Historic Details in an Old Brooklyn Apartment

Design*Sponge/Sneak Peek
Rachel Howe has lived in this Williamsburg, Brooklyn apartment for almost three years. While she had gotten somewhat comfortable living in railroad-style apartments found throughout Brooklyn,  the layout of her current apartment feels much better. It reminds her of the old house she grew up in, with its idiosyncratic features (lots of small rooms) and historic details such as the arched doorways, moldings and crystal doorknobs. One of her favorite things about her home is the large and versatile living room space. Rachel has used this room for everything from yoga classes and full moon ceremonies to craft nights and dinner parties. About 9 months ago, Rachel quit her day job to focus full time on her ceramics business, called Small Spells. She sells her work through her website and at several boutiques around the country, at Jumelle in Brooklyn, Little Paper Planes in San Francisco and Otherwild in Los Angeles to name a few. Thank you, Rachel! –Shannon

Image above: The couch was a great Craigslist find, in really good condition, and it pulls out to a bed too. The orange lamp was my grandmother’s. She moved to a smaller place last year and so I got a lot of great mid-century furniture from her. The large photographs above the couch are by Shaun Kessler. He gave them to me for cheap after I included them in a show I curated – one of the perks of my old art world job.

Image above: This vintage dresser is too small for all my clothes, but it helps me to try to stay minimal. I swapped out the knobs for these milk glass ones and I love the white against the dark wood. I drew the two bat drawings on either side of the mirror. The rug was my grandmother’s, and my parents were going to keep it, but it didn’t work in their place. I had been coveting it, so was very happy to have it.


See more of this Brooklyn home after the jump!

Image above: I sewed the pillowcases with an African fabric, and a friend made the quilt. My two cats spend 99% of their time on this bed. I love the his-and-hers closets on either side of the bed – this is the first apartment I’ve lived in that was actually made for people to live well in. There are windows in every room, and a total of 4 closets, and real separate rooms. I’m guessing it dates from the 1930s and didn’t get chopped up in the decades since.

Image above: The living room is huge – this side is the play side, opposite is the work side. The little rug was my grandmother’s, and the portrait of the woman was painted by my great-great-uncle. The bookcase was custom built by a friend, and the side table displays all the great ceramics I’ve gotten through trades with my very talented studio-mates. I wove some of the cushions on the couch. I like it minimal but I need splashes of patterns here and there.

Image above: I made the tea-dyed woven paper piece hanging above the table, one of the last art pieces I made before ceramics took over. The large wood table was a hand-me-down from my sister, and I do everything on it – eat, read, pack orders, do paperwork and tarot readings. The chairs are all mismatched mid-century, from Craigslist or my grandmother.

Image above: My little desk – there’s a second, smaller bedroom that has housed various friends now and then, but is currently acting as a giant closet for all my business papers, ceramics stock, and packing supplies. So this little area can stay pretty clean. I got the ‘OJ cut’ African barbershop painting in Paris, and the chair was my grandfathers, from his dental office.


Image above: The cats painting on paper is by my friend Graham Anderson. One of my favorite trades. The bench and cushions were my grandmothers, and my friend Karina Seljak dyed them an amazing indigo.


Image above: The kitchen is the least charming room. I used to have a classic white subway tiled kitchen, so these beige decorative tiles are hard to take. I try to distract from them with plants and objects. The moody painting is from a thrift store, and the vintage fan still works.

Image above: My ceramics are displayed on a mid-century hutch that secretly houses the kitty litter in the bottom part. I spent a long time searching for the right thing and finally found it on Craigslist. It makes a huge difference! The plants all have to be high up or they’ll get eaten by the cats.

Image above: This built-in bookshelf is one of the things that makes this place a gem. It displays my ceramics, those made by friends, all my crystals & little mystical objects, and books. I love how it frames the bedroom door.

  1. Debbie says:

    This isn’t really a comment on this apartment, which is quite cute. I just wanted to vent (I guess) about how almost everything on this site/blog is “Brooklyn, Brooklyn, Brooklyn” in the past year or so. There used to be great sneak peeks from all over the country and even from homes overseas. Where have they gone? This also goes for blurbs on shopping, cooking, eating, decorating…..it’s all Brooklyn. Personally, it’s just getting to be boring….there is life beyond Brooklyn. Wonder if I’m the only one that is seeing this?

    1. Grace Bonney says:


      I absolutely agree there is life beyond Brooklyn. We do our best to showcase other parts of the country (and world) as much as possible, and I’m happy with how often we’re able to celebrate places and people outside of NY.

      When it comes to home tours, it takes a lot of trust and communication to have someone feel comfortable enough to share their home online. So those relationships take time (and often face-to-face contact) to build. Those sorts of relationships are often made best in person, so we tend to showcase Brooklyn homes often because those are the people we meet in person and build trust with most quickly. That’s harder to do with someone who lives across the country, or globe. So those homes often take many many emails to coordinate, but we do make a very big effort to include homes all over the globe.

      Over the past two months we’ve shown:

      -6 spaces in California
      -4 in Brooklyn
      -1 each in: London, Chicago, Portland, Atlanta, Winnipeg, Nashville, Phoenix and Kansas City

      That ratio is pretty normal for us, so while it may feel Brooklyn-heavy at times, I promise you we work very hard to make sure that we actually represent many different parts of the country and globe on the site, from home tours and DIY projects to recipes and business profiles.


  2. krystina says:

    I love her style and color choices! Thank you for the tour of your lovely apartment Rachel. I am drinking in your clean and neat yet rich charm. The many places and people this all came from, so cool!

  3. Love this! Her ceramics are really eye-catching! My home is filled to the brim, it’s refreshing to see the minimalism in her space.

  4. HB says:


    I personally would love to see more homes out in smaller/rural cities. These big city homes are absolutely beautiful but I would love to see a home with a bit more nitty gritty work done to it. The “before and after” photos have always been my favorite, and I take a greater amount of inspiration from seeing someone completely redo something that would have otherwise been considered vacant. Thank you DesignSponge for posting so many wonderful things, and I know you guys listen! Keep kickin!

    1. Grace Bonney says:

      hi hb!

      we’ll keep doing our best to find those homes…our sneak peek editors send out dozens and dozens of email requests a week to try to find as many strong, diverse homes as we can :)

      really dramatic before & afters (of a total redo nature) are tougher to find these days, outside of high-end interior designer work (which we try not to post that often). the recession has made that harder for people to afford, but we’re always on the hunt :)


  5. Devon says:

    I inherited the same orange lamp from my grandparents! Though I painted mine dark blue because nothing else I have is orange….

  6. Emmy says:

    Love the ceramics on the hutch- they look so great together! The large-scale photographs in the living room are also fantastic.

  7. Tom says:

    Leave the complete home redo’s to HGTV. Personally, I love to see how people can reinvent their personal environment through the use of imagination and without a lot of costly renovations.

  8. I don’t care where this is, I think it is one of the loveliest homes I have seen, interesting and modest. Love the bed covers especially.

  9. Kate says:

    I totally agree with Tom in the above comment. I love to see how people “make it work” on fun, creative and stylish ways. The sneak peaks have always been my favorite part of Design Sponge. Keep rockin. Love it!

  10. sue says:

    Hello, can you tell me where that red floor lamp is from (in the living room)? That alone drew me into the home tour. Thanks!

  11. Libby says:

    This is so beautiful. Lovely to see and sense such loveliness. It’s a true home.

  12. Cielo says:

    Such a charming living space! Thank you for the tour! A couple of questions:

    (1) Since the kitchen is tiled, how were you able to affix the plywood panel with the pots and pans above the stove? And how was it strong enough to hold a cast-iron pan?

    (2) More about the panel: Since I cook a lot, I imagine that because it’s white, the panel would soon get dirty, take in the inevitable grease stains, etc. What do you recommend for keeping it clean?

  13. Allison Foster says:

    Thank you for posting this, I think most people feel the same way about their “least charming room” in there home. (Mine is my green linoleum counters and floors in the kitchen) It IS tempting to leave those spaces out when shooting, but THANK YOU for being brave and including them. Its helpful to see how Rachel has made this element her own (which is as charming as the rest of her apartment due to her talent and creativity) This makes the home feel real, and all the more special.

  14. Elise says:

    This is beautiful! Where are the curtains in the living room from?

  15. tara says:

    I like to see Brooklyn houses and all other places too. I just don’t like seeing a gripe one the first comment.

  16. allie says:

    grace, you can have as many pictures of my crazy, med-student-and-public-school-teacher-budget flea market style rental home in durham, nc as you want! complete with much puppy hair of course ;)

  17. Rita Marie says:

    I love seeing tiny places for design inspiration, no matter where they are from. A well loved apartment makes me swoon every time. Love the sentimentality and aesthetics of this place.

    On a side note:

    Ditto, Grace! You are welcome to a million photos of the tiny condo I’ve owned since I was 27. Since my husband moved in a little over a year ago, (we met online in April 2012 and married in December 2012), my design aesthetic has changed to meet his needs a little. ;) You’re welcome to that as well as photos of our grumpy persian and hyper papillon shelter mix puppy.


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