The Journal

The Pineapple Loft by Shapeless Studio

Andrea Fisk and Jess Thomas of Shapeless Studio are known for harnessing natural light, eco-friendly materials and clean lines into emotionally intelligent homes. Their latest project, the Pineapple Loft in Brooklyn, is no different, combining two units in a Civil War-era building into an airy apartment for a family of three. Below, the design duo share how their close-knit working relationship translates into cohesive spaces.

How did you first meet? Do you remember what your first impressions were of each other?

Jess: Andrea and I first met at the firm we worked for previously. Andrea had already been working there for a couple months. We joke that I basically didn’t talk for the first year. Slowly, I started to gravitate towards her, as we were both juniors in similar roles. We started getting lunch together, and I started asking for rides to work. During those car trips we really got to know each other and over time became incredibly close. Andrea actually officiated my wedding!

Andrea: Ha, it’s true that Jess was extremely quiet for the first year I knew her. Boy, things have changed! I think my early impression of Jess was that she was an incredibly caring person and worked extremely hard.

What made you decide to strike out on your own and launch your own practice? 

Andrea: I think one of the main reasons we launched our own practice was that we had outgrown our roles at our last firm, and neither of us could find another job that had both engaging design work and a healthy studio culture, where we could grow as designers but still have lives outside of work.  We both have parents that ran small businesses, so I think to some extent it was just in our blood.

Jess: I was given advice from another architect who also had gone out on his own. He said it was always going to be scary no matter the timing, but if we felt we were ready we should go for it. We were very fortunate to have leads on a couple of small projects, so we decided to take the leap. We knew we both loved natural materials and thoughtful detailing. We wanted to engage with the community of fabricators and makers in a more direct way. Mostly, we wanted to love where we worked and be able to explore ideas without judgement.

Like our co-founders Jodie and Sally, it sounds like you have a very collaborative design process. What strengths do you each bring to the table?

Jess: Andrea and I feel enormously lucky that we actually have different strengths. Andrea is amazing with colour and is not afraid to try unique pairings. She is also an amazing teacher. As we have grown, it has been a joy to see her work with our employees. Andrea is not afraid to think outside the box. When I am stuck, she ends up thinking of some way to get around the hurdle, and often it’s incredibly inventive. This list could go on, but I also am enormously grateful that Andrea has an interest in the business side of Shapeless Studio. She took business classes at NYU and has managed to learn an entirely new set of skills.

Andrea: Jess is, hands down, the best designer I’ve ever worked with. She is a superhero project manager, with a keen eye for detailing and an endless amount of patience for making sure everything is perfect. She is also amazing at negotiating with contractors to get what she wants, and has this way of speaking with equal parts stubbornness, confidence and kindness – it’s like a magic potion on a job site. She’s inspiring to everybody that works with her and is such a driving force in our office. We are constantly telling each other how lucky we are to have each other! I honestly don’t know how some architects start a firm alone, I think it would be so lonely.

Tell us about the design brief for the Pineapple Loft. What were the client’s “must-haves”?

Jess: The clients came to us with a very clear vision for the space. This was not the first time they had renovated, so they understood what was involved, and what design elements were important to them. We knew steel doors and steel thresholds would be integrated and we knew the overall palette was neutral, with some high contrast moments. The client wanted a central space that consisted of the kitchen, dining, and living room. They are a small family and wanted to be able to move between these spaces in a fluid way. 

How would you describe the home’s aesthetic?

Andrea: Clean, modern, approachable. One thing we often focus on is using natural materials in a really honest way, with a sensitivity toward good, clean detailing that will last well. We love when clients come to us wanting to design their forever home, because it means they want to design for the future, with durable designs that age elegantly. We avoid synthetic and petroleum-based products wherever possible, because they look worn out much faster, which in turn means they are thrown out and replaced more frequently.

Are there any colours, textures and materials you were drawn to for this project?

Andrea: We were drawn to natural materials that were interesting but not overly precious. We used a natural stone called Superwhite for the bathroom vanity and the custom oversized dining table – a wonderful material with a soft grey base tone; every slab is like a unique piece of art. Most of the tones in the apartment are clean and simple, and there are moments of bright colour, like the bright yellow sofa, the lovely Armadillo rugs, and also the wallpapers, which are by Rebecca Atwood. Also, from the outset, our client had an interest in having blackened steel doors made, so that was a driving force as well.

Jess: We wanted to find a way to make the steel look warm and inviting, by using a range of materials that were soft in comparison. I think the plaster in the kitchen and tadelakt in the bathroom serve as an instrument to make the steel seem more delicate. The tadelakt in the bathroom is actually the natural, un-tinted colour, and has a subtle warmth that is beautiful.

Whether it be a particular room or a unique object, what is your favourite feature of the home?

Jess: I love so many things about this home. I love the transition from the moody, dark entryway into the open, bright kitchen and dining room. In this moment, you experience such a drastic change in light and colour, but also such a layering of texture. You get a glimpse of the entire apartment, understanding how the public and private spaces speak to each other.

"One thing we often focus on is using natural materials in a really honest way."

A highlight of the home are the splashes of colour throughout, from the blue paint on the entryway walls to the mustard of our Agra rug in Byzantine in the bedroom. Do you have any tips for bringing colour into the home, for those of us a bit afraid to experiment? 

Andrea: I would say that the first step is to be unafraid of experimenting! Jess and I spend a huge amount of time looking at images of other designers’ work, to see what has worked brilliantly, and understand why. I think the difference between a good designer and a great one is a heightened understanding of balance: dark vs light, shiny vs matte, heavy vs light, bold colours vs neutrals, pattern or texture vs solid or smooth… To create harmony in a space, it’s good to be intentional about how you want to balance these opposing elements, and to make those decisions in a consistent way throughout your space.

How would you advise our customers in choosing pieces, and specifically rugs, for their homes?

Jess: Rugs are crucial to defining spaces, especially in a large or open area. Additionally, I think rugs are often the starting point for a palette. With a rug selection in mind, it becomes easier to understand other upholsteries and colours throughout. My suggestion would be to start with the rug, and not be afraid of colour. But always get samples before purchasing! My husband and I are in the process of slowly acquiring furnishings for our own home. It’s a long process, but over time, we are investing in pieces we truly love.

Finally, we can’t help but ask – what’s your favourite Armadillo rug to have underfoot?

Andrea: I’ve realised I have been pitching something from the Agra line for almost every project! The selection of colours is perfect, there is something that works brilliantly for every space.

Jess: I adore Armadillo rugs, but have a few favourites. I absolutely LOVE the Egyptian, especially in Aegean and Russet. I also adore the Malawi, and am particularly taken with the Amber and Oatmeal colourways.

Design Team: Jess Hinshaw, Andrea Fisk, Alison Sekerak & Adam Wiesehan
Photography: Hagan Hinshaw
MEP Engineering: ABS Engineering
Construction: Sunshine Renovations Management
Millwork & Metalwork: Armada NY
Kitchen Millwork: Henrybuilt
AV: Resolution Audio Video

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