What does it take for a home to feel like it belongs to you? This proved a complicated question for Mandy Lam and Michael Hanna, who never felt quite settled into their co-op tucked away in the tree-lined streets of Brooklyn Heights. It wasn’t for lack of potential: Beyond the building’s stately façade, the unit “had tremendous light flooding from the skylights,” notes Mandy. It also featured the ultimate amenity for New Yorkers: a rooftop terrace with uninterrupted city views.
After living with the space’s quirks for five years, a few key changes at first seemed sufficient: an opened-up kitchen, an additional bedroom to accommodate the family’s growing children and access to the roof from within the unit. “We started out renovations thinking we would do just that,” remembers Mandy. But the project blossomed when the couple connected with the architecture team of Ward Welch and Rachael Stollar (now of Studio SFW) and Alex Duncan, who joined forces with designer Lucy Harris, general contractor Wayne Walters and landscape architect Liz Pulver to flesh out its full potential.
Fundamentally, the home begged for greater continuity. Prior renovations and reconfigurations over the years had left behind spaces that felt disjointed— an awkward column at the entrance, a clunky kitchen. Since the original historic interior had been stripped away, “We felt like we had a clean slate,” explains Stollar. “We weren’t going for Americana row house detailing. We wanted more of a Parisian apartment feel with lots of volume and nothing too precious.”
Invigorated at the prospects, the Lam’s began to imagine spaces reconceived for family time spent enjoying Mandy’s luxurious home-cooked dinners, card games that last long into the night and sunny days outdoors. Using togetherness as their guidepost, the architects revamped the flow entirely, taking the interior down to the studs. New crown molding and casements restored historical heft, while the staircase became the home’s true artery, connecting to the roof. Meanwhile, a proper foyer cloaked in blue-green plaster and edged in brass creates “this punctuation moment,” notes Harris, before transitioning on to the airy living areas. “We always wanted the apartment to feel like a house, so the intent with the new floor plan was to create spaces that felt purposeful and gracious,” adds Welch.
Lending similar intent to the decorative piece, Harris avoided fussiness across her interiors scheme, preferring furnishings with “modern lines and softened edges.” This translated into a thoughtful mix of vintage and contemporary pieces, from the Harvey Probber coffee table in the living room to the rounded De La Espada dining table. “I prefer solid wood tables because if they get dinged up, they can be refinished,” she says. Further balancing style with practicality, she prioritized upholstery “that would age and patina in a beautiful way,” like supple leather and cozy mohair (the fabric of choice for seats in old opera houses).
But the most enticing “room” of all may be the rooftop terrace, reframed as a true outdoor extension thanks to Walters’ heroic reinforcing efforts. “We had to beef up the roof to support the extra weight of the planters, pavers and pergola,” he shares, adding that carving a hole for the new staircase in inclement weather was among his more unique challenges. Equipped with a comfy, U-shaped sectional and television, as well as discrete heaters and motorized louvres that block both rain and sunshine, that custom pergola has in many ways become the heart of the home.
Crafting a true garden escape, Pulver corralled the surrounding deck into a lush, naturalistic landscape with greenery floating along the city horizon. “I wanted it to be a place where they could completely unwind, where your ceiling is the sky,” she says. In tribute to Mandy’s years spent in California, she composed a nostalgic planting palette of yucca, agave and Mexican feather grass, while touches of rosemary, Russian sage and lavender infused fragrance into the air. “Even when it’s 10 degrees outside, we’re out there,” confesses Mandy.
For the couple, the home now feels resolved, deeply woven into the way they live. “The team really understood the balance we wanted to achieve—a warm, inviting, adult aesthetic, but also a place our children can enjoy,” says Mandy. “We’re just thrilled with how it came out.”