This Spacious Home in a Former Warehouse is Part Art Gallery

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By Sam Eichblatt / Published by Dwell
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A Brooklyn home eschews conventional domesticity in favor of dramatic, open spaces and a stripped-down aesthetic.

When the artist Jennifer Bartlett, known for her large-scale paintings and installations, decided to leave her longtime studio in Greenwich Village for Brooklyn, she found an old industrial building in the historic Clinton Hill area. The 19th-century masonry structure had originally been home to the Candy & Confectioners Workers union, though was at the time functioning as a children’s center.

Architect David Berridge, who has worked on a number of Bartlett’s other homes, says that, in contrast to her richly detailed work, the design and renovation of the new home and studio employs a deceptively simple gallery aesthetic.

Bartlett’s living and creative life are so entwined that there is no distinction between her work and home, an idea that is reflected in the spaces that flow from the reception area into the studio-gallery and into the private quarters. It all opens directly out onto a garden designed by the artist.

 

Bartlett’s bedroom is in a ground-floor addition that was built onto the back of the building about 50 years ago. It is adjacent to her painting studio.

 

The bedroom can be closed off from the painting studio with a heavy sliding bookshelf on rollers.

The bath was placed behind the bed, another example of the way the artist—who was accustomed to sleeping in the pool area of her previous apartment—likes to break down spatial boundaries and traditional designations of rooms.

Blacktop originally wrapped around two sides of the building. Today, 10-foot-high sliding windows let in abundant light, and overlook a lush garden with mature trees to the rear, and a 22-foot-wide side yard with water features and alluvial boulders brought in from Long Island.

“We had to move them with a huge forklift and almost crushed a car with one of them when they were being lifted off the truck,” says Berridge.

The bathroom tiles were a point of contention: Bartlett wanted Mexican tiles, while Berridge’s design favored a bare-bones, Donald Judd-like approach in keeping with the warehouse experience.

The compromise was that he used industrial sinks and designed the stainless-steel hardware to be as utilitarian as possible, and commissioned a set of plain tiles with a strict color palette of five yellows, five blues and five whites, derived from Bartlett’s work. She then arranged them on one wall as she would one of her installations. That way, both upstairs and downstairs bathrooms have Jennifer Bartlett originals on the wall.

The demolition of the upper floor, which had been carved up into many small rooms, revealed an expansive loft with an assortment of old skylights.

Bartlett often works on a scale that demands the viewer stand 10 feet back to see it best. When each new piece is ready, it comes up here for the second part of her creative process, further work and viewing. The sofa is a custom plywood piece Bartlett designed for her last home.

The gutting of the ground floor uncovered a former union meeting hall, with a steel beam spanning 45 feet. “With renovations on buildings like these,” says Berridge, “you never know what you’ve got until you start doing demolition. Once we started, none of us could figure out what was holding the building up, because there were no posts. It was quite something. That’s what allowed us to have this huge open space on the ground floor.”

Bartlett didn’t want plugs that would protrude below where paintings hung, but the building code demands a certain amount per room, so the architect designed recessed ones that interrupted the plane of the wall as little as possible.

What the original building lacked in period detailing, it made up for with massive interior spaces, natural light, and a hardy palette of wood and raw brick.

Working with these loft signatures, David developed the hall’s liveable side, adding under-floor heating, and a gigantic kitchen on the upper floor running the width of the building, with a 37-foot-long solid walnut counter on top of stainless steel cabinets. This unites the dining, cooking and social spaces that run the length of the front façade on the upper floor.