Almost Every Corner of This Chef’s NYC Apartment Is a Cabinet—Even Behind the Elevator Shaft
She’s changed almost nothing in 20-plus years.
Published Jul 13, 2023 1:17 AM
We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs.
Chef Nasim Alikhani’s New York City apartment has served many roles—as a retreat for raising her twins (they’re now 28 years old), as an event space for cooking massive Persian New Year feasts, and, now, as “a place just to sleep, because I’m always at my restaurant.”
Alikhani, the chef-owner at the preternaturally cool Iranian restaurant Sofreh in Brooklyn, bought the apartment in Manhattan’s NoHo neighborhood with her husband in 1995 after years of searching for a place that was more kid-friendly than their East Village loft. “I was still dead set on living below 14th Street,” says Alikhani. “But after kids, we thought something with walls would be nice.”
The family lived in the space for a couple of years, fixing a few things and painting some walls, but by the time their twins were 4 years old, “I knew we needed to renovate the kitchen,” says Alikhani, who was an avid home cook years before her pro-chef era. That simple kitchen reno became a full-on home makeover in partnership with architect Azin Valy of I-Beam Design—and the home remains largely the same today, 21 years later.
The fact that her early-aughts renovation still reads fresh and timeless is a testament to her defined, trend-agnostic vision. Alikhani spent hours poring over design magazines, figuring out what she liked and why. “I learned that I was drawn to calmness, to light, to clarity, and to minimalism, and that guided every single decision I made,” she says. Skip this design inspiration step and you’ll be sold on what’s fashionable instead of what will last, she cautions.
Pre-reno, the kitchen was a typical Formica white kitchen. “It didn’t have any soul or character,” says Alikhani. And worst of all for a voracious home cook and future restaurant chef, there wasn’t much storage for food or equipment. Now nearly every corner of the apartment is a cabinet, says Alikhani: “We turned anything you could think of into functioning cabinets—there are even cabinets behind the elevator shaft.”
In the kitchen, Alikhani ditched the Formica white in favor of glass cabinets. “I wanted the plates to show through, to have movement and life,” she says. But there was a practical concern, too: “I also wanted it to be opaque glass, because otherwise we’d have kid fingerprints everywhere.” The kitchen counter and island are stainless steel, a pro chef move thanks to the material’s durability and ease of upkeep. An inset utensil holder and a pantry that “can hold a grocery store’s worth of ingredients” are two other chef touches in the space.
The central staircase rising above the kitchen is a feat of both engineering and art: A collaboration between Alikhani, her architect, and her husband, who studied chemical engineering. What begins as stainless steel treads and risers carved out of the side of the kitchen cabinet extends into a glass staircase that is lit from above “like a sculpture,” says Alikhani.
The feeling of lightness that Alikhani wanted to capture extends into the primary bedroom, which has bare windows and no walls. “My dream is to live in a full glass house,” she says. Though friends joke that they’ll never be able to sell the apartment due to the open sinks perched above the primary bed, Alikhani raves about the setup. “I want to wash my face in fresh air and in natural light,” she says. “I love it so much.”
The kids’ bathroom takes an opposite track to the austere approach in her own bedroom. “When we got around to planning the kids’ bathroom, I told my architect, ‘It’s time to have some fun,’” she says. “We had a boy and a girl, and I wanted to play with the traditional idea of pink and blue, so we did orange and turquoise.” Another challenge? “I decided I didn’t want to use tile—I wanted to use a material no one else used.” Enter the colorful acrylic panels on the vanity and above the sink, which serve a practical purpose, too: Soft bulbs underneath the vanity glow through the acrylic, so the whole piece doubles as a nightlight.
Other elements of the renovation, like the outdoor space, were difficult but necessary. When Alikhani first moved in, the garden was a paradise of fruit trees and lush vegetation, unlike anything else you’d find in Manhattan. “It was a dream garden,” says Alikhani, “but it was someone else’s dream.” For their family, the watering, upkeep, winterizing, and planting required were too much. So instead, an ipe hardwood deck was architecturally constructed to age beautifully. “Now we spend one or two days per year gardening out there, and the rest of the time we just enjoy it,” she says.
One thing that has changed over the years? Her living room furniture. “This room used to have a bright purple Italian sofa that was so uncomfortable you couldn’t sit on it for more than 10 minutes,” says Alikhani. “I must have been a very different person back then.” She replaced it with a white lounge-worthy sectional and had a custom slipcover made during the peak kid years. “This sofa has lasted me 15 years,” she says.
“Good design makes sense for a long, long time,” says Alikhani. Her advice for renovators looking for lasting style: “Do not renovate just for the heck of it, but think deeply about the personal places, homes, restaurants, and vacation spots you love instead of going with the trends. Start with your family and your loved ones and go from there. You’ll never tire of that.”