Most New Yorkers looking for an apartment to renovate put square feet at the top of their wish lists. Kurt Arnold and Aya Maceda prioritized something else.
"Before it was that big or anything else, our focus was that we wanted an apartment with a good quality of light," said Ms. Maceda, 42, founder of the ALAO architecture firm.
The couple, who were looking for a home to buy in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, in 2015, stuck to their desire for a natural night out despite a number of competing demands: their son Kosi, now 10, needed more space, and they planned their family to expand further (they soon added a daughter, Lulu, now 4). They needed even more space for occasional overnight guests.
When they found a listing for a compact duplex apartment with large south-facing windows, they thought it had potential, despite being only 660 square feet with an open sleeping loft and no separate bedrooms.
"All Kurt and I saw were the large windows when we entered," said Ms. Maceda. “We were in the canopy of the trees. There was really nice afternoon light coming in and there were shadows from the branches on the walls. "
Her husband hesitated a moment. "He nervously asked me," Can you get it to work? "Said Ms. Maceda." I said, "We can make everything work."
They bought the apartment for $ 712,000 in September and moved in without much change when Ms. Maceda began working on plans for a renovation that would get the most out of every square inch.
Not only did everyone need a place to sleep, but the couple knew they were dealing with a deluge of toys, art supplies, and professional equipment. Mr. Arnold, 42, is a photographer and had a closet full of equipment. He and Mrs. Maceda sometimes wanted to work from home.
"The design of the house had to take into account the energy of a creative household and balance that with our desire for a simple, peaceful home," said Ms. Maceda.
She was born in the Philippines and Mr. Arnold is from Grenada. They wanted the apartment to have a tropical, modern feel to it. "There is a Filipino word, maaliwalas," she said, which led her to think about the project. "It describes a spacious room – open, bright – with a good flow of light and air."
They didn't want to rent a second home to live there while the apartment was being renovated, so they planned a phased approach to remodeling their home to do the messiest of work while on family outings.
The first phase in 2016 focused on the lower floor, where a two-story corner was added with a bed below and a play area above, plus a built-in ladder right outside the front door. "I was pregnant and my mother needed a place to sleep because she would help us for the first few months," said Ms. Maceda.
At the same time they built a bench with cupboards to house Mr. Arnold's photographic equipment and various other items. renovated the kitchen and a small guest toilet; and tucked a desk with two workstations under the stairs.
During the second major phase, which was completed in 2018, the upper floor was renovated and an 80 square meter master bedroom was added over the portion of the double height living room (an interior window and new skylight make it feel sunny even though it doesn't have an exterior window ). They also turned the old sleeping loft into a bedroom with bunk beds for their children and a play area with a curtain that can be pulled to close.
Of course, it's not a renovation project if there are no delays. After a Phase 2 trip to Grenada, the family returned and found their apartment uninhabitable. Fortunately, "our neighbor was gone," said Ms. Maceda, "so we stayed on the other side of the hall."
The final phase, which was completed in December 2019 in the Philippines, included the renovation of the complete bathroom and the walk-in closet on the second floor.
Gradually completing the updates allowed them to spread the cost – a little less than $ 100,000 total – over several years, Ms. Maceda said.
Her newly configured apartment has been put to the test since the March pandemic. "From a work from home and school at home perspective, we have the right tools," said Arnold, including enough quiet corners for everyone to find a private space.
It helped them fill the room with plants including a 10 foot tall fig tree with violin leaves, a lemon tree, and hanging philodendrons that remind them of the vines near a popular Grenada waterfall. And in the early days of the lockdown, they added a small hydroponic system at the bottom of the stairs so they could grow kale, lettuce, and tomatoes.
"Staying here in Brooklyn was a decision," Ms. Maceda said, noting that they had only a moment's thought of leaving the city. "We felt, no, we have everything we need in this small place."
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