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This is a kitchen with secrets; smooth, unadorned cabinets hide the workaday items of daily life.
This is a kitchen with secrets; smooth, unadorned cabinets hide the workaday items of daily life.
Hallie Burton

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A Minimalist Family Home Provides an Urban Oasis in NYC

Dealing with kids, clutter, and busy lives through design

Telling people about the Yannopoulos-Burton apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side is akin to describing a unicorn. The family home is minimalist (no easy feat with a pair of work-from-home parents and an active six-year-old in residence), serene (a welcome feature in the City that Never Sleeps), and designed for convenience in an era where form occasionally trumps function. But if you cast aside your doubts, you can step inside and view this mythical design beast.

The family decided to become homeowners three years ago. While Hallie Burton was eager to embrace the idea, her husband, George Yannopoulos, was less so—and the sight of the apartment pre-remodel did nothing to build his enthusiasm. "It was a wreck," he says. "And I don't think we anticipated the amount of work we would need to do." Burton elaborates: "It was all oak cabinets, bookshelves, and a chopped-up layout that hid the home's potential."

They hired architect Filipe Pereira—who had just left Zaha Hadid Architects to found his own firm Pereira Associates—to help them reveal the true capacity of the place. In his hands, it went from a cramped, many-sectioned box to a bright-white, modernist home that can open or close with the flick of a track curtain. "Filipe's strategy was to 'unfold' the box," says Burton.

What that unfolding involved was removing non-load bearing walls and reconfiguring the rooms to let sunlight penetrate the core of the home. "The old place had a traditional floor plan that might have worked well in its day, but it basically stopped the light at both ends," Pereira says.

That's not to say that say that the home is completely open. Strategic storage, pocket doors, and curtains in this 1,300-square-foot home conceal the detritus of human life. "I've always been a minimalist," says Burton. "When I look around the apartment, I don't want to see stuff, or clutter."

Clockwise from top: The Blu Dot metal Strut table makes a great, easy-clean dining surface and acts as an extra work area for George Yannopoulos (seen here with daughter Pompie, whose understated art table from Community Playthings and Otto chairs from Bloom are also at home in the space); Hallie Burton says the custom-designed sofa across from the Cherner lounge chair and Eames armchair rocker is big enough for the whole family; Burton's photos hang in a gallery wall over a child-size LCW Eames chair.

The architect created built-ins in the kitchen, living room, and bedroom that read as monolithic white boxes but are, in fact, storage powerhouses. For instance, the white credenza in the living room holds the contents of Burton's office. "When you pull open the drawers, you see all my photo books," she says. The kitchen counter doubles as her desk.

Pereira says living and working in New York City trains an architect to examine every possible area and item for storage and multiple uses. "When you design small spaces, and most New Yorkers have them, you have to look at every nook and cranny for space. Every inch counts," he says. "Here, I created a lot of built-ins because it's the most cost effective and efficient way to give them the most storage possible."

From left: Track curtains separate George's office from the dining table surrounded by Panton chairs and topped by a Zettel'z 5 chandelier; the vent hood is designed as a simple shape that's meant to fade into cabinets by Leicht.

Yannopoulos' office is hidden behind a curtain in the dining room. The linen drape extends along an entire wall here, screening the narrow workspace and, when privacy is needed, the entry to the bedrooms. "My office is my space, and I can pull the curtain closed and hide my strategic piles of stuff," he says. "This is how we are able to keep clutter at bay, or at least hide it well. The apartment always feels clean; you don’t feel cluttered physically or mentally."

Clockwise from top: Given that her parents give her a piece of art on each birthday (such as the typography piece from Castle and Things that speaks of love), Pompie's room has a gallery wall (storage unit is Kartell's Componibili, bed covering is Marimekko's Unikko); part of the living room is dedicated play space; Burton chose the Dots coat hooks from Muuto for storage that "looks happy."

However, kids will be kids—and that means art projects and toys are going to happen. The living room's design takes this into account, and two small bump outs delineate Pompie's play areas. Her art table sits on one; a small playhouse, a toy box, and a dollhouse are tucked to the side of another. Burton admits to selecting visually appealing kid accessories when possible, and brands like ducduc are favorites.

That's not to say the minimalist white space is sterile. Burton comes from a long line of gardeners and, although she has no soil of her own to dig her fingers into, she's planted a virtual garden by using fabrics and art decorated by riotous floral prints. For the custom headboard in the couple's bedroom, she chose a textile covered with blossoms that look like they are rendered in watercolors; Pompie's bedroom features Marimekko's iconic poppy-print, Unikko; and fresh cut flowers bloom in the spaces all year round.

From left: The custom headboard is crafted with cloth sourced from B&J Fabrics and is topped by a Tolomeo sconce; Burton keeps fresh flowers in her home all year round.

Pops of color—such as a bright pink cuckoo clock—also enliven the space. To Burton, who was born Down Under, the concept is familiar. "Back home, a lot of apartments are white and bright, with spots of color making them feel happy and modern," she says. "I wanted to bring what I love about Australian apartments to America."

Burton and Pompie in one of Burton's favorite spaces, the kitchen (cuckoo clock from Gin & Tonic, barstools from Mater Design).

Keeping things happy involves an ease of living (and maintenance) that's achieved through design. Iconic modern pieces, such as the Vitra Panton chairs or Kartel Componibili Round storage units, can be easily wiped down. Convenient features that make the home work perfectly for the family include sensors that trigger bathroom lights when someone enters the room, heated racks that keep towels warm and dry, and on-demand hot water that has Burton's beloved English Breakfast tea ready in minutes. "It's the little things and the small details that make life a lot easier," says Burton.

Pompie, dressed in a dress from Smokks and an apron from Odette Williams, reads her mother's childhood cookbook.

Those kinds of ease-of-living features do come in handy for this busy family (Pompie is a kindergarten student by trade; Yannopoulos works with contracting business Progroup New York; Burton's photography centers on retail products and food; and together the couple founded Smokks, a floral-centric clothing line for girls). But the workaday also mixes with more abstract emotions and senses. "When Pompie grows up, I think she'll look back and remember us being here, all together," says Burton. "And she'll remember always having flowers for her room."

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