Sustainability Guided Every Decision at this Town House Remodel in Harlem

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By Dwell / Published by Dwell
Actors David Alan Basche and Alysia Reiner rework their Harlem town house with an eco-sensibility and an eye for smarter spaces.

David Alan Basche and Alysia Reiner are actors that split their time between New York and Los Angeles, where they each work on films and television (he currently appears on The Exes, she has a recurring role as Fig on Orange Is the New Black). In 2005 the pair purchased a dilapidated, abandoned town house in Harlem, empty save for a lot of debris and a generous sprinkling of crack pipes. "We gutted it and did all the exterior repairs first for about six months, then the interior," David recalls. "Builder Nick Moons and architect Hannah Purdy were involved from day one, and they came up with the concept of dividing the space into two different long, rectangular halves on each floor—one side in slate, where we would walk, cook, and store things, and the other in bamboo, where we would sleep, work, and play. Anytime Alysia and I were not filming or on stage we were intimately involved with the renovation process."

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David Alan Basche, Alysia Reiner, and their six-year-old daughter, Liv, chat in the kitchen, which is defined by a reclaimed spalted maple countertop crafted from a felled 100-year-old specimen sourced by The Hudson Company. The barstools are from Blu Dot.

They moved in two years later and soon, their daughter Liv was born. But as she got older it became evident that they could make better use of her 144-square-foot bedroom, as well as a few of the other spaces. Again they turned to Purdy and Moons. 

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The design team enclosed the vestibule of the front entrance to offer an area in which everyone can remove shoes and coats. The dining area boasts a handmade pendant by The Light Factory in Baltimore, Maryland. The table is from Blu Dot; the chairs are from Ikea. The flooring is natural bamboo from Dyerich.

A specific focus on sustainability guided every detail of the project. As David explains: "We’ve always been conscious of the environment, but after becoming parents, we realized even more that it’s our obligation to leave the planet a better place than we found it. So we decided that our new home should have less chemicals, and more recycled and reusable materials, minimal carbon impact, and extreme energy efficiency." Their determination has paid off, as the family now enjoys a bedroom for Liv that has a custom play space, an attractive wood-clad wall on the landing, a maximized first floor with a refurbished kitchen and outdoor space, and a third-floor master bedroom suite with an updated bathroom. In addition to their revitalized home, David and Alysia are proud that Liv has picked up on their passion: "Now," says David, "she teaches us about being green."

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The living area features a custom Viesso sofa with an FSC-certified frame and a stuffing of all-natural latex. It was recovered in Bella-Dura, a 100 percent American-made technical fabric, woven using a proprietary polyolefin fiber. The rug is from CB2 and the window covering is from The Shade Store.

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On the second-floor landing, just outside Liv’s bedroom, is the family’s “mushroom wall,” comprised of a blend of cypress and hemlock repurposed from the bedding bins of a mushroom-growing facility. During the mushroom growth cycle, enzymes digest and erode the soft wood grain, producing an organic, sculpted effect. ECOS chalkboard paint—zero VOC and non-toxic, natch—appears under the stairs.

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The master suite occupies the entire third floor and encapsulates a meditation area, a minibar with a recycled-glass countertop from BioGlass, and an en suite bathroom with access to a private terrace. Organic linen draperies from The Canopy accent the room’s distinctive aperture, which frames a view of a church across the street. The walls are covered in Venetian plaster that’s 100 percent recycled, with zero VOCs, by American Clay.

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In the master bath, on the third floor, Greenguard-certified slate covers the walls and floor. An existing window was transitioned into a doorway. “I thought that’d be weird, a door in the shower,” David recalls. “But Alysia said it would make that particular terrace all the more private if we have to get to it through our shower!”

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Liv’s 144-square-foot room now boasts a custom play area that comprises a reading nook, a loft bed with a secret passageway that opens just to the left of a built-in desk, and myriad storage options, all designed by Gus Deardoff, a theatrical set designer, and built by Peter Sobierajski of J&P Construction Services.

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The organic bedding is from The Canopy.

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The design team used 3/4-inch PureBond Maple plywood from Columbia Forest Products, featuring formaldehyde-free, soy-based assembly.

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"We've always been conscious of the environment, but after becoming parents, we realized even more that it's our obligation to leave the planet a better place than we found it,"—David Alan Basche, resident

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An early model of Liv's room.

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