A Spiral Staircase Made This Brooklyn Loft Feel So Much Bigger Than it Is

Overview of apartment with black spiral staircase.

Kate Glicksberg

A poorly laid-out apartment in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood was an out-of-the-box challenge for architects Brett Appel and Terri Lee of Appel Architecture. At just 900 square feet, the one-bedroom, one-and-half-bathroom loft featured a spacious outdoor area, rare for an apartment of that size in Brooklyn, alongside 21-foot ceilings and 14-foot windows.

These features initially drew in their artsy client, but the central staircase and cramped, hallway-like first floor left it feeling dark and dysfunctional. Additionally, the thermal barrier on the slab would have to be updated as cool air leaked in during the wintertime. 

“During our initial meetings at her apartment in January 2016, I would have to wear two pairs of socks because my toes would be so cold by the end of the meeting,” Appel recalls. 

Modern living room with pendant lighting and large windows.

Kate Glicksberg

The bustling neighborhood—which has gentrified greatly over the last decade thanks to cafes, bars, shops, and influx of Pratt University students—paired with the positives of the apartment were what initially drew the client to purchase the 2008-built home. “Our client has incredibly good taste,” Appel says. “While she saw the interior was troubled, she had the vision to understand the potential.”

While she saw the interior was troubled, she had the vision to understand the potential.

A full gut renovation began in March 2018, which included removing the staircase, originally located on the south side of the apartment. Due to its clunky configuration, there was only about six-and-half feet of livable space. “You could tell the architect threw it together with little consideration for how the space would be used,” Appel says.

The solution? A centrally located, custom fabricated spiral staircase. “It takes up less space, and by placing it in the middle, it would partition the area into more square-like areas with a kitchen, dining room, and living room,” he says. 

Close up of spiral staircase.

Kate Glicksberg

The architects developed the language of white oak board and batten to further define spaces. The second-floor volume, as well as the kitchen, feature hand-crafted millwork to distinguish them from the other spaces. Luckily, they found a wonderful contractor, who also happened to be a master millworker.

“In a small apartment, you have to find opportunities where you can,” Appel says. “The constraints enabled us to come up with things that we otherwise wouldn't.”

The kitchen includes honed Carrara marble countertops, which will patina over time, custom stained oak open shelving, and House of Antique brass hardware. “She wanted it to look like a home, not an untouched museum,” Lee remarks. 

Kitchen with large open shelving units.

Kate Glicksberg

She wanted it to look like a home, not an untouched museum.

Then, there’s the lofted home office—which has definitely come in handy—plus a black and white bathroom with graphic encaustic tile and vintage French plumbing fixtures, sourced by the client herself. Downstairs, the powder bathroom stands out from the airy aesthetic. 

White tiled bathroom with wooden shelf.

Kate Glicksberg

“If the rest of the apartment was as light and bright as possible, she wanted to do the exact opposite in the powder bathroom,” Appel says. Black tile complements black wainscotting and large-scale Ellie Kashman floral wallpaper.

Black bathroom with floral wallpaper.

Kate Glicksberg

The once closed-off home now makes the most of its location, size, and the client’s design eye.

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