A Creative Home Makeover We Wish We’d Done Ourselves
Architect and lighting designer Fiyel Levent turns a weathered New York City row house into a cheerful family home
If there’s something Fiyel Levent can’t do well, we have yet to see it. The specialty product designer and all-around Renaissance woman—who holds degrees in architecture from the Cooper Union and literature from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland—is the creative force behind a collection of sculptural lighting inspired by Islamic and Japanese screens, a similarly themed line of laser-cut stationery and custom artwork, a budding interior design firm, and more. Naturally, her home in Queens, New York, is an effortless reflection of her manifold interests.
It helps that her husband, a fellow architect and fabricator whom she met at the Cooper Union, shares her passion for do-it-yourself design. When the couple decided to leave their Brooklyn residence in search of something they could buy and grow into, it was an equal mix of luck and planning that brought them to an early 1900s row house in the Ridgewood section of Queens. “We wanted something that we could renovate ourselves,” says Levent, who was drawn to the structure’s unique brick exterior, original pocket doors, and fully in-tact dumbwaiter. Still, much of the building required an overhaul, and Levent was only too happy to jump right in.
But before they could get started, the couple had one minor setback: a massive rainstorm flooded the basement on the day they had planned to move in, causing them to spend the first few hours in their new place bailing the water out with buckets. “We never regretted our decision to buy [the house], but it was just kind of funny,” remembers Levent. Little by little, they set to work refreshing the space: removing vinyl floor panels to reveal a layer of pine that was later sanded and whitewashed; refinishing walls and painting trim a cool shade of gray; and building custom oak bookcases in the bedroom. They also remodeled the kitchen, incorporating a herringbone marble-mosaic backsplash and a butcher-block countertop on clean white cabinetry. “We learned a lot about ourselves during the process,” says Levent. “We were both very accommodating toward each other: If I had an idea he wasn’t keen on, I was ok with letting go, and vice versa. There was always a dialogue.”
With the major elements in place, Levent began adding contemporary design pieces that blend her eclectic style with the house’s traditional features. “Our house is nice and hodgepodgey,” says Levent. In the bedroom, those oak bookcases are punctuated with a pair of striking red velvet chairs, which once figured prominently in her grandparents’ family home in Finland. A bold stroke of rouge appears again in the dining room, where Shaker-style chairs from Design Within Reach surround a vintage Saarinen tulip table.
In addition to shibori fabrics and flea-market finds, Levent’s pieces steal the show in every corner, from the lattice-style artwork on the walls in the living room to the intricately cut Hikari lanterns that hang throughout the space. “I started doing them as a hobby, and they just took off,” says Levent, who was inspired while studying the work of American sculptor Ruth Asawa and Japanese and Islamic screens for her thesis. “It’s not something that I thought I’d be doing right now, but I love the challenge of it. It’s led me to so many different experiences.” It's also led to a home that feels uniquely personal and entirely lived in—and she wouldn't have it any other way. “This house has become more about all the memories that we've accumulated: the work that we've done together, the adventures and trips we've taken, all these stories that intertwine us.”