The Elastic Interior
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It’s a common enough dream for those who live in cramped urban spaces: Suddenly you notice a door you never realized was there and beyond it a room you didn’t know you had — or maybe an entire wing of your home, just waiting to be occupied.
That’s more or less what happened to Chris Cooper and Jennifer Hanlin last year. Only it wasn’t a dream.
Mr. Cooper, 46, an architect, explains their discovery of an additional 325 square feet in their Brooklyn condominium as merely a matter of applying what he calls “reductive simplicity.” He and Ms. Hanlin, 44, an interior designer, were inspired by Japanese design, he said: “In Tokyo, there’s the hustle and bustle, and then you walk into a garden or a tatami room and there’s calm. We wanted our home to be neutral, contemplative and calm.”
True, that always makes a space feel bigger. But it also helps if you actually happen to have a room you had sort of forgotten about — an unused mezzanine, say. To be fair, it wasn’t exactly a mezzanine when the couple bought the apartment in 2005, for $675,000. Most of it was a crawl space that housed the water heater.
Mr. Cooper, Ms. Hanlin and their 11-year-old twins, Mia and Felix, live on the fifth and sixth floors of a Cobble Hill building that once housed the School of the Sacred Hearts and was converted into a 34-unit condominium in the 1980s. Before the conversion, their apartment was three separate spaces: a classroom, a boys’ bathroom and a mechanical room.
They began their act of reductive simplicity by gutting most of the apartment. To create a soaring living area that would feel bigger than it was, they raised part of the ceiling on the lower level. The rest of the lower-level ceiling was dropped, so they could insert a library and television room into the crawl space above. They used slatted wood partitions to bring light into those rooms from the living area below, and added lots of built-in storage.
And like magic, when the $300,000 renovation was complete, their apartment had gone from 1,375 square feet to 1,700 square feet — not an enormous addition, but an addition nonetheless.
To ensure privacy, each of the bedrooms is on a different level.
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Mia’s is on the lower level, with a narrow loft bed. Her requests were modest, said Ms. Hanlin, who designed the interiors: “Color — she loves color — and a string curtain.” Like most of the apartment, the room is white, but the closet is painted a hot pink that casts a rosy glow through its string-curtain door.
The master bedroom is on the mezzanine level, in the old boys’ bathroom.
And Felix has what is arguably the best room: on the top floor, with his own tiny terrace, from which he can see the Empire State Building to the north and the Williamsburgh Savings Bank to the east.
Mr. Cooper said, “He asked that we give him space for his collections” — rocks, shells and ephemera like porcupine quills — “and a place to play his drums.”
On his bureau sits a card that reads “RAISE BOYS AND GIRLS THE SAME WAY.”
Ms. Hanlin said, “It’s a Jenny Holzer postcard.”
They have done their best to follow that advice, she added, but it hasn’t been easy. When the twins were 2, she bought each of them a doll and a toy stroller to push the doll around in. Felix took the stroller, “pushed it down the hill, filled it with stuff and tossed the stuff out,” she said. “Mia put the doll in it and nurtured it.”
In parenting, as in renovation, it seems, there are limits to the feats you can perform.
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