See How 2 Friends Living in Identical Brooklyn Condos Decorated Their Spaces Differently

published Mar 13, 2023
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2 apartments with the same floor plan, each decorated differently

When Realtor Carrie McCue first came across her dream apartment in Brooklyn Heights, a sun-filled unit in a prewar building on a tree-lined street, she knew she had to have it. And then: She was outbid. It was 2019 and the market was hot — she’d already been going to open houses over the course of a year, and had lost out more than once. She didn’t know it at the time, but the buyer who did score that lovely unit would go on to become a good friend.

Scrolling through real estate listings not long afterward, she spotted an interesting for-sale-by-owner post. Though the photos were blurry cell phone shots, she recognized it as a unit in that same Brooklyn Heights same building. “No one was looking at it because it had an awful online presence and wasn’t catching anyone’s eye,” she recalls. “If I hadn’t seen the one downstairs, I probably wouldn’t even have noticed it.” After reaching out to the owner and starting some successful negotiations, she landed the condo and has lived there happily for nearly four years. 

Her downstairs neighbor Peter Dolkas, an interior designer who scored that first apartment she coveted, had a similar journey into the building. “I was actually interested in an apartment that was on the first floor and I put an offer in, didn’t get it, and was really sad,” he says. “But I was watching that building like a hawk and late one night in the depths of StreetEasy, I saw a posting for this apartment, saw it the next day, and very quickly made it happen.” In true it’s-a-small-world fashion, he says, “The funny thing is, I became friends with the people who I lost the first floor apartment to, and with Carrie, who put an offer in on my apartment.” 

After serving on the co-op board together, they eventually formed a friendship. “He saw me in the lobby and was like, ‘Would you ever want to come over for dinner?’ I said I’d love to, because it was the height of the pandemic and no one was really going out to restaurants,” says McCue. “We just hit it off.”

In the three years since their friendship has blossomed, restaurants opened back up, the housing market boomeranged, and Dolkas and McCue transformed their near-identical one-bedroom condos into personalized palaces. Here’s how the two neighbors-turned-friends made each space their own.

A hallway in Dolkas' apartment

Same Footprint, Different Vibes

Having gone to graduate school in London for a degree in fine and decorative art and design, Dolkas has a penchant for history and antiques. “I’m definitely more into classic design and design that looks like it’s been there for a long time,” he says. Throughout his unit, antiques sourced from auctions, convincing reproductions, and vintage-looking DIYs embody that lived-in aesthetic. 

McCue's living area

McCue, on the other hand, began her vision board with an eye toward neutral colors and pared-back Scandinavian design — “and then I realized that’s actually so not me,” she laughs. “I am colorful and bold and I love textures and patterns.” And though she likes leather and dark colors, too, she says this space “just calls for a more bright and feminine vibe.” From the floral wallpapered front entry to the pink-tiled bathroom and splashes of color all throughout, it’s a playful foil to Dolkas’ soothingly subdued palette. 

Still, Dolkas says, aside from being friends, they share a kind of design philosophy: “We both have an interest in comfort and we’re really into the experience. So when either of us have each other over, there’s always candles, music playing, good lighting, and it’s about making it a beautiful experience. Even if it’s just a Tuesday.”

Dolkas' living area

Stained Glass Statements

Part of the beauty of living in an old building are the architectural details that have stood the test of time. In this building, the clear standout is the stained glass clerestory windows. Dolkas explains the co-op had them covered for decades only to uncover them in the last several years, accounting for their rare and gorgeous condition. They made for a natural starting point for his design, encouraging him to flip the layout of the living space. “I liked the idea of sitting closer to the window and having the window seat be part of the living room,” he explains. 

To define the dining portion of the open-concept living/dining room, he added wiring and hung a paper lantern light fixture. Originally a brand-new Chinese lantern from Pearl River Mart, Dolkas tea stained the paper to give it an antique look. “It’s like a faux Noguchi,” he says. Because he wanted the dining area to feel “a little bit like a library,” he cleverly repurposed a hutch bought from Doyle Auctions as a bookcase, replacing serving dishes and platters with novels and nonfiction. 

McCue's dining nook

McCue’s living area centers the stained glass in a different way. Though she initially had her dining table pushed to the side to let the bay window shine on its own, Dolkas encouraged her to make the window seat (custom-made by Etsy cushion-maker Hearth and Home) part of the dining area and replace the flush-mount light fixture she had with twin chandeliers. “He was like, ‘It should feel like a mini Hall of Versailles,’” she recalls Dolkas saying. She found the perfect pair of pink Murano vintage chandeliers from an Italian vendor on Etsy, centering one over the dining table and another over the sofa to cohere the whole space with jewel tones. 

Dolkas' kitchen

A Tale of Two Kitchens

When Dolkas first moved into his condo, the kitchen was partially closed off from the living room and filled with old-school white-and-wood cabinets. When he renovated, he decided to knock down the wall, making an island out of what had been a partition. He replaced the wall behind the sink, which had housed a bank of bulky cabinets, with a medley of off-white tiles and an open shelf, and kept all of the cabinetry below hip-level or on the adjacent wall. The result? A soothing, open cookspace with a classic feel. 

McCue's kitchen

Since she executed her renovation after her neighbor, McCue based her kitchen layout off of Dolkas’, taking down that same wall to open up the flow. Her vision was for a true entertaining space. “In my old kitchen, I had a two-burner stove, no oven, and there was a big wall separating the kitchen nook from the rest of the living space,” she says. “I knew that by removing that wall and creating an L-shaped kitchen with a peninsula, the space would instantly open up and feel much more conducive to hosting, cooking, and conversation.” She worked with a contractor, Erica Padgett of Decorum Design Build, on all of her renovations. In the kitchen, that included new custom gray-green cabinets, a peninsula with fluted millwork and barstool seating, and lots of open shelving to display her favorite pieces — including ceramics made by her sister. 

Dolkas' bathroom

Unrecognizable Bathrooms 

Both bathrooms began from a similar place, with green-and-yellow tiles covering the floors and tubs with wraparound curtain rails. Wanting to honor the old-fashioned look, Dolkas kept a lot of the original features in place and made a few subtle changes to update and brighten the space. “The sink and the tub are cast iron, so those stayed. I just retiled the floors and the walls, repainted, and then added a new medicine cabinet and lights,” he says.

McCue's bathroom

A trip upstairs to McCue’s home reveals a bathroom that’s almost unrecognizable as the same space. Considering the room’s funky footprint, the first change she knew she needed to make was to nix the tub. “It was eating up so much space, and I don’t take a lot of baths in New York because the tub always feels so petite to me. So I thought, what if we turned it into more of a sexy wet room vibe?” That meant hauling in a 100-plus-pound floating concrete sink, swapping out silver for matte black hardware, and covering the walls in variegated glossy pink tile. 

Perhaps the most controversial change? Despite her contractor’s recommendation for a glass shower door, McCue didn’t want any kind of door around her standing shower. Between slightly sloped floors and a splash guard by the toilet, it hasn’t been a problem at all. “It just gives it a fun Moroccan spa feel,” she says. 

Dolkas' bedroom

One-Window Bedrooms

Neither bedroom was particularly light-filled to start, so both Dolkas and McCue decided to lean into the darkness in different ways. “The bedroom is relatively dark already because it just has that one window,” Dolkas explains. “I thought it’d be nice to play that up and make it very cocooning.” He did that by painting the walls in a gray-green color that shifts hues through the day, a canopy bed, and wooden nightstands sourced from local auctions.  

McCue's bedroom

McCue used paint to transform her room, too. “I had it white before but I knew it was never going to be the bright airy space that my living room and kitchen are, so I took the opposite approach of leaning into the dark to make it sexy and moody and fun.” She opted for a Benjamin Moore shade called Badlands (“I chose it partly for the name,” she says) and decided to take that color everywhere — the back of the door, the ceiling, the closets. To complete the monotone makeover, her friend helped her transform her tan headboard with a bolt of mauve velvet fabric for a cheap DIY. 

McCue's hallway

Onto the Next

Last year, Dolkas moved out of his lovingly renovated Brooklyn Heights home and bought a new Boerum Hill unit — with McCue as his real estate agent. “I’m an interior designer, so I was just ready for another project,” he says. “But I love that building.”

Now that spring is on its way, McCue is gearing up for her favorite extended moment in her home. “A tree [outside my window seat] blooms in April that has these big white blossoms, and the branches get so heavy with flowers that they touch the window,” she says. “The woman I bought it from told me it feels like you’re in the Botanic Garden, and it actually does. My allergies are insane for six weeks, but it’s stunning.”