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29 April 2022
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29 April 2022

Tour a Brooklyn Town House That’s Filled With Midcentury Magic—And a Giant Guernica Replica | Architectural Digest


When interior decorator Courtney O’Sullivan of Left Bank Design was growing up in New York, brownstones were either being hastily converted into apartments or demolished to make way for white glazed–brick high-rises. Back then, if you desired your own home, you moved to the suburbs. Today, however, scores of brownstones in all five boroughs are shrouded in scaffolding as they get converted into some of the most desirable residences in town. May they all turn out as beautifully and livable as the one transformed by O’Sullivan on DeKalb Avenue in Brooklyn.

Being a native New Yorker, O’Sullivan sees brownstones “as an iconic part of the city.” She says, “I was fascinated with the idea of tackling one.” Renovating the 1890 Italianate structure, however, was daunting. “I was immediately attracted to its high ceilings and the striking molding,” O’Sullivan says, “but there were a lot of beautiful details that were stripped out in the ’60s and ’70s.” Every floor had to be reconfigured. Having previously lived in a loft, O’Sullivan “loved light and openness and didn’t want to give that up.”

With the help of Sebastian Kulpa of Black Square Builders, walls were removed, floor-to-ceiling windows were installed—most notably across the back of the parlor floor—and closets and bathrooms were consolidated to allow more light into the bedrooms, which now span the width of the house. The result, which took a year and a half to achieve, is a truly rare fusion: A home that is cleanly elegant and spare, yet somehow radiates both warm informality and welcoming ease.

That’s because O’Sullivan has shrewdly employed her love of 20th-century modernist furniture on choosing pieces that are large and dominant, yet affording each covetable piece enough space and respect that they never fight each other for attention. In addition, her criteria was that furniture had to be as durable as it was dramatic. “My kids are now of college age,” O’Sullivan says, but she still can’t go all out for chic. “I had to make room for soccer balls. Instead of piling on the antiques, I gathered pieces that were personal but never so perfect or precious that you wouldn’t feel comfortable having a glass of wine anywhere.” O’Sullivan’s affinity for midcentury furniture is due to it being both design-forward and practical. “It glows with the warm patina of something that has endured with strength, and you can mix it with pieces of any era. And when we did that, the rooms came together in a way that is kind of magic.”

And yet, there is one element of her inviting home that can’t help but stand out. O’Sullivan wanted one design element to dominate the kitchen and pull it together: Picasso’s color-coordinated but brutal anti-war masterpiece Guernica. “If I could own a work by anyone it would be Picasso,” O’Sullivan says. Of course, owning the original was out of the question, so she enlisted a band of art students to work on a recreation together. “When I look at it, [I] see the fun of their collaboration,” she says. And yet, her creativity continues: O’Sullivan is considering replacing the work with a series of large block tapestries. Food for artistic thought, one might think.


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