An open-layout loft sounds like a great idea—the high ceilings, great light, that airy rustic feel—until your roommate or houseguest sneezes or wants to have sex or starts singing along to Gotye in the middle of the night. Building floor-to-ceiling walls in the space seems like the decent solution until you’re done and realize that you’ve had to sacrifice the quality of the light and the expanse of the room for a little privacy. Terri Chiao faced the same predicament but put her architectural education to good use with an ingenious idea: small, self-contained cabins that gave plenty of privacy, cozied up the converted factory space and spared the light. The end result is a playful and unique Bushwick loft with a brilliant play between positive and negative space, homes within a home.
Terri now shares the space with her boyfriend Adam Frezza, an artist she met at a karaoke bar. I stopped by their house one bright afternoon for tea and stories.
Brooklyn Magazine: So you’re a designer?
Terri Chiao: Yeah, I work at Two by Four. I was trained in architecture but there I work across a lot of different mediums. I do some graphic design and concept design for small pop-up shops. Also some wallpaper design and lot of different things.
How long have you guys been here?
Terri: Well, I’ve been here for three and a half years and Adam just started living here but he still has his place in Chelsea that we go to when we rent the whole space out. He’s been here six months or so
Adam: Yep! We met last September at a Karaoke Bar.
That’s so cute!
Adam: I started singing a song with her and…
So that happened about the same time that you opened Cabin in a loft
Adam: Just before we met.
So, Terri, you built everything yourself?
Terri: Yeah. It’s been like this for maybe two or three years, but I had roommates for a long time, so it’s only recent that I’ve started having the transient roommate. For a while I had different friends here for maybe a year at a time.
And before this you were where?
Terri: I was living in Rotterdam after I got my degree and I had an office there. This was around the same time the election was going on and so, for a while I considered being and ex-pat, but considering the outcome of the election I was excited about coming back to New York. But before that I was in Harlem because I was in graduate school at Columbia.
So when you moved in did you immediately build the cabins?
Terri: There’s been a lot of adding. When I moved in I wanted roommates but I didn’t want to build walls. It’s actually really hard to come across open lofts. A lot of the lofts in this building are built out and it kind of—I just really didn’t want that because it just turns into a regular apartment. So then the idea of building structures came in to kind of keep everything feeling open but— you know— you still need privacy.
Adam: Didn’t you live in a tent for a while?
Terri: Yeah, I lived in a tent. It’s just really bright in here for most of the day so at six in the morning the sun just shoots in and I couldn’t sleep, so I had a tent in that corner for a while before anything was built. And then during construction I had to live in the tent again because there was sawdust everywhere. It was a little crazy. But it was fun.
Does it make more economic sense for you to have the transient, airbnb roommate than a regular one?
Terri: Definitely. I think the original idea, well— having a roommate is tough because it put so much stuff in the space and in a way, everyone was temporary anyway because I was the only one who was the real tenant. So eventually it seemed like the natural thing to do. I’ve also always wanted to have a bed & breakfast, so it was a good chance to experiment with that.
So you want to open a full-on one soon, right?
Terri: Yeah, we were talking about it.
Where do you want to do that?
Terri: I think in this neighborhood would be great actually.
Adam: Somewhere that we could maintain home here, still, and like, walk over there to do all the cleaning and linens and everything.
Same cabin. Different loft.
Terri: Basically! I think it’s also a great opportunity for us because we’re interested in working together and we also want to build more little structures. So I think there’s a lot of potential for that to be an experimental ground, too. To do a more full-scale structure building.
So, Adam, you’re also an artist?
Adam: Yeah, so I’ve been in the city for a couple years, just after I finished grad school in Florida. And I lucked out really. I found a very affordable apartment in Chelsea. It’s very quaint. But a very different kind of cramped, tenement, dripping walls kind of feel. So coming here the world opens up a little— or, well, a lot. So it is nice to bounce back and forth between these two spaces.
And how long have you been a nanny?
Adam: A year! I used to work at Utrecht Art Supply in Chelsea, but I needed something more interesting. And being a nanny is really interesting.
Absolutely. I feel like it’s actually the perfect job for an artist. It can be exhausting but the things that a three year old will say can kind of stir up your own creativity in a way, I feel.
Adam: Absolutely. It sort of blurs the lines between art and life. Because he’s such a creative little dude.
Terri: He has a portfolio.
Oh my god.
Adam: He could apply to college right now. Some of his lego structures are pretty impressive. I’ll try to set up some seamless paper and lights to take pictures and we’ll print them out so he can see the organization of it and he’s thrilled by it. It makes him want to make more to fill his book.
Adam: Yeah, he’s great. But, really, I think Terri and I would both like to transition into a work mode where the B&B is our life.
So you can have more control of your creative time.
Adam: Exactly. We have a studio down the street as well.
Are you renting that out as well?
Adam: No that’s for us to do our own work.
I love all the plants in here!
Terri: Yeah, we’ve made a lot of starters in the last month, so I think they’ve multiplied a lot.
Is this your work up here? The print?
It’s great. I love the architectural edge to it. How do you guys like the neighborhood?
Terri: Love it. I really like how it feels like there are a ton of possibilities here. There’s always something being built. And Roberta’s is amazing. We’re actually looking to them as a model because of how they’ve incrementally grown. It just started as this cinderblock building and one pizza oven and they’ve gone from there. Now they have more space and a garden and a radio station and a bar. It just feels there’s always something new.
Do you know your neighbors?
Terri: Yeah, the ones that have been here longer I’ve gotten to know. The people downstairs just had a baby. It seems like Bushwhick is starting to be a place people can stay, rather than moving to Fort Greene when they’re ready to start a family or get a dog or something.