The renovation took place over Instagram DM. Designer Crystal Sinclair spent a year going back and forth on the app with her client Alex, who wanted to completely renovate the Brooklyn brownstone she and her family had owned for eight years—the catch being, they were renting it out while temporarily relocating to Tennessee to be with her dad, who had Alzheimer’s. Sinclair had only seen the place three times before beginning the remodel.
From a practical standpoint, a lot had to change: The family had left New York with an infant and was returning with a 4-year-old and a 6-month-old. “Our life had evolved, and we needed the house to evolve with us,” says Alex. Over the course of six months, Sinclair opened up the floor plan to make it airier, brought back a fireplace for some charm, and added a ton of storage—incorporating quite a few IKEA hacks along the way. There’s the floor-to-ceiling hallway unit covered in Semihandmade fronts, a series of Pax closets with Reform doors, and a line of Besta dressers in the den that Sinclair topped with leftover marble from the kitchen backsplash.
Inspired by family trips to Cape Town and Lake Como, the house is a real hybrid. The Italian villa vibes come through in the earthy hues and rustic wood beams, while Sinclair channeled the South African city through texture—woven baskets in the entry and a donso ngoni instrument hanging in the bedroom.
What’s (almost) more impressive, she struck that balance while making every corner kid-friendly. “Having a 2-year-old daughter myself, I understand wanting to balance your home to be acceptable for children to roam around and maybe even skateboard in while having it feel like an adult space,” she says. Her philosophy is all about making little tweaks: Keep the white Interior Define sofa, but have it upholstered in spillproof fabric; splash out on a statement rug, but pick a dark, spotty pattern so any mess is artfully concealed.
In the end, the year of long-distance planning paid off. “I could actually see us living here forever,” says Alex. Practical updates aside, that’s due in large part to the number of unique collectibles around the house—each grouping has a story and makes the surrounding area feel that much more personal.
“It started almost by accident,” says Alex. Well over 10 years ago she picked up a large bottle on sale at Pier 1 to use as a vase—and the obsession only grew from there. “Every time I would see a vendor peddling vintage glass vessels at a flea market, I would buy a couple. Before I knew it, I had a collection,” she continues. Sinclair picked up on this and turned it into the focal point of the living room, adding her own scores from Etsy, Chairish, and Brooklyn sidewalk markets to the mix. All in all, the shelves house about 125 bottles.
After Sinclair built out custom benching to hide the radiator in the entry, she had to figure out what to do with the blank wall—hanging traditional artwork just didn’t feel right. “I needed something more organic and collected, like the rest of the house,” she explains. Eventually, she landed on an assortment of African woven baskets, opting for different sizes and patterns to keep it interesting. They mostly came from small shops on Etsy and pay homage to one of the family’s all-time favorite trips.
Alex already had a couple mini mirrors and gilded frames, but no place to put them. “On a trip to Hudson, I found the center one that’s now above the sink, and came up with the idea of a collage,” says Sinclair. She hunted around for a few new ones, and chose a vanity light in lieu of a sconce to give it an art gallery feel. Hung in front of dark blue paint, they turn the little powder room into quite the jewel box.
The Cutting Boards
The den was another case where regular paintings didn’t fit the bill; Sinclair wanted works that felt rustic in keeping with the villa inspiration and turned to an impressive assembly of wood boards. It took some digging—apparently, these pieces are surprisingly hard to track down—but it makes for quite the fun twist on a classic gallery wall. “Between flea markets, yard sales, and online shopping, we curated a collection of which some brick-oven pizza restaurants might be envious,” jokes Alex. “Every time we sit on the couch after a long day with two young kids, we’re transported back in time to our trip to Lake Como.”
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