Creativity and Chic Define This Brooklyn Brownstone

A mix of modern design, artwork and a historic apartment add up to a gorgeous New York space.

By: Jeanine Hays

Photo By: Patrick Cline Photography

Photo By: Patrick Cline Photography

Photo By: Patrick Cline Photography

Photo By: Patrick Cline Photography

Photo By: Patrick Cline Photography

Photo By: Patrick Cline Photography

Photo By: Patrick Cline Photography

Photo By: Patrick Cline Photography

Photo By: Patrick Cline Photography

Photo By: Patrick Cline Photography

Photo By: Patrick Cline Photography

Photo By: Patrick Cline Photography

Photo By: Patrick Cline Photography

Photo By: Patrick Cline Photography

Photo By: Patrick Cline Photography

Photo By: Patrick Cline Photography

Photo By: Patrick Cline Photography

Original Architecture

“My life is art,” says Julio Leitao of the five-story brownstone in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn he shares with his wife Kenza and their two daughters. The Leitaos were tasked with a modern update of a home that had been in the family for generations. 



Modern Family

Transforming an outdated interior into one perfect for the Leitaos and their daughters, Luena and Zeza was critical. Throughout the space you can find components of Julio’s art. A celebrated dancer, originally from Angola, Julio Leitao immigrated to New York from Portugal, and founded dance company Batotu Yetu ("Our Children"), which has performed for the likes of Bishop Desmond Tutu and with Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Usher. His masks, statuary and costumes created for performances are part of the family's Brooklyn home decor. The elements that speak to Julio’s Angolan heritage, combine with his wife Kenza’s love of modern design, and an eye for modern classic elements like Fritz Hansen chairs for the dining room, placed next to more modern pieces by local Brooklyn designers. The mix of classic architecture with modern design and bursts of color and culture throughout are what make this home special.

Brass Elements

The kitchen in this home is expansive, a rare luxury in New York City living. The black and white color palette is perfect for kitchens because it is clean and perennially on-trend, especially when accented with warm metallic fixtures. The black kitchen island provides a streamlined and efficiently laid out space, perfect for preparing family meals. Behind the counter, a marble backsplash is another timeless touch.

Kitchen Island Style

The kitchen island was designed to include a sink and dishwasher. It helps facilitate movement throughout the room by dividing attention between the island and cooking surfaces while a line of bar stools provides seating for family, friends and guests.

Modern Traditional

The living room is large enough to fit a full dining table that seats eight. On the wall, an image of young dancers from Batoto Yetu, taken by French photographer, Patrick Demarchelier is the perfect visual accent. The Drop dining chairs by Fritz Hansen continue the room’s dichotomy between modern and traditional aesthetics and provide wonderful contrast to the ornamentation in the doorway.

Eat-In Kitchen

On the other side of the room, away from the kitchen’s more functional areas, is a nook that is a study in comfort. A small bistro table flanked by chairs and built-in seating comfortably accommodates the family of four. A second fireplace features a collection of small busts and other elements set against the ultra-modern geometric wire sculpture that adorns the wall. A large plant provides a warm, natural touch that makes this curated space feel like a home.

Cool Contrast

A classic black and white palette characterizes the Leitao's living room, from the walls to the massive overhead pendant light and dark stained floors. The floors were laid by Julio, who taught himself how to install the flooring that extends throughout the house. The white masks that hang from the far wall are his creations as well. The masks offer a modern way to bring classic Angolan art home. The black and white palette repeats throughout the home, providing the perfect canvas for the many pops of color that define the home's combination of Angolan and African-American influences. 

The ornate fireplace, one of four, is original to the space, as is the decorative scrollwork that runs across moldings and ceilings in this room. The way that Kenza and Julio have maintained the architecture of the home is a reminder not to remove or cover up original fixtures, but to instead accentuate them. Filling a traditional space with modern furnishings creates a unique style mix that adds sophistication to their home.

Master Style

The Leitao master bedroom is a beautiful, minimalist retreat. Black walls are on-trend, and envelope the space, creating a cozy vibe. The dark walls in Kenza and Julio’s room are also a great backdrop and visual contrast for the art and architecture. Above the bed, an image by French photographer Patrick Demarchelier, of dancers from Batotu Yetu is the perfect artistic touch.

Art on Display

What makes this room special are the small touches that connect the space to the stories of the people who live in them. The mirror above the mantel is actually a piece of art inscribed with a quote from Harriet Tubman and sourced from an exhibition in Manhattan.

Sister Act

Luena and Zeza's shared upstairs bedroom is a reflection of their interests in dance and gymnastics.

Personal Details

The Leitao house is full of wonderful details. Every opportunity to tell a cultural story at home has been found as with this ebony banister, original to the space. Kenza and Julio added a personal touch by turning an intricately detailed piece of art into a unique pommel.

The Ultimate Girl Cave

The girls’ bedroom is filled with unique, textural details. Above the twin beds, a woven metal pendant is a cool statement piece. In the corner, a modern lucite chair is the perfect place to hang out. 

A Room of Their Own

The girls’ room is an excellent example of how to design a kid’s room with a sense of style. When designing a room for kids there’s a lot to be said for keeping the overall aesthetic aligned with the rest of the home. Instead of decorating with bright pastel colors and more traditional "kid's colors" that don’t reflect their personal style, Julio and Kenza have blended their grownup black and white color palette with fun elements like the heart polka dots on the sheets, typographic art and punchy orange accessories in this kid-friendly space.

Colorful Details

Bedding in the home’s signature black and white color palette juxtaposes stripes and polka-dots for a very modern mix of patterns. Orange accents throughout the room liven up the space while giving it a warm, youthful feel. Even more color finds its way in through the metallic side table and lamp, while leopard-patterned pillows on both beds tie the colors and patterns together.

Neon Glow

This bedroom positively glows with style. The mantel is a great area for display, featuring a variety of the girls’ favorite accessories and even a few plants beneath a bright, neon sign. Most importantly, the room showcases the girls’ talents with their art and gymnastics medals on display, proof that you can highlight children's accomplishments and collections without sacrificing style.

Cultural Heritage

Julio’s fifth-floor studio is an explosion of color. A man of seemingly endless talents, in addition to being a professional dancer, Julio creates large masks for both his own Batotu Yetu company and Broadway shows. Julio's studio space is filled with color and inspiration. Bright, energizing shades are perfect for getting the mind ready to work. Along with masks in various stages of completion the walls are adorned with images of his company dancers, past and present.

Gallery Wall

A stunning gallery wall in Julio's studio features a mix of family photos and images from his dance company Batotu Yetu. The dance troupe focuses on bringing dance to children and many of Julio’s dancers grow up to become instructors. A home studio or office is a great place to showcase your own creative talents or create an inspiration wall to inspire your work.