A Tiny 800-Square-Foot Brooklyn Home With Big Style

This Brooklyn apartment is definitely tiny-house trendy, at just 800 square feet. But it has lots of style thanks to the sensibility of interior designer — and owner — Leyden Lewis.

February 05, 2020
By: Jeanine Hays

Photo By: David Land

Photo By: David Land

Photo By: David Land

Photo By: David Land

Photo By: David Land

Photo By: David Land

Photo By: David Land

Photo By: David Land

Photo By: David Land

Photo By: David Land

Photo By: David Land

Photo By: David Land

A Quiet Corner of Williamsburg

Meet Leyden Lewis, the New York interior designer who is both the name and creative force behind the Leyden Lewis Design Studio. For the last 16 years Leyden has made his home in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, in a beautifully appointed apartment that he shares with his partner, Lazhar and their dog, Nika. For many, creating the feel of a whole home in an 800-square-foot, open-plan space would pose a daunting challenge. But for Leyden the challenge has been a nearly two-decade-long opportunity to test his small-space superpowers and try out new ideas.

Art-Centric Design

When Leyden and Lazhar first found the apartment in 2003, the former factory had just been converted into apartments, and they were the home's first residents. Describing his design aesthetic as, "curated, layered, modernism," Leyden embarked on a design journey in the space which has continued to this day centering around the couple’s extensive collection of art, which can be found on nearly every surface and adorning every wall.

Coloring Inside the Lines

It's easy for a small space to feel cramped even with little or nothing in it. Yet throughout this space Leyden mixes many different forms, styles and types of art, tying them all together in a color palette that not only accommodates his various collections but makes the space feel larger and more airy. The living room is a study in warm neutrals with pops of blue and black that set the stage for the oversized black-on-black artwork that is the room's centerpiece.

Balanced Eclecticism

Finding room to seat six around a dining table is a challenge in just about any New York apartment. But Leyden remembers his dining room as being one of the easiest rooms to design. The live-in art gallery feel of the home continues in this space with artwork dominating every wall and a cute ceramic banana centerpiece adding a touch of conceptual whimsy to the table. Though directly connected to the living room, the dining room feels distinct and separate, which is an intentional result of the design. "It’s all one space," Leyden maintains, "with visual links and details to designate one area from the other."

Active Architecture

Because their unit was new when they arrived, Leyden and Lazhar had little to do by way of renovation. Instead, what renovation has taken place over the years Leyden remembers as, "adding interior-architectural components that just didn’t exist." Many of these additions were designed to address their home's bigger needs, storage being chief among them. Fortunately, the dining room architecture offered a perfect opportunity. "The niche created by the space between two existing wall-columns seemed an ideal place to design the bookshelves and display," the designer remembers.

Finding the Art in Everything

Everything in this home is a purposeful still life. Even in this small cross-section of the bookshelf, items from the books to the figurines to the ceramics come together to create a point of view. "I love the fact that everything we have collected has been selected with care and thoughtfulness," says Leyden. For him, it's these small details and the reflection of personalities more than anything else that makes the space feel like a home.

Gallery Life

For Leyden and Lahzar art is as essential to their living space as furniture — and both often arrive at the home in the same way. "We collected the art and furniture pieces over time while traveling," Leyden remembers. Opposite the living room, this gallery wall shows the couple's full range of tastes with a variety of paintings and even a life-sized sculpture. At the same time, artistic pieces of furniture like the modern bentwood bar stool and colorful pouf play a similar role, adding notes of color and whimsy to the space.

Artistic Mix Masters

Much like blending furniture from different eras to make a coherent design, Leyden's ability to mix a variety of artistic styles on this gallery wall is equally remarkable. A close examination shows abstract portraits and text art alongside photography and illustrations. And down at the bottom an astute eye will catch a popular superhero making his way through a surreal fantasy world. More than paint and canvas, the pieces are ways to remember old friends and past adventures. "The objects have stories trapped within them," Leyden muses, "and a history of friendships and experiences."

Playing With Perspective

Designing with art is often a matter of layering — alternating sizes and perspectives to create a deeper effect. Here the high-energy of a gallery wall opposite the living room is contrasted with the quiet moment of this nearly solitary piece across from the dining room. Leyden plays with size here by placing a single oversized piece on the wall, then crowning it with a series of smaller, more colorful images.

A Prized Portrait

It's always nice when you come home to be greeted by something you love to see. In this apartment, a small hallway near the entry is home to one of Leyden’s favorite pieces. This "larger than life" drawing by artist Chinatsu Seya is a quiet statement but a powerful one. Yet its detailed greyscale depiction of what Leyden calls, "the most lush dreadlocks," is only the start of its appeal. "It’s over-scaled for the space," the designer also notes, "which really makes an impact."

A Quiet Retreat

Though he resolutely maintains that he has no single favorite space in his home, Leyden nevertheless admits that, "how the sleeping area is defined is very special." Where the rest of the home is divided into distinct areas by small stylistic shifts, this is the only space to be specifically sectioned off. When closed, the curtain wall offers a soft barrier that completes the living room while creating privacy in the bedroom. When opened, the bedroom becomes part of the living room decor, opening the space and adding further light.

Minimalist Practice

Within the bedroom's confines, the low furnishings and extensive use of "empty" space evoke a distinctly minimalist feel which Leyden calls, "a nod to traditional Japanese design." Stylistically, it's a striking counterpoint to the rest of the apartment, and a perfect moment of respite. For Leyden, who states that the bedroom design is now in its fourth iteration, it continues to be a work in progress, just like the rest of his home. "As a designer it's complicated settling on a single idea in my personal space," he says. "I’m never quite convinced the design process is over. Instead I view it as a laboratory for continual experimentation."

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