Design Room Swoon:

The Design Process Behind My Brooklyn Terrace

It’s hard to believe looking at it now that Athena Calderone’s terrace design didn’t even exist when she first bought their Brooklyn Townhouse. Situated within an L-shaped crevice off the kitchen and only measuring 6-by-10 feet, Calderone struggled with the asymmetry of the existing design. One side of the house was deeper while the other was shorter so she and her husband Victor made the decision to open up the back of the house to the interior with two sets of custom bifold doors that essentially pushed the balcony out to make it a square. The end result is an indoor-outdoor living room that is truly an extension of the house. “When I made the choice to open it up and create the L-shape in all glass, it seemed to identify itself,” recalls Calderone. “This whole area just wanted to become this open living space.”

Keep reading to discover Calderone’s terrace design process including all the before and after photos, and the affordable marble stone tiles she found to create the iconic checkerboard floors

But first… the source list:

Bi-Fold Doors: Optimum Window
Architecture: Elizabeth Roberts Architects
Gardener: Aimee Kirby, Ferox Studio
Stone: Sandy Neck Traders
Outdoor Sofa: RH Balmain Aluminium Sofa
Coffee Table: Vintage from Chairish
Garden Chairs: Vintage Mathieu Matégot
Outdoor Light: Vintage
Planters: Mix of Vintage from Etsy, Chairish, and local gardening stores

The Design Process Behind My Brooklyn Terrace
The Design Process Behind My Brooklyn Terrace
The Design Process Behind My Brooklyn Terrace

On those iconic checkerboard marble tiles…

As I was going through the design process with the architects, they were proposing bluestone, which is a very typical stone material in townhouses. But if you’ve been coming here for a while, you know that I always want to resist the typical, the expected, the obvious. I had already made the choice to do reclaimed black and white stone in a checkerboard design at the front of the house, but it became impossible to buy similar reclaimed tiles for the back, too.

I kept reaching out to different companies and random stone sourcing companies that did reclaimed tile, but every time I came up with a dead end. After contacting between 40 to 50 stone suppliers, a random Google search finally resulted in “the one.” Of course, getting to this end result took time, and the stone had to be shipped over from Europe, but it was only $7-8 per square foot, and I couldn’t be happier with the finished look. 

The Design Process Behind My Brooklyn Terrace
The Design Process Behind My Brooklyn Terrace

On trusting your gut…

When you have contractors, architects, and a team of designers forcing you to make a decision, it can feel like a lot of pressure. But sometimes design takes time, so give yourself that time, even when you’re on a deadline and you want to finish. This terrace is such an impactful part of my home that people respond to so much.

It was a reaffirmation for me to never settle, which is something I always encourage in others, too: if there is something you love, if you have a vision for something, strive for that goal and don’t back down. I would rather have kept the terrace without any stone and metal framing until I found what I was really excited about.

A word of advice, however, when you’re seeking and finally find something that fits within your budget, don’t jump in blindly. You still have to ask for a sample and ask questions such as, is it weather resistant for your climate? I did confirm that the blue and natural travertine tiles were in fact weather and freeze resistant!

The Design Process Behind My Brooklyn Terrace
The Design Process Behind My Brooklyn Terrace

On the bi-fold doors…

When I see something I love, whether that be through a friend, Instagram, or magazines, I often latch onto it, and it quickly spirals, sending me down a rabbit hole. I first had the spark of inspiration for the bi-fold doors after seeing a construction image of my friend, Gabriel of Apparatus’ home in upstate New York. I showed the images to my architect, Elizabeth Roberts and she shared a vendor they’d worked with, Optimum Windows who could bring these bi-fold doors to life and create a space that was completely open.

The Design Process Behind My Brooklyn Terrace
The Design Process Behind My Brooklyn Terrace

On the bi-fold doors (Cont’d)…

I knew I wanted to do casement windows but I wanted them to be streamlined and thin which meant going the custom route. Both Roberts and I worked hand-in-hand to get the proportions right. I wanted the supportive mullions to be rectilinear and very vertical. The bi-folding doors are truly one of my favorite features in the house, but when I first saw them, I didn’t love them. They were thicker than I initially envisioned. But I soon discovered that with the weight, size, and height of mobility of these doors, we couldn’t have gone any thinner on the metal framing anyway.

When you have something in your mind that you want and it doesn’t turn out that way, it can be devastating. But here’s the piece of advice from my own learning that I want to share with you… of course, my motto is to never settle when you make such a big investment, however, sometimes you just need your eyes to adapt to something, and I truly grew to love these doors! 

The Design Process Behind My Brooklyn Terrace
The Design Process Behind My Brooklyn Terrace

On the furniture choices…

The house interior walks this fine line between historical and modern—preserving historical details while injecting modernity to suit how we want to live. Whenever you’re designing a space, I love to think about where can I keep something classic and where can I insert the fresh and the modern. The doors are so modern, especially the bi-fold style, so I wanted to insert those historical, very classic details through the materiality and vintage furniture. It’s also why I went with the checkered flooring. Having the front and back of the house bookended in this timeless checkerboard style made sense—a visual nod to the past while also feeling current.

I knew I didn’t want any wood so, I introduced an iron frame sofa with very clean lines from Restoration Hardware. It’s the only new piece that I brought into the space. To complement the sofa, I found a beautiful art deco iron frame coffee table with scrolls on Chairish but it had a glass top. So, I actually asked the vendor to send it without the glass to save on weight for shipping costs. Then I asked our stone fabricator (who cut the marble in my kitchen and bathroom) for any remnants. Oftentimes, stone fabricators who are working in larger kitchens will buy in excess which means they have random size remnants leftover. Thankfully, he had the perfect Calacatta Viola Marble piece to sit atop the iron frame. This is not only an affordable approach but a sustainable one too.

To complete the look, I really wanted these outdoor Mathieu Matégot chairs but the ones I found on 1st Dibs were really too expensive for me. I searched and searched until finally, after digging around online, I found them on eBay! They were white and very rusted, so Victor and I spray-painted them ourselves with a matte black. Then we had cushions made for them using outdoor linen. Voilá! 

Lastly, we needed light so I bought an 18th-century pendant light with a beautiful Verde green patina and updated the fixture by running electricity to it. Because it was a square terrace, I wanted the pendant to be centered. So, my clever husband suspended the piece from two airplane cables in an X shape, secured it to the wall with eye hooks, and tightened it with a stress clamp to hold the cable together. Then the lantern was hung by a carabiner so it looks like it’s floating. 

The Design Process Behind My Brooklyn Terrace
The Design Process Behind My Brooklyn Terrace

On making mistakes…

When designing a terrace, you have to make sure you have enough of a pitch that it is either going toward a drain or the edge. Sadly, water tends to pool on my terrace because the contractor didn’t pitch enough. We eventually ended up cutting into the stone and adding a drain and piping because it was dripping through. So the number one rule of thumb, especially when you are making a specialty tile investment like I did, is to ensure there’s a proper pitch for water runoff so it doesn’t ruin the grout and foundation of the terrace. Yikes!

The Design Process Behind My Brooklyn Terrace
The Design Process Behind My Brooklyn Terrace

On the terrace garden design…

I am always thinking about how different textures are working together and making sure when something is astute and structured there is also something that moves with the wind and is a little more delicate. To achieve this, I worked closely with my gardener, Aimee Kirby of Ferox Studio to really set the tone with sagey blue colors mixed with a more typical pine and green tones and a varied mix of textures. I am such a lover of olive trees but we can’t grow those here in New York so I visited a ton of local nurseries to find different plant structures that were reminiscent of their texture.

Behind the sofa, we have a wall of willows that move a lot with the wind next to an evergreen pine tree (because I wanted things to be green all winter long) that is structured and more architectural. The anchor piece is the Blue Atlas Cedar in the corner so to balance it out, I made sure I had a Russian Sage to complement the blue tone. Since the willows are behind the sofa, I brought them to the other side so things feel purposeful and cohesive. 

Just like the other areas of the terrace design, I had a vision in mind for the garden so I put a mood board together for my gardener. Initially, my gardener choose plants that were almost too busy for me so there was a lot of back and forth. Even though I don’t have knowledge in horticulture or the types of trees/bushes that would thrive in my climate (knowing how to adjust for light and wind direction), the biggest lesson I learned during the garden process was to do your research and be involved as much as possible, especially when you have a specific vision in mind.

Even if you’re uneducated in the names of plants like me, go to the nursery yourself or go with a landscaper/gardener, take specific photos, and put a mood board together. If you live among trees or have the luxury of outdoor space in an urban area, you want it to be a reflection of yourself, so trust your eye, trust what you want, and don’t always put it into somebody else’s hands. Really getting involved is key. 

The Design Process Behind My Brooklyn Terrace
The Design Process Behind My Brooklyn Terrace
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