Imke & Thorsten's Breezy Berlin Apartment

Green Tour

Name: Imke & Thorsten Laux and their two daughters, aged 9 and 4-years-old.
Location: Berlin, Germany
Years lived in: Rented for 2 years

You can almost feel the ocean air when you emerge onto the second level of Imke and Thorsten Laux's apartment in Berlin. Though it's many miles from Germany's northern coastline, a muted palette of sand and sea grass creates a soothing atmosphere in this lofty family lair.

Situated in the former East Berlin, the 19th century building was renovated in the 1990s, after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Five stories above Prenzlauer Berg's oldest neighborhood bar, Imke and Thorsten's apartment features new windows, better insulation, a fresh coat of low VOC paint, and energy-efficient appliances. The top floor's open plan meant less materials went into its renovation, lessening its environmental impact.

A stone's skip from Berlin's biggest organic supermarket, and just a few blocks from an all-organic weekly farmer's market, the sunny upper-floor flat is an excellent home base for an active family of four. While the girls are at school their parents work from home. Imke sews, paints, refinishes furniture, works on her interior design business Laux Interiors, and writes her blog Maedchen Style in her spacious home studio, while all Thorsten needs is a computer, which he fits easily beside the couple's bed. The girls both have their own spaces for creativity in their bedrooms, as well as a little table for drawing near mom.

Of course it's not all work all the time in this rooftop apartment. Opportunities for play can be found in most every room. A dollhouse, complete with some of Imke's own toy furniture stands beside an Eames style lounge chair she found on the street and painted white. A toy horse adds a stroke of playful whimsy to Imke's studio; and vintage books pop up here and there in unexpected places. At the end of each day, the family gathers for an al fresco meal on the balcony, or inside around a beechwood table Imke refinished with natural linseed resin.

Re-Nest Survey:

My/Our style: Contemporary with a touch of vintage.

Inspiration: We draw inspiration from interior design magazines, especially Scandinavian, French and Dutch ones - also from travels. Websites like (of course) Apartment Therapy, Decor8, Chez Larsson... Imke is an interior decorator - for new trends she also visits the trade shows.

Favorite Element: We love our view from the roof terrace overlooking the Prenzlauer Berg district of Berlin. We have the most beautiful sunsets here.

Biggest Challenge: Living on the 5th and 6th floors without an elevator. Moving from a suburban 2400-square-foot house with a garden in California, to an 1800-square-foot Berlin city apartment.

What Friends Say: Friends are always surprised when they come for the first time. The entrance is on the lower floor. Most of them think the lower one is it and then they come up the stairs and see the view of the "penthouse" and are stunned. Also they like that everything is so light and bright.

Proudest DIY: Imke's bamboo painting and an old Selig copy of the 670 Eames chair Imke found in the street in Palo Alto, California and spray painted white.

Biggest Indulgence: We aren't big fans of expensive designer furniture.  We love to travel and go to restaurants - that's our biggest indulgence.

Best Advice: Try to limit clutter - keep big surfaces tidy. Make your bed EVERY day right after getting up. Move furniture around to figure out the best setting. Buy big pieces in neutral colors and add interest with colorful accessories. If you don't like it cover it up - white cotton does the trick. Have fun - you can always change everything.

Dream Source: Bulthaup for Kitchen; HAY Denmark for furniture

Green Elements/Initiatives:

  • The renovation sealed the apartment, increasing its energy efficiency.
  • We try to buy our furniture at fleamarkets and local small design stores.
  • We don't throw out old furniture, we give it a new look by painting or refinishing.
  • We use mostly green cleaning supplies and buy organic, seasonal, local food.
  • We have only one car that we don't use a lot. We bike or walk everywhere or use public transportation.
  • We got a new thermostat to save gas for heating.
  • We reuse, reduce and recycle.

Resources:

Appliances: Electric tea kettle by Cloer. Electric kettles use less energy than stove-top boiling.

Furniture:

  • Green cabinet in Imke's studio - salvaged from a German poolhouse, inherited from best friend who passed away last year. Used to store fabric and sewing supplies.
  • Dining room table - solid beach table that Thorsten I bought when we moved in together in 1999 in Hamburg. I didn't like the finish anymore so just last week I sanded and white washed it with a white linseed resin stain.
  • Small cabinet in bathroom - It used to be in our hallway when I was a little girl. In it we kept our scarves, mittens and hats. It had a dark brown stain. I painted it white. Very casually with a dry big brush so you can see the brush strokes. I exchanged the old knobs with vintage porcelain ones from the Arkonaplatz Fleamarket
  • Computer table in living room - My mother gave it to me when I finished law school. It used to be my kitchen table when I was still living in my tiny student apartment in Hamburg.
  • Chest beneath dollhouse - belonged to Thorsten's parents when they lived in the US. They bought it at the Salvation Army in Cleveland to ship their belongings back from Ohio to Germany after their medical residency in the early 1970s.
  • The "Eames" chair - a Selig copy I found on the street in Palo Alto, California.
  • Other new pieces - IKEA.

Accessories:

  • Bunting garland in daughter's room - made from vintage sheets. There's a similar one here.
  • Old glass liquor bottles - I dug them out of the ground behind my father's house in Mallorca when he was building a pool.
  • White vases belonged to Imke's grandmother - She was a big china collector and had a store for kitchen goods and housewares.
  • Handmade hearts and birds - Some I bought in Groningen, Netherlands at a local market, some at HEMA, some at DaWanda (online marketplace for handmade items)
  • Chalkboard belonged to Thorsten as a child.
  • Cloth fortune cookies, handmade by Imke.
  • Vintage children's books belonged to Imke's mother and her siblings as children.
  • Vintage grain containers bought for one euro each at the Mauerpark Fleamarket.
  • Pillowcases - some handmade by Imke, some vintage, some from Dolly Rocker (very cute shop in Berlin Friedrichshain - they make children's clothing and accessories from recycled clothing), some from "Minati" a small company in Wilhelmshaven, Germany; One of my favorite sources for fabrics by the way is Frau Tulpe

Lighting: The 1960s lamps on our nightstands (white globes) I bought at Arkonaplatz Fleamarket; the ones with crystal balls base I bought at an antiques fair in Los Altos, California and added new black shades from Target, the wall fixture over the stairs is a vintage Russian porcelain socket from the Mauerpark Fleamarket. Other new lamps from IKEA.

Rugs and Carpets: IKEA

Window Treatments: DIY with IKEA fabrics; Jaloucity.

Beds: IKEA with vintage linen, cotton, and handmade sheets, blankets, and pillowcases.

Artwork: Large canvas over couch, four small pieces over chairs, and "wind woman" terra cotta sculpture on terrace, by Imke's mother Inge Vogt; Bamboo painting, by Imke; Vintage poster "Wo kommt der Schmutz her?" (Where did the dirt come from), is from an old German transformer factory.

(Thanks, Imke and Thorsten!)

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(Images: Celeste Sunderland)

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