Finding a place to live in Brooklyn is hard enough on a crisp spring day, frenzied as hopefuls can be, but interior designer Casey Kenyon didn’t even have that luxury when he found out he’d have to vacate his current rental in the middle of a polar vortex. (Non-Northeasterners, note: These are as no-fun as they sound.) Discouraged by the less-than-charming nature of more industrial, and therefore more affordable, Brooklyn neighborhoods, and a little desperate, he posted on Facebook: “Does anyone know of a well-priced one-bedroom apartment in dreamy tree-lined Fort Greene?” Fortune showed favor. A friend’s cousin’s cousin knew a 92-year-old woman who needed a renter in the top floor of her brownstone. That the space featured twin decorative fireplaces, a picture rail, original painted wood shutters, and “good light all day” from East-West exposures—more “charm” than most people dream of in sensibly-priced Brooklyn abodes—turned out to be the only catch.
In some cases, good things come to those who don’t wait. Kenyon jumped on it and signed the lease.
Despite the mad dash to get there, the move came at a perfect time. Not six months after that first rent check, Kenyon’s boyfriend Jonathon Beck moved in with him, and they tackled the design as a team. The added income helped them be a little bit choosier about the furnishings they sprung for—an antique Milo Baughman for Thayer Coggin sofa and Ib Kofod-Larsen Penguin chair, both tracked down on Etsy to anchor the living room, for example—but the couple’s industriousness, wealth of DIY home decor ideas, and attention to detail is really what’s to thank for the apartment’s elevated look and feel.
A pair of glass sconces from “a 1stDibs dealer in Germany” inspired Kenyon to teach himself wiring. (“Youtube can tell you everything as long as you have an ounce of bravery,” he says with conviction.) And that Danish chair? He picked up a yard of fabric from Mood and did the upholstering himself. (“You just unscrew them and staple!”) They made pillows and cushions from thrift-ed African textiles, even weaving together upholstery webbing to replace the ripped canvas on an old camp cot. An ornate mirror, which Beck (a production and set designer) could tell had been painted “stage gold,” required four coats of white paint to cover up. “It looks now like it has always lived there,” Kenyon says of its placement over the mantel, so the couple plans to leave it with the apartment if they ever move. Troubleshooting snafus and space constraints required the same ingenuity. A sheepskin from Modern Link got tossed across the couch, which turned out to be scratchy, and two of the four dining room chairs got a gig moonlighting as nightstands—stacked high with books to keep the lamps from Stone & Sawyer level, but easily called upon if extra dinner guests arrive.
The paint choices, too, were methodically considered: The pair painted two coats of eight samples—“four grays, four beiges,” Kenyon recounts—on the walls before settling on the perfect “putty” color for the bedroom and living room, Park Avenue by Behr. Elsewhere, they sprung for jewel tones to appease Kenyon’s wish for bit more adventurous color. The bath is Royal Blue by Benjamin Moore, and the office is a dark, moody green—a Benjamin Moore match of Farrow & Ball’s Studio Green.
A variety of finishes were called upon to highlight the prewar architecture, such as a semigloss for the picture rail and upward in the living room, which makes a cracked ceiling read as wonderfully sculptural. And to make small rooms feel larger, a high-gloss was used for the bathroom. “If I did it again,” Kenyon says, a little wistfully, “I’d do a higher gloss above the picture molding—there’s something about it that adds more reflectivity, makes the light bounce automatically.”
But the finish of those walls is just the start; they feature a mix of delicate and expressive art, some of the couple’s own and some from friends. A lineup of skateboard decks decorate the office—some limited edition Marc Jacobs, some from Supreme collaborations with artists like John Baldessari and George Condo—and delicate, textural drawings appear in prominent slivers of wall space. The trio of Gabriella Crespi planters, perfectly dimpled and patinaed, that hold a riot of flowers on either mantel? On loan from a (very good) friend. “Everyone I know in New York has a storage unit,” Kenyon quips.