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Interiors

A Blank Canvas for Color, with Stacks of Secret Storage

by Annie Werbler

In a sleepy pocket of Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood near the East River, Joe and Kelly McGuier enjoy the quiet of their apartment in an early 1920s rowhouse typical of the changing area. Joe, co-founder of JAM Architecture in Brooklyn, makes the best of a one-bedroom rental unit that had previously been renovated and stripped of its original details. He prefers to see the space as a blank canvas on which to layer personality, and uses the design challenge as inspiration for clever solutions. Kelly, the director of creative services for a digital advertising firm, acts as a voice of reason when her husband dreams a little too big about replacing the oak cabinets and off-white kitchen appliances. The couple is saving to buy a home of their own, and in the meantime have decided to make only cosmetic changes that won’t break the bank — like removing cabinet doors to expose a collection of dishware in soothing, earthy tones.

The McGuiers achieve a balance of color and texture throughout. Individual items are always things they love and have a connection to — not just stuff that happens to fit in their 720 square feet. “We love looking around and seeing stories,” they share. Both from Ohio, Kelly and Joe aim to visit a new country every year — a goal worthy of a splurge, and one reflected in their eclectic decor. They also enjoy entertaining friends and have created a cozy environment for eating and laughing (something to which I can attest!).

The decor has seen many iterations over the five years they’ve been in the apartment. Rearranging furniture “just to see how it feels” turns out to provide a great excuse for cleaning under the sofa. They have been slowly updating their worn furniture when they find something that they love, and the result is a mix of old and new, a little shiny and a little tired. An iterative process, the pair are always willing to try out an idea, and most importantly, admit to themselves when it’s not working. When they think they’re finished, they’ll look around and ask themselves if they like the way they feel; to them, it’s less about following rules and more about going with their gut. Joe and Kelly are both fortunate to come from families of artists and collectors, and are the recipients of some excellent hand-me-downs. Also helpful is the tons of tucked-away closet space that allows for things to be switched out when it’s time for a change. The McGuiers get creative with storage, too — their bedroom curtains stand a foot off the wall, carving out hidden spots for bulky ironing boards, drying racks, ladders, and yoga mats in which to be shrouded in secret. Any collections that are on display (like books, booze, glassware, or dishes) are carefully curated for aesthetic effect. The sum total of these efforts is a place all their own, for which Kelly and Joe are most grateful. “We’re happy that we were able to turn a fairly generic space into a warm and inviting home.” —Annie

Photography by Tory Williams

A Blank Canvas for Color With Stacks of Secret Storage, on Design*Sponge
1/21
Joe and Kelly McGuier spend tons of time at their Greenpoint, Brooklyn dining table eating, working, and hanging out. The paper shade above hangs from three DIY cloth cord sockets that Joe wired and braided together. The couple have improved most of the ceiling lighting in the apartment - changes in a rental they felt comfortable spending money on. "Sale" photograph by Gregory Aiello.
A Blank Canvas for Color With Stacks of Secret Storage, on Design*Sponge
2/21
Kelly and Joe McGuier in their living room.
A Blank Canvas for Color With Stacks of Secret Storage, on Design*Sponge
3/21
In the office, a postcard from Joe's grandmother to her parents on the day she arrived in New York to attend art school in 1941. Three of her paintings from that time hang in the apartment.
A Blank Canvas for Color With Stacks of Secret Storage, on Design*Sponge
4/21
Joe made a desk out of plywood and IKEA legs, as well as DIY shelving set on Elfa brackets. Joe's dad's old receiver and speakers, paired with Kelly's parents' turntable, fill the home with music (Miles Davis can be heard most nights). The Nolli map of Rome was gifted by a friend.
A Blank Canvas for Color With Stacks of Secret Storage, on Design*Sponge
5/21
On the dining table, a mudcloth runner in three pieces was a gift from Joe's grandparents, who purchased it in the 1940s. Below, a new Anthropologie runner helps to anchor the table and protect the delicate material. A potted succulent collection is ever-changing.
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6/21
Joe and Kelly found the dining hutch at the Brooklyn Flea when Kelly's mom was in town. A longtime veteran of flea markets, she negotiated a great deal! The unit is stocked with Holmegaard glassware and Heath Ceramics pieces received as wedding gifts. Kelly's great grandfather was a glass cutter and six of his coupe glasses are used only for the the tastiest cocktails. Joe made curtain hardware out of gas pipe so the drapery panels could clear the heaters under the windows and run full-length to the floor.
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7/21
The south-facing living room gets bright, streaming daylight which highlights the geometric-patterned rug.
A Blank Canvas for Color With Stacks of Secret Storage, on Design*Sponge
8/21
The framed blueprints are originals by Frank Lloyd Wright from the house of a family friend. A ZZ plant is happy hanging out above the bar, and a bronze and stained glass lamp Kelly bought while in high school adds more height.
A Blank Canvas for Color With Stacks of Secret Storage, on Design*Sponge
9/21
In the kitchen, limited counterspace is increased with open storage and two raised IKEA bookcases topped with a butcher block countertop. Kelly made the large double-spouted vase on top of the bookcase in a ceramics class in college, and it continues to be Joe's favorite thing in the apartment.
A Blank Canvas for Color With Stacks of Secret Storage, on Design*Sponge
10/21
The McGuiers removed kitchen cabinet doors because the soft neutral colors of their dishes are far better to look at than the cabinets!
A Blank Canvas for Color With Stacks of Secret Storage, on Design*Sponge
11/21
Kelly and Joe are constantly hanging and re-hanging the gallery wall arrangement in the landing zone upon entering the home. The carpet runner is composed of various FLOR tiles. The hallway feels like its own room as it is a bit wider than standard spaces. A vintage locker room bench ties the whole area together.
A Blank Canvas for Color With Stacks of Secret Storage, on Design*Sponge
12/21
Joe grew up with the wire baskets, which somehow survived college and now serve as an ideal shoe storage. The center-most painting is a project from his grandfather's freshman year in architecture school.
A Blank Canvas for Color With Stacks of Secret Storage, on Design*Sponge
13/21
A photograph of one of the pair's favorite buildings in Williamsburg - shot just before the structure was demolished - informs the room's color palette. Lamps and tables once belonged to Joe's grandmother.
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14/21
A thick area rug helps give the room a calm, cozy feel. An IKEA desktop covered in foam and fabric and hung on the wall functions as a headboard. Joe and Kelly always keep whimsical cuttings in the corner vase.
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15/21
Hanging over a slender dresser, the mirror once belonged to a larger storage unit that had seen better days (and would have been too big for a New York apartment).
A Blank Canvas for Color With Stacks of Secret Storage, on Design*Sponge
16/21
Kelly spotted the table lamp at a junk shop covered in dirt and an unfortunate paint job, but revived it with a new color, thorough cleaning, and a new shade. The curtains in the bedroom are set about 12" off the wall, giving the residents all kinds of hidden storage space on either side of the window. Ironing boards, drying racks, ladders, and yoga mats are secretly tucked away.
A Blank Canvas for Color With Stacks of Secret Storage, on Design*Sponge
17/21
The wooden blocks were a collection from Joe's mom, and he remembers getting caught trying to use one on an ink pad when he was a child! They add dimension and contrast to the corner of the bedroom.
A Blank Canvas for Color With Stacks of Secret Storage, on Design*Sponge
18/21
The hallway is wide enough to comfortably store bikes. Joe rides his bike to work every day and loves spending time cycling in Prospect Park.
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19/21
Joe made the bike racks from simple, inexpensive shelf brackets and thick pieces of cork. The cork is coated in polyurethane, which keeps the pieces shiny and dirt-resistant.
A Blank Canvas for Color With Stacks of Secret Storage, on Design*Sponge
20/21
"What we love most about our home are intimate meals at the table and entertaining friends." - Kelly and Joe McGuier
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21/21
The layout of the one-bedroom apartment with ample storage space.

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