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A living area with a couch, arm chair, upright piano, planter with a plant, and a table. There are floor to ceiling windows overlooking the New York City waterfront and a bridge. There is a mirror and works of art on the wall.

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A home for four centers around one river—and 200 plants

Cultivating calm, a duo designs a respite in Brooklyn Bridge Park

When AJ Pires and Rachel Johnston traded classic brownstone Brooklyn for a waterfront property in Dumbo in 2016, they weren’t just after a view of the city, proximity to Brooklyn Bridge Park, or easier access to transportation. It was the slow, cinematic flow of water that ultimately convinced them to take up residence right next to the East River.

A man and a woman sit on a couch smiling and looking at each other. In the foreground is a glass table. In the background are plants in planters and floor to ceiling windows.
Pires and Johnston in their home in Dumbo, Brooklyn, surrounded by plants inherited from her late father.

Pires and Johnston, who met in architecture school at the University of Pennsylvania, took less-traditional paths in the field, with Johnston pursuing landscape architecture and Pires obtaining additional training in real estate development. The couple moved to New York after graduate school in 2006 and settled in the borough’s leafy Fort Greene neighborhood, where they lived for almost 10 years. During that time, Pires co-founded Alloy Development, a real estate development company with properties in Brooklyn and Manhattan, where he leads acquisition, design, and construction.

In 2013, Alloy acquired a site at One John Street, located entirely within Brooklyn Bridge Park and adjacent to the river. Pires and Johnston had the chance, after two different apartments—one rented, one owned—in Fort Greene, to move into the building themselves. The couple considered what a move to a new neighborhood might look like as their children, Jack and Isla, grew older and the family’s routines changed.

Pires was inspired by Dumbo’s industrial beauty and its proximity to the waterfront park, as well as its unique constraints: its infrastructure and geography, highways and bridges, and the edge of the water. “The river offered a sense of serenity that you don’t get in a lot of places where there’s chaos otherwise surrounding you,” Johnston says. Plus, when you’re in architecture school, Pires adds, there’s a dream of getting the chance to design your own home. They decided it was the right move.

“We knew about the opportunity to take a unit three years before we did so,” he recalls. “There was a huge runway to getting our heads into the space and thinking about how we would occupy it.”

A kitchen with a large table, chairs, island, and wooden cabinetry. There are copper colored globe shaped light fixtures hanging from the ceiling. The walls are white. The kitchen backsplash is patterned.
The dining room is home to a walnut Montis Doble table and Ch36 Wegner dining chairs. Statement Tom Dixon light fixtures hang overhead. Kitchens in all units at One John Street are by Italian brand RiFra, though the kitchen backsplash is made from tiles by friend Forrest Lesch-Middelton, and the shelf holding dry goods is by Mark Jupiter, who also built the shelving in the couple’s bedroom.
Wooden shelves hold a variety of assorted bird sculptures. The back wall is covered in colorful wallpaper.
A series of bird sculptures from Johnston’s grandmother adorn the bathroom, camouflaged against the floral cacophony of Flavorpaper’s Elan Vital wallpaper.

Construction began in 2014 and was completed in 2016. The apartments in One John Street aren’t custom homes—the units are finished, kitchens and bathrooms already devised—but since Pires was one of the designers, Johnston says, she felt like the place still had a bit of his stamp. “It never felt like it wasn’t ours in some way,” she adds. Exposed columns run through the edges of the apartments, and streamlined cabinetry from RiFra keeps clutter to a minimum.

Pires and Johnston gave their convertible four-bedroom apartment an even more personal feel with interventions like custom backsplash tile by Forrest Lesch-Middelton for the kitchen, or the psychedelic Flavorpaper wallpaper in one of the bathrooms, which was chosen to disrupt the quieter aspects of the space. The bathroom also provides a home for a series of bird sculptures from Johnston’s grandmother, which are are camouflaged against the floral cacophony of the walls. They added custom shelving, made by Mark Jupiter, in the master bedroom to maximize storage.

A living area with built-in wooden shelves that hold many books and assorted objects. There are plants in planters next to a floor to ceiling window. In the foreground is the corner of a bed with white bed linens.
The bedroom’s built-in shelving and desk are by Mark Jupiter. Eames fiberglass side chairs sit at the desk, while West Elm planters hang out under custom Baumann linen drapes from Workroom NYC.

The new apartment was more than twice the size of their previous one in Fort Greene, so even with the pieces they kept—like their artwork, or a green desk chair they picked up in grad school—there was a significant amount of space to fill. That meant buying more, and larger, furniture to fill things out. Once sales on the units had begun, the couple had the opportunity to poke around model apartments to see how they were furnished. “We had this unusual ability to see different styles and attempts at using the space before we moved in,” Pires says, noting that they chose a sofa in the same style as one from a staged apartment in the building. “We [didn’t] need to reinvent the wheel to get the perfect couch for the space.”

The corner of a room with a floor to ceiling window. In front of the window is a wooden chair and multiple planters with plants. A tan dog sits next to the plants looking towards the camera.
The family dog, Ollie, sits opposite a Wegner Ch07 Shell chair and Grasshopper lamp.

The couple also inherited close to 200 plants, mostly succulents and cactuses, from Johnston’s late father around the time that they moved into the apartment. Pires notes that while they weren’t planning on the green additions, they’ve been a welcome presence, and even helped direct the color story of the interiors.

“When we started inheriting the plants and realized we were going to have a ton of green in the apartment, a lot of the other color ideas sort of faded away,” Johnston says, noting that the collection has thrived with the floor-to-ceiling windows. “We wanted to keep the palette more neutral so the plants could provide the color.” The commitment to a restrained color range can be seen in the couple’s bed linens and light fixtures, as well as touches like their daughter’s bed frame, their dining chairs, and the wall colors.

A bedroom with a bed that has a wooden bedframe, multiple assorted pillows, white bed linens, and a striped blanket. There is a children’s toy car on a fluffy area rug next to the bed.
Isla’s room is home to a Duc Duc bed with a custom canopy by Mark Jupiter. A Ferm Living blanket rests on top. The walls are painted in Farrow & Ball’s Pink Ground.

The relaxed interiors also invite the river to take on a central role in the family’s daily lives, something they feel grateful for in the hubbub of their new neighborhood. Their spot on the third floor, Johnston explains, isn’t a detriment, as it has broader windows than the floors above it: The lower floor allows their view of the water to take up two-thirds or three-quarters of the master bedroom window, a calming force in the mornings. Pires echoes that sentiment.

A living area with couches, an arm chair, glass table, and planters with plants. There are floor to ceiling windows overlooking a waterfront and buildings in the distance.
In the living room, a Noguchi coffee table sits between sections of a B&B Italia Charles sofa, with a France & Son reproduction of Wegner’s CH25 chair and Mantis BS1 B floor lamp to the side. The apartment’s location on the third floor allows for an expansive view of the East River.

“The connection to the park and the river is really serene, it slows you down,” he says. “It’s such a privilege to be living by the water.”

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