laugh.
Since moving in just over a year ago, the couple have welcomed their first baby. There may be less time for lounging on the horizon now, but relaxation and fun are still firmly on the agenda. mkca.com