A Perfectly Patterned Brooklyn Heights Home for the Ages
Designers David Nastasi and Kate Vail create an eclectic family home that is equal parts old New York and contemporary chic.
History permeates the streets in Brooklyn Heights, a picturesque brownstone-lined neighborhood across the East River from New York City proper. Blink and you’d miss the place where Walt Whitman first published Leaves of Grass, or the spot where George Washington escaped the British during the Battle of Long Island. On one leafy lane, a 19th-century brick mansion has stood watch as time marches on, housing first a Civil War general and then a women’s club and Suffragette chapter before a developer pounced on the property in the 1980s, robbing it of its charm and rendering it a collection of characterless white boxes.
“There was nothing architectural that attracted us,” says Alex Wight, who, with her husband, Oliver, purchased one of five condominium apartments in the building two years ago to accommodate their expanding family. “It was more that it had these pockets, and everywhere you looked you saw an opportunity to create cool spaces.” To transform the quirky triplex into a family home with warmth and personality, the Wights enlisted Brooklyn-based designers David Nastasi and Kate Vail, who they had trusted to revamp their previous home, an apartment nearby in Cobble Hill. The pair quickly set to work resuscitating the property with an eye to both the building’s history and present-day use. “We wanted to bring back a lot of the period-appropriate details without making it feel old,” says Nastasi. “It was more about creating an interpretation of what might have been there.”
The duo began with the basics, adding separating walls and salvaged pocket doors to create distinct rooms in the open-plan home, then upping the ante with crown molding, picture railing, and improved baseboards throughout. In the kitchen, internal windows were incorporated to help define the space while maintaining a sense of flow with the adjacent dining room, where a restored turn-of-the-century mantel now imparts an element of timeworn grandeur. Everywhere, Nastasi and Vail combined cosmetic changes with a focus on functionality. In the living room, new wooden paneling in the Gothic Revival style lends architectural interest above the fireplace while providing one key function: it keeps the television out of sight. Similarly, discreet built-in filing cabinets disguised as seating add storage in Alex’s turreted workstation off the adjoining living room. “We didn’t want the space to feel uncomfortable,” says Vail. “Or stuffy,” adds Nastasi. “It needed to bridge the gap between the formality of the architecture and casual living,” says Vail.
Perhaps the greatest evidence of that blended sensibility lies in Wight’s choice of elegant yet playful animal-themed accents throughout the home. With its subtle gold-infused color palette, a cheeky wallpaper emblazoned with monkeys behaving badly adds whimsy in the nursery that’s shared between her two young sons. A whitewashed second-floor bathroom gets a subtle hit of color thanks to floor tiles that feature the shapely silhouettes of an army of octopi. And in the dining room, a pale-blue iteration of Clarence House’s tiger-themed Tibet wallpaper adds a light-hearted element to an otherwise traditional layout. “I like that there’s a very adult feel to it all, but it’s still fun,” Wight says. “The house doesn’t take itself too seriously.”
The same can be said of the unexpected high gloss–black kitchen, which Wight insisted on. “I saw it in a magazine years ago, and it was one of those images I just couldn’t get out of my mind,” says Wight, who loves to entertain and has even made a living of it as the founder of Flanagan’s Table, a series of communal dinner parties that feature local produce and James Beard Award–winning chefs, held in her mother’s restored barn in Maine, where Wight grew up. For her home kitchen, Nastasi and Vail combined dark cabinetry with chevron-patterned cork flooring, a gilded birdcage chandelier, and mirrored backsplash tiling by Ann Sacks for an elevated look that’s at once old New York and contemporary chic. “She’s very adventurous,” says Nastasi of his client. “She loves pattern, she loves color—and so do we.”
Like the kitchen, the rest of the Wight home is a testament to an eclectic mix of styles and tastes—one that gives the illusion of layers of evolution over the lifetime of the historic building. “Oliver and I are indebted to them for being phenomenal listeners and visionaries and creating exactly the space that we wanted,” Wight says of Nastasi and Vail’s transformation of the plain white box she moved into. “It’s nice to be at a point where we’re really living in it and enjoying it the way we’re supposed to.”