Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Inside Writer John Dermot Woods's Prospect Heights Brownstone

Posted By on Wed, Dec 5, 2012 at 9:15 AM


When invited to a writer's house, expectations are often low. Even the most basic awareness for spacial design seems just out of reach. Crooked Ikea desks and long-suffering futons persevere in dark corners. Dusty stacks of books encircle a living room, leaving guests with the vague feeling of being under some kind of literary siege.

So it is a relief to be invited to John Dermot Woods and Ginny Woods's home, the top three stories of a brownstone in Prospect Heights, which is filled with light and clean lines and enough whimsical touches to be reminded that creative people live there.

At a recent after-party John hosted following Amelia Gray's reading at Unnamable Books, many guests (who certainly expected the usual beer and cramped apartment you end up in after a reading) were visibly shocked when they entered the elegant living room and were handed drinks in actual glasses.

“These people have their shit together,” someone said.

John, an accomplished writer, cartoonist and an English professor at Nassau Community College, and the author of The Complete Collection of People, Places and Things, moved into the historic 1860s brownstone with his wife Ginny in 2009, but it wasn't until last year that they finally got the design just right.

At Home with the Woods
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At Home with the Woods

By Catherine Lacey

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Ginny, formerly a globe-trotting reporter who now works in finance, knew she wanted to bring in a professional to figure out how to better utilize the space, but not one who would want to budget in overpriced furniture and fancy renovations. After perusing a few design blogs she found Daniel Friedman, a former architect who now consults on design projects when he's not running the bespoke menswear company he co-founded, Bindle & Keep. Daniel advised neutralizing and brightening the living room and kitchen by painting the cabinets a soft, neutral gray and using lye to bleach some of the wooden details in the kitchen. The wooden floors got a coat of a white epoxy by Benjamin Moore, which brought in tons of light. He also suggested they let go of the nice but too-large couch that dominated the living room, a sell that generated enough cash to buy the smaller pieces they repopulated the space with.

Storage space in the kitchen and living room was also a challenge that Daniel met with creativity. With John he built an inventive pair of cabinets using copper pipes and plywood. In the living room long shelves were installed to support a large chunk of the family library as well as few toy bins for Nina, who is four and the baby, Teddy.

The second-floor bathroom got a similar treatment to the kitchen, neutralizing the cabinets to bring in more light and update the space. On the top floor, Nina got a sliding door to her bedroom, with a long, vertical handle that comes down low enough for her to reach.

It seems that both Teddy and Nina are already inheriting their parents creativity. When released upon the floor, Teddy bolted for his red baby piano and contentedly banged away. Nina's drawings fill the house, but she's most vocal about her obsession with The Nutcracker. The moment Ginny mentions a performance she did in Japan, Nina asks, “Did you perform The Nutcracker?” Ginny says she did not. “But you have performed The Nutcracker,” Nina confirmed. Earlier in the afternoon she had politely obliged her parents when they asked if she could turn off The Nutcracker for a little while, which has reportedly been on for a better part of a year.

“It's pretty intense,” John said. But with such an artful home and culturally-minded parents, can you blame Nina for being so passionate about the arts?

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Catherine Lacey

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