Picture this: you've just spent a year stalking the New York City real estate market, attending open houses for studios and townhouses and everything in between. Your broker calls to tell you she's got something interesting to show you, but when you arrive you learn that “interesting” is an understatement. That's because the property you've come to see isn't in a house or a traditional residential building, or anything you remotely imagined. It's in a church, and you'll take it.
Such was the case for Ali Levin, one half of the Brooklyn–based interior design firm LABLstudio. “When I walked up to the building, I was in awe,” says Levin of the two-bedroom Cobble Hill abode. “The apartment was in a beautifully restored Gothic-style church built in the 1850s that didn't look anything like a regular apartment building.” Undaunted by the quirky layout of the rooms, she and her sister, Sara, seized the opportunity to make it their own, but not before looping in Levin's business partner and design counterpart, Lindsay Boswell, who Levin met while both were working for the colorful (and prolific) New York design family The Novogratz and who helped translate Levin's “boho-modern” style to the historic space.
To start, the Levins reconfigured the apartment's three-floor plan, carving out a bedroom for Ali on the upper tier and converting one of two bedrooms on the lower level into a sunken den off the kitchen and dining area on the main floor. Thanks to a row of custom-made bifold doors, the space now doubles as a guest room, creating a low-key nook for entertaining and affording both sisters some privacy. “The challenge was creating a space that worked for us as sisters living together,” says Levin. “We didn't want to feel as if we’re on top of one another.” With its improved layout, the apartment has also become the LABLstudios headquarters.
Once the structural work was completed, Boswell and Levin set to work updating the apartment's aesthetic while maintaining many of the building's original architectural elements, including the impressive solid-wood front doors (which they painted in Farrow & Ball's cult favorite Hague Blue), high ceilings, and richly grained flooring. Throughout the space, they paired cool hues such as gray and teal with bright accents and bold texture: In the kitchen, that translates to a trio of burgundy-hued welded-wire bar stools by Bend Goods. A similarly bold shade appears in the den, where a multicolored sectional gets a playful infusion thanks to one magenta cushion. A shiny gold Moroccan pouf mingles with a furry rug from ABC Home, and an ikat-patterned Eskayel wallpaper in dusky tones provides a statement-making moment in one of the bedrooms. “We wanted to keep the space feeling light and open, but it was important to us to bring in some bold accents of color to add warmth to the space,” says Levin.
While much of the design process was pure fun, Levin admits to some challenging situations. The sisters nearly lost a six-foot-tall carved-wood mirror while Boswell and Levin were installing it. “The story ends with Lindsay and I standing on the kitchen island helping [some tile workers] to hoist it up onto the cabinets, each taking turns holding the Flos pendants so that they wouldn’t swing and hit the mirror,” says Levin. “It must have looked like a vertical game of Twister on some ladders.” Close calls aside, the most difficult task was finding a happy medium between style and function. “Being an interior designer and getting the opportunity to design your dream home can be both a blessing and a curse,” says Levin. “It’s much easier to pick out items for clients than it is for yourself, and the biggest challenge in designing your own space is to not 'over design' it, and to know when to just stop.” Thankfully, the duo did just in time to channel their creative energies into a new wallpaper line. We can't wait to see what's next.