I Just … Spent One Year Turning a Cookie-Cutter Apartment Into a Family Sanctuary

The last boom market brought with it a lot of less-than-stellar architecture. A prime example is the Brooklyn building architect Yuuki Kitada, his wife, Yuki, and their son, Issey, call home. The family purchased their three-bedroom apartment in 2010, then Kitada got renovating—because, as he puts it, “it’s such an ugly building.” The interior was no prize either, with standard-issue yellowish wood flooring, cheap moldings, and builder-grade finishes throughout.

Though the space is only about a thousand square feet, the renovation took nearly a year. Kitada is seriously detail-­oriented, and meticulousness has its drawbacks. “Finding a contractor who could do what I wanted was challenging,” says Kitada. “There were a lot of meetings. And I drew a lot of sketches.” That said, a year doesn’t seem so long a period of time, given how thorough the process was; it was less a renovation than a complete reimagining.

One of the most impressive aspects of the space is the lighting. This is no surprise; while on staff at Peter Marino’s firm, Kitada worked on the LED façade of Chanel’s Ginza outpost in Tokyo and helped with the LED ticker on what’s now the Barclays building in midtown. There’s lighting behind the baseboards (concealed by an MDF-panel box); above the shelves of the living room’s feature wall, displaying everything from wire baskets to kids’ games; and in the central hallway. Almost every fixture is controlled via dimmers, affording a nearly unlimited mood range.

About that hallway: When lit, it becomes evident that the ceiling isn’t flat, but very subtly faceted. This corridor serves as the bridge “between personal and private,” in Kitada’s words, or between the living spaces and the bedrooms, and his goal there was to create an almost sacred effect. “It’s spiritual,” he says. “At night, we only use one light, and it becomes a quiet connection.”

There is, as well, a sense of play: Kitada cut a cube-shaped passage through the bottom of the foyer partition. He modeled it after an open hole at the base of a wood column in a temple in his hometown. (“If you can crawl through it, you get a fortune,” he notes. His son routinely crawls through it.)

Wood, specifically oak, is a common denominator throughout the apartment. The twin private offices on the other side of the living area (one for Kitada, one for Yuki, a graphic and textile designer) are enclosed by oak-paneled walls. “It helped me establish a consistent feeling,” says Kitada. The living room’s shelving, the floors, and the walls are all clad in oak, and Kitada often draws the eye to the material by lighting the wood from the side when the grain is horizontal, and from above when it’s vertical. “It’s my dream to live with nature,” he says, “and to respect natural materials.” Accordingly, the wood throughout is unglossed save for in the central hall, where the slick texture adds to the glowing effect when the space is lit.

Elsewhere, the design is better described by noting what isn’t there than detailing what is. Door frames are flush, the shelves in the living room seem to float, virtually all corners are softened, closet doors slide seamlessly. The overall effect is subtle—but that subtlety was hard-won.

The oak panels above and below the kitchen pass are set so the grain runs horizontally; those flanking it are arranged vertically. The small opening, which leads to the foyer, is modeled after an open space cut into the base of a wood column at the Todaiji temple in Nara, Japan, Kitada’s hometown. The barstools and sofa are both from ABC Carpet and Home. Photo: Annie Schlechter

The Bestlite pendant is by the Danish company Gubi. The glow on the right wall is cast by LED lights tucked behind the baseboards. Photo: Annie Schlechter

The stove is by Bertazzoni Stove, the sink by Franke. The brownstone slate floors were found at Stone Source. Photo: Annie Schlechter

The existing floors were not replaced, simply bleached, instantly brightening up every room. The bed is from Ikea, the artwork by Issey, age 7. Photo: Annie Schlechter

The tub is by Duravit, the Axor spout designed by Philippe Starck. A recessed fixture above the tub has a clear, rather than frosted, lens, creating a spotlight effect so the water’s surface reflects light back up to the ceiling. Photo: Annie Schlechter

Bathroom before. Photo: Courtesy of Yuuki Kitada

I Just … Spent One Year Turning a Cookie-Cutter […]