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One-room living is the bane of many New Yorkers' existence, but while some studio-dwellers use a bookcase as a makeshift divider or contemplate installing a Murphy bed, Terri Chiao took one look at her high ceilings and saw treehouse potential. The architect-slash-designer enlisted her art school pals to build two freestanding structures in her Bushwick loft—an enclosed platform, reachable by staircase, and a pitched-roof cabin. Both were inhabited by roommates until Chiao's partner, fellow artist Adam Frezza, moved in three years ago and the duo transformed the apartments-within-an-apartment into an bedroom and an office, respectively.
"Cultures that use raw materials really simply are inspiring, so I look to a lot of Japanese design, a lot of Scandinavian design—places that are often very connected to the environment and how it works," Chiao told Racked during a recent visit. That minimalist bent is evident throughout the space—from the couple's handmade dining room table (complete with sawhorse legs) to their colorful A-frame shelving (which they sell under their joint label, Chiaozza). Tour Chiao and Frezza's three-room studio, below.
"The shapes came from the weird geometry of the apartment," Chiao (right) says of the apartment's wooden structures. "There's a diagonal wall, and shifting everything on a diagonal access made sense at the time. The cabin has a pitched roof because it's fun to look at and it helps more light flow through the space. If it had floor-to-ceiling walls the apartment would feel a bit more blocked off."
The cabin doubles as the couple's office. "This is a rug that we got on a trip to Morocco," Frezza says. "They just bring out piles of them. We ended up choosing this one because of its weirdness. There are rugs that the rug dealers call ‘Berber Picassos’—there are a lot of beautiful ones that follow certain motifs, but a Picasso is more about the person who made it."
Chiao and Frezza's collection of greenery is dotted with their own papier-mâché plants, which they call "lump nubbins." Each lump nubbin is one-of-a-kind, but you can shop styles similar to that blue cactus up front at boutiques like Mociun, Love Adorned, The Primary Essentials, and Objectify 139. (Or, check out the Chiaozza website, where a small selection is up for sale.)
The couple's cat, Boo, surveys his kingdom.
"This staircase is one of my favorite spots in the apartment," Chiao says. "When I treat myself to ice cream in the afternoon, this is where I'll sit."
While there's a bedroom upstairs, Chiao and Frezza prefer to sleep underneath the platform. "This was our office for a little while, and we kind of felt claustrophobic under there," Frezza says. "But then we wedged the bed in. The light comes in pretty immediately when the sun rises, so we used this as a little cave dwelling and found that we could sleep in and be blocked from the light."
The staircase leads to a second sleeping area, where the couple has arranged a mini gallery wall.
One of Chiao and Frezza's handmade shelving units hangs in the second-floor bedroom. "When the light hits it just right each segment has a little bit of color that illuminates the wall behind it," Frezza says. Similar pieces are currently for sale on Chiaozza's website.
The couple occasionally rents out their space to travelers (more info can be found on their Tumblr, A Cabin in a Loft). "People that tend to stay here…they’re willing to stay in Brooklyn, which is kind of a big deal when you’re coming from another country," Chiao says. And they’re willing to stay in this shared situation. A lot of times they're artists, or interested in design. I feel like it’s a self-selected group."
"Our aesthetic is minimal, kind of playful, kind of rough," Frezza says.
"It takes about two to three hours to legitimately water the plants," says Frezza. "It's a commitment. We're drawn to plants that thrive on neglect—that way we can coexist and not have to work at it too hard."
Many of the structural elements in Chiao and Frezza's apartment are simply solutions to design problems. That wide wooden shelf, for example, was built to hide a pipe.
Building the perfect gallery wall (like this one, in the couple's kitchen) is no big deal when all of your friends are artists.
When Chiao and Frezza ran out of cabinet space, they took matters into their own hands and built extra-long shelves.
"We like to use the things we have. If people buy our work we want them to live with it—it doesn't have to be so precious," Chiao says of the couple's design mission. "It all comes back to utility in a way, the experience of everyday life is really important to us."