Rachael Bedard, a palliative care doctor, lives with her husband and toddler in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Their house is only 11.5 feet wide, but, along with architect friends, they renovated the space to make it feel bigger. “Now it feels airy and open,” she says. “The wallpaper in the entrance is a big showstopper; it’s like a sunrise.” Here’s a peek inside…
For those who like to know floor plans, this house has four floors: 1) the garden level with a dining room and kitchen, 2) the parlor level with an entryway and living areas; 3) the third floor with a master bedroom and dressing room/bathroom, and 4) the fourth floor with a nursery and office/guest room. Here’s a photo of the exterior, from the back.
On first impressions: When we first saw the house, it felt 11.5 feet wide. It was really dark, and all the walls were a natural brick color. But we were like, okay, we can make this work, it will be fine. The minute after we bought it we were like, wtf this is a cave.
On renovating: We ended up doing a pretty big renovation. Our genius architect friend Tal would come over for dinner and we’d talk about designs for hours. It was a really wonderful, collaborative process.
On making a small kitchen feel bigger: The ceilings are pretty low — like eight feet — so we felt like magicians trying to make the space feel bigger. We painted the brick walls and overhead beams white, which immediately opened up the room. We also put in open shelving, and we have a hidden fridge, which is tucked under the island. Not having a big fridge makes the room feel much cleaner.
On classic meals: We’re terrible at cooking consistently, but when we have people over, we’ll make classic dishes — roast chicken, a pretty great bolognese. If I’m hosting friends for dinner by myself, I’ll just put out lots of yummy little bites, like cheese and olives.
On a wallpaper trick: We wallpapered not just the wall but the two doors, too (one goes to a street entrance, and one leads to the boiler room). It makes that wall so much prettier than it would be otherwise.
Rug: Nomadno. Fleetwood Mac lyric print: Made by friends. Bear photograph: Tamas Dezso. Striped pillows: Hedgehouse. Chair: DWR. Hot pink cushion fabric: Svensk Tenn. White vases: similar. Radio: Tivoli Audio. Child’s push toy: Hape. Black woven toy basket: West Elm.
On hanging as a family: Our daughter’s name is Ophelia, but we call her “Ophie.” When I was pregnant, Gideon came up with the name after listening to the song Ophelia by The Band. We hang out here together all the time. Sitting with a kid on the floor isn’t that comfortable, but with these big pillows, we can get down and play. She’s into serving us pretend food. She makes me burgers, but she’s always out of fries.
On personal art: The pink poster is a Fleetwood Mac quote. My husband, Gideon, worked with a designer friend to make it for my birthday. We want to do more posters with song lyrics that are important to us. We sing the final verse from Forever Young to Ophie every night, and we’d love to make a print and put it in her room.
On signature colors: The purple wainscoting in our bedroom is higher than usual and so dramatic. Purple and pink weave through the whole house; my friend calls it the calmest rainbow. There was actually a point when we had even more purple – including the door frames — but Gideon said it looked like Monica’s apartment on Friends.
Bedside table: vintage Paul McCobb; similar.
On a comfy bed: We sleep with a very light quilt, even in the winter, and we have mostly linen bedding, which I like a lot. I like a cool, dry bed. Not a sweaty bed, never a sweaty bed.
Pendant lamp: DWR. Window shades: custom. Portraits: Frohawk Two Feathers. Striped pink throw blanket: similar. Wooden wishbone chair: vintage Hans Wegner; similar. Sheepskin throw: Overland. Floor lamp: vintage; similar. Sculpture by Stef Halmos.
On evening routines: I don’t know how other people are, but by the time we battle Ophelia into bed, it’s 8 or 9 p.m. and we’re wiped. We often get in bed to read or watch TV on the laptop. We were very, very into Game of Thrones. We also just started The Good Place. It’s absurd and surreal and funny.
On a dressing room: My husband has a closet in our bedroom, and I have the dressing room across the hall. I love spending lots of time getting dressed. It’s the best. It was never ever something I thought I’d have, but it worked out that way!
On smart stairs: The staircase goes up through the middle of the house, dividing each floor into two rooms. The original staircase was very dark, so we rebuilt the whole thing from scratch. The glass partitions open up the spaces and let the light flow across the rooms.
On penny tile: This bathroom might be my favorite thing in the house. Pretty early on, Tal was like, we can make your bathroom beautiful with simple penny tile and a smart design. So we made a colorblock pattern. We also added black faucets, which feel elegant. The house is pink and purple, but still not girly — little details like this are why.
On the shower: Tal matched the marble on the counter and tub with the penny tile, so the color would be uninterrupted. I love showering here so much. There’s a big window, but the bottom half is frosted. I guess the neighbors can see you washing your hair.
On kids’ wallpaper: This was the hardest wallpaper to choose. We didn’t want something overly gendered or cute or severe. We had a few false starts, but then found this one. I like a big pattern in a small space — it’s a paradox, but somehow it makes it feel bigger. Tal had the cute idea of making the blinds a Creamsicle tangerine color.
On bright rooms: Ophelia’s room has a skylight, but we never got blackout curtains or a white noise machine. We wanted her to be able to sleep in different ways and places. She’s still not the best sleeper, but thankfully she sleeps through bright light.
On a nautical vibe: We chose blue and white because we wanted the bathroom to feel like a boat on the water. The round mirror feels like a ship’s window. The doors in the bathrooms are also painted half and half, so the color is unbroken all the way around. Ophelia loves it; her new preferred part of the bedtime routine is brushing her teeth with her cool light-up toothbrush.
On musical baths: Ophelia is all about Bob Marley. We play his music for her, and she can’t get enough. She’s always like, “Mama, show me a picture of Bob as a baby,” or, “Show me a picture of Bob looking at the sky.” She calls the children’s book The Gruffalo “Gruffalo Soldier.”
Desk: vintage Paul McCobb, from eBay; similar. Pink chair: DWR. Desk lamp: DWR. Three spheres artwork: Family heirloom. Pink chair: DWR. Table: Vintage Paul McCobb; similar. Rugs: vintage Boucherouite rag rug: similar. Striped rug: vintage, similar. Bed: Charles P. Rogers. Bedding: Matteo. Dresser: vintage Paul McCobb; similar. Kissing artwork: DEERDANA. Sheepskin throw: Overland. Radio: Tivoli Audio.
On adding light: We built the skylight in here. Without it, it felt crazy dark because there’s just the low window, and the ceiling slopes downward like an attic. But the skylight opened up the whole room. We also built the shelves and made a heathered shade using the same purple that goes through the house.
On a multitasking room: We use this space as both a guest room and office. The desk is by Paul McCobb, whose designs are so appealing. Now we keep an eye out for his pieces on eBay and 1stdibs. Last fall, I was studying for my geriatrics and palliative care board exam and writing a big paper and basically spent three months up here, sitting and working.
On work/life balance: Because my job is so intense, it’s important to me for our home to feel calm. As a doctor at Rikers Island, I take care of people with serious illnesses within the jail system. Working in palliative care has helped me become a much better listener during hard conversations. I never assume anymore that I know where someone is coming from. I’m also more comfortable sitting with sadness.
On helping patients: Bearing witness is real — it’s meaningful just to be present — but there are also things you can do to make hard situations less hard. I can treat symptoms, like pain, anxiety or insomnia. And you can ask people: Given what’s happening, what’s important to you now? Then you can try really hard to address those things. You aren’t trying to make death completely happy or peaceful; that’s a misrepresentation. But you can help facilitate moments of peace, joy, connection, resolution and make people feel heard.
On outdoor space: We love the garden, but Brooklyn can be so buggy it’s hard to eat outside! The back of our house faces a beautiful church with stain-glassed windows, and we hear the choir practicing. This house is incredibly special to us. I think and hope we’ll live here for a really long time. It was an amazing project, and it really feels like us.
Thank you so much, Rachael!
(All by Julia Robbs for Cup of Jo, except entryway photo and master bathroom tile photo, by Nicole Franzen for GRT Architects. Photo styling by Elizabeth MacLennan. Architecture by GRT Architects, in collaboration with Rachael and Gideon. Wallpaper in top photo by Calico. Hooks in top photo by E.R. Butler.)