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A Live/Work Space in Brooklyn with Community Spirit

by Garrett Fleming

A Live/Work Space in Brooklyn with Community Spirit, Design*Sponge

Shell Martinez first came across this loft space in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn a decade ago while working as a real estate agent. At the time, long before the neighborhood was deemed one of the last great deals in the city, people were far from interested in the area. Full of old factories, it lacked the curated ruggedness of neighboring Williamsburg and Park Slope. Plus, the rental was pretty big. At 2,800 square feet, the loft was an investment many weren’t willing to make in an up-and-coming zip code.

For months, Shell sat with her lunch between showings wondering if she’d ever be able to find a tenant. Then one day, while peering around and imagining the space’s possibilities, genius struck. She realized the perfect renter had been there all along: herself. It really was a no-brainer. She’d already fallen for the area, and countless showings had left Shell with many thoughts on how she could utilize the loft. With gusto, she signed on the dotted line and moved right in.

After doing so, Shell transformed the rental into the hub for Shell’s Loft, her brand of collaborative creative spaces. Now with multiple locations scattered across Clinton Hill, the four lofts play host to community dinners, political rallies, networking events and photo shoots. This one in particular is special, though. Not only was it the first in the foursome, but Shell also calls it “home.”

Admittedly, finding the balance between furniture that worked for her nine to five as well as her personal life presented a challenge. Not only did she need to feel comfortable enough to lounge and unwind here, but she also needed pieces that would easily fit into her clients’ wide variety of styles. In the end, streamlined items proved best. They afford Shell a simple backdrop that’s ready and waiting to be amplified by interesting accessories, depending on a particular event’s needs. This constant flux is perfect for gemini Shell, too: “Constant change is my jam,” she tells us.

Without a doubt, the neighborhood couldn’t have found a better resident in Shell. See, she’s what I call a “connector.” Never one to turn down hosting, connectors are always eager to support local businesses, bring people together and are just plain fun. They sometimes don’t get the credit they deserve, but these individuals are always a determining factor in whether or not a neighborhood thrives. And we need them more than ever. Scroll down to check out her space, and enjoy! —Garrett

Photography by Dag Bennstrom

Image above: Some of Shell’s favorite memories were made here around her Friendsgiving table while catching up with loved ones. “I close my business for the weekend and invite my friends from around the world to stay with me for a long weekend in NYC. The first [Friendsgiving] is particularly special to me because it happened just after Hurricane Sandy. [I] had friends whose places were flooded and had no power come stay [with me]. It became one big mix of friends, family and several strangers at one huge [makeshift] table,” Shell says.

A Live/Work Space in Brooklyn with Community Spirit, Design*Sponge

It’s only fitting that such a welcoming space would come with – you guessed it – a Welcome sign.

A Live/Work Space in Brooklyn with Community Spirit, Design*Sponge

These walls in Shell’s Loft face west, so the light is constantly changing. This made it extremely difficult to nail the shade of pink Shell was going for. She says, “The first time it looked too much like baby nursery pink. We had to repaint immediately. I kept walking back and forth to the paint store around the corner asking the paint guy to tweak the color. Then I’d come home, roll it on the wall and see if we’d got it right.”

A Live/Work Space in Brooklyn with Community Spirit, Design*Sponge

“What I love most about my home is… the community it fosters.” – Shell Martinez

A Live/Work Space in Brooklyn with Community Spirit, Design*Sponge

When Shell first moved in, she was a bit overwhelmed by how large and empty the loft was. How was she going to decorate such a cavernous area? To make it more manageable, she painted everything white and then went about using some of her favorite personal decorations to delineate each corner from one another.

A Live/Work Space in Brooklyn with Community Spirit, Design*Sponge

Shell splits her time between Brooklyn and South Africa, and her time spent in the two locales influences her style and work immensely.

A Live/Work Space in Brooklyn with Community Spirit, Design*Sponge

This year, Shell decided to take on a full kitchen renovation. “[I] had the brilliant idea that I could do it over one weekend and have a dinner party by that Sunday evening, while simultaneously hosting two sets of friends from out of town,” she explains. “Everything that could go wrong did. When we took down the upper kitchen cabinets we found they were attached to plywood. We also found a gas leak in the stove which needed to be replaced before the dinner party so I could cook.” Sure, the renovation was a beast to finish, but Shell absolutely loves to cook and entertain, so it was all worth it.

A Live/Work Space in Brooklyn with Community Spirit, Design*Sponge

With the renovation came this coffee bar. “I once made a friend a cup of coffee with salt instead of sugar, and it didn’t go over well. So now it’s all DIY,” Shell explains.

Don’t wait until your space is ‘perfect’ to entertain. People bring joy and energy into your home and entertaining links memories to the space.

A Live/Work Space in Brooklyn with Community Spirit, Design*Sponge

Shell is someone who finds joy in mixing things up. This display wall has allowed her to move art and shelving around at her leisure.

A Live/Work Space in Brooklyn with Community Spirit, Design*Sponge

Belong – Shell’s favorite new magazine – is always at her bedside.

A Live/Work Space in Brooklyn with Community Spirit, Design*Sponge

Shell’s combination home office/guest room is kept minimal for a reason: “I need clean, bright space to work. I can’t handle [too] many distracting prints when I’m concentrating,” she says.

A Live/Work Space in Brooklyn with Community Spirit, Design*Sponge

The two-bedroom, one-bath loft in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn was once a factory. When Shell first moved in, there were so few people living on her block, they all knew one another by name. Nowadays, the “best kept secret in Brooklyn” is out, and exciting new apartments and storefronts are popping up around the neighborhood every day.


Baskets – Kazi Goods

Living Area
Portrait – Frans Smit
Geometric poster – Louise Gray
Art on wall ledge – Helon Melonza
Abstract painting – Robert Bonhomme
Sculpture – Keri Muller
Ceramic art – Chantel Woodman

Coffee mugs – H&M
Peg board – IKEA
Coffee accessories – CB2
Petrified wood board – Terrain

Bedroom One
Lighting – Color Cord Company
Bedding – Anchal Project
Throw pillow – Bonnie and Neil

Bedroom Two
Wall quilt – Louise Gray
Throw pillows – homemade with Design Team fabric

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  • I used to live in Brooklyn and it was literally dead. To see this beautiful loft brings such joy to my heart. It is beautiful and refreshing. I love the work that was done and the true heart that you can see in all the renovations and decorations. Thank you for the smile.

  • Love, just love the space, and sentiments. I feel the welcome vibes; I want to be like you, Shell, when I grow up!

  • The loft space is lovely and I’m so envious. I need to ask a question. Please take into account I’m a senior citizen. I read the article twice and don’t totally understand how the loft renting thing works. She rents out her space for gatherings? She purchased four other lofts to rent out for gatherings? I know none of this is of any consequence, since this is about the space shown, but could someone explain further? Thank you.

    • I feel the same, though I thought it was because I am not a native English speaker. Does she live there or is she just renting it? Or is she staying wherever there is a free space? While I understand the logic of the co-working space – do people often need a place to stay and work? or are those not the same people?

      It really is a cool space!

    • Hi Shelly, It’s a totally legit question. In NYC most people don’t have enough space in their homes to host larger gathering like baby showers, bridal showers, wedding rehearsal dinners, birthday dinners etc. Not everyone wants to use a big empty venue space to host these type of personal events. We offer spaces that feel more like you’re entertaining at home but with space for a lot more people. We also do the same for companies who want to host off-site retreats for their employees in a non-corporate creative setting.

      Hope that helps.

  • Amazing, simply amazing! I’ve always admired those who can turn a cold and empty space into a divine sanctuary. fantastic job with the decor but i must admit i am in love with the wooden floor. It’s not something common nowadays – and that’s what makes it precious. It gives this homey vibe – warmth and comfort.

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