“Silly, Thrifty, and Not Too Serious”: Architects Maria Berman and Brad Horn at Home in Harlem

One of the highlights of our recent book, Remodelista in Maine? The island home of architect couple Maria Berman and Brad Horn. Thumb through and you’ll see it perched on a cliff on the Maine island of Vinalhaven, its shell one of architectural brilliance: a modern, über pared-down version of a quintessential New England farmhouse, its two sides joined by a spacious screen porch. But the house never takes itself too seriously, either. Inside, it’s all easy-going materials, riotous color and pattern, and mismatched finds from unlikely sources: thrift stores, estate sales, even—memorably—the swap shop at the Vinalhaven dump.

So when Maria and Brad emailed us with shots of their place in New York City, where their firm, Berman Horn Studio, is based, we were delighted to note their characteristic approach applies just as effortlessly to a historic Harlem row house, with an architect’s sense for structure and flow and a collector’s irreverent mix of finds.

“It’s a turn-of-the-century row house that was built when the new subway system began to link upper Manhattan to downtown,” Maria writes of their place. “In the nineteenth century the area was very rural, with small frame houses. The subway system made it part of the city.

“We found this place when we finished architecture school in upper Manhattan. We had been living in a really raw loft space behind the old Fairway market in the Harlem meatpacking area and wanted something that was more stable and secure. We also loved the area and felt it was a community we wanted to be a part of.”

The couple inherited the house’s historic bones and made subtle, smart updates that almost blend into the background. But like the oft-quoted notion that design, done well, is invisible, the effect is evident: in a potentially awkward layout unified by a single paint color and a so-efficient-you-might-miss-it kitchen space. “In a way, not feeling obligated to restore historic interiors allowed us more freedom in terms of finding a layout and aesthetic identity that worked for us,” Maria writes.

Join us for a walk through.

Photography by Greta Rybus.

the entryway sets the tone immediately: this is a house with a sense of play (a 9
Above: The entryway sets the tone immediately: This is a house with a sense of play (and a sense of humor). “This entry really speaks to our approach of creating effortless interiors: vintage finds coupled with a tiny moment of hot pink grandeur,” Maria writes. The Campbell’s tomato soup can is a flea market find; the carpet is a remnant of a pink leopard-print design.