Hell's Kitchen duo turns 500-sq-foot pad into posh sanctuary
The endlessly entertaining, delightfully distracting 500 square feet apartment of Duane Bousfield and Juan Carlos Rojas simultaneously evokes a casbah, Catholic cathedral and Zen sanctuary. Elaborately embellished crystal chandeliers illumine lushly layered Oriental carpets. An astonishing collection of hand-carved wood friezes, pediments, corbels and mouldings garnish varicolored walls between Bousfield's abstract surrealist paintings, curios, glittering jewelry and antique tiles.
"If it's not moving - decorate it," is Bousfield's motto.
The visitor is so dazzled by the opulent opium den décor she doesn't realize that the tiny Hell's Kitchen tenement apartment is really an ingeniously designed funhouse to accommodate - and conceal - the overflowing lives of two busy New Yorkers.
It's possible to curate amazing collections in tiny spaces as long as you are mindful of every addition's "foot print," explained Bousfield, an artist and art consultant. (Rojas, who provided most of the antique rugs and textiles, works as a home health aide.) "A lamp has a foot print (takes up floor or table space) so - no lamps! If you can hang it on a wall or hang it from the ceiling, it's so much easier to find space for it," Bousfield explained.
Too, it helps to analyze one's space and "find little spaces to put shelves in. It's really about finding little pockets," such as niches above door lintels that make nifty shelving to keep all the items of daily life, said Bousfield.
The 1870s-era tenement may lack lamps, but it doesn't lack for lights: Rojas and Bousfield have rigged up ingenious grow lights under shelves - and disguised by gorgeously carved ornamental pediments - to coax begonias, African violets and orchids into bloom or with fluorescents to provide spot-lighting.
The antique chandelier in the main living area looks of a piece, but is actually festooned with "30 extra pieces" of pendants and prisms." The bedroom chandelier - purchased at the Hotel Intercontinental's going-out-of-business sale - is similarly augmented. "It needed to be fuller," Bousfield shrugged.
Here are some of Rojas's and Bousfield's space-saving strategies for their tenement apartment:
-- Stack cabinets! A front-opening chest is the base for a giant Chinese cupboard that conceals regularly used kitchen appliances. On top of that are Chinese boxes that hold Christmas decorations. "There's a place for everything and everything is in its place," said Bousfield.
-- Conceal - don't reveal. Hide the "functional objects" like foodstuffs, clothes, and tools. Sweeping keys and tchotchkes into a decorative lacquer box, 1940s chiffarobe, or designated drawer, eliminates clutter.
-- Make doors sliding doors. Bousfield and Rojas priced out a Home Depot closet at "several hundred bucks," but instead opted for two sliding Chinese temple doors found in a Queens warehouse at $100 a pop. They slapped little wheels on the bottom and built a closet around them with tracks on the bottom. "We added a book case on the end for stability" that also provided extra storage, Bousfield noted.
-- Measure and remember. Measure the places where you need a piece of furniture and keep the specs with you while shopping stores and flea markets.
-- Think outside the (literal) box. The men's collection of Imari and fancy dinner ware is in a screened hutch in the bedroom. Why? The hutch's height was just right for a needed bed stand but the dimensions inside were perfect for the Sunday dishware. Bathroom products and medications are in a retro Malibu cupboard next to the only sink (a double one) in the apartment. A huge wooden candlestick serves as a hat rack in the ante room.
-- Eliminate the unnecessary. The apartment did not come with a stove, so cooking is done in a dual microwave and convection oven atop the diminutive frig and a hot-plate stored under the sink. A portable bar erected in front of the sink provides both storage and essential counter space. An analysis of what is essential also yields extra space and eliminates hassle. "Get rid of all your Tupperware. That saves a whole cupboard right there," advised Bousfield. Leftovers are stored in zip-lock plastic bags, and reheated in bowls. Too, "we always make iced tea: two bags of peppermint tea and two bags of green tea" with hot water out of an electric tea kettle. Using tea bags saves schlepping heavy liquids up five flights and zaps the need to store a bunch of bottles.
-- Group like with like. "Rather than strewing everything about, consolidate things," advised Bousfield. "Our santos (carved wooden saints and images of Jesus) are all in a crowd." And curate your collections while you're at it, jettisoning the weakest links. "One piece of crap knocks the whole thing down," Bousfield decreed.
-- Throw out your notions about white making a space seem bigger. Instead, use colored paint strategically. "Dark colors make receding spaces recede more," explained Bousfield. Some walls are painted a deep red, to better blend with what's on them and others are Venetian gold, to play off the gold ornamentation in furniture in front of them. Black moldings ("and not a mousy black - BLACK" look ideal in the lushly decorated Victorian anteroom.
-- Don't overdo mirrors. "They do open up a space, but you don't want them to become wall paper. The mirrors are negative space. They don't give you anything new to look at," as Bousfield explained.
The collection of antiques are amazing, but "so much of what we have is 'right place, right time.' We just find things that we like and then we find the room for it," said Bousfield. They've been avoidin g estate sales and the 26th Street and Hell's Kitchen Flea Markets, which have yielded treasures in the past, because, as Bousfield noted, "when you're on a diet, you don't go to the bakery." And they adhere to a domestic policy of tossing something out every time they make a new acquisition.
Bousfield's wood carvings were acquired over time at $10 to $15 apiece, from a guy in Williamsburg who was liquidating a wood carver's library. "They're such beautiful objects and they have a soul inside them. You think, 'some person spent a month making this with a hand tool!'" as Bousfield observed.
The collection is maintained despite the pair's domestic policy of tossing something out every time a new objet d'art is acquired. As he explained: "The apartment is like a river and you have to keep the river flowing. If one thing comes in, another has to go. You have to let things go. Otherwise the river will clog up and get stagnant."
It pained him, he said, to bypass "something I really wanted - a Chinese embroidery," but "I didn't want to give up my wood carvings.