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A Reluctant Fixer-Upper In Brooklyn Becomes A Dream Come True

by Rebekah Carey

and her husband Danny Fernandez (plus their cats, Frida and Bowser) live in a Brooklyn apartment they’ve just recently finished repairing, decorating and creating a home within. Danny is a high school teacher and Tiina is a psychiatric social worker. However, Tiina got her BFA in film production — which she pursued before switching gears — and she still loves design, photography, art, and creative-based endeavors. All of Tiina’s interests came into full view (and practice) as they were renovating their first apartment that they bought a year ago.

The search for their home wasn’t especially simple. It took a year to find an apartment in their price range, with their list of hopefuls: a large (for New York) one-bedroom, with dual exposure, and one that was close to transportation. One thing Tiina hadn’t expected was to buy a fixer-upper. It was the fourth apartment the couple put an offer on, and Danny was encouraging about the idea of fixing up a space and making it their own. Initially the couple was hoping to stay in the Bay Ridge area they had been living in for the past seven years, but they enjoy their new neighborhood of Kensington. “While it was hard to leave Bay Ridge, we’ve really come to love the neighborhood — especially getting to gawk at all the beautiful front lawns and having access to Prospect Park.” Tiina jokes, “So what if all the diners close at like 4 pm?”

After closing on the home just before New Year’s Day of 2017, the couple didn’t waste any time getting everything set up. “We made quick work of the early renovation process, demo’ing the kitchen, taking up the old vinyl tiles, refinishing floors, skim coating and painting,” Tiina shares. “We’re not DIY people so we hired out folks, but skipped the general contractor and I managed the project.” They moved in less than two months later, despite having no gas or water in the kitchen. Whatever reluctance Tiina had initially about their fixer-upper was quickly pushed aside when their projects were all wrapped up, and she got to revel in their hard work and determination. 

Photography by  

Image Above: The couple’s foyer features an enviable built-in perfect for displaying some of their most cherished treasures and collections, beautifully contrasting with the wall color. 

Tiina And Danny In Their Brooklyn Home On Design*Sponge
1/21

“This is us! Danny’s Bowser obsession runs deep,” Tiina shares, referring to Danny’s shirt (which is also a nod to his cat who shares the same name).

The Foyer Features Beautiful Built-Ins And Bold Color Tour On Design*Sponge
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“I love this built-in unit and I use it to display a rotating assortment of things we’ve collected. The conch shell is the product of too much rum punch on a cruise and the Bienvenidos sign is from our wedding. Also, the wall hanging was done by a friend of mine and is actually concealing our large circuit breaker. Everything has a purpose,” Tiina admits.

A Contrasting Foyer In Brooklyn Foyer On Design*Sponge
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Tiina shares one of her more subtle DIYs, “I have a big secret. That trunk is actually concealing our litter box. It’s the one DIY that we’ve done that hasn’t been an absurd failure. There’s a hole on the side for the cats to go into and it also serves as a place to take off our winter boots.”

The View From The Living Room In This Charming Brooklyn Apartment Tour On Design*Sponge
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Tiina shares a simple rule for decorating: “It’s true. You can never have too many plants.”

Beautiful Original Details Are Found In This Brooklyn Apartment On Design*Sponge
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“This is the view from our entry. I love the arches in our apartment that are mimicked on the built-in,” Tiina explains. “In a small space like this, I think these touches really help make a place feel special and cohesive.”

Natural Light Floods Into The Couple's Living Room Tour On Design*Sponge
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“When we got the sofa with the chaise lounge we thought that humans would get to sit on it, but it has not worked out that way,” Tiina teases. “Regardless, this leather behemoth from IKEA has been the only thing that has been able to withstand the little ones’ claws. So we’ll call it 1-1 in the cat vs. human games.”

Details In The Living Room Of This Charming Brooklyn Home On Design*Sponge
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“Rope chairs haunted my dreams till I found this one at the Brooklyn Flea. It is universally loved by all humans and cats in our apartment. It’s only empty in this photo because I shoo’ed a cat out of it. Sorry, cat,” Tiina admits.

An Understated Living Room In Brooklyn On Design*Sponge
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“I had wanted vintage rugs for a very, very long time before I pulled the trigger. I scoured eBay and ultimately bought four at one time site unseen. A lot of time, the reality does not live up to the expectation. This was not one of those times. I would buy them 100 times over and I really feel like they add so much to every room,” Tiina shares.

The Kitchen Also Features Contrasting Colors More Of This Brooklyn Tour On Design*Sponge
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“When I designed the kitchen I was really worried that it would end up feeling like a bowling alley,” Tiina jokes. “So I made one side a full pantry and kept the other side more minimal with no upper cabinets, just open shelving. I feel like having this space too symmetrical would just make it feel more narrow and claustrophobic. I went with my gut on this one and I’m really glad I did.”

Additional Kitchen Storage Tour On Design*Sponge
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“My organizational system in the kitchen is pretty simple. Ugly things go in cabinets, pretty things don’t. I love having these rails to store all of our stainless steel tools and pots, but don’t think that there isn’t also another drawer with a ton of nonstick frying pans,” Tiina shares.

A Beautiful Dining Nook In This Brooklyn Apartment On Design*Sponge
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“This is my favorite spot in our house. The kitchen was the one thing we did completely from scratch and I couldn’t be more pleased with it,” Tiina shares. “Having two windows and space for a breakfast nook was what sold me on this apartment. I guess you could say I was blinded by the light. Cue Bruce Springsteen.”

The Lovely Updated Kitchen Of This Brooklyn Apartment On Design*Sponge
12/21

“I really, really wanted a slide-in range and I’m really happy I went ahead and spent the money on one. Sometimes it’s worth scrimping on other things to splurge on something you really care about. Also, ignore the french press in the sink. D’oh.”

Open Shelving In The Kitchen Of This Brooklyn Tour On Design*Sponge
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“I’ve always had a hodgepodge of dishware before and when I decided to use open shelving, I knew that would have to change. I chose dishes from West Elm and Bed Bath & Beyond in a greyscale color palette to keep the space looking tidy. It was important to me to have cohesion without feeling like a boxed set,” Tiina explains.

Master Bedroom In Brooklyn Tour On Design*Sponge
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“Our books were a big source of contention when we moved. I love books, but I don’t love looking at books — but design and marriage are both about compromise. I like how we used them here and I hope that maybe someday we can switch out the IKEA Billy’s for built-in units.”

Special Details Above The Bed In Brooklyn Tour On Design*Sponge
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A sentimental score hangs above the couple’s bed: “The nautical map above our bed was something I picked up from a stoop sale for $10. It’s of the waters between Havana and Tampa. I grew up in the Tampa Bay area and Danny’s family is from Cuba. So buying it was a no-brainer. I’m not really into having a lot of photos, but I love pieces like this that were found but have a very intimate connection with our history.”

A Revamped Vintage Dresser Serves For Storage And A Plant Display On Design*Sponge
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“This was another DIY-don’t. I got this dresser because I loved the lines but it was covered in layers and layers of paint. I wonder where I got the name for my ,” Tiina jokes. “I thought stripping the paint would be a weekend process and it turned into an albatross. Long story short, its shabby-chic finish was not the intended goal but it’s where I ended up. Maybe someday I’ll pick up the mantle again to fight the good fight but for now I’m fine with a ‘lived-in’ look. The plants don’t mind one bit.”

Bedside Details In Brooklyn Tour On Design*Sponge
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“We only stripped one screw attempting to install these sconces. DIY is not our strong suit.”

Jewelry Storage Brooklyn Tour On Design*Sponge
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“We’ve traveled to Mexico several times and I love picking up ceramic pieces to take home,” Tiina says. “This pig dish actually holds earrings and the tiny cup made for Mezcal has rings in it. I love having everyday reminders of our trips, especially when I’m dealing with the Monday-Friday nine-five grind.”

Storage In The Bedroom Comes In All Shapes And Sizes Tour On Design*Sponge
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“Our apartment has four closets and two in the bedroom. In NY terms, that’s pretty good when it comes to storage but it’s never enough,” Tiina admits. “Those wicker baskets act as our impromptu linen closet and I’m pretty pleased with that combination of form and function.”

Favorite Thing About This Brooklyn Home On Design*Sponge
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“I am so absurdly thankful that we got to buy a place in NYC. It felt like an impossible goal for a social worker and teacher, but we did it! The purchasing process was intense to say the least, but I’m so happy that we pushed through and got the one that we did,” Tiina shares. “I’m also suuuuuper thankful for Danny for having the gumption to actually push us to get a fixer-upper and make it our own. I was terrified, and I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. Being involved in the design community of Instagram has also helped to encourage and inspire me along the way. It’s great to have a bunch of strangers tell you to walk away from the paint brush when you suggest painting something a bizarro color.”

Floor Plan For This Brooklyn Home Tour On Design*Sponge
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Tiina explains what makes their home special, “It’s a pretty standard apartment in NYC terms. Pre-war, has good molding but nothing particularly exciting. I think that the most unusual aspect of our home is that the kitchen is an actual EIK [Eat In Kitchen] and it has dual exposures. Heart eyes emoji.”

SOURCE LIST

Foyer
Paint- Benjamin Moore, “ and
Wall Hanging-
Rabbit Print-
Desk Lamp-
Chandelier- Original to apartment
Desk- Thrifted
Deer Mask- Stoop Sale
Other Art- Thrifted or from family
Step Stool-
Trunk- Vintage from
Pillows- Grandma and
Mirror- (no longer available, similar)
Rug- RugSelect via

Kitchen
Paint- Benjamin Moore, and
Cabinets- , Laxarby Style
Countertops-
Hardware- House of Antique Hardware: , , and
Brackets-
Pendant-
Chairs-
Table-
Art- Thrifted
Curtains-
Kitchen Rails-
Faucet-
Clock- Thrifted
Dishware, Glassware, and Cookware- , , , Amazon, IKEA, and thrifts
Subway Tile-
Grout-
Exhaust Hood and Stove- IKEA, &
Knife Rack-

Living Room
Paint- Benjamin Moore, and
Dresser- Vintage, 
Sofa-
Mud Cloth-
Pillows- Grandma, , IKEA, ,
Rug- RugSource via
Record Cabinet- , exact item not available online, but from same collection
Record Stand- Vintage,
Rope Chair- at Brooklyn Flea
Lamps- and Thrifted
Entertainment Center-
Coffee Table- Vintage,
Bookcase- Thrifted
Art- Thrifted
Mirror- Thrifted
Wall Hanging- Grandma

Bedroom
Paint- Benjamin Moore, and
Bed-
Nightstand-
Sconces-
Bookshelf-
Dresser-
Linens and Pillows- Target (, , ), IKEA, and Amazon
Wicker Baskets- Vintage, Bellmore Flea
Art- Thrifted
Chair- Curb Find
Mirror- and Thrifted, similar
Rug- RugSource,

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Comments

  • Oh WOW you absolutely made my day!

    Each day whilst having my coffee before going off to my boring day job and I enjoy house tours! This home is just perfect, layers and layers of textures, colours, warm and inviting and it looks like happy people live here.

    LOve, LOve it!

  • That litter box DIY is genius!! Such a lovely home, I appreciate her honesty about the DIYs gone awry, too. 😂

  • Very nice! Especially the entry gallery – stunning. It looks like a really nice apartment with good bones, a good layout and lots of windows. You must be so glad you took the punt on it despite not really wanting a fixer upper. It looks like it has been so worth it.

  • For one who is NOT into DIY you did a pretty spectacular and very beautiful job of your appt. Congrats – I too love all of it – but particularly that cat litter box…. that’s pure genius. Your kitchen is one I would love to work in too and the old rugs – heaven! An oriental Afghan rug, bought from the ‘bonded warehouse’ in Switzerland, was my first serious investment when I was young. It’s still being used daily some 40 yrs later and hasn’t lost its shine and grace. Stay happy, friends, this is a happy home and it shows!

    • Thanks! I agree with you 100% on the rug topic. They bring me so much happiness and add so much that they’ve paid for themselves a hundred times over, and it’s only been a year!

  • Omg! I fell in love with the foyer’s dark paint.. So elegant and you did a great job combining the rest of the colours together!
    I’m all about the dark and bold paint colours, and this one is just great!

    • Thank you. I really like to go bold in rooms you “pass through” and keep it a little more subdued in rooms you spend more time in. Nevertheless I think being able to see the foyer from everywhere adds just a touch of excitement and contrast. For me at least. 🌟

  • This woman is a delight and following her on IG just added a little happiness to my Thursday morning. 👍🏼❤️🤗

  • Lovely! And so livable!

    One question — where did you get the graduated measuring cup? Great design and space saver, it caught my eye.

    Thanks!

  • I loved this apartment. Its warm, cozy, grounded and those vintage rugs really add character to the space. I also loved how the kitchen has a nice eat-in corner that feels so homey!!! Nicely done!

  • Congrats you two on buying such a nice place in NY! I love the unified design sense!

    I was surprised that Tina isn’t into the look of photos or books. Odder still, the link to her blog takes me to an unsecured website made of nothing but scrambled letters. Hope it will get fixed soon…

    • Hey Suzanne,

      I’m just curious is the site still giving you a bunch of gobblygook? Also regarding the photos I should probably clarify that I more mean photos of meeeeee, I have enough mirrors around that I don’t need to see more images of my mean old mug. ;D

  • Ok as a cat owner, as soon as I saw that trunk DIY I skipped the rest and came right to the comments to ask HOW YOU DID IT! (I will go back and check the rest of this beauty in a minute, of course.)

    Did you line the trunk with something plastic, and if so what/how? Did you control for *ahem* spills or accidental peeing outside the box? I need to know!! I’ve tried this project before and now just have a sad, stinky wooden box in my garage waiting for bulk pickup day… Would love to hear how you made this!

    • Hey Suzy,

      So as a rudimentary DIYer this was pretty down and dirty for sure. The trunk isn’t lined with anything so it def gets smelly but we use a deodorizer and the litter we get is also pretty good at capturing smells. So the litter box INSIDE the truck is basically the same width and then there’s about 8 inches or so of space at the “entrance” (ie HOLE). We have a little litter catching mat there and it’s pretty good but of course some still spills out, but we’ve never had a problem with “spills” of non-litter stuff outside the box.

      I def think we’ll probably switch out the trunk ever couple of years or so because it will inevitably get smelly. I think upgrading to metal would help with this issue, but obviously be harder to drill a hole into.

      Let me know if that helps or if you have any other questions!

  • Somewhat creepy but I can tell from these photos that you live in my building! Gorgeous style and hope we get a chance to compare apartments sometime.

    • Haha. Only somewhat creepy! You’re actually the second person to tell me this. So all I know is that everyone in our building has spot on design taste cause apparently we all read DesignSponge. ;) Def say hi if you see me around sometime.

  • VERY BEAUTIFUL, IMPRESSED WITH THE DECORATION ON THE WALLS AND THROUGH THE APARTMENT.
    CONGRATULATIONS!!!

  • Awesome design! Love the dark entryway. You did such a good job! I used to live in that neighborhood in a similar apartment. Enjoy!

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