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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: Fabr Studio in East Williamsburg

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: Fabr Studio in East Williamsburg

October 5, 2018

Brooklyn’s most inventive, resourceful, economy-minded, under-the-radar architecture firm? Allow us to introduce you to Fabr Studio. Last spring we dropped in for a celebratory event (thanks to our architect friend Malachi Connolly, who shares space with Fabr); we were supposed to be mingling, but we spent most of our time poking around the premises and admiring the DIY touches throughout (example: wine cork as light pull in the powder room). Located in a former factory, on an industrial corner of East Williamsburg, the office interior was completely overhauled by Fabr principals Thom Dalmas, Bretaigne Walliser, and Eli Fernald over the course of four years (and they’re still at work).

“When we first visited the building in the fall of 2014, it required a complete redo,” Bretaigne says. “Decades of renovations and modifications had left a warren-like interior of old offices and storerooms. After a few weeks on site, peeling back layers, we locked in a quiet west-facing corner of the 22,000-square-foot building as our future office space.

“The area is still very industrial with many steel and stone shops in operation. The neighborhood has the charm of aging infrastructure—large cranes dot the horizon, and old freight trains creak down the remnants of a once bustling line. Because the buildings are so low, the sky feels immense and lends a quality of light unusual for New York City.”

We recently returned, with our photographer friend Matthew Williams, to document the interiors (plus the magical courtyard garden, which you can tour today on Gardenista).

Office

Thom and Bretaigne both studied architecture at City College and met their partner Eli (who is absent from the photo) through the NYC architecture scene; together, the three formed Fabr in 2012. The team created the luminous accent wall using Rainbow Cement pigment; “it was a trial-by-error process,” Bretaigne says. The chair is the midcentury Siesta lounge chair by Ingmar Relling, which they found on the street (similar chairs go for about $2,000 on 1st Dibs).
Above: Thom and Bretaigne both studied architecture at City College and met their partner Eli (who is absent from the photo) through the NYC architecture scene; together, the three formed Fabr in 2012. The team created the luminous accent wall using Rainbow Cement pigment; “it was a trial-by-error process,” Bretaigne says. The chair is the midcentury Siesta lounge chair by Ingmar Relling, which they found on the street (similar chairs go for about $2,000 on 1st Dibs).
The desks have bases and butcher-block tops from Ikea; they can be rolled away when the room needs to be emptied for events. Thom and Bretaigne found the bamboo shades and the set of eight West German bentwood Pagholz chairs at the Swap Shop, a local institution in Wellfleet, on Cape Cod, where the couple and their two young children spend time every summer. (If you’re lucky, you might arrive at the Swap when a midcentury modernist house has been cleaned out.)
Above: The desks have bases and butcher-block tops from Ikea; they can be rolled away when the room needs to be emptied for events. Thom and Bretaigne found the bamboo shades and the set of eight West German bentwood Pagholz chairs at the Swap Shop, a local institution in Wellfleet, on Cape Cod, where the couple and their two young children spend time every summer. (If you’re lucky, you might arrive at the Swap when a midcentury modernist house has been cleaned out.)

“When we moved into the office space, the windows had been blocked up and it was very dark,” Bretaigne says. “Years of accumulated grease and chemicals coated the floors and saturated the earth below. To lighten it up, we exposed the ceiling joists and cut a long skylight across the length of the room. We imagined the space much like a series of picture planes coming in and out of focus depending on the time of day or the season; standing outside on winter nights the light within the office glows between the openings in the masonry walls; working at our desks on summer mornings, the garden is full of dappled light, while the interior spaces remain cool and dark.”

The double-sided Rumford fireplace is made of concrete masonry block. “We designed and cast in place the concrete hearth, which also acts as a bench,” Bretaigne says. “We have a lot of fires in the winter; it’s like 18th century Russia in here.”
Above: The double-sided Rumford fireplace is made of concrete masonry block. “We designed and cast in place the concrete hearth, which also acts as a bench,” Bretaigne says. “We have a lot of fires in the winter; it’s like 18th century Russia in here.”

“We experimented throughout with different masonry finishes and techniques,” Bretaigne says. “The west garden wall is smooth troweled stucco, which bounces light around, while the entry wall is a rammed earth prototype. Inside, we blended blue pigments into one stucco wall, employed a traditional white lime plaster finish for another, and left the kitchen walls bare with a scratch-coat finish. The floors are newly poured radiant slab concrete, pigmented dark black, and ground lightly to reveal the aggregate.”

A small alcove off the office space serves as a retreat from the office; the Ikea couch is draped in a simple canvas drop cloth.
Above: A small alcove off the office space serves as a retreat from the office; the Ikea couch is draped in a simple canvas drop cloth.
The wall-mounted nautical steering wheel belonged to Bretaigne’s father, who was a Coast Guard captain based in Okinawa during WWII.
Above: The wall-mounted nautical steering wheel belonged to Bretaigne’s father, who was a Coast Guard captain based in Okinawa during WWII.
In the kitchen, the team cobbled together a work station using hand-me-down steel restaurant tables and a salvaged range. The dining table is made of two lengths of Ikea butcher block mounted on a pair of two-by-fours. The oversized Noguchi-esque paper lantern is from Pearl River Mart, and the Stendig cane chairs are from eBay.
Above: In the kitchen, the team cobbled together a work station using hand-me-down steel restaurant tables and a salvaged range. The dining table is made of two lengths of Ikea butcher block mounted on a pair of two-by-fours. The oversized Noguchi-esque paper lantern is from Pearl River Mart, and the Stendig cane chairs are from eBay.
 The Shaker rail is made from a cedar board with pegs from the hardware store.
Above: The Shaker rail is made from a cedar board with pegs from the hardware store.
The shelves about the workstation have Aalto-like brackets made from sawed-off Ikea Frosta stool legs.
Above: The shelves about the workstation have Aalto-like brackets made from sawed-off Ikea Frosta stool legs.
The vintage laundry sink is from Big Reuse in Brooklyn, and the marble backsplash was left over from a Fabr kitchen project. Bretaigne sewed the sink curtain from “a piece of muslin that was lying around.”
Above: The vintage laundry sink is from Big Reuse in Brooklyn, and the marble backsplash was left over from a Fabr kitchen project. Bretaigne sewed the sink curtain from “a piece of muslin that was lying around.”
 A leftover piece of pine flooring serves as a ledge for sink essentials.
Above: A leftover piece of pine flooring serves as a ledge for sink essentials.
A collection of thrifted glasses and mugs.
Above: A collection of thrifted glasses and mugs.

Apartment

Fabr added a small rooftop bungalow apartment “to take advantage of the Manhattan views,” Bretaigne says. “The steel-framed structure has a low-slung quality that harkens back to California desert modernism, but the corrugated steel roofing and panels are also part of the language of little office huts that adorn single-story garages and steel shops around outer Brooklyn.”

The bedroom wall is made of concrete blocks; the Sierra Pacific windows are slotted into a trio of voids.
Above: The bedroom wall is made of concrete blocks; the Sierra Pacific windows are slotted into a trio of voids.
The apartment has simple plywood floors.
Above: The apartment has simple plywood floors.
The sunken tub is a vintage cast-iron clawfoot that came from one of Fabr’s earliest building projects, and the fixtures and tile were all leftovers from various other projects. The tub is surrounded by a 4-inch concrete topper, and the walls are cement stucco. The shower fixtures are from California Faucets.
Above: The sunken tub is a vintage cast-iron clawfoot that came from one of Fabr’s earliest building projects, and the fixtures and tile were all leftovers from various other projects. The tub is surrounded by a 4-inch concrete topper, and the walls are cement stucco. The shower fixtures are from California Faucets.

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