Take one look at the home of Laura and Jason Schwalbe, and you’d never guess that it was once a drab apartment with limited natural light. The space did have herringbone wood floors, a fireplace, and French doors—the bones for the flat of their dreams—it just needed a designer’s touch.
Before: The Living Room
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After: The Living Room
The Schwalbes work in magazine marketing and real estate, so they have an eye for design; it was just a matter of cohesively updating the space to serve as a new home for the couple and their two small children. They turned to Michael K. Chen Architecture (MKCA) to give the outdated apartment a full overhaul that would include creating more space and bringing in light.
Before: The Game Room
After: The Game Room
"We accomplished that through a multitude of means, including adding partitions in etched glass that pick up ambient sunlight and artificial lighting, as well as incorporating materials that were selected on the basis of their reflectivity, texture, and other attributes relative to light," explains Michael K. Chen.
Before: The Fireplace
After: The Fireplace
Next came color selections—the Schwalbes favored immersive paint schemes using de-saturated tones that fluctuate and change based on the quality of natural light. Chen centered his approach around enlarging openings, and connecting spaces with multiple paths of circulation. The idea was to create opportunities for light to play against textured and translucent surfaces to activate areas that didn’t receive much sun.
Before: The Dining Room
After: The Dining Room
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The Schwalbes wanted their home to be functional, sophisticated, and whimsical. Chen sought to balance their desire for a modern update with maintaining the charm of the original layout. "We wanted the existing spaces to retain their gracious formality—it is Park Avenue, after all—but tempered that with bright colors, playful and graphic forms, and varied textures," he explains.
Before: The Kitchen
After: The Kitchen
The gut renovation of the 2,800-square-foot apartment opened a series of small openings between rooms, cleared away a warren of service spaces to create a generous eat-in kitchen, and installed a new powder room and cloak room, accessed from the entrance gallery.
Before: The Breakfast Nook
After: The Breakfast Nook
The design team maximized already well-proportioned, formal zones—like the generous entrance gallery, and the living and dining rooms—while converting the dark and crowded storage and service areas into functional spaces.
Before: The Powder Room
After: The Powder Room
Before: The Master Bedroom
After: The Master Bedroom
The result is a four bedroom, three and a half bath home that’s refined and oh, so elegant melding modern and vintage pieces from Heath Ceramics, Fontana Arte, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, François Monnet, Luigi Caccia Dominioni for Azucena, Los Angeles designers Alex Drew and No One, and more. It’s also totally functional, entirely unpretentious, and doesn’t take itself too seriously with a striking color palette that shifts from room to room with fluid shapes.
Before: The Daughter's Room
After: The Daughter's Room
Each area maintains its own character—from the roseate dining room with plush cranberry and canary-toned vintage Joe Colombo chairs and spidery onyx pendants, to the airy living room with bone-white walls, a massive circular sofa in bright azure, and a geode-framed fireplace. It’s all about balance—where there’s dark, there’s also light; patterns meet solids; and straight lines are paired with curves to create spaces that seamlessly slip into each other.
Before: The Vestibule
After: The Vestibule
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Interior Design: MKCA (Natasha Harper, Michael Chen, Braden Caldwell, Justin Snider, Robinson Strong, and Julian Anderson)
General Contractor: Think Construction
Styling: Cristina Sonneman