This article is part of our latest special Design section, devoted to spaces inspired by nature.
Sometimes when life changes, your home needs to change too. Or at least that’s what Jun Aizaki, the founder of architecture and design firm Crème, determined after starting a family.
In 2010, before he was a parent, Mr Aizaki bought a two-family townhouse in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood that was so poorly maintained it had started to fall apart. “Things were literally patched together with duct tape,” said Mr Aizaki, 49. “The canopy was supported by two by fours and the roof had holes all over it. It was not in an actual habitable state, although a person lived there.
Mr. Aizaki, who designs restaurants like RedFarm and L’Amico in Manhattan and hotels like Hyatt Centric in Philadelphia, paid just over $500,000 and undertook a renovation to the hilt. He put on a new roof. He purchased a generous amount of redwood salvaged from old New York water tanks and had it ground down to create an exterior cladding as well as interior features like a tub and custom shelving. He dug into the backyard to add an extension that enlarged it by approximately 2,500 to 3,000 square feet and to create space for a sunken patio under a new deck.
After 10 months of construction, it was finished. Mr. Aizaki and his young wife, Fanny Allié, an artist now 40, moved into the 1,500 square foot apartment occupying the first two floors and rented the same-sized unit on the top two floors .
For years, the apartment seemed perfect. Then, in 2017, the couple had a son, Luka, and everything started to change. Mr. Aizaki decided the house could use more family-friendly features.
To create a dedicated space for Luka, now 5, he converted a large closet into a treehouse-like sleeping area with a loft bed accessible through a hatch. The exterior of the room is clad in reclaimed water tank wood, which Mr. Aizaki had left over from the original renovation, and the interior is covered in spray paint that changes from peach pink to dark blue on the ceiling. , where shines -dark star stickers create a simulated night sky. Under the bed, a playground lined with artificial grass gives the impression of an indoor park.
“I just wanted to do something really fun,” Mr. Aizaki said. “It’s a tiny space, but it encourages him to use it.”
Indeed, fun was the guiding principle behind most design changes. Revisiting his childhood memories, Mr. Aizaki tried to imagine elements that would have thrilled his younger self. This is how he came up with the idea of designing and building three copper talking tubes that wind through the two levels of the apartment to allow conversations over a distance. One tube connects the living room to Luka’s bedroom, another goes from the living room to the bathroom, and the last goes from the kitchen to the master bedroom.
“In the age of Siri and Alexa, it’s totally low-tech,” Aizaki said. “We play games or we just talk to each other. And when he has friends, that’s the first thing they do.
Mr. Aizaki also drilled a hole in the tiled wall of the master bathroom to add a small ribbed glass window on a wooden turntable that can provide privacy when needed. It also serves as a passage for notes, toiletries and toys. “It’s just a fun little thing,” he said.
Along the way, he made a few less fanciful changes. When the family needed more soundproofing between their kitchen and the upstairs neighbor, they added a layer of plywood panels to the ceiling. When he grew tired of the original kitchen, he made new kitchen cabinet doors from leftover water tank wood. Recognizing 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 even more water tank wood.
But it’s the fun projects that seem to inspire Aizaki the most.
When he first bought the house, he planted a young cherry tree in the back yard. Now that the trunk is about 10 inches in diameter and strong enough to support a structure, he recently built a treehouse that includes a bucket on a pulley system to raise and lower toys and snacks.
“When I was a kid, I would have loved to have all these things to play with,” Mr Aizaki said. Now Luka is the beneficiary of his father’s imagination, living in a house Mr Aizaki described as “a bit like a dream house”.