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“Poor but Sexy”: An Inspired Project in East Berlin that Honors the City’s Artistic Spirit

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“Poor but Sexy”: An Inspired Project in East Berlin that Honors the City’s Artistic Spirit

November 13, 2018

It’s not uncommon for architects to name their projects after locations (think West Village Townhouse, Sonoma Ranch, Seattle Cabin, and the like). And that’s what Hagar Abiri had in mind when she christened her overhaul of an old Berlin apartment. But the name she ultimately came up with, while indeed location-inspired, is vastly more provocative than standard project titles.

She dubbed her project “Poor but Sexy.” What does it have to do with location? Everything. “The phrase is a quote by the ex-mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, who said ‘Berlin ist Arm, aber sexy,'” says Abiri. Translation: “Berlin is poor but sexy.” (It was ultimately used as a tagline in a campaign to market the city as being friendly to newcomers of all types, but especially to the creative class.) The phrase seemed to her a fitting description for the East Berlin apartment that she updated and redesigned, on a budget, for an expat family from Tel Aviv, Israel.

While many of Abiri’s design decisions were indeed budget-based, they also conveniently aligned with her ethos of honoring the past when appropriate. For instance, she opted to retain much of the apartment’s fundamentals—the flooring, doors, and exposed walls—which not only kept costs down but also created an artful tension between old and new. Have a look.

Photography by Diana Adam, courtesy of Hagar Abiri Architecture & Design.

the view from the front door. a long hallway, off of which is a bath and child& 9
Above: The view from the front door. A long hallway, off of which is a bath and child’s bedroom, leads to an open kitchen/dining/living space. An alcove, outfitted with a shelf, coat hooks, and built-in bench, serves as an entryway landing station. The original wood floors were whitewashed and the walls given a coat of white paint for a light and bright look.
the flat has an odd shape (scroll to the bottom for the layout), but rather tha 10
Above: The flat has an odd shape (scroll to the bottom for the layout), but rather than fight it, Abiri chose to highlight the awkward structural wall by stripping it down to the bricks. She also relocated the kitchen (formerly housed in what is now the kid’s bedroom) to create an open living space.
playful modern lighting hangs above the sink. like the all white faucet? see \ 11
Above: Playful modern lighting hangs above the sink. Like the all-white faucet? See 10 Easy Pieces: Modern Matte White Faucets for our favorites.
Above: Behind the curtain next to the kitchen is the study. Abiri designed a wall of built-in cabinets, with a fold-out desk, to provide much-needed storage for the family.
abiri, who is also an interior designer, sourced the mismatched dining chairs f 14
Above: Abiri, who is also an interior designer, sourced the mismatched dining chairs from eBay and thrift stores. The brass heating pipes, original to the apartment, add to the industrial-chic vibe.
abiri designed the built in shelves, stools (on the other side of the dining ta 15
Above: Abiri designed the built-in shelves, stools (on the other side of the dining table), and coffee table.
rather than buy new doors, the architect chose to upgrade the existing heavy pi 16
Above: Rather than buy new doors, the architect chose to upgrade the existing heavy pine doors by either painting over them (as was the case with the two doors off the main hallway) or stripping them, as this one was.”We found original handles at the local flea market. The result was better and cheaper than getting new doors. The guideline was to upgrade and optimize the elements we can use, not to compromise the design in favor of the budget,” notes Abiri.
an example of abiri&#8\2\17;s sensibility—modern socket pendant lights ha 17
Above: An example of Abiri’s sensibility—modern socket pendant lights hang simply from an ornate plaster ceiling medallion.
like many of the older flats in berlin, this one was covered in wallpaper. abir 18
Above: Like many of the older flats in Berlin, this one was covered in wallpaper. Abiri liked the look of the walls after stripping and chose to leave one unfinished in the master bedroom. “What you see is the original plaster, with only sealer to protect it, and it’s beautiful—as if decorated by time. There is something to the act of peeling and exposing that felt right. ” she says. “Here, you can see the line where the new paint stops and the old continues—to make it clear that it was not a mistake.”
floating built in storage frames the bedroom door. the door&#8\2\17;s glass 19
Above: Floating built-in storage frames the bedroom door. The door’s glass panes are designed by an Israeli vitrage craftsman.
abiri turned a one bedroom into a two bedroom with this new layout. (the kitche 20
Above: Abiri turned a one-bedroom into a two-bedroom with this new layout. (The kitchen was originally in the smaller bedroom.)

For more industrial-chic style, see:

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