A Fashionable Couple Remake Their Brooklyn Brownstone with a Sartorial Twist

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By Dwell and Tiffany Jow / Published by Dwell
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An enterprising couple turn their talents toward their Brooklyn residence, where period details meet a sartorial sensibility.

Call it good luck or a fluke—fate has a funny way of working. For Jeff Madalena and Jason Gnewikow, serendipity struck at Nowhere Bar, Manhattan’s East Village hang where they met in the early aughts. At the time, both were New York transplants starting small businesses. Jeff, cofounder of rocker-chic clothing brand Oak, had just opened shop in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. Jason, a former musician and graphic designer, was launching a creative agency called Athletics just a few blocks away. The two started dating and soon realized they shared a penchant for ambitious undertakings. "We’re serial project people," Jason confesses. Since then, the couple have grown their individual ventures while starting others together—including a gut renovation of their weekend retreat in the Catskills. It was only a matter of time before they tackled their home base in Brooklyn.


After restoring and renovating the interior of their four-story brownstone in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, Jeff Madalena and Jason Gnewikow—creative entrepreneurs and self-described interiors obsessives—outfitted the historic 1910 space with a minimal black-and-white palette, down to the stair railing and original moulding and wainscoting. Sparse, modern pieces—like a two-pronged sconce they designed for the parlor-floor landing and a Cy Twombly print in the adjacent family room—provide elegant counterpoints to the architecture.

After restoring and renovating the interior of their four-story brownstone in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, Jeff Madalena and Jason Gnewikow—creative entrepreneurs and self-described interiors obsessives—outfitted the historic 1910 space with a minimal black-and-white palette, down to the stair railing and original moulding and wainscoting. Sparse, modern pieces—like a two-pronged sconce they designed for the parlor-floor landing and a Cy Twombly print in the adjacent family room—provide elegant counterpoints to the architecture.

"We lead very cluttered lives, and we wanted a place where we could cook dinner, chill out, and carry out the day," Jason says. Jeff agrees: "We need a space to clear our heads," he says. "That’s important to us."

Their decision to buy in the borough’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood was an act of coming full circle. The two began renting there in 2007, after answering a Craigslist ad in which a photo of a window detail made them swoon. Jeff, who was among the first residents of Bushwick’s now-legendary (or infamous, depending on whom you ask) McKibbin Street Lofts, has longhad his finger on the pulse of Brooklyn’s emerging creative communities. They moved north to Greenpoint a few years later, after opening a bar there. When it closed, they "decided to hunker down and buy something," Jeff says, so they rang up the broker they’d worked with in Bed-Stuy. "She told us the neighbors two doors down were selling their house. Everything fell into place from there."


Jason lounges in one of two armchairs by midcentury designer Milo Baughman in the parlor-floor living room. The wood block coffee table is by Eric Slayton, a friend of the couple, and the modular Carmo sofa is from BoConcept. The Octahedron Side Table is by Eric Trine. A 1952 piece by French industrial designer Serge Mouille, the Three-Arm Floor Lamp—widely referred to as the "Praying Mantis," for its looming trio of arms—is a nod to the couple’s love of Parisian interiors; a branch-like chandelier by Los Angeles–based artist Gary ChapmanGary Chapman hangs overhead.

Jason lounges in one of two armchairs by midcentury designer Milo Baughman in the parlor-floor living room. The wood block coffee table is by Eric Slayton, a friend of the couple, and the modular Carmo sofa is from BoConcept. The Octahedron Side Table is by Eric Trine. A 1952 piece by French industrial designer Serge Mouille, the Three-Arm Floor Lamp—widely referred to as the "Praying Mantis," for its looming trio of arms—is a nod to the couple’s love of Parisian interiors; a branch-like chandelier by Los Angeles–based artist Gary ChapmanGary Chapman hangs overhead.

"The idea of having a very modern space in an old building spoke to us."
—Jeff Madalena, resident

A Prostoria Match sofa from Cite pairs with a vintage armchair and a Ryan McGinley print in the family room on the garden floor.

A Prostoria Match sofa from Cite pairs with a vintage armchair and a Ryan McGinley print in the family room on the garden floor.

Built around 1910, the brownstone provided the space they longed for and then some: separate apartments on the garden and parlor floors, two studios on the next level, and a floor-through one-bedroom at the top. The interiors, however, needed some work. Rooms were filled with abandoned possessions, and dated carpet and peel-and-stick vinyl tiles were everywhere. "When we ripped it all out, there were gorgeous floors underneath," Jeff says. "It was a super score."

The pair knew what they wanted: room for entertaining, storage space,and a big kitchen and bathroom. After four years of renovating their upstate home, they were keen to make faster, more focused decisions. "Once you do a renovation, it removes a lot of fear," Jason says. They designed everything themselves and hired architect Michael Almon to sign off on the drawings.


Antique Art Deco–style lamps flank a West Elm bed in the master bedroom, which accesses a private backyard garden. The smoke-colored Series 11 6 Drawer Console is from Blu Dot; the built-in shelving was custom-made by Wood Management.

Antique Art Deco–style lamps flank a West Elm bed in the master bedroom, which accesses a private backyard garden. The smoke-colored Series 11 6 Drawer Console is from Blu Dot; the built-in shelving was custom-made by Wood Management.

"We wanted something uncluttered and clean to unwind in."
—Jason Gnewikow, resident

Graphic, curvilinear shadows cast from an original window grate play with geometrically stark furnishings, including the vintage lamp and midcentury Danish credenza in the family room.

Graphic, curvilinear shadows cast from an original window grate play with geometrically stark furnishings, including the vintage lamp and midcentury Danish credenza in the family room.


Shaker-style Salt chairs by Tom Kelley join a custom-sized Etoile dining table and Tsuru Flush Mount III pendant, both by Materia Designs. The couple removed an ornamental fireplace mantel in the kitchen, one of few period details they decided not to keep, due to its size.

Shaker-style Salt chairs by Tom Kelley join a custom-sized Etoile dining table and Tsuru Flush Mount III pendant, both by Materia Designs. The couple removed an ornamental fireplace mantel in the kitchen, one of few period details they decided not to keep, due to its size.

The floor plan on each level is relatively untouched: a large rectangle with the original rooms, details, and pocket doors intact. They combined the garden and parlor floors by removing a wall near the front door, transforming them into the one-bedroom apartment that Jeff and Jason occupy; they rent out the renovated studios and apartment on the upper floors. "You’re limited to what you can do in the front and back of a brownstone," Jason says. "The renovation was less architecturally intensive and more about our interior choices."

Inside, their personalities shine. Jeff, who grew up fixated on the cool, sculptural stylings of Helmut Lang and Calvin Klein, has an affinity for black that complements Jason’s graphic sensibility: a clean, pared-down style gleaned from the Swiss-designed record sleeves of British bands he idolized in his 20s. Both have traveled the globe and have a fondness for Parisian interiors.

"As creatives, we are always looking at the old to create the new," Jeff explains. "The idea of having a very modern space in an old building spoke to us. And because this is New York, we wanted something sexy."

Matte-black quartzite slabs from ABC Worldwide Stone form the kitchen island, which is outfitted with Blanco fixtures; a white Carrara backsplash frames the Bertazzoni range and Dunsmuir cabinetry. The oak-and-steel bar stools are from ABC Carpet & Home.

Matte-black quartzite slabs from ABC Worldwide Stone form the kitchen island, which is outfitted with Blanco fixtures; a white Carrara backsplash frames the Bertazzoni range and Dunsmuir cabinetry. The oak-and-steel bar stools are from ABC Carpet & Home.

The home’s sleek, downtown appeal is apparent in the matte-quartzite island of its black-and-white kitchen and a light fixture made from brass and glazed porcelain by their pals atMateria Designs. A custom dining table sits beneath it, providing a place for dinner parties and hanging out. In the adjacent living room, a pair of vintage Milo Baughman lounge chairs—a fortuitous $150 Craigslist find—are covered in Mongolian lamb fur and flank acoffee table crafted by their friend Eric Slayton. A 1970s Cy Twombly exhibition print, found at a bookstore in Paris, leads downstairs. Perfectly preserved parquet flooring complements the family room, where Jeff and Jason spend most of their time. A bright hallway leads to the bedroom, a laundry area (formerly a kitchen), and a previously cramped bathroom. The bedroom is now expanded and features a door to the backyard, where a garden of peonies blossoms below a string of Edison bulbs.

"We’re kind of obsessed with interiors, but we don’t have a lot of things here," says Jason. "This is our quiet sanctuary." 

In the downstairs den, the mirrors facets of a West Elm side table refract the linearity of the moulding and hardwood flooring. Removing dated carpeting and vinyl tiles throughout, the couple unearthed and preserved the original wood floor, then sanded, twice bleached, whitewashed, and sealed it to achieve a neutral gray finish.

In the downstairs den, the mirrors facets of a West Elm side table refract the linearity of the moulding and hardwood flooring. Removing dated carpeting and vinyl tiles throughout, the couple unearthed and preserved the original wood floor, then sanded, twice bleached, whitewashed, and sealed it to achieve a neutral gray finish.

Carefully placed modern touches illuminate restored details in the home. An industrial-style pendant, which Jeff and Jason made themselves using a DIY instructional kit by lighting designer Lindsey Adelman, hangs from the intricate millwork in the entryway. The print is by photographer Anna Wolf.

Carefully placed modern touches illuminate restored details in the home. An industrial-style pendant, which Jeff and Jason made themselves using a DIY instructional kit by lighting designer Lindsey Adelman, hangs from the intricate millwork in the entryway. The print is by photographer Anna Wolf.

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