Design, like any art form, is largely subjective. In particular, Modernism is subject to accusations of unwelcomingly cold and stark interpretations. Conversely, its proponents delight in the simplicity of the clean lines and minimalism aesthetic.
For Maria Brito, celebrity art advisor and interior designer at her eponymously named New York City firm, contemporary art and design possess an alluring edge. When designing this townhouse, a former industrial warehouse and garage in an up-and-coming Long Island City neighborhood, the building and its locale informed the decidedly bold twist on a stark modern interior.
The neighborhood brims with contemporary artists’ studios and new restaurants and cafés, not to mention the prestigious MoMA PS1 sitting just one block away. “I wanted to replicate the lines and contemporary architecture of the house, as well as keep the warm, airy, industrial vibe. But with bolder color and more character,” Brito said of her initial design objectives.
The 3,200-square-foot residence was a blank slate when Brito took on the project. The most striking feature: lofty 22-foot ceilings in the living and dining areas, which were equal part challenge and inspiration. “The spaciousness and the vast ceiling had so much potential and was crying out for bold pieces. When I saw the ceiling and the natural light of the space, I knew I had to take on the project.”
It was determined early in the process that, “bold colors, fun patterns and big, playful artworks and furniture pieces” would be a prevailing theme and the secret to incorporating a sense of warmth into the oversized, industrial space. Based on the clients’ preferences, Brito selected a foundation of mid-century modern pieces in neutral colors to pair with contemporary furnishings and wood accents that serve as an anchor for the living space.
Walnut chairs partnered with an eclectic vintage rug, custom-made pillows and centerpieces to give the space a cohesive, cozy vibe. And a dramatic, oversized fan serves as the quintessential statement piece in the rehabbed-warehouse design. Sculptural in nature, the bright red fan is a focal point in a room with towering ceilings (so high, in fact, the fan had to be installed using special scaffolding).
Brito, an award-winning contemporary art advisor, collector and curator, paid particularly close attention to the artwork. It was essential to complement the expansive walls and to breathe life into the industrial space. “The artwork was key to the overall design,” Brito said. For one wall, she selected a vibrant green, blue, purple and pink diptych (a personal favorite of Brito’s) by internationally renowned artist Erik Parker. The diptych was previously on exhibit at the Paul Kasmin Gallery in New York before being displayed at the Long Island City residence. “It proved to be the best option because of the scale of his colorful canvases and his playful technique that resonated well with the owners’ background. In a massive space like this, you need to have a big piece with punch and impact.”
Continuing with the same art-meets-industrial spirit, Brito turned her attention to the wall of windows facing the spacious back patio. The abundance of natural light added to the airy feeling conveyed throughout the living space. She designed the bright white, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and storage space flanking the panels to highlight the architecture, replicating the strong lines and construction of the house with the built-ins—hence its simplicity.
Brito’s modern, art-inspired styling did not end with the living space. The smallest room in the two-bedroom, two-bathroom home was perfectly suited for movie watching. Completely windowless, Brito decided to put a twist on the TV room, drawing inspiration from a home library. Given the modest floor plan, she used a wallpaper mural that resembles books, which added perspective and depth to an otherwise dull enclosure. “I believe that nothing can transform a space the way wallpaper does, save for large-scale art. It engages the eye and sets a tone. There are a lot more fun patterns to choose from nowadays as wallpaper is making a resurgence.” In the same vein, the wallpaper in the master bedroom was chosen with the objective of giving a lush, sensual environment to a very sterile space. The paper has a patina that looks polished, yet approachable.
The result is, as Brito said, an “artsy-industrial” design, one that is true to the essence of the architecture, neighborhood and, most importantly, the client. “It’s audacious yet complements the initial spirit of the house.”