Homepolish designer Jae Joo has lived through an in-home renovation and couldn’t imagine doing it again. So when she and her husband found a bright and airy Tribeca loft built in 1919, they knew they’d pass on any construction or structural changes, and would instead rely on Jae’s skills as an interior designer to give the space the updates it required. Below, she shares how she redesigned their dated, prewar condo into a home with plenty of character.

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Piece by Piece

Jae and her husband were immediately impressed by the loft’s prewar details including the large arched windows and exposed brick walls, but there were less interesting timeless elements to contend with. “It was extremely outdated,” she says. “There were orange bamboo floors and mint-green mosaic tiles so bright I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to ignore them.” But ignore them she did.

Rather than start with large dramatic changes, Jae took a more curatorial approach to her redesign. “We arranged the furniture the day we moved in and left it as is. After that, I kept adding more and more layers to it.”

Multiple overlapping vintage rugs were added until they eventually covered the large living room space (as well as those bamboo floors), while two layers of colorful textiles cover the sofa. Plants were later placed around the 2,200-square-foot loft — including in a classical bust planter — to provide some added “drama.” Gradually, her home came together piece by piece. “I am more about the individual pieces and finishes rather than coming up with an overall, general concept,” she says.

Live First, Design Later

“As a designer, I know first-hand that renovating in NYC is a pretty complicated process and not something you want to just jump into,” Jae says. “I didn’t even want to do any painting because we wanted to live with the space as is first.”

While the changes she made did have a big impact on the home, they all remain easily reversible. Large lighting fixtures were added to the living room and bedroom, while a large row of unmounted cabinets provided additional storage and act as a media unit for her TV and sound systems. Her incremental and non-committal approach also allowed her to experiment more with her design, including her large assortment of artwork that can be found on both the loft’s walls and floors. “We don’t think that seriously about it,” she says. “It’s all about balance, the in-progress look is how we tend to live.”

Good Design > Renovations

New York City has some very small apartments, so Jae’s comparatively large loft provided ample space to show off her impressive assortment of art and antiques, while also solving a less-than-ideal floor plan.

“The hallway between our living space and bedroom feels never-ending,” she says. “I struggled to make the space livable without adding a lot of furniture and built-ins.” Thankfully, as a self-described “high-end hoarder,” Jae turned to her collection to add a large bronze mirror to the floor, and an antique upright piano, along with an olive tree to the hallway for added drama. “It feels charming in its own way now,” she says, and even better, “we’re still not sure if we want to ever shorten this hall.”

Would she ever trade the character of a prewar building for the ease of a new construction home? “I really can’t see us living in new construction, ever. We love old properties and bringing new life and value to them,” she says.

Consider both accomplished here.

Visit Homepolish to view more photos of Jae’s designs.
Photos by Nick Glimenakis for Homepolish
Design by Jae Joo.