They Remodeled Before Covid. Here’s What They Regret Now.


When Beverly O’Mara and Mark Uriu converted their loft in Jersey City, N.J., into a live-work space in 2015, they envisioned an airy, open apartment where Ms. O’Mara could have an art studio and Mr. Uriu could work from home on occasion.

They added elements that made sense at the time, installing shoji screens that provided privacy and light, but no sound barrier. And for a while, it worked beautifully.

Then Covid changed everything. Suddenly the couple found themselves working from home full time, trying to come up with makeshift solutions for a space that had already undergone a $250,000 renovation.

They decided to dedicate roughly a third of the space to a studio, reserving the rest for family life. They took down walls, dividing the main floor with a partition wall, with Ms. O’Mara’s studio and the master bedroom on one side and a living area on the other. They turned the upstairs loft into two spaces: a guest room and a home office for Mr. Uriu.


Another goal of the renovation was to bring light into the apartment from the windows along the front wall. “We identified early on that if we wanted to make this place work, we had to figure out how to get the light from this one facade all the way back,” Mr. Uriu said.

They added two 4-by-4-foot windows above the front door. But interior walls still blocked light to the back of the apartment, and “the upstairs rooms felt like tombs,” Ms. O’Mara said.

Mr. Uriu, who is of Japanese descent and wanted to incorporate a Japanese aesthetic, considered translucent shoji screens, which could provide privacy and filtered light. Working with Mr. Jordan, he designed screens that would open along a track behind a balcony railing of thin cedar slats, designed by Ms. O’Mara. Close the screens and the rooms are private, with light filtering through; open them, and someone upstairs has a bird’s-eye view of the apartment below.

“If you’re standing on the floor in the main room and the lights are on in the room above, it’s almost like a streetscape,” Mr. Uriu said. “It reminds me of being on intimate streets in Kyoto, where you literally have screens with light coming through. You have a sense of a different life happening.”

In the middle of the apartment, they added a partition of cabinets running the length of the space, from the entrance to the back of the kitchen, dividing the apartment in two, but allowing light to pass above.

They also lightened the feeling of the space by installing new lighting and finishes, painting the steel beams a pale gray and the ceiling white, and bleaching the wood floors. Mr. Jordan added an LED strip to the beams for uplighting and used extension rods to suspend track lights from the high ceilings.


When Ms. O’Mara and Mr. Uriu designed the space, they kept the budget down by retaining the original floor plan, reusing some existing materials and finding affordable new ones — low-cost finishes in keeping with their modern, minimal aesthetic.

They kept the high-end kitchen appliances, including a wine refrigerator and a Viking stove with a water filler, but replaced the cherry cabinets with simple white ones from Ikea. They bought a stainless-steel utility sink for Ms. O’Mara’s studio from a restaurant supply store on the Bowery in Manhattan. They built the bookshelves, cabinets and the partition wall out of AC plywood, a construction material not typically used for finishes. “It’s a workhorse material,” Mr. Jordan said, but “when thought about differently, it can become quite beautiful.”

The couple went to a lumber yard to select the plywood, looking for a cut with an interesting grain. The one they chose had “a soothing, psychedelic rhythm to it,” Ms. O’Mara said.

Had they been renovating during the pandemic, when lumber prices soared, Mr. Jordan said, they might not have chosen plywood. (Lumber prices rose almost 90 percent during the year ending in April 2021, the largest 12-month jump since January 1927, when data were first collected, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.) But the couple’s willingness to choose unconventional materials allowed them to find savings where others might not have.

For a few splurges, they enlisted the help of friends in the design industry. Art in Construction, in Brooklyn, designed the pigmented plaster waterfall counter on the kitchen island and the veneer-plaster vanity counter in the master bathroom. An ironworker friend made the banisters for the two staircases.

Mr. Jordan looked for creative ways to add storage to the open space, installing built-in bookshelves on the staircases, along with a Putnam rolling ladder. Other playful flourishes included a hammock, a pulley system for storing bikes, and a seat made of netting that dangles from the banister on the landing of the studio staircase, creating an unexpected spot to read.

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