written by:
photos by:
August 18, 2014
Originally published in Small Space Big Design
as
Let There Be Light
A husband-and-wife architect team transforms a 607-square-foot Manhattan apartment into an open and bright home for two graphic designers.
Bright modern living room renovation with red Eames chair and graphic prints

Graphic designers Ned Drew and Brenda McManus have made their renovated Manhattan apartment a showcase for their collectibles, including a vintage Eames leg splint and a “Wilhelm Tell” poster by Armin Hofmann. 

Photo by 
1 / 12
Before photo of living room wall pre-demolition

Architects Richard Garber and Nicole Robertson demolished a wall, creating an open area for eating and entertaining. 

Photo by 
2 / 12
Dining room with Jean Prouvé chairs and Lenin prints

The Vladimir Lenin prints were a gift from Drew’s father, also a graphic designer, and reflect their shared love of “graphically powerful types of printed ephemera,” Drew says. Standard chairs by Jean Prouvé for Vitra are tucked under the dining table.

Photo by 
3 / 12
Bright living area with Eames storage unit and graphic prints

An Eames Storage Unit helps to define distinct living and dining spaces. A Melo sofa from BoConcept faces a chest of drawers that Drew found at a Manhattan flea market.

Photo by 
4 / 12
Metal kitchen cabinets with translucent Panelite backsplash

Garber and Robertson replaced walls and doors with translucent Panelite, which draws sunlight deep into the apartment.

Photo by 
5 / 12
Panelite divides bathroom cabinet and kitchen backsplash

One section of Panelite serves as both the kitchen backsplash and the back of the bathroom cabinet.

Photo by 
6 / 12
Renovated hallway with bamboo-plywood storage compartments

The architects designed the bamboo-plywood storage compartments above the hallway, bathroom, and bedroom closet.

Photo by 
7 / 12
Renovated bedroom with vintage subway sign and book jackets on the wall

Book jackets by Alvin Lustig and a vintage subway sign hang over a custom bed by Jeff Jenkins Design + Development.

Photo by 
8 / 12
Hallway with exposed steel i-beam and graphic art

A steel I-beam was exposed during the renovation, and McManus and Drew opted to leave it that way, as it complemented the radiators and pipes that remain in their raw state elsewhere in the apartment. The general contractor, Eze Bongo, constructed the bamboo plywood desk.

Photo by 
9 / 12
Hallway with bathroom encased in Panelite that illuminates at night

Encased in Panelite, the bathroom creates a lantern effect when illuminated from within. “At night it’s nice because you can put on the shower light, close that door, and it’s like a floating box in the apartment,” McManus says. “It just glows.”

Photo by 
10 / 12
Dark hallway before shot

A view of the hallway before renovation.

Photo by 
11 / 12
New York City renovation floor plan

Drew/McManus Residence Floor Plan

A Bedroom

B Bathroom

C Kitchen

D Living-Dining Area

Photo by 
12 / 12
Bright modern living room renovation with red Eames chair and graphic prints

Graphic designers Ned Drew and Brenda McManus have made their renovated Manhattan apartment a showcase for their collectibles, including a vintage Eames leg splint and a “Wilhelm Tell” poster by Armin Hofmann. 

Project 
Drew/McManus Residence
Architect 

Brenda McManus and Ned Drew still vividly recall the revulsion that washed over them when they first saw their tiny apartment in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of upper Manhattan. Navigating a dark, sloping hallway carpeted with artificial turf, they peered into a pair of small rooms whose walls—painted in gradations of garish blue and orange—resembled pages from an old Benjamin Moore catalog. The kitchen was in an equally sorry state, and the bathroom—outfitted with dingy pink tiles and a moldy shower curtain—arguably was in even worse shape.

“It felt old, dirty, musty, cramped, dark—just really horrifying,” Drew says of the 607-square-foot apartment. McManus was similarly appalled. “We literally walked through, turned around, walked back out, and I was just, like, ‘No,’” she says. “There wasn’t a second of a thought of, ‘Oh, we could do something with this.’ It was just ‘No.’”

Dining room with Jean Prouvé chairs and Lenin prints

The Vladimir Lenin prints were a gift from Drew’s father, also a graphic designer, and reflect their shared love of “graphically powerful types of printed ephemera,” Drew says. Standard chairs by Jean Prouvé for Vitra are tucked under the dining table.

But “no” turned to “maybe” and, finally, “yes” with a speed that stunned the couple, who teach graphic design—McManus at Pratt Institute, Drew at Rutgers University-Newark—and run their own firm, BRED. “Our broker had an architectural degree, so she was able to talk us through the bones of the place and its potential,” McManus says. “We were a little skeptical, but I think the thought that it could be exactly what we want on our own terms was kind of exciting.”

A mutual friend put Drew in touch with Richard Garber, who runs the Manhattan firm GRO Architects with his wife, Nicole Robertson. The architects knew they could do something transformative with the space as soon as they saw that it was arranged around the shaft of the building’s deeply recessed entrance courtyard, and that four of its six windows faced south. “There’s a window for every 100 square feet,” Garber says, “so just doing the math, we could actually get a fair amount of light into the space.”

Bright living area with Eames storage unit and graphic prints

An Eames Storage Unit helps to define distinct living and dining spaces. A Melo sofa from BoConcept faces a chest of drawers that Drew found at a Manhattan flea market.

Pulling that off meant gutting the interior and demolishing all but two of the interior walls—one separating the bedroom and bathroom, and a structural wall between the kitchen and dining area that was stripped to expose the original brick. The living-dining space was left open, but in other areas Garber and Robertson replaced walls with fixed and sliding Panelite panels. Composed of fiberglass sheets bonded to an aluminum honeycomb core, the panels preserve privacy while diffusing natural light so it reaches nearly every corner of the apartment.

The architects carved out storage—a fundamental concern of every small-space dweller—by suspending custom bamboo-plywood compartments from the ten-foot ceilings above the hallway, bathroom, and bedroom closet. Sturdy and inexpensive, the material complements the bamboo flooring, and both work to brighten the space.

Renovated bedroom with vintage subway sign and book jackets on the wall

Book jackets by Alvin Lustig and a vintage subway sign hang over a custom bed by Jeff Jenkins Design + Development.

The renovation took about six months and cost $195 per square foot. Drew and McManus moved into the apartment in the summer of 2007, turning it into a showcase for the midcentury furniture and oddball antiques—including a pair of Otl Aicher’s posters from the 1972 Summer Olympic Games in Munich and a vintage New York City subway sign—that they have collected over the years. Despite the addition of a third resident—the couple’s son, Drew (who will grow up with his mother’s last name)—in 2013, the couple have no immediate plans to leave.

“One of the things we were really concerned about having a kid was, Can we do it here?” Drew says. “And you can. You give up certain things, but it’s totally doable if you understand what your perspectives are and what you want.” McManus—the more pragmatic of the two—can see a day when the family will outgrow its small dwelling. “At some point, will space be an issue? Probably,” she says. “And if that’s the case, I’d want to find another space and work with Nicole and Richard again. I’d like Version 2.0 of this.”

Hallway with exposed steel i-beam and graphic art

A steel I-beam was exposed during the renovation, and McManus and Drew opted to leave it that way, as it complemented the radiators and pipes that remain in their raw state elsewhere in the apartment. The general contractor, Eze Bongo, constructed the bamboo plywood desk.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

abc malacari marwick stair 01 0
A simple set of stairs is a remodel’s backbone.
June 28, 2016
Design Award of Excellence winner Mellon Square.
Docomomo US announces the winners of this year's Modernism in America Awards. Each project showcases exemplary modern restoration techniques, practices, and ideas.
June 27, 2016
monogram dwell sf 039 1
After last year’s collaboration, we were excited to team up with Monogram again for the 2016 Monogram Modern Home Tour.
June 27, 2016
switch over chicago smart renovation penthouse deck smar green ball lamps quinze milan lounge furniture garapa hardwood
A strategic rewire enhances a spec house’s gut renovation.
June 26, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent coralie gourguechon treviso italy cphotos by coralie gourguechon co produced by isdat planche anatomique de haut parleur1
Coralie Gourguechon's paper objects will make you see technology in a whole new way.
June 26, 2016
green machine smart home aspen colorado facade yard bocci deck patio savant
Smart technology helps a house in Aspen, Colorado, stay on its sustainable course.
June 25, 2016
Compact Aglol 11 television plastic brionvega.
The aesthetic appeal of personal electronics has long fueled consumer interest. A new industrial design book celebrates devices that broke the mold.
June 25, 2016
modern backyard deck ipe wood
An angled deck transforms a backyard in Menlo Park, California, into a welcoming gathering spot.
June 24, 2016
dscf5485 1
Today, we kicked off this year’s annual Dwell on Design at the LA Convention Center, which will continue through Sunday, June 26th. Though we’ve been hosting this extensive event for years, this time around is particularly special.
June 24, 2016
under the radar renovation napa
Two designers restore a low-slung midcentury gem in Napa, California, by an unsung Bay Area modernist.
June 24, 2016
Exterior of Huneeus/Sugar Bowl Home.
San Francisco–based designer Maca Huneeus created her family’s weekend retreat near Lake Tahoe with a relaxed, sophisticated sensibility.
June 24, 2016
light and shadow bathroom walnut storage units corian counter vola faucet
A Toronto couple remodel their home with a special emphasis on a spacious kitchen and a material-rich bathroom.
June 24, 2016
Affordable home in Kansas City living room
In Kansas City, an architecture studio designs an adaptable house for a musician on a budget.
June 23, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment oak vertical slats office
By straightening angles, installing windows, and adding vertical accents, architect Aaron Ritenour brought light and order to an irregularly shaped apartment in the heart of Athens, Greece.
June 23, 2016
kitchen confidential tiles custom cabinetry oak veneer timber house
A modest kitchen addition to a couple’s cottage outside of Brisbane proves that one 376-square-foot room can revive an entire home.
June 23, 2016
feldman architecture 0
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 22, 2016
Blackened timber Dutch home
A modern dwelling replaces a fallen farmhouse.
June 22, 2016
hillcrest house interior kitchen 3
Seeking an escape from bustling city life, a Manhattan couple embarks on a renovation in the verdant Hudson Valley.
June 22, 2016
angular
Atelier Moderno renovated an old industrial building to create a luminous, modern home.
June 21, 2016
San Francisco floating home exterior
Anchored in a small San Francisco canal, this floating home takes its cues from a classic city habitat.
June 21, 2016
modern renovation addition solar powered scotland facade steel balcony
From the bones of a neglected farmstead in rural Scotland emerges a low-impact, solar-powered home that’s all about working with what was already there.
June 21, 2016
up in the air small space new zealand facade corrugated metal cladding
An architect with a taste for unconventional living spaces creates a small house at lofty heights with a starring view.
June 21, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent marjan van aubel london cwai ming ng current window
Marjan Van Aubel makes technology a little more natural.
June 21, 2016
urban pastoral brooklyn family home facade steel cypress double
Building on the site of a former one-car garage, an architect creates his family’s home in an evolving neighborhood of Brooklyn.
June 20, 2016
Modern Brooklyn backyard studio with plexiglass skylight, green roof, and cedar cladding facade
In a Brooklyn backyard, an off-duty architect builds a structure that tests his attention to the little things.
June 20, 2016
the outer limits paris prefab home living area vertigo lamp constance guisset gijs bakker strip tablemetal panels
In the suburbs of Paris, an architect with an eco-friendly practice doesn’t let tradition stand in the way of innovation.
June 20, 2016
amaroso40040
When a garage damaged by termites had to go, a studio emerges.
June 19, 2016
the blue lagoon iceland geothermal spa hotel water visitors
The famed geothermal spa outside Reykjavík, Iceland, is entering a major new phase—paving the way for the area’s first five-star hotel.
June 19, 2016
heaven on earth maya lin topography what is missing california academy sciences wood video
A new monograph by Rizzoli explores the memorial project by the renowned artist.
June 19, 2016
gable game austin texas cantilevered home facade windows upper level car port
For Dwell's annual issue dedicated to indoor/outdoor living. Here, we introduce you to the photographers and writers who made it happen.
June 18, 2016