Our House Calls feature takes you into homes with great style, big personality, and ineffable soul. Today we look at the Greenpoint apartment of Liz Shea, a buyer at Design Within Reach, and Mark Valenti, an artist, who’ve carved out a modern, minimalist live-work space in a 19th-century brownstone.
The first time Mark Valenti saw his current apartment, on a historic Greenpoint block, was well before he ever moved in—back in 1999, a photographer friend of his called the space home. “I was living in a big, raw loft, and he was living here,” Valenti explains, gesturing around the spacious apartment.
But by 2007, his friend needed another roommate, and Valenti jumped at the chance to move in. Though that friend eventually moved out, and a succession of other roommates passed through the space, Valenti has held on to it ever since—and a few years ago, his girlfriend, Liz Shea, joined him.
Together, the couple has created a minimalist, yet cozy, space that’s both a reflection of their shared love of clean lines and midcentury modern style (Shea works as a buyer for Design Within Reach), and the prewar building’s historic charms.
The building itself, built during the Civil War era, is located squarely within the Greenpoint Historic District, and thanks to the historic designation, many of its original flourishes—the ornate parlor doors, the plaster fixtures, and the like—remain.
“The owner of the house really cares about the history of the house,” She explains. “I think that’s why it’s retained a lot of its original beauty.”
The couple, who describe their shared style as eclectic, see “the age of the building is one more element of eclecticism,” according to Valenti. The apartment’s flourishes, such as picture molding on the walls, add texture and interest to the space, meaning Shea and Valenti can let the pieces that matter to them take center stage.
Shea has been collecting furniture since she was in college; a heavy industrial desk, which currently sits in the couple’s shared workspace, was her first find, and she’s accumulated myriad vintage pieces since then. “I love vintage, and I prefer pieces with a little patina, and a bit of personality,” she explains.
But thanks to her job as a buyer at Design Within Reach, plenty of midcentury pieces have also found their way into the apartment. In the living room, there’s a 1950s-style Bantam couch, a Noguchi table, and a leather Jens Risom armchair and ottoman set; Eames pieces, including two limited-edition wire base tables, and a walnut Hang-It-All (one of her first DWR purchases), are also part of the design scheme.
Beyond the furniture finds, the couple has added personality to the space with some antiques; an ornate mirror in the living room belonged to Shea’s grandparents, while Valenti inherited a 1920s table from his old roommate that currently sits in the studio/workspace.
The apartment’s main source of color comes from Valenti, who hangs his art (oil paintings, along with watercolors on paper) throughout the apartment. Some of the pieces are finished, older works, while others are works-in-progress that he keeps displayed as he’s working on them. “I put up the ones I can stand to look at,” he says with a laugh.
And there are other small collections, too: “I’ve been collecting armadillos since I was 16,” says Shea. “I just like the shape, and the fact that it has this hard shell and is really weird looking.” But collections have a tendency to grow, and Shea estimates that she has “hundreds” of pieces featuring the animal—stuffed animals, figurines, ceramics, and the like—in storage. A well-edited collection sits atop one of the mantelpieces.
As anyone who has cohabited with a partner knows, the process of moving in together can be fraught with problems—but Shea and Valenti didn’t encounter that issue when they decided to merge their homes. (Shea’s cat, Leah, also came along for the ride.) “Our tastes are pretty similar, and they work together pretty well,” says Shea.
Their shared commitment to tidiness almost certainly helps: Shea says they’re “neat and tidy,” while Valenti calls himself “severely organized,” which leads to fewer problems. That the apartment comes with an abundance of storage space might also help: There are a ridiculous number of walk-in closets (three in the apartment—allowing for his-and-hers closets for the couple—and one in the hallway), along with an ingenious storage space between the bedroom and the work room. (It’s also where Leah’s litter box is placed, keeping it
And though the space isn’t without its quirks—the bathroom is in the hallway; the kitchen may not have been updated since the 1950s—after a decade (for him) and a few years (for her), the apartment’s charms have yet to wear off. “It’s so special and rare to find a place like this that has a lot of its original structures intact,” says Shea.