In a Brooklyn Brownstone, Two Designers Knew Exactly How to Connect History and Heritage
Stripped-down spaces are a specialty of New York studio Ishka Designs. “A home should be able to come to life to the fullest,” says Anishka Clarke, one half of the design duo behind the company. Along with her partner in life and work, Niya Bascom, Clarke shapes spaces that support a myriad of functions with sleek, clean forms. The practice of the duo is rigorous and responsible; Clarke and Bascom eschew synthetic materials in favor of natural materials and incorporate their clients’ identities while striving to circumvent clichés. It can be a tough philosophy to follow, but it’s all about “giving more” while using less, says Bascom.
In a Brooklyn brownstone completed in 2019, Clarke and Bascom’s design skills in considering both efficiency and cultural context were put to the test. The result is an elegantly minimalist home with details that speak to the legacy of its stewards. The clients, a couple of Pakistani and Haitian descent, were aligned with their needs: a wide open house with room for their young family to move around. “It wasn’t a very eventful file,” Clarke said. “They just wanted a space that looked like them.” As a starting point, Clarke and Bascom deployed a circular pattern in their decorative choices throughout the home. “We love the circle principle,” says Bascom. “There is no beginning, no middle, no end, only constant growth.”
Clarke and Bascom boarded just as local architecture and design firm Harper Design + Build completed renovations to the historic townhouse, which was built in 1899; Harper was responsible for the interior architecture and the preservation of original details wherever possible. The latest incarnation of the home features taller ceilings and added depth on multiple floors, extending the already spacious five stories into something akin to a self-contained world. “The space takes care of you,” the client shares. “When we go somewhere, we are always happy to come back home.”
Each of the five floors of the house has a distinct purpose. The cellar, one floor below the garden level basement, houses a gym, a DJ room for the record-loving husband and a craft space for the whole family. Downstairs, a husband and wife office makes the most of its limited use of pattern and adorns itself with sumptuous Romo wallpaper that mimics the worn silk of an old Persian rug. Guests enter at the salon level, where a spacious living room is divided into two discrete seating areas centered on round rugs that recall the circle theme. In one corner, the form is repeated in more dimensions with a Metafora Lella and Massimo Vignelli coffee table from the 1970s, a Flos lamp and a Mathieu Matégot chair reissued by Copacabana.
Also in the living room is an Erased Heritage rug by Jan Kath, which references the complex colonial legacies of the owners’ home countries. “The concept for the project started with the clients, their personalities and their heritage, which was very important to them,” says Clarke. “They wanted to feel represented in their home.” Meeting clients’ desire for texture and depth alongside Ishka’s minimalist and culturally conscious approach has been a tightrope walk further accomplished by incorporating the work of contemporary artists Ndidi Emefiele, Prince Gyasi and Shreya Mehta, each piece chosen specifically for the project. In addition to artwork, the duo selected lush floor and wall coverings, rich in color and pattern.
The house’s most vibrant moments come in spaces for the couple’s first child, who was born after the house’s completion: a playroom on the house’s top floor features a library that combines the geography of the Pakistan and Haiti in an ocean-hued configuration of shapes reminiscent of Memphis Design. In the nursery, notes of mango intertwine with the Juju silver and white graphic wallpaper.
Other subtle nods to the respective customer journeys appear throughout the house: in the jali (a type of lattice screen) that frames a staircase; in the carved wooden doors joined to form a headboard in the serene master suite; and in the Moroccan moucharabieh-style cocktail table that anchors the den. None of these pieces come from customers’ specific countries of origin, although they all favor non-Western craft and design traditions. Grouped together, they communicate a desire to honestly acknowledge the past while participating in the delight of the present. As Bascom says, “Always forward, never backward.”
Stylized by Getteline Rene.
This story originally appeared in the summer 2022 issue of ELLE DECOR. SUBSCRIBE
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