For New York–based interior designer Jae Joo of Jae Joo Designs, two first-time homeowners who had never worked with a decorator before proved to be a perfect professional pairing. The resulting project she did for them was “the most fun and dynamic New York City town house I’ve worked on,” as she puts it.
Joo owes that fact partly to the singular space, though the new-build with 500-plus square feet of private outdoor space had sat empty for two years before her clients found it and recognized its potential. The couple correctly believed the rare find with Brutalist leanings could, in the right hands, become an elegantly minimalist yet cozily tactile family home.
“When I saw the place, I was trying to figure out what others had missed, because I was immediately drawn to the concrete and it not being cookie-cutter,” says one client, who reached out to Joo both because he was attracted to the calmness of her portfolio and the designer’s experience with voluminous spaces. “It felt like she knew how to work on this scale that was well beyond our grasp.” For her part, Joo says, “I hadn’t seen anything like it. I fell in love with them and the space. It was an easy yes.”
At 3,800 square feet, with 3 bedrooms and 4.5 baths, the Tribeca triplex stuns from the first steps inside thanks to a sculptural staircase in a living space with gargantuan concrete columns and 22-and-a-half-foot ceilings. Those features posed multiple challenges, not least of which was “hugely dramatic installs,” says Joo. “We had to have a scissor lift inside the house to hang the BDDW chandelier and [put up] scaffolding every single time we installed anything. And it was totally worth it.”
With two children, the clients’ goals revolved around family friendliness while maintaining simplicity, tranquility, and a neutral color palette. Joo had quite a bit of freedom, though with one mandate: No leather or animal products, in alignment with their vegetarian beliefs. After thinking deeply on how to purposely furnish the home, she ultimately chose to emphasize texture by mixing materials with patina and softness and adding intrigue via attractive forms. A sense of fun was imbued thanks to the “surreal-ness” felt through fluid elements such as a fluted plaster fireplace and a “melting” free-form revolving door that leads to the play- and piano room, as the designer describes it. Joo also acted as a conduit to the art world, one client says, helping them select pieces to add splashes of color, such as a vivid Rebecca Morris painting from Bortolami Gallery.