A Manhattan Apartment Full of Salvaged Finds


For years, Elena Colombo loved the live-work studio she shared with her partner, Mark Lavelle, in an industrial section of Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. She had a workshop and office where she could tinker, and was near the artisans and vendors that her company, FireFeatures, needed to make large-scale fire bowls and sculptures.

As her business grew, though, more of her production moved to a facility in Factoryville, Pa. She and Mr. Lavelle, both 61, saw that as an opportunity to move back to Manhattan, where they’d previously lived.

Their location in Brooklyn “felt kind of far removed,” Ms. Colombo said, adding that they also have houses in Greenport, N.Y., and outside Scranton, Pa., so they liked the idea of living in the heart of the city.

“I just love being in Manhattan, because that’s where everybody is,” she said. “All my friends were still there.”

In the spring of 2019, she and Mr. Lavelle, who works in health care-related finance, bought a two-bedroom, 1,700-square-foot condominium in a 1920s Art Deco building near Penn Station for about $1.9 million. They were pleased that it was a corner unit with windows facing two directions, and that the location made it easy to get into, out of and around the city by car or public transit.

But the interior? Commercial gray wall-to-wall carpeting, an outdated kitchen with laminate counters, tiled vanity tops with thick lines of stained grout — it was waiting to be torn out.

The couple moved in and Ms. Colombo immediately began drawing up plans for a renovation. With oversight from Tacet Creations, an architecture firm, she hoped to create a home that reflected her personal style, not only because she wanted to be surrounded by the things she loves, but because she planned to work from home and meet clients in the space.

In 2020, with permit in hand and STM Interior Construction engaged to do the work, demolition began — right before the pandemic shut down the job. They were at a standstill for months, but Ms. Colombo used the extra time to adjust the plans and address unexpected discoveries. When contractors pulled up the carpet and tile, for instance, they found that the original floor was terrazzo. It was in poor condition and covered in adhesive, but Ms. Colombo decided it was far better than new hardwood. When work restarted, she directed her contractors to grind and polish the floor and install brass inlays where there were expansion gaps.

To create a larger kitchen, she moved the front door because it interfered with her cabinetry layout. For the cabinets, she got quotes from numerous companies and was shocked that most of them were over $200,000. She wanted to maintain an upscale look but slash the cost, so she contacted the Indonesian company Kalpa Taru on the advice of an interior designer friend, Julia Roth.

For about $65,000, the company could build her a custom kitchen out of solid teak, including paneling for the ceiling and backsplash. Finished with integrated brass pulls, soapstone counters and a blackened-steel range hood that Ms. Colombo made at her shop, the finished kitchen now has a slightly nautical feel that is anything but cookie cutter.

She was just as hands-on with other elements. For a custom steel, wall-mounted shelving unit in the living room, she developed a design with Parke MacDowell, an architect and metalworker she found on Etsy. For bathroom tile, she visited a slate quarry in Pennsylvania to order the exact size and finish she wanted. For her home office, she bought gold-foil-backed grasscloth wallcovering from Donghia during a warehouse sale on LiveAuctioneers.

Vintage furniture and art that Ms. Colombo has collected over the years provide visual warmth. The living room has a midcentury-modern armchair by Ib Kofod-Larsen that she found on a TriBeCa curb decades ago, then repaired and reupholstered. On a teak credenza, she mounted a patinated bilge pump cover from a boat on an antique Chinese stand — displaying it as sculpture — flanked by vintage Italian lamps.

In the dining area, there are tubular Brno chairs by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe around a vintage rosewood table, which isn’t just a place to eat: “That’s my conference table,” Ms. Colombo said.

A pair of salvaged pocket doors found at Olde Good Things open to her office, where inspirational artworks hang over the grasscloth, including drawings from friends and pieces by unknown artists that she picked up at vintage shops. “I do love antiquing,” she said.

The home was mostly done by the summer of 2021, at a cost of roughly $600,000, although Ms. Colombo is still fine-tuning the decoration. But even if everything hasn’t yet found its perfect place, the apartment is exactly what she wanted.

“It’s all about creating the right ambience and sparking creative vibes,” she said. “I feel like I’m back home.”

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