Tired of Waiting to Buy, They Redesigned Their Brooklyn Rental

Cristina Casañas-Judd and General Judd thought they would live in the same home in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, for the rest of their lives.

After renting the brownstone apartment for more than a decade and raising their two daughters, Najal, now 22, and Rafia, 13, there, the couple had started talking to their landlord about buying the building, and had even begun drawing up renovation plans. But after their landlord died in 2015, the remaining owner had a change of heart and the deal evaporated.

“It was devastating,” said Ms. Casañas-Judd, 52, who runs the interiors firm Me and General Design with Mr. Judd, 60. “My dreams were shattered, and I was just like, ‘I’ve got to go.’”

After failing to find a home to buy and renovate, Cristina Casañas-Judd and General Judd (with their daughters, Najal, left, and Rafia) decided to redecorate their rental apartment in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.Credit…David Land

So they found a new rental in Crown Heights, Brooklyn — an 1,100-square-foot, three-bedroom apartment that had recently been renovated. They moved in at the beginning of 2017, still searching for a home to buy.

The couple, who both did set decoration and art direction for TV and film before meeting at the Blue Man Group in New York, where Mr. Judd performed for 18 years, didn’t do much in the way of decorating their new apartment. “It was a steppingstone,” Ms. Casañas-Judd said. “Our mind-set was that this was going to be just for a few years.”

The years began to add up. When the pandemic struck and they found themselves working from home alongside their daughters, it dawned on them: After designing interiors for so many other people over the years, they had never designed a home for themselves.

One of the three bedrooms is now used as an office. The couple installed Flavor Paper wallpaper that reminded them of their French bulldog, Thor, and added framed art by Rafia. Credit…David Land

“We said to ourselves, ‘Why wait? Why not live in the moment? Why not do it now, and all along the way?’” Ms. Casañas-Judd said. “That was just such a revelation for us.”

In the fall of 2020, they began installing art and movie props that they’d been stockpiling in a storage unit for a future home. Before long, they decided to embark on a complete redecoration.

In the living room, they covered one wall with the Echo wallpaper they designed for the manufacturer Wolf-Gordon, then created a faux fireplace with a mantel from the 2006 movie “Beautiful Ohio.” Above it, they mounted a portrait their artist friend Voodo Fé had painted for them, along with a Swick Board — a wireless speaker system built with a recycled surfboard, which the couple designed and manufactures with Leon Speakers. On a pedestal, they added a cast of Mr. Judd’s head that was used in the making of the 1997 TV movie “Buffalo Soldiers.”

Throughout the home, Mr. Judd said, “we layered special objects that are very personal.” To one side of the dining room, they lined a niche in charcoal Perch wallpaper, which the couple also designed for Wolf-Gordon, to create a bar area. Above it, they mounted shelves to display cherished objects, including a vintage camera that belonged Ms. Casañas-Judd’s father, pottery made near her family’s beach house in Chile and a signed copy of Sidney Poitier’s book “The Measure of a Man,” which the actor personalized for Mr. Judd after they spent a day together.

The couple also decorated the building’s communal roof terrace.Credit…Will Ellis

After Najal moved into her own apartment nearby, the couple removed the doors to her bedroom to create an open office for their design firm. Inside, they lined the walls in Flavor Paper wallpaper patterned with an Andy Warhol print of Yves Saint Laurent’s French bulldog, Moujik, because it reminded them of their own Frenchie, Thor. They found a custom storage unit for the office and a chandelier for the dining room from Townsend Design.

By the time they were finished, in the spring of 2022, they had spent about $50,000. And they had enjoyed designing for themselves so much that they bought a rundown stone house in Great Barrington, Mass., a few months later, so they would have another personal project to tackle.

Ms. Casañas-Judd and Mr. Judd aren’t sure how long they will stay in their Brooklyn rental, where they pay about $3,700 a month. But they’re now firm believers that future dreams are no reason to hold off on taking advantage of the present.

“It was a great lesson,” Ms. Casañas-Judd said. “We were always planning, but then we just went and did it. I don’t want to rent forever, but I would have never expected a rental to feel like this.”

“It’s just home,” Mr. Judd added. “It’s for now, and we love it.”

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