Magdalena and Jonathan Keck had a few nonnegotiable demands when looking for an apartment. They wanted to live on the top floor of a downtown prewar no matter how many flights they had to climb to get there — and there had to be outdoor space. They found it in this East Village apartment, which is just under 1,000 square feet and six flights up. They gutted it and planted a roof garden upstairs.
It had been two units combined, albeit sloppily. “You could clearly see where the division was, and it was in bad shape, and that was great for me because all of this was going,” says Magdalena, an interior designer and art dealer, with a sweep of her hand. (Her husband, Jonathan, is a graphic designer for Chanel.) She got to work. “At one point, there were no walls; it was stripped down to the skeleton of the building,” she says.
Magdalena is not afraid to tear everything up and start over. She grew up in Poland but fell in love with New York City while on vacation as a college student in 1993. Later that year, she moved here to study interior design at F.I.T. Even though her first apartment, in Park Slope, was a rental, she couldn’t help but make her mark on it: “I replaced the whole kitchen, and I think I redid the floor, too, and I demolished some walls to make it more open.” After working in a sculpture studio, then a flower shop, she “pretty quickly got a job with a design firm that specialized in high-end-retail design.” Then she started her own practice in 2003.
For the East Village apartment, she chose a serene palette of pure whites and earth tones. There was a moment when she and her husband considered keeping the exposed brick: “And then very quickly, we were like, ‘No.’”
She redid the kitchen, which is flanked by two windows. “I wanted to accentuate the verticality,” she says of her decision to have the doorways span the full ceiling height, making the apartment feel more spacious and proving to be the biggest construction challenge, solved by the mill worker when he devised a pulley system to hoist each door up through the stairwell.
“I had this desire to have a primary suite, almost like in a nice hotel, where the bathroom opens to the bedroom and closet,” says Magdalena.
As rigorous and minimal as the design plan is, there’s warmth and comfort where everything seems to have found its place. “So even though it looks very organized,” she says, “I feel a lot of freedom within this system.”
But the garden is her oasis. “Growing up close to nature in the Masuria region of Poland, my natural desire and vision have always been to have a feeling of wilderness,” she says. “Having that in the middle of Manhattan is extra special.”
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