The Grand Tour

A New Mezzanine Level Transformed This 750-Square-Foot Brooklyn Apartment

With a drywall platform and staircase, Fiona Byrne turned wasted space into a personal paradise
Fiona poses in her living area.
Fiona poses in her living area.

When Fiona Byrne moved from Ireland to New York City in 2004, her dream was realized. The interior designer and content creator had always been drawn to the bustling metropolis and imagined she could build a life there. Now, nearly two decades later, the city is such a big part of her identity that her Instagram handle is @nycfiona. “It is the center of the universe,” she declares. “It just is.”

“My favorite white is Decorator's White by Benjamin Moore, but it would’ve looked a little bit gray in the light of this apartment,” shares Fiona. “I had to go with something that was a bit creamier so that it would look white and not gray. I did Cloud White by Benjamin Moore.”

Fiona lived on the vibrant Lower East Side, in the middle of the action, for 16 years before the neighborhood became too noisy for her. But as a steadfast New Yorker, she didn’t flee to the suburbs in search of peace and quiet—she just relocated to calmer, greener Brooklyn Heights. “It used to be a country retreat for people in Manhattan,” she says. “It’s heaven on earth.”

It did require a lot of work, though, to turn Fiona’s 1858 apartment into her own personal paradise. While the one-bedroom abode boasted beautiful parquet floors, massive windows, tall ceilings, and ornate moldings, there was wasted space and the tiny kitchen was a mess. So with creative thinking and a helpful contractor Fiona totally transformed the diamond in the rough.

Fiona found the Buddha on the hearth in the hallway of her old apartment building, so she spray-painted it black.

To maximize the square footage, Fiona constructed two closets with jib doors and an entire mezzanine level above them. She then purchased a curved solid oak staircase on Facebook Marketplace to connect the new loft, which is now an office and guest room, with the main floor. “Staircases are so expensive, so it was a miracle that I found it,” she shares. “And it looks like it belongs there. That’s what everybody says. It looks like it has been here forever.”

Kinetics K700 Paperclip stools offer a place to sit at the new IKEA butcherblock counter.

Fiona completely renovated the kitchen by installing new BOXI by Semihandmade cabinets, adding a peninsula, and swapping out the old oversized refrigerator for a mini Smeg. (Don’t worry, she stashed a full-size refrigerator in one of her new closets.) She refreshed the floor with patterned peel-and-stick linoleum tile and hung open shelves for her Carrigaline dinnerware, small appliances, and pantry items.

Fiona installed three handy floating shelves beside the vanity for toilet paper and face towels.

The bathroom also needed an overhaul, so Fiona reglazed the white square tiles and replaced the toilet, sink, and medicine cabinet. Once the basics were refreshed, she inserted her personality with a cherry-shaped toilet brush and matching wallpaper. “When [the toilet brush] first came out on the internet, about five people sent it to me and it was just so funny that everybody thought of me when they saw a cherry toilet brush,” she remembers.

In the case of furnishing her living and dining area, Fiona had a very specific influence in mind. “I always like the look of old Paris apartments, but with 1970s furniture,” she describes. “And that’s basically what I went for. Pretty much everything I got furniture-wise is from the ’70s and I just like that contrast look. That’s very Parisian, as they say.”

“When I first moved in, I would just turn around from the kitchen and see the moldings and the shutters and be like, ‘How do I live here? This is so beautiful,’” Fiona remembers.

Three vintage designs—the Cloud sofa and Snail coffee table by Vladimir Kagan, and the Souffle ottomans by Karl Springer—mingle with other iconic retro pieces like an Adrian Pearsall swivel tub chair, a Fornasetti vase, and a Gregg floor lamp by Foscarini. Meanwhile, a Leon Rosen for Pace Collection table is surrounded by bentwood-style chrome dining chairs.

A 1970s suede and chrome armchair is just one of the many vintage seating options.

“I wanted to love every single thing I have in this apartment, so I spent a really long time looking for it,” reveals Fiona. “I definitely found some things that sell for an insane amount on 1stDibs. I just got very lucky. I knew what I was looking for, so I would search marketplaces and vintage shops across America, find things for decent prices, and just figure out the shipping.”

Fiona’s art collection, which she also accumulated thoughtfully and over time, is a mix of contemporary and vintage, photographs and paintings. A large moody cloud image by Natalie Obradovich hangs over the wooden bar cart, while Jan Prengel’s Plants from Space 07 is situated between the windows. Fiona displays works by Gia Coppola, Cacho Falcon, Rine Philbin, Marquis de Mod, DeerDana, and Domino Whisker too.

“I wanted everything to be very light up there because the ceiling is only six feet tall, but you want it to feel a bit taller,” Fiona says of the loft, which includes a full size bed. “You can fully stand up and everything. People were really shocked. They were like, ‘Oh, it’s a real room, you can stand up.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, that's why I made it.’”

The loft is also Fiona’s office, complete with an acrylic CB2 console-turned-desk, a vintage Knoll chair, and a Flowerpot Lamp by &Tradition.

The bedroom is soothingly minimal, with a midcentury four-poster bed that dominates the space. Fiona also has a neutral Tufenkian rug, long Mesken Home drapes, and an acrylic Kartell side table in which she stores a Truman Capote book set. “He used to live in Brooklyn Heights,” she says of the author. “He actually wrote an essay about it for Holiday magazine in 1959 and it starts with a famous quote, ‘I live in Brooklyn. By choice.’” So does Fiona.

“I was looking for a midcentury four-poster bed,” says Fiona. “I don’t know why, because the bedroom isn’t exactly massive, but I just really wanted it. I didn’t want to do that much in the bedroom and having a bed like that always helps it look designed without doing too much.”