After nearly a decade in their Brooklyn home, Anne Keenan and Alexis Seeley decided it was time to hire a decorator. Keenan, a strategist for nonprofit organizations, and Seeley, an administrator at New York University’s engineering school, wanted to maximize the space for family life with their 5-year-old son, Leon.
Back in 2009, when the couple had bought the 3,000-square-foot townhouse, it needed a gut renovation, so they hired their friend architect Fred Tang to rehab the 1899 property, which included replacing the mechanicals, rebuilding an original bay window, and repairing whatever plasterwork was salvageable. “We spent a lot of money on things that were in the walls. We would show off our very nice, cleanly designed electrical panel in the basement,” says Seeley with a laugh.
With their budget spent on the infrastructure and architecture, Keenan and Seeley initially tackled the interiors themselves. However, after becoming parents and living with some awkward setups as a family of three, the couple was ready for professional help. “We liked all our individual pieces, but they didn’t come together,” explains Keenan of the main-floor living area, where the sofa, TV, and dining table coexist. “We were always moving stuff around; it never felt quite right.” They called Tang to see if he could recommend a designer. Serendipitously, he had just hired Barbara Reyes to become the director of interior design for his firm. “We were excited to work with Fred and his team again because [they] already knew the space,” says Keenan.
Keenan and Seeley quickly hit it off with Reyes, but just as the project was getting started, the pandemic hit, halting the usual workflow of the project and leading to some unconventional collaboration. Samples were exchanged via masked stoop drop-offs and meetings were conducted via Zoom. When Reyes suggested they might move the dining table out of the bay window nook and into the center of the main floor, with a banquette as seating, Seeley went ahead and reshuffled the furniture, pulling a bench from another room to try it out (something she says would likely never have happened in their busy before-times life). As soon as they mocked up the floor plan IRL, they saw how the space’s flow improved and felt confident to commission the custom built-in, which is used for everyday meals and entertaining, including the couple’s annual Friendsgiving (pandemic aside).
In addition to tweaking the layout, refreshing existing furniture, and sourcing new and secondhand pieces, Reyes found ways to ensure the house could hold up to the rigors of family life with a kindergartner and two dogs in the mix. “I never want to be the person who is freaking out because something spilled,” says Seeley. “We wanted to be able to have friends over and kids [to] have fun—with no worries.” Reyes leaned on performance fabrics for fixed upholstery (like the teal, wipe-able material from Maharam on the dining bench’s floating backrest). And when some glass-topped side tables broke, she replaced the tops with durable plexi (in mirrored pink, naturally).
Reyes was also tasked with bridging the divide between the two women’s aesthetic points of view. Seeley has a penchant for neon colors and Pop Art design (think: an oversize ice cream cutout and squiggly cobalt side tables), while Keenan craves a more traditional, quiet elegance (such as a curved velvet sofa and a vintage Paul McCobb dining table), but both appreciate a sense of playfulness. As they worked together, Reyes and Tang found the couple game for experimentation. “They were open to unique color pairings,” she says. “When we present options, we offer a neutral that works within the palette, but there’s always an outlier,” and Keenan and Seeley often opted for the unexpected choice. In the dining room, for example, they went for Verner Panton brass chairs reupholstered in fuchsia fabric, which Reyes says lent the space “an interesting brightness that reflects their personalities: They have all this fun energy.”
A blue and pink palette repeats throughout the house in varying shades and saturations (blush pink walls downstairs and deep raspberry millwork upstairs; pale blue velvet on the sofa and cerulean wallpaper in the main bedroom). So to ground it, Reyes added moments of contrast. “Rich colors like the bold blue in Leon’s room and black dining table were instrumental in the design. It is like adding an acid to tone down the sweetness,” she says.
When she found a collection of miniature foods tucked away in Keenan’s office and learned Keenan had been collecting them since she was a teenager, Reyes suggested putting the quirky curios (Japanese surprise box toys) front and center in the living room. Reyes and Tang also took Leon’s request for a “rainbow” bedroom and found a Flat Vernacular wall mural featuring a gradient of lime, hot pink, lemon yellow, and sky blue that has years of longevity (ditto the timeless Vitsoe shelving).
Likewise, Keenan and Seeley—acutely conscious of both sustainability and budget—asked Reyes to use as many of the existing furnishings as she could. “I didn’t want to throw away comfortable chairs that still felt like they were part of our aesthetic,” says Keenan. “Reupholstering costs a lot of money—often you can get a new chair that’s cheaper—but it was very important to us not to be wasteful.” In the couple’s bedroom, they debated ripping out the old cabinetry, but instead landed on covering the unit in a raspberry hue (Benjamin Moore’s Dark Burgundy) that gave the interior a modern look, especially when paired with the gold-flecked wallpaper and brass reading lights.
In addition to discovering their inner color muses and a whole host of reality-driven, personality-packed design solutions, the couple now show off their custom banquette as much as that slick electrical panel. “What we really love about the house is that it is welcoming and flexible—not too precious,” says Keenan. “The kids can play with Legos in the back and we can have dinner at the table. I appreciate the way Barbara and Fred did that: It really works for our family.”
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