A Bed-Stuy Loft Transformed With an Out-of-the-Ordinary Renovation

After years of renting, Jackson Owens and Flora Jin bought a loft in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and it felt like the stuff of dreams. A week or so later, it was more like a nightmare.

A few floors above them there was a gas leak, then an explosion. When the sprinklers came on, many of the building’s apartments were drenched, including the couple’s new 1,200-square-foot condo, which they’d bought for about $1.1 million in July 2021.

“Our unit had severe water damage,” said Mr. Owens, 32, a software engineer. “It was quite an introduction to homeownership.”

They moved out, shuttling between hotel rooms and short-term rentals with their two cats. Along the way, they learned more than they wanted to know about property restoration and insurance claims. “We had never even hired a plumber before, let alone dealt with an insurance claim,” said Ms. Jin, also 32, a jewelry designer.

Coming to grips with their situation, they began to see a potential upside: the chance to create a new home they truly loved. “With the destruction,” Ms. Jin said, “there was an opportunity.”

To take advantage of that opportunity, they hoped to find designers who would create more than a cookie-cutter apartment.

“It was really important for us to work with an up-and-coming architecture firm, because we wanted someone who had a stake in the project, rather than it just being one of many other lofts they were renovating,” Ms. Jin said. “So it would be a new and exciting project for them, as well as for us.”

When they saw the Sandy Liang fashion boutique on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, with its metal-mesh curtains and clothing racks that looped in space like pencil scribbles, they knew they had found their architects. They reached out to Anthony Gagliardi and Dorian Booth, the principals of Almost Studio, in Brooklyn, who designed the store, and found eager partners.

Mr. Gagliardi and Mr. Booth gave the project the full conceptual-design treatment, looking to art for inspiration, and landed on a few key works that would serve as reference points: the Josef Albers book “Interaction of Color,” Christo’s irregularly shaped Wrapped Paintings and a monument with an imposing staircase by Aldo Rossi in Segrate, Italy.

“We tried to apply these compositional concepts to the space they would live in,” Mr. Booth said. Specifically, rather than creating a floor plan with the typical right angles, the designers rotated everything so it was a little off-kilter, much like Albers’s rotated boxes of color. Riffing on Rossi’s monument, they envisioned the interior as a tiny urban space — more like a private piazza than a home.

Just inside the front door, they built a lofted sleeping space with shutters that open to the living room for light and air — or to call down to someone below. “We were thinking about the facade of the lofted area as a literal building facade,” Mr. Booth said.

From the living room, a broad carpeted staircase rises between pillowy walls finished in textural pink shirasu-kabe plaster, offering steps and seating. At the top is an elevated dining area with a tree pit.

The kitchen is all curves, recalling Christo’s draped fabrics, with a capsule-shaped island and a microcement counter that boomerangs around the space before terminating at an integrated desk.

Unconventional materials appear throughout the loft: cork for flooring and wainscoting; Marmoleum for kitchen flooring; swaths of green carpet; corrugated aluminum as column cladding; white metal-mesh ceilings and railings; and kitchen cabinets made with various shades of laminate and wood tambour doors.

“We talked about those touch-and-feel children’s books,” Mr. Gagliardi said, where pages have cutouts revealing sensory surprises. “We were trying to replicate that feeling.”

Construction began in December 2021 and took place in phases, so Mr. Owens and Ms. Jin could move in as quickly as possible. The sleeping loft was completed first, allowing the couple to return a month later. Then their contractors worked around them for over a year, before completing the project in April 2023.

The couple’s budget was $150,000. “We did go over that,” Ms. Jin said, but they haven’t stopped to calculate how much. “Sometimes you want to stop looking.”

And the sprinkler episode still hasn’t been resolved. Coordination with their insurance company and the building’s insurance company drags on as they negotiate who is responsible for what. In the meantime, they’re relieved to have a home again — especially one they like even more than the place they originally bought.

“It was challenging and affected our lives quite a lot,” Ms. Jin said. Nevertheless, “we feel really grateful to be the ones who get to live here now.”

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