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I Just ... Designed the Ultimate Live-Work Studio

Johanna Burke’s South Williamsburg loft with a view.


Sincerity isn’t the quality most New Yorkers use to schmooze their way into an apartment lease. But three years ago, Johanna Burke scored her 720-square-foot loft with sweeping views of the Manhattan Bridge based on, what her soon-to-be-landlord described as, “the sincerity of the applicant.” The building—originally a South Williamsburg pasta factory—is a haven for creative types, which is what drew Burke in the first place. “I wanted to live somewhere I could make noise in the middle of the night and not worry about neighbors,” says Burke, founder of Burke & Pryde Studio, creators of the fantastical window displays at Bergdorf Goodman, Tiffany & Co., and Ippolita. “Nobody cares about that stuff here. We’re all always working on something.”

But if the upside of living in such a place is lax rules, the downside is amenities. “When I moved in, the kitchen was a slop sink with dumpster-dive shelving,” she says. Burke’s first task was warming up a space made of cement floors, metal rafters, and concrete walls. Then she installed a proper kitchen and cloaked the place in plants (53 of them, at last count). The natural light dictated what areas performed which functions: The bedroom is tucked in a corner furthest from the windows, while the living/working areas are laid out to take advantage of the view.

Much of the front room was earmarked for work (designing things like life-size bears, made from miles of fringe, requires spreading out). The area is defined by a large glass table and a vintage Poul Cadovius modular wall unit, pieced together, thanks to eBay and antiques dealers. “The shelving is key,” she says. “Each section has a purpose: computing, reading, storage, and hanging inspiration.” The brilliance of this layout is the harmony between the “live” and “work” spaces. “On a good day, I’ll end up working on the sofa from late afternoon to sunset. It’s the place to be.”

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