Sometimes, when life changes, your home needs to change, too. Or at least that’s what Jun Aizaki, founder of the architecture and design firm Crème, determined after he started a family.
In 2010, before he was a parent, Aizaki bought a two-family townhouse in the Williamsburg neighbourhood of Brooklyn that was so poorly maintained it had begun to fall apart.
“Things were literally patched together with duct tape’’, Aizaki, 49, said. “The canopy was supported by 2-by-4s, and the roof had holes everywhere. It wasn’t in real livable condition, even though a person lived there.”
Aizaki, who designs restaurants like RedFarm and L’Amico in Manhattan and hotels like Hyatt Centric in Philadelphia, paid a little more than $500,000 and undertook a down-to-studs renovation. He put on a new roof. He bought a generous supply of redwood reclaimed from old New York water tanks and had it milled to create exterior siding as well as interior features like a custom bathtub and bookshelves. He dug into the backyard to add an extension that expanded it from about 2,500 to 3,000 square feet, and to create space for a sunken patio beneath a new deck.
After 10 months of construction, it was complete. Aizaki and his newlywed wife, Fanny Allié, an artist who is now 40, moved into the 1,500-square-foot apartment occupying the first two floors and rented the same-size unit on the top two floors.
For years, the apartment seemed perfect. Then, in 2017, the couple had a son, Luka, and everything began to change. Aizaki decided that the home could use more family-friendly features.
To carve out a dedicated space for Luka, who is now 5, he converted a large closet into a treehouse like sleeping nook with a loft bed that can be reached through a hatch. The exterior of the room is clad in reclaimed water-tank wood, which Aizaki had left over from the original renovation, and the interior is coated with spray paint that fades from peachy pink to dark blue at the ceiling, where glow-in-the-dark star stickers create a simulated night sky. Underneath the bed, a play area carpeted with artificial turf gives the impression of an indoor park.
“I just wanted to make something really fun’’, Aizaki said. “It’s a tiny space, but it encourages him to use it.”
Indeed, fun was the guiding principle for most of the design changes. Revisiting his childhood memories, Aizaki tried to imagine elements that would have thrilled his younger self. That is how he arrived at the idea to design and build three copper speaking tubes that snake through the apartment’s two levels to enable remote conversations. One tube connects the living room to Luka’s bedroom, another goes from the living room to the bathroom, and the final one runs from the kitchen to the primary bedroom.
“In this age of Siri and Alexa, it’s just totally low-tech’’, Aizaki said. “We play games or just talk to each other. And when he has friends over it’s the first thing they do.”
Aizaki also punched a hole through the tiled wall of the primary bathroom to add a small ribbed-glass window on a wooden turntable that can provide privacy when needed. It also serves as a pass-through for notes, toiletries and toys.
“It’s just a little funny thing’’, he said.
Along the way, he made a few less whimsical changes. When the family needed more soundproofing between their kitchen and the upstairs neighbor, he added a layer of plywood panelling to the ceiling. When he tired of the original kitchen, he made new kitchen cabinet doors from additional surplus water-tank wood. Recognising that the family spent most of their time in the kitchen, he also added a steel island and topped it with a butcher block counter made from still more water-tank wood.
But it is the playful projects that seem to inspire Aizaki the most. When he first purchased the house, he planted a cherry tree sapling in the backyard. Now that the trunk is about 10 inches in diameter and strong enough to hold a structure, he recently built a treehouse that includes a bucket on a pulley system for raising and lowering toys and snacks.
“When I was a kid, I would have loved to have had all these things to play with’’, Aizaki said. Now Luka is the beneficiary of his father’s imagination, living in a home that Aizaki described as “a little bit like a dream house.” — NYT