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Thirty hopeful renters were squeezed into a 400-square-foot Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, apartment on a crisp autumn day last year. Many had congregated in the tiny bedroom, pulling out measuring tape and debating how to fit a queen-size bed and still access the closet. Designer Alex Boudreau beelined for the real-estate broker instead. “How can I get an application before anyone else?” she asked. “I need to have this apartment.”
In her 10 years in New York City, the interior designer had shared cramped quarters with roommates in Chinatown and made a home in a Red Hook loft, but she always dreamed of living in a brownstone. It also helped that the one-bedroom was located on a leafy street a stone’s throw from her office, Studio MRS, and “the paint color they had chosen was something very similar to what we use at work,” says Boudreau of her design studio’s top-secret signature hue. “It’s a shade of white, but it has green undertones, and when the light hits, it changes into all these different shades.”
It was the link in her email signature that landed Boudreau the place: The building owner loved that her website showed her appreciation for all things classic design and architecture—surely she would look after the Victorian mantel and hardwood floors with care. Within a week, she had moved in—and fully decorated.
Boudreau started by fixing a few pet peeves, switching out LED bulbs for incandescent ones, installing dimmers, and swapping out plastic switch plates for hardwood. “Oh, and I had to replace the toilet seat because I wanted a wood one,” she says. “You know, little design details that make a rental feel more custom.” Her extensive furniture collection, amassed over a decade, made the rest of the transition a breeze (though she did have to call the sofa doctor to split her custom corduroy three-seater in half, then sew it back together after it had made it up the 30-inch-wide staircase).
“I hadn’t experienced amazing sunlight like this before, so I originally didn’t want to put the sofa in front of the windows,” remembers Boudreau. But she had to make room for another important piece: a large marble slab salvaged from a client demo that her contractor stored for her for years until it took up residence against a wall in her previous loft. “I thought, I finally need to use this,” she says. She ordered a sturdy custom stainless steel base on wheels for $300 from a restaurant supply store to serve as the base. “I didn’t even need any sealer to get it to stay in place, because it’s so heavy,” she adds.
Originally, the surface was designed to serve as an extra prep and storage area to make up for the lack of room in her tiny kitchen, but since the beginning of the pandemic, it’s doubled as a remote workstation. “I love that it’s on wheels; I can move it around the apartment if I want to do yoga,” says Boudreau.
The designer styled the adjacent mantel with a painting found in an ex-boyfriend’s parents’ basement and a tiny pistachio green lamp, one in a pair she scored on eBay for $20. The other is tucked on the elaborate IKEA shelving system on the opposite wall, where Boudreau keeps everything from a teakettle, bowls, and vintage glassware (on the kitchen side) to books, baskets, and art (on the living room end).
“I hadn’t experienced amazing sunlight like this before, so I originally didn’t want to put the sofa in front of the windows.”
“I’ve bought the Ivar line for every apartment I’ve lived in,” she says. “I love that it is raw wood and has these straps at the back that keeps it balanced and safe. You can paint it whatever color you want because it’s unfinished.” The entire lower section is dedicated to Boudreau’s extensive shoe collection. At eye level, she wall-mounted a TV, which she likes to hide with a textile scrap. “I have this ridiculous collection of 1-yard fabric samples, so I just throw my favorite of the month over the TV and fold it back when I want to watch a show. I really enjoy being able to forget that it’s there.”
The first piece Boudreau ever purchased: a vintage dresser that serves as a nightstand and side table to her makeshift window seat in the tiny bedroom that puzzled so many potential renters. She paired it with a low-profile IKEA bed frame, which she styled with cushions from her sofa to form a headboard. “I sit in that little windowsill all the time and talk on the phone,” says the designer. From that vantage point, she can admire all her prized possessions that glow under the rays that sold her on the place the moment she first walked in.
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