When graphic designer Shane Diiullo bought his condominium in the Cotton Mill, he knew it had issues. For starters, it was a measly 600 square feet with a floor plan that made it look smaller.
“It was kind of like a stepchild space in that building,” he said of the unit, which had fewer windows than most other condos in the building, a narrow living room and walled-in bedroom. “We knew that we had to do something, but we didn’t know what.”
Shane tapped his brother Sean, a California industrial designer, to come up with a plan to make the space more functional while accentuating all the great features of an industrial structure, such as the sweeping windows, exposed brick walls and concrete floors.
The result is an modern downtown loft dominated by crisp lines, bright light and, believe it or not, open space.
The two added an extra 200 square feet by tearing down a wall and creating a second-story loft over what used to be a bedroom. The goal was to squeeze in as much functional space as possible. They used steel framing instead of wood and drywall, which take up more space, and added a half bathroom and closet upstairs behind the bedroom wall over the kitchen.
“We were doing it on a budget, so we were going to use a lot of [widely] available materials and just make them work and make them our own. We used a lot of plywood, steel—nothing really exotic, just something that was really clean and utilitarian,” Shane says. “That was the inspiration: to use [common] materials but treat them in a way that looks rich.”
They built the upstairs floors out of mahogany-stained plywood inlaid inside steel girders. A coat of a clear sealant gives the floor a uniform sheen. Instead of using more expensive materials like travertine stone in the bathroom, they created walls out of polished and stained concrete.
The one area they splurged on was the floating staircase leading to the loft. It’s supported by thin steel, but the treads are maple. It’s a showcase piece that’s eye-catching without overwhelming the room.
“I really love the staircase,” Sean Diiullo says.
Shane selected monochromatic furniture that’s low to the ground to give the illusion of space. Sean, who is a big fan of depth in design, came up with the idea of the white living room wall covered with a mosaic of three-dimensional blocks. The wall conceals two doors which lead to a bathroom and study.
“We wanted to hide some stuff so it didn’t look like I’m eating dinner next to the bathroom or watching TV one step away from the office,” Shane says.
The one area that gave both designers fits was the slender entranceway between the kitchen and the dining area. They originally wanted a steel paneled wall, but the concept didn’t work. Instead they built a 10-foot wall out of large plywood planks. Shane mixed ebony into mahogany stain to give the wood a sleek chocolate finish. The wall is scored to fit six-inch steel plates that serve as floating shelves for small candles, photos and keepsakes.
All told, Shane completed the entire renovation for around $20,000, an impressively small figure even for pre-Katrina renovation costs. While stretching dollars was key, Shane is more impressed with his brother’s eye for saving space.
“The best thing about it was taking such a small and relatively unusable space and making it not only functional, but really well done,” he says. •