As any seasoned urbanite will tell you, apartment hunting is all about location, location, location. So much so, you’ll sacrifice square footage for the right spot, like interior design–slash–fashion consultant Tim Labenda and his partner, psychologist Hannes Krause, did in 2019. Despite the fact that their circa-1930s, one-bedroom apartment in Berlin’s Neukölln neighborhood is only 900 square feet, they snatched it up. Why? Vintage shops, indie cafés, dive bars, and an intermix of vastly different cultures. “It’s the most energetic and artistic area of the city,” says Labenda affectionately.
Reinstating the home’s Art Deco charms came first: giving the walls a lick of rich creamy paint (Little Greene’s Hollyhock), updating the electricity, revealing the original crown molding, and refinishing the wood floors. Then came the decor. Instead of leaning into ’30s glitz here, too, Labenda and Krause went left and tracked down accents as eclectic as the streets just beyond their walls.
To make early weekday mornings a bit easier, the couple took the early-1900s kitchen down to the studs and refashioned it as a zen Japandi oasis through mid-century open shelving and minimalist storage that works the space’s every angle. Completing the look is a trio of sconces that, unlike harsh overhead lighting, casts an atmospheric glow, as well as laid-back wood countertops that proudly wear nicks and scratches. “Stone would have been too…ordinary,” says Labenda of the pivot, adding that it makes the cabinetry feel like furniture.
A snug hall lined with built-in shelving leads to the living room, where the original herringbone floors and arched windows stand in striking contrast to mod Italian accents, including a FLOS Snoopy lamp and plush sofa from B&B Italia aptly named Tufty-time.
Because the men don’t have a designated office or dining room, they divided the living area into distinct zones to make the footprint go further, a process Labenda says was intuitive. A small vintage desk is nestled into the room’s sunniest corner to make working from home a bit more bearable; the sectional is parked against the only wall wide enough to accommodate it; and, because its shape made it easy to walk around, the round dining table is plopped in the center of it all.
Wrapped in a verdant hue (Little Greene Tabernacle) that matches the original stained glass encased in one of its two doors, the bedroom emits major Parisian salon vibes thanks to a velvet quilt, cane headboard, botanical pillows, and a whimsical swath of Gucci wallpaper. “We love the airiness and ease of French style,” Labenda notes.
Holding the home together is artwork by gay icons old and new. A Steven Meisel tapestry depicting two men mid-kiss has pride of place above the sectional and several whimsical portraits by Luke Edward Hall, a wunderkind who’s reimagining the male gaze, dot the bedroom and hallway. Just like the rest of the new additions, their impact is very much felt. “It’s a wild mix,” Lebenda says proudly of the results.
Go-to vintage website: Pamono.
This textile is so me: Definitely the bedroom’s Moroccan rug. I love Italian homes, and many feature this style.
Most affordable object in my home that gets the most use: The $60 vintage desk.
My biggest splurge: The living room’s Flag Halyard chair.
My biggest save: The vintage String shelves. They were only $100!