Before + After

This 600-Square-Foot Brooklyn Apartment Renovation Is All About Maximized Storage

Designer Ryan Brooke Thomas’s bright, open apartment also embraces an open footprint
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Ryan says she immediately identified the fireplace as an asset of the apartment that she wanted to highlight. Tiles by the fireplace, which are also used in the bathroom, are encaustic cement pieces from Clé Tile. “I love their subtle inconsistency that has a softening, suede-like effect,” says Ryan. “Ours are in the charcoal color and look almost like a washed chalkboard.”

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When Ryan Brooke Thomas, principal of Kalos Eidos, set out to design her Forte Greene apartment, she did so with a dual eye for creating continuity throughout the space and for strategic inclusion of storage. “It’s about how it all stitches together in a way that feels continuous and like a whole,” she says of the design. “That was the goal of the project, and it’s something that, living here, I see as a success of the project.”

When Ryan bought the apartment, its inside was broken up into smaller spaces. Upon seeing it she was immediately drawn to the natural light that came in through all sides of the apartment, which she wanted to maximize. “In spite of the small footprint, I saw an opportunity to open it up, to try to optimize the fact that there was natural light coming in from all sides,” she says. “How do you make those sources of light really feel connected to the space, instead of having something that’s broken up into tiny rooms? Open up the footprint as much as possible.”

BEFORE: The previous look of the kitchen was a bit lackluster.

AFTER: Ryan brought a soothing, herb-inspired green into the kitchen, partially to complement the greenery outside the windows in the living and dining areas. “It helps to make a sense of a connection back to the outside,” she says. “It does a bit of an optical trick to give the sense of an expanded space.” 

Steve Freihon

“Now that the renovation is completed, impressions of the apartment center around that natural light, and the way it plays with the apartment’s modern, clean aesthetic, while also managing to be completely cozy and welcoming. Sleek floor-to-ceiling cabinetry in the kitchen and dining areas draw the eyes upward, making full use of vertical space inside the home. True to Ryan’s goals, the apartment has an overall feeling of cohesion both within the open kitchen, living, and dining spaces, and in the bedroom and bathrooms, which function very much as part of the whole.

AFTER: The kitchen cabinets are IKEA interiors with fronts from Semihandmade. They were then spray finished at a local millwork shop in a custom shade of green. Wall tiles in the kitchen are from Datile. The kitchen counters are natural soapstone sourced from M. Teixeira Soapstone.

This is the first time Ryan has owned an apartment and it’s the first time she’s designed a space for herself. She says there wasn’t too significant of a difference in the design process as it was unfolding, as compared to how she works with and for a client. “But after the design was done, when I lived in the space and was able to make changes after the fact, it started to breed new ideas about how to approach client projects, especially residential ones,” she says. Ryan adds that it’s made her more aware of the line between how much she should design beforehand, and how much she should intentionally anticipate a need for growth and change once the client is living in the space.

BEFORE: The fireplace was an asset, but the cramped layout was not.

“How much do you intentionally anticipate that it can’t be known or it needs to have flexibility to change and sort of absorb not only other people’s ways of reacting to it, but literally their belongings?” she asks. “Going through it as both the designer and the client helped me figure out where that zone is, and that it’s a little bit in-between.”

AFTER: Finding a way to integrate storage while embracing the way her belongings would play within the design was part of the process for Ryan. “I thought about how our belongings would participate in a way that doesn’t feel forced,” she says. “Part of the design process was anticipating those other layers that are going to bring color and form on a different scale.”

Photo: Steve Freihon

Ryan’s own space changed after the design had been implemented, as certain pieces of furniture were added to the mix. The coffee table in the living space was actually a piece she had designed for an exhibition. The dining table was something her carpenter had suggested —a plywood top she could use temporarily until she found a table she wanted.

“We had put this structural beam underneath it so the plywood wouldn’t warp,” says Ryan. “I got it and was using it and flipped it over and decided I really like it this way, so I found these legs and basically designed the table, but it was also a found object. It became a really great solution and we’ve kept it ever since.”

AFTER: Ryan says the bedroom was the most challenging area in terms of finding a way to embrace function—as in, a bed—and storage. The bedframe was custom-made to have storage beneath it, and the wall surrounding it is built-in (it looks like a white wall but is actually a closet). As Ryan emphasizes, “It became clear that somehow you needed to anchor and condense the storage and figure out how that works with a bed.”

Photo: Steve Freihon

Those elements, and how the apartment has evolved, are part of what makes designing her own home such a gift. “It’s been exciting to complete the project after the primary renovation was done in these kind of mini [acts] of reinvention, which I got to do myself, in a way that probably wouldn’t occur with other clients.”

AFTER: In the bathroom, which features tile from Datile, storage above the shower utilizes vertical space to maximize potential storage while drawing the eye up and making the room feel bigger than it is. The stool by the sink serves several functions—table, seat, and a way to reach the high-up cabinetry. “In every project we really identify a handful of key anchoring elements, both in terms of materiality and form but also [in terms of] function. That stool is essential.”

Photo: Steve Freihon

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