6sqft’s series “My sqft” checks out the homes of New Yorkers across all the boroughs. Our latest interior adventure brings us to Stephanie Berman’s family home in Ditmas Park, which got a full renovation from Fauzia Khanani, founder of design firm Studio Fōr. Want to see your home featured here? Get in touch!
Advertising professional Stephanie Berman went into a design consultation with designer Fauzia Khanani, of Studio Fōr, simply seeking advice on decor for her Ditmas Park home. “I figured that Fauzia might help me choose a few new throw pillows and maybe a rug or two,” Stephanie told us, “but once we sat down to talk, I realized that soft furnishings were not going to do it.” After the free two-hour session, won through a silent auction at work, Stephanie and her husband Drummond concluded they actually wanted a full renovation of their century-old home, where their family has lived for over a decade.
Through an in-depth collaboration with Fauzia, the Bermans’ home was refreshed with brightly painted walls, Mid-century modern touches, eclectic elements, and, of course, new throw pillows. For this project, the first in the neighborhood for Studio Fōr, Fauzia told us: “We wanted to add some modernity to the house but also be respectful of the original design and context.”
Nearly 100 years old, the house provided some quirky challenges to the Bermans and the design team, like stumbling upon old plumbing and cloth-wrapped wires. But Fauzia said these surprises are part of the renovation process. “For us, it’s part of the challenge in our work and makes us rethink our ideas in a different way,” she said. “At the same time, sometimes we unearth really amazing, beautiful details of an original design in renovation.” Ahead, Stephanie takes us through her 3,400-square-foot home, explains the magic of collaborating with Fauzia, and dishes on her family’s favorite spots in Ditmas Park.
One of Stephanie’s favorite pieces hangs above the fireplace: an overweight skeleton riding a muscular bull. Her husband bought the piece on a trip to Mexico City.
In a few words, describe your home’s design aesthetic.
Eclectic. Funky. Cozy. Fun. It’s a great place to welcome friends to. We have held many gatherings and parties at our home since the renovation—it’s a lovely space to relax in.
How did you land in Ditmas Park?
We were looking for space—square footage—and lots of it (which is obviously in very short supply here in NY). All of our family and many of our friends live in the UK, so as our family was expanding, we wanted room, not only for ourselves but for our guests to come and comfortably visit, so they could be part of our children’s lives.
In 2002, with our second child on the way, we were looking at smallish apartments in Park Slope until our realtor asked if we’d considered Ditmas Park. We’d said we’d never heard let alone thought about it. She convinced us to take a look. The tree-lined streets, then the front AND back yards, then the double garage, then the three floors and five bedrooms, and finally the 1960s mustard-baize pool table in the basement convinced us to take the plunge.
Did you look for homes in any other NYC neighborhoods?
We had been living in Brooklyn Heights in a rental for the previous 3 years, and while it is an exceedingly pretty neighborhood, it wasn’t where we wanted to buy. We did consider Montclair in New Jersey for a while but felt that we’d moved to this coast to be in NY not NJ. And as previously mentioned we thought we’d decided on Park Slope until the idea of Ditmas Park floated our way.
The aquamarine vases found in the kitchen were a gift from Drummond’s great-grandmother. In the move to the US from the UK, they shattered but were able to be restored at a San Francisco antique shop.
Tell us about winning a free design consultation with Fauzia Khanani.
The company where I worked at the time held an annual silent auction to raise money for a good cause during the holidays. Fauzia donated a few hours of her time as one of the items. She had designed our office space, and I loved not only her aesthetic but also the way she thought about how people use space—so I placed a bid and was delighted to win.
We’d been in our home for about 12 years at that point, and it was looking a bit tired. I figured that Fauzia might help me choose a few new throw pillows and maybe a rug or two, but once we sat down to talk, I realized that soft furnishings were not going to do it. I wanted to undertake a full renovation and I wanted Fauzia to work her magic.
The colorful wallpaper in the bathroom comes from UK-based brand MissPrint
What was the renovation process like?
The aspect of Fauzia’s approach that we loved best was her commitment to collaboration. She went to great lengths to understand who we are, what we love, what we don’t love, as well as what appeals to us from a design perspective. Studio Fōr has a tremendous gift for being able to translate all that knowledge and insight into spectacular architecture and design. So the end result feels like “us”—but a braver, bolder version of us that we would never in a million years have been able to arrive at without Fauzia’s help, her eye for beautiful design and her meticulous attention to detail.
The beautiful tile in the entryway was imported from Sweden, from Marrakech Design, one of the splurges made during the renovation
It was a process that Fauzia made certain to involve us in at every level and at every step. She helped us make smart decisions on where to splurge and where to save. For example, we splurged on the entryway floor tile which was imported from Marrakech Design Sweden and on accent wallpaper from MissPrint in the UK, but the bathroom floor tile of our dreams came from Home Depot.
Fauzia added a new set of French doors to the dining room, allowing in lots of natural light and an indoor-outdoor feel
Stephanie found her unique china at an Upper West Side flea market
This teapot is from an England thrift store
Did you run into any difficulties during the renovation?
The house was close to 100 years old, so the plumbing had seen better days and most of the wiring was still cloth-wrapped. So yes, we ran into many unexpected setbacks, but we always felt we were in good hands. We gutted both bathrooms (which we anticipated would take a couple of weeks before we discovered the state of the plumbing) so were without a bath or shower for a couple of months, which was an interesting situation with two teenage boys. There were issues with drainage, and many other things which we expect are common with homes of this age.
But for us, a problem encountered while working with Fauzia is a problem not only solved but shared—she will always look for the most expedient, effective, and cost-efficient solution.
The home boasts a front and backyard, patio, driveway, and a garage.
Stephanie practices yoga in this room, which peacefully overlooks trees
Do you have a favorite room in the house?
We have so many favorite spots. I love the living room, particularly in the winter. We get a roaring fire going and I lounge on the leather daybed wrapped in a furry throw, totally getting my hygge on. We also love the deep blues and golds of our dining room, which we open up to the garden right into the winter.
At Fauzia’s suggestion we added French doors, so now we feel outdoors even when we’re in. And my yoga room is a blessing. It’s a small, quiet spot at the back of the house on the second floor that looks out into the trees. I can meditate there, see the sunrise, watch the birds.
The sewing machine belongs to Stephanie’s son Ted, who hopes to pursue a career in fashion design after high school.
Previously used for storage and laundry, the basement became the perfect rec room for Stephanie’s two sons, Will and Ted.
Perhaps most surprising has been the basement. It used to look like a scene from a horror movie, but somehow Fauzia transformed it into an awesome living space for the boys and their friends. It feels like such a privilege to be able to host all these young people—give them somewhere they can congregate and relax, and make memories. The vintage pool table is finally getting some use rather than being a repository for boxes and fallen ceiling tiles as it was in its previous incarnation.
Stephanie’s had this swan figurine since her very first trip to America
You’ve collected many interesting pieces of artwork and furniture over the years. Do you have a favorite(s)?
In the hallway, we have a totem figure that we bought in the Nubian region of Egypt. It’s about a foot in length, made of a branch that approximates a human form. With real hair held in place by cow dung and cowrie shells for eyes, it is supposed to ward off evil spirits but has sent a fair number of house guests running for the hills too.
I have also come to love an anatomically challenged but lovingly rendered painting of an obese skeleton riding a very muscular bull, that Drummond bought on a trip to Mexico City. I always found the most out-of-sight places to hang it until we discovered it was the perfect centerpiece to our renovated living room, where it takes pride of place over the mantel. On a more tasteful note, Drummond’s mother, Annette Berman, is an artist working in Scotland, and we have many of her paintings. My favorites are her woodland treescapes—magical, mystical.
We are also very fond of the 1930s aquamarine vase from Drummond’s great-grandmother, which was shattered into a thousand pieces in the move from the UK then miraculously restored to like-new condition by Antonio’s Antiques in San Francisco.
What are some must-see spots in Ditmas Park for those who have never been to the neighborhood?
You can start your day with a great caffeine fix at Coffee Mob near Newkirk Plaza subway, where the owner Buck roasts his own beans. And we love the brunch at Milk & Honey on the corner of Ditmas and Newkirk. On Cortelyou Road and Church Avenue there is an ever-growing selection of great restaurants—our favorites include Lea, The Farm, Mimi’s Hummus, Wheated, and a tiny, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Tibetan cafe nestled next to Cortelyou Road subway station, whose momos (soup dumplings) and tingmo (steamed bread) are to die for.
We are also very fortunate to have Third Root as our neighbors. It’s an inclusive health center that works so hard to offer holistic care to all members of our community through yoga, acupuncture, massage, and herbal medicine. My weekends are always better when I start them with Sri Devi’s class on Saturday.
And of course, you have to enjoy Prospect Park while you’re here. It’s at the north end of Ditmas Park and it is a treasure. Whether you’re running, biking, dog walking, concert going, ice skating, street-food sampling, it’s my favorite place in the city to reconnect with mother earth and watch the seasons go by.
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Neighborhoods : Ditmas Park