Inside a Modernist Monochromatic Brownstone with a Dog to Match

Carlen Parfums founders have mastered minimalist-chic design.

By: Hannah Baxter
Photography: Ben Ritter

If you’ve never taken a leisurely stroll up and down the streets of tree-lined Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, we *highly* recommend doing so immediately. The stunning brownstones can make even the most cynical New Yorker wax poetic about the city’s colorful history, as well as wonder just who lives behind each set of grandiose double doors. On a particularly picturesque block, there is yet another enviable building, and inside is the perfectly serene and minimalist space that many a city-dweller dreams about (us included!). For Jason Gnewikow and Jeff Madalena, co-founders of Carlen Parfums as well fashion-favorite boutique Oak, their gut-renovated apartment is simply home, albeit an incredibly chic one at that.

We were fortunate enough to garner an invite to come check out their expansive abode and hang out with their adorable dog, Barney. From the crisp white walls and custom light fixture to the touches of black fur and cowhide, every inch of the sunlit space is thoughtfully curated. Jason and Jeff actually own the entire building and rent out the top two floors as studios, while the first and bottom floors are for themselves, Barney, and their edited selection of plants—like the drool-worthy fiddle fig threatening to overtake the kitchen. They have self-professed green thumbs and often travel to their home upstate to cultivate their garden and shop for vintage pottery. If it’s anything like their Brooklyn apartment, we can’t wait to come visit it next!

Click through the photos to hear how they went from living in a 400-square-foot apartment in Greenpoint to finding this diamond in the rough, why they still love New York after a decade-plus, and how Carlen Parfums is giving potpourri a much-needed update.

“We were living [in Brooklyn] for about 3 years, then moved back to Greenpoint. We went from having basically 2,000 square feet to 400 square feet, then to this old place with all this amazing detail and tons of space, then to a modern condo that was about 500 square feet. We were like, ‘This is really nice,’ it had a garage and all those modern amenities, but we were like, ‘We just need more space.’ Then we really wanted to buy something.”

“We had lived on the corner for about three years about [a decade] ago in this amazing two-floor apartment. The [broker] who had rented us that apartment—we just bumped into her on the street. We told her we were looking [to buy] and she said, ‘Oh there’s a building on your block that’s coming up for sale, but it’s not going on the market.’ Then we just put in an offer and they accepted it.”

“It was really a stroke of luck. It was a little bit before people started buying [in this hood], because buildings weren’t really appraising for what people were offering, so it was kind of before the crazy mad dash of the last couple years.”

“These are the original floors—they were just sanded and whitewashed. Those pocket doors still work—we kept a lot of that stuff. But we were just like trying to not be too chained to the detail, you know? I think some people that are restoring all these brownstones don’t want to paint the molding because they want to keep it original, but you have to live like you’re in 2017, not like it’s 1910 [laughs].”

“When we moved here originally people were like, ‘Why are you moving to Bed-Stuy? That’s crazy!’ But we just wanted more space, and it’s actually a great neighborhood.”

“The constant change is kind of the best and worst thing about New York. [The city] always has so much newness to it—there’s always a new neighborhood that’s been turned over or a new bar that just got put somewhere. It’s not just that the city itself evolves, but even people totally evolve. It’s like, you’ll know someone and then you won’t see them for five years, and then you’ll run into them and they’ll have like completely reimagined themselves into something totally new, which is always super exciting. I mean, that’s just the nature of New York.”

“We started thinking about how we wanted to do the space and then how to incorporate this [first-floor] section of the apartment into downstairs without it being weird. So we hired an architect, pulled the trigger and did it. It took about nine months. [To remodel] everything took about two years.”

“When we renovated our place upstate, it was a really good starter, because that place was in really bad shape. But you realize that once you rip everything out and put everything back new, it almost doesn’t matter how horrible the space is—everything can be fixed and brought back to life. It was good to do that because this [renovation] seemed really scary when we got it.”

“We did [burn sage when we moved in]. A friend of ours had given us a huge [stick]. It was important—this place looked like it was like the movie set of Seven. Terrifying [laughs].”

“[For plants] I love Sprout Home in Williamsburg. There’s also this place in New Jersey called Metropolitan Plant & Flower Exchange. It’s on our way back from upstate. We have a whole garden upstate that we work in [as well], which we’ve been doing for the last eight years. We definitely do [have green thumbs].”

“As far as perennials, we’re obsessed with hydrangeas and peonies. Peonies come up early in the spring and I’m like completely obsessed with them. But usually all the flowers we plant are white [laughs].”

“I think we’re a bit magpie-ish. We loved the idea of having an old building that had a lot of some period detail, but then putting a twist on it and making it a little more modern.”

“A lot of the textiles were collected from going to Greece or Mexico. So there's a lot of that. That's our favorite thing to get on a trip.”

“It’s definitely modernist. There’s not a lot of color in the space, obviously, but I think that’s just sort of our general sensibility across all design. [Our aesthetic] I think was kind of seamless in that it evolved over time. There’s been a lot of change. We definitely [learned how to influence each other].”

“I think this space feels really unisex to me, which is part of the brand. And even with the new launch of the candle line—we’re doing fragrance beads—we design definitely with that idea in mind, which is something that could sit on a coffee table and merge right into a house. Scent is just part of the whole lifestyle.”

“Upstate [in] the garden, we [burn] Copal resin. It’s like another Mexican tree, but it’s the sap and it turns into these crystals. You basically burn it like charcoal, and then you dust this resin and put it over the charcoal and it’s like an incense. It smokes up the yard and it gets rid of all the mosquitoes, which is amazing. And it smells incredible.”

“We don’t have a lot of stuff—we never have. This is what it looks like every day. It’s never cleaned up, [and] we have no children except for this dog. It’s hard to pinpoint or define what our style is, but overall we just like things clean and bright.”

“No [we don’t have a preferred scent for our home], we go in and out. When it comes to scent, we’re like serial shoppers [laughs]. Sometimes we’ll burn through a candle and we won’t even finish it—we’ll just chuck it and get a new one, because it’s like, ‘What’s next?’ You know? But I will say that we burn a lot of Palo Santo. We always are burning the sticks and incense.”

“These [are the fragrance beads] and are dressed with a fragrance oil, and so they come in the specific scent that you would want. Then as the scent gets lighter you can re-oil. They come with a little replacement oil—it's a dropper bottle—you can re-fragrance them. And then basically if it's too potent you can just cap it, if it's too strong. It's kind of like an updated potpourri.”

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