Many of us who have ever lived in New York City can understand how easily you can be priced out of the rental market. John and Zack McDowell are no exception — two and a half years ago they almost let go of their dream of staying. John was back home with family in Chicago, recovering from dozens of denied rental applications, while Zack was couch surfing and desperately continuing the hunt for a home. When a broker that the couple knew found and advocated for them to get an apartment in Washington Heights, John and Zack knew it was either that or leaving New York City altogether. As it happens, luck struck and the apartment was theirs. It didn’t take long for John to return to the city and begin the design process, with the aim to put their distinct personal touch on the 500-square-foot, turn-of-the-century apartment.
John and Zack’s design ethos has been to bring their own history to their new home, whether in the form of art, pieces of furniture or the odd tchotchke — everything serves as a reminder of the memories these newlyweds have built together. “We have a New Year’s Day pact to wake up in a new place at the start of each year. With it, we collect a piece of art from wherever we go,” John explains the process of filling the apartment with meaningful keepsakes.
Even though John and Zack run video production and creative services company Dugud Lab together and work side by side daily, designing a home for two still taught the couple a lot about collaboration. “As a married couple, it’s important to remember that you’re a team. The fact that we’re opposites taught us a lot about contrast and balance,” they share. Zack adds, “John’s also a perfectionist and designing our place over a long period of time taught him a lot about accepting imperfection and being patient.”
Turning their rental apartment into the home they had envisioned from the very beginning took a total of two years. One of the last things to be completed was the canvas above the bed, which John and Zack painted together. “It sat blankly in our apartment for the two years we were designing. While it can feel like a minor detail, we wanted to see the room finished before we settled on what we would paint,” the couple explains. “The day we completed the canvas and finally decided we were done designing was when […] Design*Sponge reached out about a home feature — it feels like a full-circle moment for us.”
Make sure not to miss the video teaser of John and Zack’s home below! —Sofia
Image above: John and Zack’s living and sleep areas are located on the opposite sides of the main room in their Washington Heights apartment. The couple chose deep hues and gold tones to accent the neutral wall color. “We wanted a place that felt warm and inviting while also feeling sophisticated. As we completed a room, our measuring stick was always: ‘does it feel grown and sexy?'” they share.
Foyer Paint – “Moscow Midnight” by Sherwin Williams
Art above console table – Austin Young
Living Room Paint – “The Big Chill” by Sherwin Williams
Gallery wall from left to right: How Far Is A Light Year by Alexander Grahovsky (@agrahovsky), Space Law Poster by Christian Dunn (@hellomrdunn), Birds Flying photo by Paul Morgan, Blush & Blue Leaves by @printsproject, Mouth photo by Irving Penn (@the.irving.penn.foundation), Blue Rock print by Austin Mann (@austinmann), Arm quote photo by Zack McDowell (@zackcmcdowell)], Blank Pages print on bar credenza is Sean McCabe (@seanwes)
Bed Area Canvas above bed – @johnnygolightly & @zackcmcdowell
Art – Zack McDowell (@zackcmcdowell)
Kitchen Paint – “The Big Chill” by Sherwin Williams,
Café Board by Letterfolk
Masculine Feminine Poster by Keiko Kimura (@keikodane)