The familiar story usually starts with a family trading the hubbub of the city for the hush of the suburbs, but that was not the case for Robert Levine and Abe Dweck. The couple, who had lovingly restored an 1846 townhouse in Brooklyn Heights, realized that while it was a beautiful place to raise their twin daughters, vertical living didn’t quite offer the ease and flow they sought. When the girls outgrew their lower school, the writing was on the wall: It was time to move back to Manhattan.
“We looked around and found the same amount of space in a run-down loft in Tribeca,” says Robert, a real estate agent who has honed an instinct for a smart buy. “I was able to envision what it could be,” he notes, recalling the 19th-century brickwork, original arched passageways and decorative tin ceilings that first caught his eye.
“We wanted to be integrated and together,” adds Abe, a fashion executive. He worried that with their old multistory townhouse, the girls would “camp out upstairs” as they reached their teens and he’d never see them. With loft living, the family could enjoy a more centralized hangout space. Plus, integrated kitchen, dining and living zones meant that Robert, an avid chef, could be a bigger part of the parties they routinely host. “In the old house, we were limited to 12 for dinner,” Abe says. “Here we can seat up to 40.”
For help transforming the dated loft into a comfortable family home, the couple looked no further than their iPhones. “We actually found Studio DB on Instagram,” Abe says of the Manhattan firm. “We interviewed several candidates, but I kept going back to them thinking that their playfulness and use of color and pattern would push us to create a younger space.” The husband-and-wife team of Damian and Britt Zunino (an architect and designer, respectively) toured the home and explored its possibilities.
“There’s a beautiful rhythm to the arches, but it was definitely a design challenge,” Damian Zunino says of the dramatic brick wall that bisects the loft. “But it was fun to think about creating entertaining spaces that felt connected, and details like the sprinkler pipes gave us select moments to celebrate the history and integrity of the building.” Match made, the team quickly got to work designing a layout that offered an open kitchen with a hidden “back-of-house” pantry and breakfast nook, an interior den that would double as a guest room, sophisticated en suite bedrooms for the girls who previously shared a room, and a luxurious master suite with an adjoining home office for two. “It’s all very organized and very pretty,” says the architect. “There’s a space for everything: every pot, every pan, every coat.”
The plan of attack for furnishings was equally considered. “They wanted refined but not fussy,” says Britt Zunino, who incorporated a mix of custom and vintage pieces, many of which—like the circular coffee and side tables in the living room—were chosen to echo the curves of the loft’s signature arches. The designer also worked to incorporate existing items from the Brooklyn townhouse. After cataloging the couple’s collection, she selected choice pieces for the scheme to reinterpret in softer, cozier fabrics. Existing decorative layers were also given new life, such as the former living room rug, which was put to work in the hotel-inspired master bedroom.
While the designer considers the project “a great example of creating a home that reflects how the clients live,” it also happens to be a prime example of Studio DB’s own ethos. “We like that juxtaposition of old and new, of industrial and elegant. It’s all about balance,” Damian Zunino says. “Britt and I have different backgrounds and skill sets but it’s a very collaborative design process. We work on macro and micro scale from the beginning, so it’s a comprehensive approach right from the start.” And while they may not always agree, they do enjoy working in tandem. “We challenge each other,” Britt Zunino says. “But it’s a good kind of tension!”
Unsurprisingly, given the spirited design team and loving family that calls it home, an uplifting energy imbues the loft. “Life takes its twists and turns, but this portion of the story is a happy one for us,” notes Abe of the unexpected encore in Manhattan. “Brooklyn was beautiful, but this is us. It couldn’t have ended up better.”