A Small Space Makeover in Downtown Manhattan

Stylist Anthony D'Argenzio's East Village apartment is a master class in D.I.Y.

Anthony D'Argenzio has created a welcoming retreat from urban life in the heart of New York City.
Anthony D'Argenzio has created a welcoming retreat from urban life in the heart of New York City.

The checkered past of Manhattan’s Alphabet City is hard to reconcile with prop stylist Anthony D’Argenzio’s second-floor walk-up, a vision of rustic sophistication that smacks of post-oughties Brooklyn chic. D’Argenzio’s one-bedroom home, which he shares with his fiancée and their long-haired dachshund, Sabra, is a master class in makeover magic—you’d never guess the apartment's former tenant was an elderly woman with an affinity for rose-hued window swags, cut-crystal dinnerware, and one very plastic-covered sofa. Click here to see a slideshow of before and after photos!

The couple loves to cook and host dinner parties: she is a sommelier and wine educator, he runs his own styling and event consulting business under the name of Zio & Sons. So the transition from renting to permanently nesting, a leap D'Argenzio made last spring after living in the area for five years, came about organically. “This neighborhood is a hidden gem,” D'Argenzio says. “It's a bit stuck in time for Manhattan standards—far enough from any train [to keep the] tourists away, but I love that I'm near Tompkins Square Park and the East Side River for a quick jog. It's still very much a real community.”

The space required a top-to-bottom overhaul, which D’Argenzio took to with gusto over the better part of half a year. “I wanted a casual Scandinavian look,” he says. “The original floors in the space were an outdated shiny yellow oak most likely redone in the early 1990s. I had my contractors sand down the veneer to get to the raw wood. I then bleached the wood twice [and pickled it] with an oil-free white wood stain.”

D’Argenzio removed the existing drywall throughout the apartment to expose the brick behind it, adding reclaimed wood trim around the windows and custom-crafting marble sills using remnants from the kitchen counters. “The kitchen was my favorite part of the renovation,” he says. “I removed all of the original upper cabinets and replaced them with open shelving using reclaimed eight-foot beams.” To further enhance the sense of airiness in the charmingly-proportioned kitchen, he raised the ceiling by two feet and finished it with beadboard paneling in a high-gloss white finish.

A Small Space Makeover in Downtown Manhattan
The antique chandelier in the living room is one of the few original fixtures in the space.
A Small Space Makeover in Downtown Manhattan
A Small Space Makeover in Downtown Manhattan
The living room is outfitted with quirky decorative accents and personalized touches such as custom throw pillows made of Japanese indigo fabric.

Oversize subway tiles offset with gray grout were employed as a modern backsplash. The standard six-foot refrigerator was replaced with an under-counter compact SubZero, creating an additional four square feet of counter space. “I used salvaged Carrera marble from Build It Green in Brooklyn [for the countertops] and added a new sink and brass hardware,” D'Argenzio says. Half of the dividing wall between the kitchen and the living room was removed to create a one-person bar finished with antique oak paneling reclaimed from an old church in Brooklyn (which he also procured from Build It Green).

The idea of reclamation informed much more in the apartment than just the eco-friendly kitchen design. Flea-market finds are littered throughout each room, creating a cohesive, eclectic design language. “For the hard-to-find items, I like to shop on One Kings Lane and eBay,” recommends D’Argenzio. “Craigslist is a great source for high-end furniture—people in NYC are always moving, so it's possible to find items at a killer price. Also, I never underestimate a good street find!”

A Small Space Makeover in Downtown Manhattan
A selection of found art and curios set against an old map creates a focal point on a bookcase.
A Small Space Makeover in Downtown Manhattan
A Small Space Makeover in Downtown Manhattan
The hallway is lined with an eclectic mix of flea-market finds from sources as varied as Craigslist and the Brimfield Antiques Show in Massachusetts.

D'Argenzio stresses the importance of finessing the details in such a small space and advocates getting creative to save money. He made smaller fixtures throughout the space, including the pot rack (concocted from brass electrical piping) above the stove and the hanging pendant lamp above the bar. The space comes together in three different shades of white "to prevent it from getting too busy," D'Argenzio says. "I brought in color with decorative accessories and art—gilded frames, interesting plants with terra-cotta pots, and copper and brass hardware. I always like to bring in blue accents for a slightly nautical vibe." Cozy and collected, this is one apartment that's truly a reflection of it's owner's artfully honed eye.

A Small Space Makeover in Downtown Manhattan

Anthony D'Argenzio shares what he learned from his labor of love

1. Tackle the Hardest Part First
D'Argenzio said the decision to bleach his raw oak floors was one of the hardest to make, but notes that they've already started to wear beautifully. After bleaching, he pickled the wood with an oil-free white wood stain. "I found that applying [the stain] by hand with a rag was the best. Once dry, I applied two coats of an oil free, commercial-grade polyurethane."

2. Love Where You Live
D'Argenzio, who has lived in the East Village for more than five years, says he feels a deepening commitment to the area. "I'm hoping to get a plot at one of the nearby historic and preserved neighborhood gardens," he says. A few of his favorite neighborhood hangouts?"Ninth Street Espresso, Edi & the Wolf, and Barnyard."

3. Embrace the Art of Reuse
"For inspiration, I like to go to ABC Home. Unfortunately I did not have an ABC Home budget for this project, so I got creative and sourced mostly vintage and reclaimed items."

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