David and John's Return Engagement

David and John's Return Engagement


Name: David Burdett and John Behan
Occupation: David, architect/teacher; John, lawyer/teacher
Location: West Village, New York City
Size: 700 square feet
Years lived in: John 26, David 11 owned

They let us in once, a tease of a tour that left the readers clamoring for more. David and John are happy to have us back, for a second look and a conversation about how an English architect-in-residence and an American furniture connoisseur, by design and décor, make the most of their West Village apartment.

David and John's House Call whet the audience appetite for more looks, more details about the choices they made, built-in and otherwise. Their home is an interesting mix of antique and contemporary, the most recent incarnation of an apartment built in the late 30s, and lived in by John since 1986, David since 2001.

Five years ago, they set out to rework the kitchen and had planned to hold off on the bath, but then just went for it, all. "We decided we'd just get the mess of everything over with in one shot," said David, of DAS Studio. When the plaster dust settled, the guys ended up with a sleek kitchen and bath, an interesting counterpoint to the building's vintage and the pair's collected furnishings. Why so modern? Says partner John, "I wanted it clean, and David is a modernist... he's sparse and clean and exact."

Exact, indeed. In that ship-efficient kitchen, no space is wasted, top to bottom or edge to edge. Says David, "It just works well... that you don't have too much clutter, visually... everything simpler and easier to look after." But visual simplicity is not just a style choice. It's smart design in a city where every inch counts. Downsized European appliances were small trade-off to get more of what mattered. "We managed to get an extra foot of cabinet space by not having a 24" dishwasher or a 30" oven," says David.

The bath, too, is sleek and architectural. That's also by design. When you're remodeling an older home, you're faced with two options: fake the vintage, or make it modern. A mock vintage wouldn't pass snuff with David especially, so they never considered doing a '07 version of a '30s bath. Says David, "The fixtures are all kind of reproduction and fake, and I really don't get it. It's not where I come from." So once again, on preference and principle, the boys took the modern route. While contemporary in design, it was designed to age gracefully. "It's clean and simple on the theory that it will still look good in 20 years, as opposed to what the current trend is," says David.

A simplified palette, and clever design details like the recessed track for the shower curtain, maximize the space. "David is a marvel at that kind of discovery," brags John. "It makes the bathroom seem bigger." As for the cove lighting, he adds, "The subtle lighting makes us all look pretty good." It casts that flattering glow over a tub that slots right in to the all-over tile grid, just like the inset mirrors. White Venetian blinds carry a little bit of the apartment's tradition into the otherwise sleek room.

When they realized late in the remodel game that they needed more light, the inside of the medicine cabinet was pressed into service. Open, it adds extra task light for shaving. Says John, "You're able to use it efficiently, and then it just closes off, sits back in the wall quietly." "Quietly" is a good word for it all. "I almost feel like I'm in a spa when I'm in there, yet it's not a big room. It's very relaxing."

Out in the main space, less was changed structurally, and what was done was done to preserve period detail (raised landing, wrought iron railings, fireplace) already there. Boxing out the radiator was the only truly modern nod, designed to clean up that wall, give a little display space, and anchor a custom modern sectional. "One of my requirements was that the sofa had to be long enough to lie down on. When you're almost 6'3," you need a little space to spread out," says David. It's the perfect spot for this lanky Englishman to sit, read or river watch.

Part of the challenge for that room stems from the fact that circulation splits it right down the middle, and that it needed to live larger than its actual footprint. Says David, of the split, "It's kind of a natural divide," but, he continues, "it makes it really difficult to put a long sofa really close to the fireplace." They ended up with two distinct areas, airier and open, and a non-traditional arrangement fireside. "We just have the two chairs there, and no coffee table. It kind of opens it up," and, he adds, "you can see the fire really well." Yup, the lucky devils have a working fireplace. "It's sort of surreal to have a fire burning on the 8th floor and then have a chimney that's twelve stories above," marvels David.

John gets credit, via family and travels, for most of the antiques. Although there are certainly fewer of them now. An earlier décor scheme looked great (if a bit, um, "early oval office"), but had too much furniture. "I needed to edit. I just needed a co-editor!" says John, and minimalist David helped thin the herd. The editing was also about getting rid of that period-room feel that didn't represent either inhabitant. "There was a love seat and an 8-foot sofa. They were sort of poufy and stuffed. They made the room look smaller, and made us look poufy and stuffed as well!" chuckles John.

Some of the furniture that survived the weeding-out includes the bamboo fretwork Chinese altar table, silver-based tray table, and the bedside tables (the round "Late-late Victorian," one, on John's side, and the olive wood chest on David's). Those stunning rugs, from New Orleans, also made the cut, and color was the real reason. "The apartment wasn't dark... but the colors cheer me," says John. Their persimmon field also directly inspired the wood-framed chair's fabric, and new pillows on order for the sofa.

Furniture was kept, chosen or designed for function. The console table turns entry level to dining room. "The top of it sort of twizzles and flips, and is big enough to seat four people," notes David. The antique side chairs got reinforcement (there's plywood hiding underneath those tobacco-colored velvet cushions) to preserve the caned seats.

The upholstered pieces are the most modern, and David-designed specifically for the space, mostly for reasons of scale. "You can always find the perfect little tub chair or the perfect sectional that fits great in a loft, but in a room that's 13 x 21, it doesn't quite work too well."

All around, touches of Asian, in that altar table, Japanese screen, art, and a prayer shade from Thailand (by way of Palm Springs). That piece, presented in its Plexi box, is sort of a metaphor for the entire apartment: something of a certain age, made new again in its presentation.

The overall mix is familiar to David, with his English country house background and the continental knack for living with pieces collected over generations. "I grew up in an eclectic mix of things, so for me it just seems natural." It's part upbringing, part preference. "The thing I wanted to avoid was having sort of too much matchy-matchy stuff." He seems to have hit his mark. "I think where we are now is a very comfortable mix of periods. Kind of works for both of us."

A lot of function is worked into the main space, meaning David and John are never perched in the same spot too often. "That was the point: to make sure we are not. And we didn't have that option before," says John.

"At one time I said, 'I think we really need another room.' And I'd love to have it. But we don't really need it, per se, because of the added functionality of the design." That's a huge endorsement for what some planning, editing, and an in-house architect can create.

"It just opened it up, that's all there is to it. And kept the character of the building." And, it seems, the confident character of the two worldly men in residence, themselves a nice and lively mix.

Listen to both John and David talk about the design process here.

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our Style: Eclectic modern/minimalist

Inspiration: The existing space and items we were keeping.

Favorite Element: The concealed shower curtain track.

Biggest Challenge: For David the biggest challenge was to convince John that large dining table was not needed and a small one in the area originally designated for dining was perfect. For John it was to convince David a deep soaking tub was a must!

What Friends Say: They can't believe how much larger the place feels.

Biggest Embarrassment: The amount of time it took us to decide which shade of white to use.

Proudest DIY: Assembling the Ikea cabinets in the walk-in closet

Biggest Indulgence: Vola faucets and bath fillers, worth every penny. The perfect fusion of aesthetics and function. They were designed 45 years ago and no one has designed anything better.

Best Advice: Keep large upholstered pieces very simple and minimalist. If the frames are good quality they can be reused/reupholstered for years!

Dream Sources: To design and have everything custom made... that is definitely a dream!

Resources of Note:

(all Benjamin Moore)


    • Coffee Table: Room & Board
    • Sconce Shades: Custom from Blanche Field


    • Oven: Miele
    • Backsplash: Kaleidoscope Tile


    • Carpet: Godfrey Hirst
    • Lampshades: Celeste Callaghan Designs


    • Walls and floor stone: Architech Tile
    • Medicine Cabinet: Custom
    • Waterproof LED Cove Lighting: Coveligthingkit.com

Thanks, David and John!

(Images: Patrick J. Hamilton)

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