Ben's Renovated Brooklyn Penthouse

Ben's Renovated Brooklyn Penthouse

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Nasozi Kakembo
Jun 2, 2016
(Image credit: Nasozi Kakembo)

Name: Ben Erickson
Location: Bedford-Stuyvesant; Brooklyn, New York
Size: 1,600 square feet
Years lived in: 6 years; Renovated and Rented

Homes like this one are what neighborhood legends are made of. Tourists walk by them and ponder their historical significance. School children imagine what fairytale or superhero character might be living inside. And adults dream the wildest dreams of ever calling a place like this home. For one Brooklyn-based custom furniture designer, the home was not a legend, but the perfect opportunity for a live-and-renovate endeavor.

(Image credit: Nasozi Kakembo)

Ben Erickson is the designer behind custom furniture line, Erickson Aesthetics. His home is situated on the very top floor of the Moran Victorian Mansion in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Built in 1887, the home's owner began a full gut renovation and rehabilitation after she purchased it in 1990, but the top floor remained virtually untouched. Ben, who had already been living across the street for a number of years, approached the owner with an ambitious proposal; he would completely restore the top floor of the mansion in exchange for a reduction in monthly rent. His extensive work portfolio which included smaller-scale renovations easily provided the vote of confidence needed for the innovative, yet finite, arrangement to move forward.

Now six years later, the mansion is on the market and the arrangement is coming to an end. But this factor did not prevent Ben from taking pride in each improvement he has painstakingly put into the home. Ben was greeted by a blank canvas (if you don't include the piles of discarded wood beams) when he first started, and it took four months of basic renovations before he could actually move in. Fortunately, he was guided by the profound influence and inspiration of his father, Thomas Erickson, a lifelong craftsman and watercolor painter, and his grandmother, Bunny Brown, who was the cultural and literary centerpiece of the family. During Ben's formative years, she inadvertently piqued his interest in architecture, art, and restoration, thanks to her turn-of-the-century stone house, which boasted exquisite details and craftsmanship. Ben demonstrates his own expert craftsmanship through the custom furniture pieces that embellish his home.

It is rare that an artist or designer will pour such resources and energy into a masterpiece knowing that they will one day have to walk away from it all. But perhaps it is this ephemeral quality that distinguishes Ben's home and artistry from the norm.

(Image credit: Nasozi Kakembo)

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Eclectic/ early Modern/ Custom

Inspiration: Modernist architecture, treasure hunting, photography

Favorite Element: Impossible… But the discovery of three feet of untapped space in the rafters in the front room when we we’re demolishing the caving in original ceiling (which I assume was late 1800’s climate control) allowed me to raise the ceilings up to almost 12 feet!

Biggest Challenge: Leaving. This house just went on the market so I must leave some of my best work and a part of my heart and soul behind. BUT this is an opportunity to dive in to a new creative project so… any landlords out there who might want a free custom renovation— lets talk!

What Friends Say: Holy #%@*

Biggest Embarrassment: I use the second bathroom shower for junk storage. Though, I think the biggest embarrassment would be not finishing Auggie's playroom. Life happened and he's 3 1/2 now, yet the walls still aren't painted, shelves aren't up, etc. Luckily he doesn't seem to care, as long as he can trash it to his heart's content.

Proudest DIY: My gaudy marble and gold bathroom.

Biggest Indulgence: The entire place is an indulgence, but the Victorian hall tree. I bought it 12 years ago, and now realize I got totally ripped off! I've since bought rare Mid Century designer pieces, like the Italian Gio Ponti coffee table in my son Auggie's playroom. It was only $15 at a garage sale in Queens.

Best Advice: Do it yourself. Don't be shy. Be bold. Go custom. Collect pieces over time. Live in the space and let it tell you what it needs. Listen to women. Don't use coasters. Let your kids draw all over shit. The patina of lives in what gives things soul

Dream Sources: 1st Dibs, Baxter & Liebchen, Orions Objects, Arenskjold Antiques, Lee Mindel's private warehouse.

(Image credit: Nasozi Kakembo)

Resources of Note:

PAINT & COLORS

Raw plaster or Benjamin Moore off-white for everything, except the master bath which is hand brushed Fine Paints of Europe Grey and Benjamin Moore gold metallic flake on the ceiling.

ENTRY

  • Hall tree: old Bed-Stuy antique shop
  • Runner from my Grandma's house
  • Mahogany dresser: My Great Grandma
  • Fake Murano chandelier: LI Estate sale

LIVING ROOM

  • Early 50's Swedish two tier full swivel Birch coffee table: LI Estate sale
  • Mid Century white Lucite table & mini Bertoia chair: Philly, NY dealers
  • EAE slung leather lounge chair
  • Mushroom lamp: Brooklyn dealer
  • Sigurd Ressel Falcon Chair: Two Jakes in Williamsburg
  • EAE swivel cocktail tables
  • Gerald Thurston floor lamps: estate sales
  • Polished silver Antler candlesticks: Roost
  • Painting/ collage on paper by Ryan Coffee
  • Gold mirror from my Grandma
  • EAE copper manifold coffee table

OFFICE

  • George Nelsen tambour roll top desk in walnut and cast aluminum: rescued from the backyard of an antique shop in NJ. It was literally sitting out in the rain.
  • Early (four leg!) Eames for Herman Miller soft pad Executive Chair: rescued from the dungeon athletic offices of Baruch college NYC
  • Finn Juhl for Baker teak desk: NJ estate sale. $40!
  • Early Eames fiberglass DAT shell chair: Philly dealer
  • EAE pillar bookcase in matte white lacquer & low credenzas w/ Solid Imbuya tops

KITCHEN

  • Early cast iron Saarinen dining table with new shop-made phenolic resin Color-Fin top
  • EAE custom made island & cabinetry cast iron, Birdseye maple veneer & walnut slabs
  • Fabric cocktail napkins and throw pillow: xNasozi
  • Vintage stainless steel industrial sink & restaurant faucet: Craigslist
  • Arthur Umanoff stools in EAE turqoise: Estate sale
  • Bent maple plywood dining chairs: Lujon Philly
  • EAE Black & Gold tripod stools
  • "The Flirt" (or "Blue Mommy" as my son calls it) 4-color hand-printed silkscreen by Brett Wintle
  • Walnut Annuit Cœptis Sculpture: Custom by Erickson Aesthetics

MASTER BEDROOM

  • EAE custom figured Ash slab bed sourced from the Bucks County, PA barns of Wharton Esherick and his last surviving assistant Horace Hartshaw.
  • Restored & reupholstered antique flame mahogany sofa : Craigslist
  • My son's crib made from salvaged cast iron machinery molds painted in Fine Paints of Europe high gloss with figured white oak.
  • 50's orange chair and lamp: LI estate sale
  • Mudcloth accent pillows: xNasozi
  • Portrait of a Lady: Catherine Golthwaite (Bunny Brown), Ben's Grandmother, painted by Fred Sitzler

MASTER BATHROOM

  • Antique marble sinks: Olde Good Things, Scranton PA
  • EAE designed exposed brass shower system made by Baths From the Past/ BESCO
  • EAE restored vintage solid mahogany dental cabinet
  • Noir St. Laurent marble from Stone Locator

KID'S PLAYROOM

  • Mid-century modern platform sofa: LI estate sale
  • Wall unit: LI estate sale
  • My dad's dresser
  • African print throw pillows: xNasozi
  • Gio Ponti coffee table; Queens garage sale
  • Hollywood tripod spot light: Golden Oldies in Queens
  • The MESS and inventions: Auggie

(Image credit: Nasozi Kakembo)

Thanks, Ben!

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Re-edited from a tour originally published 11/11/2014.

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