Behind the Scenes of Brendan Fallis and Hannah Bronfman’s Historic NoHo Renovation
After finding this unique triplex with a stroke of New York City luck, the creative couple embarked on a lengthy and loving remodel.
Creatives, entrepreneurs, and DJs Hannah Bronfman and Brendan Fallis have been busy for almost two years turning this 3,400-square-foot NoHo triplex into their dream home. Finding the historic apartment with a stroke of New York City luck, its good bones, unique layout, and architectural character drew the husband-and-wife pair in immediately. . However, it was clear from the start they would need to modernize and personalize it for their family.
Kicking off their remodel in February 2020, just before the pandemic unfolded, Fallis and Bronfman have been heavily involved in the project while leaning on a team of experts. Architect Jeffrey White’s firm Ecology Architecture Urbanism is heading the architectural design inside and out, One World Builders is handling the construction, Orane Abezis is working on the furniture and staging, and JennAir’s distinctive luxury appliances are being installed in the kitchen + bar and Whirlpool for laundry.
Now, as they head into the project’s final phases, you can get the inside scoop on the overhaul straight from Fallis and White. Answering all our burning questions, the homeowner and architect are even sharing some of their top renovation tips.
How did you and Hannah come to own this NoHo apartment and what drew you to it? Can you tell us a bit about the unit’s history?
Brendan Fallis: Kind of a ‘meant to be’ story. We had sold our home in the East Village and actively looking for our next apartment. Good friends of ours let us borrow their apartment as they were living at another house of theirs in Wyoming. While there, I met someone in the elevator (small building) who asked me where I was moving to after we were done living at our friends’ place. I said, “Million-dollar question!”
Then, he showed me a picture of our now-living room and said, “This lady just told me she’s selling.” I asked for her number and was off on a mission…! The unit resides in a building from the late 1800s that used to be a hat factory. It was last renovated in the late ’70s and had been owned since then by the rare book curator of the Strand Bookstore, hence the beautiful built-in bookshelf.
Today, the triplex home still holds beautiful historic details. What parts of the residence are being restored or preserved and what parts are you majorly transforming?
BF: Yes, the bookshelf is the marquee piece. We’re not restoring it as it was in great shape, but we’re sanding and refinishing it. Also, the atrium at the back end of the house has been fully restored. It was built in two pieces and they weren’t level or watertight, and we also uncovered a cracked steel structural beam. That has all been replaced and looks stunning. We also noticed from the fire escape, that there were existing window openings that had been covered, so we’ve re-opened those and added beautiful steel-encased operable windows.
Lastly, the space had gorgeous barrel-vaulted ceilings, but they were covered in popcorn stucco. We’ve scraped that all off and taken it back to its original concrete and brick. We’re so excited about that feature and are spraying it with a matte sealant to minimize the dust fall.
What was most important to you and Hannah when reimagining the spaces and what has the process been like?
BF: Livable style, I’d say. Sometimes people design spaces so much so that it’s not comfortable. Other times people focus so much on comfort that it lacks the style it deserves. It’s nice to find that middle ground. Working with Jeff has always been great. We’ve been friends before all of this, and I’ve actually known him longer than I’ve known Hannah. As I’m the more passionate design/home side of our relationship, I intro’d Jeff to Hannah on our first project and she loved his style, taste, and aesthetic.
The three of us working together from day 1 of our first project has been very straightforward and seamless at the same time. We all keep it honest and bring up our likes and dislikes and make a plan a move forward. Super lucky to have a great relationship between all of us. Oh, and the most important thing for Hannah is a primary bathtub moment, and a functional yet beautiful closet.
What have been the most challenging aspects of the renovation?
Brendan Fallis: Well, the pandemic wasn’t super helpful. It’s still very difficult to find good labor and supply chain issues on top have made this renovation more challenging than usual. But besides what’s seemingly obvious for our current time, it hasn’t been overly challenging. Jeff and I had similar visions and when he presented the first design iteration to us, we loved it, and haven’t strayed so far from it in its original form. Finishes and utility have been in flux, but the overall layout has remained quite similar.
Jeffrey White: Preservation. It is much easier to start from scratch in a pre-war apartment but that oftentimes leads to losing the charm or soul of the space. As an example, the barrel-vaulted ceilings were in rough shape. It would have been much easier (and cost-efficient) to frame under them but they really define the space…and are highly coveted in an NYC apartment. So, we spent the time to properly repair them and took a step further and actually highlighted them with linear LED lighting raking the curvature. This, in addition to showcasing the beautiful lines and casting a warm hue into the space, physically highlights the history and layers of finishes, patches, and textures that only time can create.
Let’s talk about the kitchen. What were your goals for this space and what needed to be done here?
BF: The kitchen was quite small before and had this separating wall to achieve a closed-door area with a small dining space outside of it. We wanted to open that up and create a bigger communal space. We lost some overhead height when we rebuilt the mezzanine so we needed to design it to still feel spacious with a lower ceiling height.
There is also a wood-burning fireplace directly across from the kitchen, so we wanted to make that feel inclusive in the kitchen. We created a long island with seating across from the fireplace so two people could dine fireside. We also use our kitchen the most in our home, so it needed to be functional, so we spent a lot of time making sure it would work for us in a systematic way.
There are so many choices to make during an extensive project like this. Tell us a bit about the design and product selections you made in the kitchen and throughout the home. What went into these choices?
BF: Endless choices, that’s for sure. Wanted to keep a modern touch with classic elements. Like using analog Forbes & Lomax brass light switches instead of digital switches. In the kitchen, we used a farm sink in the island as our prep sink and white marble countertops to keep the classic elements but then behind clean white panels you find an incredible black interior JennAir column fridge and freezer. The same goes for state-of-the-art JennAir dishwashers hiding behind white handless panels from FORM Kitchens flanking a classic stainless steel dish sink.
What was your first impression of JennAir and what excites you most about the appliances you’re installing in your home?
BF: I first saw a JennAir black interior fridge at a home show in 2014 and was floored and that became a showpiece in our first renovation. I’m still so blown away by that same concept of the black interior fridge.
Things that seem so simple but are never done in practice always amaze me. We’re excited to have those in our new home. Also, I have become obsessed with combi wall ovens versus a standard range for cooking ergonomics, so we’ll be including those from JennAir as well. Then we have the dual dishwashers, a wine fridge, a beverage center, and an ice maker; all JennAir.
Safe to say we’re big fans, not only of the design but of the reliability, the function, and all their products are sustainably produced.
How do the JennAir appliances elevate the design and functionality of the apartment?
BF: It’s important to have appliances that either maintain or elevate the experience. JennAir can sit right alongside the best of them and if there’s a brand beside them that might be considered not as strong, it can help pull it up. Of course, in all design, it’s how you do it that sets it all apart, but without the right components, it can be difficult to achieve.
From a functionality standpoint, JennAir has thought so well about the user. Again playing into the classic versus modern, its look can be classic or a small modern twist on classic, but the tech behind it is second to none.
The combi wall oven alone is an example of that. With a touch screen and more cooking options than you could imagine, it makes it much easier to be the chef you’ve always wanted to be.
JennAir offers two stunning Design Expressions. Which did you gravitate toward and why?
BF: We went with the NOIR™ Design Expression. We love a modern twist on a classic and felt it suited our design and aesthetic more so.
What space are you most eager to see finished?
BF: Space? The whole home! It’s been a two-year renovation so we’re itching to get in.
Once complete, do you and Hannah plan to make this your primary family residence long-term? If not, where do you have your eye on next?
BF: Yes, well…yes. I mean everything is for sale except my wife and child, so if someone comes with the right price maybe we’ll let it go and get on to another project. But honestly, after two years of renovating and living in temp residences, we’re just going to be so happy to move in and love a space we’ve put so much time and effort into, and have a new family to grow in it at the same time. I would bet we’ll be there longer than we think, but again, who knows.
Have you always had a passion for renovations and design? Do you plan to take on more home projects in the future?
BF: Yes, my dad taught me how to build and fix things from a young age and I grew up in a Frank Lloyd-Wright-inspired home, so I think my surroundings taught me a lot. My mom has always been into interior design and renovations so I’ve been learning a lot my whole life from her as well. As I grew older I gravitated more towards it and took some drafting classes in school. Social media definitely lit my passion on fire as the access to design became endless globally and I started to visualize spaces and what could be done.
My plan is to definitely do more home projects in the future. I’m currently designing an addition and free-standing garage for our Long Island house and am in talks to do a Miami project as well for a possible client. So, one day at a time. I’m in the process of designing a home line that will coincide with my home design projects. I’m excited for that as well as it will all fall into design around the home and will be a great platform to grow from.
Beyond that, Jeff and I are always plotting and have a bunch of ideas that if we have our way, will be coming to light sooner than expected.
Do you have any advice for others currently renovating luxury homes in New York City?
BF: Be patient and be prepared. The best tip someone once gave me was “It will take double the time and double the money” and that reigns true for most. Set your budget and timeline accordingly, but be prepared for both to exceed what you expected. That being said, if you’re in for the ride, you’ll learn a lot very quickly as NYC rules are expansive to say the least, but it’s one of the most fulfilling things come move-in day and you’ll be beyond happy.
JW: Hire or at the very least speak with your architect or design consultant first. Hannah and Brendan reached out early in the process to conceptualize and discuss possibilities. Building the team (contractors, consultants, etc) should come after working through the design intent.
What tips can you share for someone who is beginning to renovate a historic property?
BF: Keep the bones. Make sure you give a nod to its history. So many people just tear the beauty out of places and do a low-budget quick renovation on places and they lose all the soul that the space had. Be conscious of the history.
JW: Remember that the history is an asset. There are many ways to add your personal touch and/or transform a historic property into something modern/minimal/etc without losing the history and character that comes with it.
Embarking on this historic renovation just before the pandemic changed the world entirely, the team has understandably encountered some bumps and delays along the way. But, any obstacle faced or pivot required will surely make the Parisian modern-inspired result that much sweeter.
Fingers crossed, it won’t be long now before Fallis and Bronfman are pouring drinks from their beverage center or cooking family dinners with their son in the sleek kitchen. Keep an eye out for the couple’s big reveal of the NoHo apartment next year, and in the meantime, be sure to check out the high-tech and luxuriously designed appliances they’ve selected.