March 6, 2015
Ellen Hamilton Decorates a Brooklyn Heights Home
Interior Designer Ellen Hamilton creates a year-round beach house in one of New York's most picturesque neighborhoods
by Nicole Haddad interior designer Hamilton Design Associates photographer Melanie Acevedo architecture Architecture Workshop 4B
THE LIFE AQUATIC
The history of a neighborhood and the architectural style of a house often tend to predicate the décor. In the case of this c. 1870 Federal Style house located in one of New York's most picturesque, tree-lined neighborhoods, though, things took a turn for the unexpected. When interior designer Ellen Hamilton began working again with this couple with three young children, it quickly became apparent that they wanted to transform their Brooklyn Heights home into a year-round beach house-seasons, history, styles, and conformity be damned.
"I cannot emphasize enough," says Hamilton, "that every detail in this house expresses a strong personal narrative, specifically the wife's." Having grown up between Coral Gables, FL, and Nova Scotia, CAN, she had strong ties to the sights, sounds, and allure of maritime living. The couple wanted their home to reflect this.
To help create the more atmospheric, unfurled feel of a house on the beach, architect Bobby Han added 450 square feet to the rear of the house, expanding the living areas and opening them up to the garden. Han also excavated a basement level that became a billiards room and connected the first-floor/garden-level family and play rooms to the garden, enlivening the space. The top two levels were kept for the private rooms.
On the parlor level (second floor in Brooklynese), Han eliminated a forced separation between the newly augmented kitchen and the freshly built 70-square-foot deck. To do so, the architect installed NanaWall, an innovative German engineering system that allows the whole rear façade of glass windows and doors between the kitchen and deck to part and fold-up outwards, effectively bringing the outside in.
"All the walls throughout the home are painted to reflect the depth of bodies of water," says Hamilton. On the parlor level, in a seamless flow from the living and dining rooms to the kitchen/breakfast area to the deck, the colors of the sea and sky abound in full force. "This couple works really hard and knows how to have fun. They entertain a lot, and at one of their parties, a guest commented that 'you walk into the living room and it's like the bottom of the sea, the dining room is closer to the light, and the kitchen is the deep blue sea,'" laughs the designer.
In each room, Hamilton paired luxurious pieces with personal family remnants. In the dining room, for example, a Jiun Ho credenza and a Parisian-themed painting made by the wife's grandmother keep company with dried leis from a Hawaiian vacation. In the study, a Knoll Saarinen table and chairs sit directly across from a painting of a couple on a ski lift that reminds the homeowners of their Aspen home. "I've always been fascinated by the singular vision of how she wants her home to feel, the references to beach and water, and the things that matter to her most. It's the life aquatic," says Hamilton.