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A New York Apartment With a Garden in the Kitchen

by Marko Florentino
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When Brock Forsblom and Jeremy Heimans first saw their future apartment, “it was the SoHo loft fantasy,” says Heimans, 46, an Australian entrepreneur and nonfiction writer. With nine and a half-foot ceilings covered in moldering pressed tin, exposed brick walls and 3,000 square feet of open living space, it evoked a bygone era in which the New York neighborhood was a vibrant, if dilapidated, artists’ enclave. The previous owner had, in fact, lived in the apartment since 1979 and was a sculptor and, for a time, a curator at the Noguchi Museum in Queens. The rest of the former factory building, which was constructed in 1900 and at one time produced long underwear, is still inhabited by “septuagenarian artists,” Heimans says.

The couple, who met in line at an East Village coffee shop in 2009 and married six years ago, bought the place in early 2020. Though the space was “beautifully spare and minimalist” when they took it over, says Heimans, and they hoped to honor its heritage, they also wanted their new home to reflect their own personalities and preferences, which skew more maximalist. In the pair’s previous apartment, a West Village rental, almost every surface, including the curtains and bathroom ceiling, was decorated with a vibrant pattern. “The energy there was that I had a thousand ideas,” says Forsblom, 38, who until recently worked as an interior designer. To help realize their vision, Forsblom asked an old college friend, Henry Ng, 38, who was then working as an architect at the firm Foster + Partners, to oversee the renovation. Ng brought in his colleague Jacob Esocoff as a collaborator — eventually resulting in the launch of their own firm, Ideas of Order, in late 2021.

Not long after Forsblom and Heimans closed on the apartment, the pandemic hit, slowing the pace of the project. “We could really marinate in this beautiful way,” Heimans says. Forsblom and Ng would meet over Zoom to discuss their inspirations, which included the meditative feel of the Katsura Imperial Villa in Kyoto, Japan, and the color-saturated simplicity of the Mexican architect Luis Barragán’s work. They also spent time considering the home’s spatial quirks. “It’s strange because it’s almost 200 feet long, and it was all open,” Ng says. The couple wanted some separation between different areas, while maintaining the unconventional spirit of the place. As a couple with no children, says Heimans, “We could make some decisions that were really cool and that you couldn’t make if you were being ruthlessly practical.”

That experimental approach is perhaps best expressed in the kitchen, which sits at the center of the home. While it has elements of classic loft design — the brick walls have been painted white, brushed aluminum cabinets from the Danish company Reform highlight the apartment’s industrial past and exposed pipes run across the wood-beamed ceiling — at one end of the room is something far less expected: a small rock garden populated with moss, fluffy, low-lying ferns and a tall, slender Ming aralia tree. And above this is a large square window through which a person relaxing in the soaking tub of the primary bathroom next door can gaze at the greenery. (The couple share a love of bathing culture; Heimans, who is half-Lebanese, says it’s part of his Middle Eastern heritage, and Forsblom frequents the nearby Russian and Turkish Baths in the East Village.)

At the east end of the apartment is a flexible dining room, office and guest room — decorated in shades of mint and bright yellow — that can be closed off by drawing a curtain that hangs across the hallway to the kitchen. A dark green marbled coffee table and a centuries-old Florentine planter have both been fitted with wheels so they can be rolled away, allowing a Murphy bed, hidden behind the built-in couch, to drop down and accommodate overnight guests. And a long wooden table can be used for work or a group dinner. In one corner, a seven-foot-tall traditional wooden sculpture from Vanuatu — Heimans’s father made a documentary about the South Pacific island nation in the 1970s — guards the door to a guest bathroom finished entirely in white tiles that suggests the interior of a space station.

The main bedroom, on the other side of the kitchen, is in a different register: decadent and moody. The walls and ceiling are covered in an emerald green wool twill salvaged from Marc Jacobs’s fall 2019 collection (most of the textiles in the home, Forsblom says, are leftovers from that collection discovered at the New York supplier Mood Fabrics). And a large rectangular window looks into the living room; with the pull of a sliding shutter — mirrored on the living room side and upholstered on the other to match the bedroom’s walls — the room becomes a dark, padded cocoon. “Given how open the rest of the apartment is,” says Heimans, “we needed at least one space that’s closed off and soft and safe.”

The living room, at the home’s western end, is large and airy, bathed in shades of Barragán’s beloved vivid pink, which appears on the rug and upholstery. Wooden built-in units line the room’s perimeter, serving both as bookshelves and seating. When Forsblom and Heimans entertain, often hosting Sunday dinners for friends, the benches give the room the feeling of a 1970s conversation pit.

On the room’s south wall hangs the couple’s growing art collection, which features works by people in their social circle, including the painter Louis Fratino, Forsblom’s friend the painter Sophie Larrimore and Heimans’s brother, Ralph, a portraitist. An abstract cast-wax sculpture by the apartment’s previous owner, which she left behind as a gift, is also on display — a reminder of the home’s past. But this place is now unmistakably a testament to its current residents’ eclectic tastes and adventurous spirit: an ancient Roman mosaic welcomes guests in the small foyer, and handmade ceramics, wooden masks and other objects brought back from the pair’s travels are arranged across tables and surfaces, and even hidden among the rocks in the garden. Should they choose to leave a keepsake for a future owner one day, there’ll be no shortage of good options.

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