Dwight Huffman has had many careers (designing furniture, styling photo shoots, painting), but it wasn’t until he bought this Williamsburg garage nine years ago that he figured out how to make money. Through a series of transactions—this building bought, its equity leveraged to buy another, that one renovated and rented out, more borrowed to finish this place, a new project under way—he’s become a mini-tycoon, albeit one who would be priced out of the neighborhood today. “It has completely changed in five years,” Huffman says. “Bigger people come in with more money and take the ideas from whatever was done before.”
His next gig: interior designer, and what better client to start with than himself? Huffman set about transforming his unlovely commercial building into a 25-by-100-foot compound of three distinct spaces. “I wanted the place to interrelate and be flexible,” he says. “The apartments”—2,400 square feet on the second and third floors for him, a one-bedroom at the back of the lot, and a separate studio behind the garage—“can be opened up to each other or closed off. If things are going well, I keep the back place for guests. If they aren’t, I close it off and rent it out.”
Huffman planned the three units with his friend, Viennese architect Kilian Mattitsch. “Both of us were liking Moroccan houses that have center courtyards; that was a jumping-off point,” he says of the inward-looking design, which is centered on a second-story concrete deck. The theme had the bonus of suggesting liberal use of tile. “I am a tile fanatic. Anything can be coated in tile, and then it’s okay,” he says.
Huffman’s tile obsession—fueled by New York’s subway system—also fed into his desire to merge indoors and outdoors. “I am always thinking about outside versus inside, and having those things open up to each other,” he says. The concrete floor in the living room is scored to match the concrete pavers outside. And he searched high and low to find exterior venetian blinds à la Australian architect Glenn Murcutt to divide and shade his rooms.
Huffman has spent the past few years perfecting his intense interiors, which he prefers to be as bold and solid as possible. In his living space, the effect is similar to a 3-D virtual environment: red, white, gray, or black planes with barely any texture, just lines. His inspirations tend to be just as abstract: the simple grid of Superstudio’s Quaderna tables, the overscaled staircases of Italian painter Giorgio de Chirico, the pill-popping sculpture of Damien Hirst, the basic structure of the bento box. This last inspired his wood-lined guest studio. “I’ve never been to Japan. Japan is a fantasyland for me,” he says. “I am always grooving on Japanese-garden books, which is not to say that I really understand it. For me, it is all eye candy.”