To put a contemporary twist on actor Adrian Grenier’s 160-year-old Brooklyn brownstone, designer Estelle Bailey-Babenzien had to get creative, using basic materials in new ways. By combing through sustainable West Elm finds, antiques sources, and local artwork, Bailey-Babenzien made the most of every inch of the home by ditching the expected and opting for some nuanced repurposing that paid off in the final result (and didn’t break the bank either). Read on for her thoughts on giving extras a second life.

Down to Brass Tacks (and Pipes)

Photography by Max Burkhalter

To get started, Bailey-Babenzien went to work on designing the central stairway that breaks up the kitchen and living room. Rather than use natural wood spindles and a banister to match—they would read too traditional for Grenier—she put in a call to the project’s contractor, Liam Murray, for a contemporary twist at a fraction of the cost.

“It was basically just solid wood steps and felt kind of heavy,” says the designer. Instead she went for a series of brass rods she found through a building supplier, enlisting Murray to get them as an alternative option. The rods were cut to size, and a navy-stained railing tops them off for a more streamlined look. “Compared to the quotes we were getting about the normal stairs, we saved around $20,000,” she says.

Molding Isn’t Just for Ceilings

Photography by Max Burkhalter

After fitting the perimeter with thick crown molding for the extra-high walls, there was enough left over for another loop. Bailey-Babenzien installed an extra-chunky chair rail around the space to give depth without jacking up the cost, then used the rest for the living space’s mirror and fireplace. “It made them look very old, but it was actually quite modern,” she says. Plus it put the features in line with the proportions of the original doors.

Get Plastered

Photography by Max Burkhalter

“I actually like wallpaper in small rooms,” notes Bailey-Babenzien. “It has the impact of enveloping you into a new type of sensory experience.” Rather than pay through the nose to have true Venetian plaster installed, she used a wallpaper that replicates the effect with a mottled gray gradient. With the ceiling painted a matching navy to blend the lines together, it’s hard to spot the difference. “When you are in there and realize it’s wallpaper, you instead think, Oh, wow, it’s really cool,” she says.

Go High and Low

Applying a budget where it can do the most good is important in any design project. For Bailey-Babenzien, a combination of luxury and affordable pieces, from lighting to surfaces, made the home feel less like a museum. In the kitchen a cost-effective, durable Caesarstone countertop freed up room in the budget for the perforated dome pendant lights from Allied Maker, which draw the eye upward and cast a speckled glow on everything below.

“I really love the mixing. Finding parts that balance each other out as complements is so important. It’s about knowing what you’ve got,” says Bailey-Babenzien. “You can have an IKEA kitchen, but with beautiful tiles. Swapping out some hardware and adding a special pendant light changes everything.”

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