Hospitals aren’t notoriously cozy architectural canvases—but with a strong point of view and some clever design strokes, they can make for a singular family home. Just ask designer Sara Oswalt, who created one such residence for a Brooklyn couple and their young children within a historic hospital turned luxury condominium building.
Roomy and sundrenched, the condo’s charms were many, but soaring ceilings coupled with a blank canvas left the space lacking in intimacy. While embracing the airy, open-plan footprint, Oswalt focused on bringing scale and warmth to the bones in an aesthetic she describes as “French Deco meets Japan.” That meant incorporating subtle yet tactile textures, earthy hues, rich woods and patinated objects (all inherent to Japanese design), alongside a mix of shapely furnishings that nod to Art Deco without reading too verbatim.
The inspiration came about serendipitously, inspired by a pair of vintage side tables—now flanking the living room sofa—which the designer found on a buying trip to Los Angeles and quickly established as her muse. “I liked how there were these geometric details that had a Deco feel, but they weren’t over-the-top,” Oswalt says. “There’s a simplicity to them that’s so pretty.” Those darker-stained tables are one of several wood pieces in the combined living-dining-kitchen area, which Oswalt thoughtfully mixed and mingled with one another to create an air of age and character. “I didn’t want everything to be light oak, which can look so new,” she says. Instead, a spectrum of wood finishes—along with shades of tobacco, mustard, taupe, khaki, rust, peach and terracotta across accents and upholstery—compose the home’s palette, creating a calm yet invigorating ambience.
Oswalt’s Deco-meets-Japan influence further manifests in the minimalist geometry and organic hand of her foyer and hallway wallpaper choices, and in the svelte curves of the living room’s seating selections. Of course, rounded edges were also a practical concern, given the young tots in residence—and join a medley of slyly kid-friendly decisions. For instance, the breakfast nook in the corner of the kitchen, designed as a casual alternative to the dining table, appears anything but childlike, but upon closer inspection, the channeled-back banquette reveals itself as artificial leather, the minimalist table as linoleum and the smooth, baby-blue chairs as plastic. In other words, everything is nearly indestructible.
Barring the requisite crib and toys, even the childrens’ bedroom reads similarly sophisticated. “We knew we were having girls, but we didn’t want an overly ‘girly’ aesthetic,” the wife explains. In response, Oswalt sourced curtains in a deep, colorful stripe that add a sense of fun while still blending with the apartment’s erudite palette. Overhead, a sculptural pendant light serves triple duty, resembling a baby’s mobile while also bringing a more intimate sense of scale to the high ceiling.
To create similar intimacy in the main bedroom, Oswalt used an earthy tan paint on the ceiling, extending it partway down the walls to bring out the warmth of the room’s various woods. And elsewhere in the apartment, she used artwork and objects to counter any vastness—both in large moments (the living room’s prolific custom-commissioned painting by artist William McLure, which organizes the seating area) and small ones (the extra-deep windowsills throughout the residence, which Oswalt turned into built-in display shelves for bowls, pots, vases and books found in antique shops in Brooklyn and the Hudson Valley).
Those artful mini-galleries of special objects are one of the strongest nods to Japan’s wabi-sabi aesthetic, but as with Oswalt’s touches of Deco glamour, the influence is far from overt—and therein lies the success. “I love these threads because you can find them everywhere,” says the designer. “But, at the same time, they’re very subtle.”