Photography by Max Burkhalter

Published on April 18, 2021

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When designer Estelle Bailey-Babenzien tapped Francesca DeShae to help her decorate Adrian Grenier and his mom’s new Brooklyn brownstone, the founder of Williamsburg decor shop Dyphor knew finding modern pieces that fit the traditional home’s quirky layout would require a keen eye. With the help of her store’s extensive inventory of custom-made and vintage furniture from around the world, DeShae employed a number of design tricks that would keep the place feeling balanced without ignoring the building’s history. Here are a few of her tips for going modern in an old-school setting.

Natural Materials Can Soften Any Stonework

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For lots of old brownstones, ornate fireplaces are the pièce de résistance. But just because it looked great in 1860 doesn’t mean it screams “laid-back Brooklyn pad” today. DeShae toned down the baroque marble eye-catcher in Grenier’s house with natural materials and a neutral palette. From the West Elm sofa and velvet throw pillows to the mushroom floor lamp, the different hues make the place feel more organic and comfortable. “I tend to keep it very tonal,” says DeShae. “I play with light coming through the windows, and that lets the architecture of the home shine through.”

Use Designs as Old as the Building Itself

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To match the timeless charm of the house, DeShae looked for pieces with similarly age-old techniques that still resonate today. A time-tested element like a cane headboard pairs nicely with the elaborate fireplace in one of the bedrooms, while its black frame and big curves make the space feel more contemporary. It’s the same thinking that led her to bring a large striped Moroccan rug into the room with shades in line with the bed frame and wood-paneled windows.

Don’t Be Afraid of Modern Shapes 

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“Sometimes old furniture in an old home looks like it’s on top of each other,” says DeShae. As long as the colors work together, tying in unexpected geometric shapes and angles will help the place appear current without clashing with the original details. To shake up the living room, she introduced a cream bouclé seat from her own Dyphor collection, fittingly dubbed the Marshmallow chair. “The clean lines help keep everything extra fresh,” she says.

Bridge Awkward Rooms With a Rug

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On the parlor level, the living room fireplace’s placement called for two different sitting areas. Bringing in a graphic rug was just the thing to unite them. The handmade piece spans both areas and draws the eye from one room into the other, expanding the view and taking in everything from the organic pattern of the rug to the sculptural chandelier.

 

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