In collaboration with Avocado.
Eva Alt is a visual storyteller at heart. In her eight years as a New York City resident, the dancer has hopped from one studio apartment to the next, each with a decidedly different look. Her last space, in SoHo, was sparsely furnished and all white—down to the floors. "I filled it with white orchids," Alt says. "It was a very amazing feeling to be in there, but a little limiting."
So when she and her partner, architect Sharif Khalje, moved into a pre-war apartment in Manhattan's Union Square neighborhood, they were excited to lean into a new, layered design aesthetic. The brownstone was chock-full of charming details like original moldings and pocket windows that made the space sing. With gorgeous lighting and an intimate building (the owners live in the unit downstairs), the full-floor unit embodied the magic Alt and Khalje were looking for. Together, they warmed up the space with favorite art finds, custom-designed wood furniture, and handmade rugs. For the bedroom, the couple designed a platform bed edged with Roman steps to anchor the space and their favorite organic home brand, Avocado. Plus, of course, there's room to dance.
"Maybe I'll want an all-white apartment again someday," Alt says, "but it's nice to try new things."
How did you find this space?
"My partner, Sharif, and I were looking for a place last summer, which is when all the good deals from COVID were happening. I lived by myself for quite a few years and so had Sharif, so it was fun to be able to find something together. We were being pretty agnostic with our criteria of what we were looking for. We just wanted a good amount of space and beautiful light and tall ceilings and that feeling when you walk into an apartment and think, "Oh my god, this place is magical." I found this place quickly on Streeteasy, I guess everyone uses that. But I was very on top of it, and I think we were the first to see every apartment we looked at."
What was on your apartment wish list when you were looking to move?
"Sharif really loves 19th-century architecture, and so do I. Here, there are all the original floors, original doors, the pocket windows, and the original moldings, of course.
"My last apartment was in SoHo. It was a lovely, light-filled apartment and everything in it was white. I didn't have a lot of stuff. I had white walls; white floors; white, clear, or cream furniture.
"This apartment has a lush, beautiful character, so it's a big departure. My old apartment looked kind of like a showroom or like an atelier—it was kind of precious. We were going to paint our bed white, but we ended up leaving it with the maple plywood because the wood is so beautiful. The feeling of our apartment is very warm."
Shop the Story:
The bed is such a great focal point. How did you design it?
"All of our inspiration led back to classicism and Roman steps. We had the space for a showstopper-y bed—our bedroom is quite large, and we wanted this geometric, classic-looking shape. And the other inspiration is from the ballet Apollo by George Balanchine. It's my favorite ballet. The original set—which they do not use anymore, they cut this ending—had these steps. At the end of the ballet, Apollo is called home to Parnassus where Zeus, his father, lives, and the Muses are trying to keep him on Earth, but he has to go home, so they start following him up the steps.
"Sharif made it with his friend who's a fabulous engineer. He went down to the farm he grew up on in Maryland to build it. Then he had to take it apart to bring it to New York and then put it back together in our apartment. It took a long time!"
What sheets and blankets do you use to dress the bed?
"I try and shop or use things with a lot of consciousness, and that definitely applies to bedding. Avocado has strong values in terms of how they're producing their products. And everything's really soft and the colors are simple. We love the sheet set—there's no dye added or anything. We also have the white duvet. They're all just classic, comfortable, lovely sheets.
"We also have the Avocado Green Pillows. I would take a hard pillow over a soft pillow, but I'm like Goldilocks with my pillows—they can't be too soft and/or too hard. Just right. So that's always what we look for."
Is it important for you to dance ballet at home? How do you do that in your space?
"I teach ballet and I have my own class called Ballet1. It's an exploratory ballet movement class, and I plan my class at home. So I have a piece of Marley, which is the vinyl floor that we dance on, under one of our rugs in the bedroom. I'll pull that up when I want to dance. I have a giant mirror in our bedroom, too."
What have you learned through the process of decorating so many spaces?
"It's funny; in a way, I don't really think of it as decorating. I know some people approach design like a project and they kind of just like to get it done in a month. I am so not like that. I feel like I don't like anything to look too finished or perfect. I mean, it takes me months to even hang one piece of art because I don't want it to be up until I for sure know that's where it belongs. I just buy things when I think they're really special. When you can, it's nice to just buy something you really love versus buying new things for every apartment you move into. If you have that one chair or lamp you love, you can always base everything in a room off it, or it can be the starting point."
Do you have a piece like that in your place now?
"I think that the pieces that Sharif and I made—the little shapes in the living room and the bed—are those pieces. We made them so that they would eschew like, any trends and just be timeless pieces that we can carry through life.
"Sharif is really good at drawing, and I'm terrible. I'm more into references, like I always have a lot of pictures that I like and I can show Sharif. And Sharif didn't engage with social media really at all until this year. He uses books or pure intuition. I would come with a picture and an idea, and then we would just sit and draw things together. And then once we got to a place where we liked it, then we'd have to get specific and make tiny decisions about which way we'd want the woodgrain to go and what type of fasteners we'd want. It was also cool for me to learn a lot more about woodworking and construction and things like that through the process. It was just a fun thing. We design stuff together all the time, even stuff we haven't made yet."
Are there any other objects in the house that are super meaningful to you?
"The lapis candlesticks on our mantel are from Sharif's father, and we both really love lapis. I like putting flowers in them because I think they're kind of wide and it's hard to find a candle that really fits. We live right near the Union Square greenmarket, which makes it easy to get seasonal, beautiful flowers. I have to tell myself to get my food first so I can pick out flowers as a treat on my way back. I also think our rugs are really special because they're all very old and handmade. It's incredible."
You talked earlier about lighting being so important. What makes a space well lit? Are you anti-overhead light?
"Honestly, we don't have quite enough lamps yet. But I think having a lot of lamps is much more beautiful lighting than overhead lighting. And I think candlelight is definitely the best."