Gary and Ellen’s Storage-Savvy Apartment

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Name: Gary and Ellen Briefel
Location: Brooklyn, New York
Size: 1,500 sq/ft
Years lived in: 6 months, owned

For the Briefels, going green was a family affair. When Gary and Ellen returned to New York City after 35 years in the Maryland suburbs, they turned to their son David Briefel, a LEED accredited interior designer, to remodel their new Brooklyn apartment. Keeping in mind the suburban comfort that they left behind, David helped his parents maximize living space and storage in the oddly-shaped pre-war building, creating a comfortable and soothing apartment for their eventual retirement.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)
(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

The apartment came with great light and some original details, but all its odd angles – no two walls were parallel – meant that it lacked a functional kitchen, a master bathroom or a good bedroom closet. For Gary and Ellen, who love to surround themselves with family and books, it was important to be able to host visiting guests and to have enough built-in storage to avoid “New York City apartment clutter.”

At every step, David incorporated green materials while putting space to good use. In the kitchen, an unused pantry became a second bathroom, with a shower bench made from reclaimed Ipe from the Coney Island boardwalk. A Murphy bed transforms the Briefel’s office into a second bedroom, and a reclaimed-cypress headboard in the master bedroom sneaks in some extra storage. In the living room, a wall of book shelves becomes the room’s focal point, with a rolling ladder from an old library.

The result, they all agree, is both airy and functional, where the Briefel clan will happily gather for future holidays.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Re-Nest Survey:

My/Our style: American, country modern.

Favorite Element: The design enhances the apartment’s light and airiness, and serves all of our needs.

Biggest Challenge: Carving a master bath from a former pantry and making functional space out of the apartment’s odd angles. No two walls were parallel, and if they were, they certainly weren’t straight.

What Friends Say: Wow! Love the use of space, Murphy bed and the views of Manhattan!

Proudest DIY: Doubly reclaimed bench and console table made from scrap cypress from the counters and inspired by this Apartment Therapy post.

Biggest Indulgence: Custom shaker-style kitchen cabinets.

Best Advice: Make a clear list of priorities in terms of lifestyle and function before you start. Hire a good contractor.

Dream Source: Putnam Ladder Company, a truly old-school New York company operating out of Soho for over 100 years, had a quietly kept, enormous stock of used library ladders. Old House Parts in Maine dug through their impressive collection of salvaged hardware and found Art Deco door escutcheons and knobs that perfectly matched the ones we had to add or replace.

Green Elements/Initiatives: We used reclaimed, recycled composite or FSC lumber for all of the new construction. Whenever possible, demo’d studs were reused for new framing and the other demo’d materials—cabinets, appliances, flooring, scrap wood—were diverted from landfills and used on another project. The paint is low VOC throughout. Green plumbing, power and heating include a low-flow showerhead in guest bathroom, dual flush toilet in master bath, low-wattage lighting scheme and light sensors throughout, energy star appliances and timed radiant heat in master bath. New walls and floor are insulated with recycled denim. The concrete countertops in the kitchen and master bath were fabricated two miles away, using recycled content. We locally sourced most materials, and in the process met some wonderful vendors (countertops, reclaimed wood, rolling ladder, dining room chandelier, radiant floor system). Lastly, save the coffee table and coat rack, every piece of furniture was reused or salvaged.

(Image credit: Gary and Ellen’s Storage-Savvy Apartment )


Appliances: Dishwasher: Bosch SHX4AP05UC; Refrigerator: Samsung RB197ABRS; Microwave: Amana AMC5143AAS; Washer/Dryer: Frigidaire GLEH1642FS; High-efficiency Fans: Minke Aire.

Hardware: Salvaged push plate, knobs and escutcheons from Old House Parts and Moon River Chattel in Williamsburg; Rixson offset pivot hinge (master closet door); Brommer double acting spring pivot hinge (kitchen door).

Plumbing: Master bath exposed shower from Sign of the Crab; Wall mounted faucet set, Chicago Faucet; 1.75 GPM showerhead in guest bath, Kohler.

Furniture: Owners’ collection; kitchen chairs, Brooklyn’s Luddite; bench and table in foyer made by David; the caned chair in the living room is a family heirloom, an antique deck chair from a cruise ship.

Lighting: Dimmable CCFL down lights (25,000 hours!), Ushio; Antique industrial lamps in bedroom, RePop in Brooklyn; custom hand-forged chandelier, Ace Iron; Bathroom sconce, Rejuvination; Foyer, hallway and kitchen pendants, Pottery Barn.

Reclaimed Wood: Planet Reuse. Closet paneling milled from pine, spruce and fir beams from an 1880’s Steinway Factory in Brooklyn; living room and dining room countertops, office desktop and master bed built with cypress from filtration stock tanks in Upstate New York; Master sink apron and shower bench built with Ipe from Coney Island boardwalks.

Recycled Composite Wood: F.W. Honerkamp Co. in the Bronx supplied Arreis fiberboard used for the cabinet boxes in the living room, dining room and office.

Tiles and Stone: Remik at Concrete Shop, Brooklyn.

Beds: Custom murphy bed with mechanism; custom master bed with reclaimed cypress.

Artwork: The print in the foyer is an original architectural drawing of the apartment building from 1908, and has amazing detail and notations. I had it framed for my parents at the end of the project. The small metal statue on the entrance table was made by my great uncle, our family’s original salvaged material buff. It is constructed entirely of bits and pieces of metal found in the streets of Naples just after WWII. The rest has been collected all over the world over the course of several decades.

Paint: Benjamin Moore Aura Interior Paint.

Other: Various wooden crates, metal boxes, hooks and the like, from the wonderful, bountiful Brooklyn Flea.

(Thanks, Gary, Ellen and David!)

Interested in sharing your home with Re-Nest? Contact our editors through our Green Tour Submission Form.