Inside a Brooklyn Apartment That Mixes Classic Antiques With Whimsical Finds

Carrie Bluth

There’s nothing like the joy of a clean slate when you first move in to a new apartment, or a “white-box moment,” as photographer Sean Litchfield refers to it. That’s especially true when your “box” comes outfitted with amenities like enormous light-filled windows and central air. “We really lucked out finding this building, which seems to be part of a new wave of well-designed apartment buildings in Brooklyn,” he says. Sean and his husband, architectural historian Zachary Violette previously lived in an 1880s tenement building that had seen better days. The updated amenities, along with design details like the herringbone-pattern tile found in the kitchen and bath, were not lost on them, at all.

The IKEA shelving unit was left over from Sean’s previous work studio. It does double duty in the living room, offering closed storage for his work stuff like negatives and gear, while providing open shelving for displaying books, artwork, and miscellany of the living space variety.

The new apartment also had something else their former home lacked: a second bedroom. More space meant more possibilities for accommodating the couple working from home. “Zach needs a quiet, closed-off space to work during the day, whereas I’m content working on the sofa or at the dining table,” Sean explains.

The couple has no regrets about splurging on a fully custom setup from Modern Shelving. The process was easy, Sean reports, and the result achieved their goal of maximizing storage while retaining a clean look. “We have pretty high ceilings and the shelves aren’t very deep, so we were able to organize all of the books without it feeling like they’re taking over,” he says.

With the second bedroom functioning as an office for Zach, the couple went all in on a custom shelving system to house his massive collection of architectural history books, a splurge they have no regrets about. “It’s such a beautiful collection,” Sean says. Creating a dedicated space to display and access the volume of books that respects the collection as a visual presence—as much as a practical one, was a priority.

The addition of a small butcher block island makes the fully updated kitchen even more functional. “We loved the look of the dark herringbone tile in the kitchen, and the walnut cabinets add some much needed warmth,” Sean says.

Since they spend so much time at home, creating a “fun, colorful, comfortable space to be in” was super important, Sean says. For the couple, this means a thoughtful mix of power pieces like the new paprika-colored velvet sofa living alongside vintage gems, bold artwork, and treasured finds from travels abroad, like the Kurdish rugs they bought in Istanbul just a year prior, which feel even more meaningful now, given travel limitations due to the pandemic.

A richly colored Turkish rug in the bedroom is one of several the couple purchased at the Grand Bazaar on a trip to Istanbul. The bedding is from Brooklinen, and the framed still photograph above the bed is by Sean.
Creating a dining area in this nook wasn’t an obvious move for the couple. When an aha moment sparked the idea, they acted on it, purchasing an inexpensive bench from Wayfair, tossed a hide over it, and paired it with a marble-topped table to make sure it would all work in the nook. Now, it’s a well-loved zone.

Sean looks forward to continuing to personalize their space, maybe adding wallpaper or leaning into some whimsical decor, and getting back out to flea markets once shopping becomes possible again. “We’re constantly changing things up as we acquire new pieces and this space has allowed for infinite variations,” he shares.

Sean (left) and Zach (right) pose for the camera timer—Sean took these photos while stuck at home during quarantine. “It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a while, and with essentially all photo shoots on hold, there hasn’t been a better time,” he wrote to Clever.

🛠 Do It Yourself

Find your power piece A bold or eye-catching piece draws the eye in and creates a focal point in a room. The area rug from Cold Picnic in the living room was a splurge for the couple, but it plays such an important role in tying the main room together. “I love how prominent it is and my eye goes right to it when I get home,” Sean says.

Consider new uses for favorite furnishings The Eastlake secretary is one of the couple’s most prized pieces, scored from an antique market in New Jersey. Instead of using it strictly in the traditional sense, it houses barware along with books and art. Initially they had their hearts set on a proper sideboard for the dining area but had to pivot when there just wasn’t room. The upright secretary holds much of what the sideboard would have, at a fraction of the floor space. Bonus: It comes apart in two pieces, so moving it is a breeze.

Prior to finding this Eastlake secretary, the space held a bar cart, which was “totally underutilized,” Sean explains. They initially fell in love with a similar piece on 1stdibs, but it was way too expensive for their budget so they hunted around, and ultimately found this gem at a New Jersey antique market, and it’s become one of their favorite pieces at home.

Keep it fresh with flowers Sean and Zach “always have fresh flowers scattered around.” A sprig of greenery or seasonal blooms breathe life into a room, and can really lift your spirits, especially when we’re spending so much time indoors. It’s also an opportunity to show off a gorgeous vase.

Put walls to work In a small space, opting for wall-mounted shelves, like those the couple installed in the living room and office, is a great space-saving solution for maximizing storage.

A herringbone-tile pattern adds a timeless style to the bath. The rug was a Brimfield Antique Market find.

🛍 Shop It Out

Hannah Apartment sofa by Cobble Hill, from $1,500, abchome.com

Salt Flats rug by Cold Picnic, from $1,200, coldpicnic.com

SVALNAS Shelving System by IKEA, from $498, ikea.com

Linen bedding by Brooklinen, from $249, brooklinen.com

Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest