This Photographer Approached Her NYC Brownstone Renovation Like a Photo Shoot
Her historic home feels nothing like a museum.
Published Aug 16, 2020 12:00 AM
When photographer Winnie Au and her husband, Florent Bariod, purchased their historic Crown Heights, Brooklyn, brownstone in 2015, they had a yearlong renovation ahead of them—but they capped off the project with an extra-special housewarming: Before they officially moved in, they hosted 60 friends and family members in the space for their wedding celebration.
It’s a lot to plan a major renovation and a wedding at the same time, but for Au, the stress of the former at least distracted her from the stress of the latter. “We were like, okay, let’s just figure this out and have a party,” she says. “There were a lot of details to consider—it was like producing a yearlong photo shoot you really care about.”
And as with any photo shoot, the setting is key. After first looking around Greenpoint and Williamsburg, where Au previously owned a condo, the couple landed on their current home thanks to a Goldilocks-ian combination of factors: The space had history, but not so much so that a renovation would be too intimidating (or costly), and it was nestled on a charming neighborhood block designed by architect I.M. Pei. “The whole area seemed really quiet and pretty and quintessentially New York,” says Au. “And the home itself had these beautiful bay windows, stunning fireplaces, and French shutters—all these different things that are a townhouse dream.”
Still, it was in need of a little bit of love, so the couple turned to Rebuild Workshop for help tackling all 4,000 square feet of it (divided into a triplex, where they live, on top of a one-bedroom apartment they rent out). They wanted to keep as much of the home’s original details as possible, while also making it more suitable for modern inhabitants. They got rid of the popcorn ceilings; took out tile flooring in the kitchen in favor of hardwood floors; replaced a small, illegal elevator with a pantry; installed new cabinets; and gave the bathrooms a full-on refresh. “When you’re renovating, you start out with an initial plan,” says Au. “And as you’re doing it, it balloons into, well, we should do this and we should add this and that.”
While the brownstone’s intricate crown molding and air vents, elaborate staircase banisters, and fireplace carvings drew Au to the space, a super-pale light blue (Benjamin Moore’s Alaskan Husky) on the kitchen cupboards and the living room wall opposite them helped make the triplex feel a bit more open, even if it did require a little trial and error. (Au originally picked a different color that ended up reading as plain white when painted on the cabinets, and she made the tough-but-worth-it decision to have them redone.) “It was frustrating, because for photo shoots I can always swap things easily in editing, but that wasn’t the case here,” she says. “If I wasn’t a perfectionist, I’d just let it go. But the color we landed on made me very happy.”
Au also looked for furniture that would evoke a feel-good vibe, gradually replacing almost all of the pieces from her previous condo. (Their modern aesthetic didn’t totally mesh with the new, more traditional home.) Her sister found the rainbow watercolor sofa by Lauren Walcott, part of the artist’s Anthropologie collection, and Au ordered a set of leather slingback chairs that she’d long been eyeing from Australian brand Barnaby Lane as a treat for herself after scoring a big photo gig. A few quilted wall hangings by Caroline Z. Hurley satisfied her craving for color and coziness all in one.
“In the past I’ve had apartments where I painted candy-colored walls,” says Au. “This house had a lot of color when we first looked at it—it had been painted in yellows and oranges. We wanted to neutralize it with paint and then bring the color back with furniture, rugs, and art.” The pink Anthropologie chairs in the dining room (a room styled with the help of Homepolish designer Marissa Bero) and the subtle gold paint on the space’s radiators (inspired by a home Au had photographed) add a fresh, modern feel that meshes with her laid-back vibe.
“The house has museum-like features, but I don’t want it to feel like a museum,” she says. “I want it to feel like a home where everyone is comfortable and nothing is so precious—not that I want anything broken, but if a friend’s baby comes over and they knock something over, it’s not a big deal.” For Au and Bariod’s wedding and beyond, the cozy home is a place where all their loved ones are welcome.
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