House call 1BR, Williamsburg

Two California transplants turned their home into a quirky playhouse.

  • A painted pig and cow frame the kitchen's entranceway. Yum

  • Between bottles of liquor and wine, there's always something on hand to drink

  • The duo uses a wheel of scientific terms like CHEMICAL and MOLDY to describe...

  • Pages torn from a second-hand book create inexpensive art

  • This quote from Alice in Wonderland provides their daily inspiration

  • To reiterate: The couple likes wine

  • Stacionis and Baldivino monkey around in front of their chalkboard wall

A painted pig and cow frame the kitchen's entranceway. Yum

Photographs by Imogen Brown

Even in this not-so-gilded age, you'll still find plenty of wide-eyed young things who move to the Big Apple with lofty dreams and wonderland illusions. But live-in couple Stevie Stacionis, 26, and Josiah Baldivino, 27, chose to keep their fairy-tale conceits at home. In the spacious living room of their third-floor Williamsburg walk-up, the fictional writing is on the wall—literally—to provide some motivational fodder during these very real hard times. "I chose that quote from Alice in Wonderland to inspire me," says Stacionis, a freelance writer and editor, referring to a large stenciling of words on the living-room wall (see photo number 5). "We arrived jobless in the middle of winter, and we wanted to create something quirky and not cheesy. So that scrawling represents a fun challenge to ourselves to dream big and believe in ourselves."

While the move from sunny California to gray Williamsburg in the throes of winter proved a jarring change for the pair, a kind gesture left over from a previous tenant offered some solace: A corner section of the living room's wall had been layered in chalkboard paint, and doodled upon it was a list of fun things to do in the city. The chalkboard walls stayed—the couple sought out a few items on the list before replacing it with team scores, grocery lists and names of favorite wines—but the apartment soon got a new, crafty-cool makeover.

The two affixed tiers of yellowed pages torn from an old book to another wall in the living room to create a ruffled, 3-D effect. Next to it hangs a unit of cubbyholes, chockablock with oragami paper cranes. "There's a legend that if you make 1,000 cranes, your wish will come true," explains Baldivino. "We got very close with 23," he says laughing.

The playfulness continues with bright-red three-legged dining chairs that sit low to the ground—Stacionis scored them at the Hell's Kitchen flea market—and a coffee table with graffiti scribbling on the top. "It was supposed to be water-themed," says Baldivino, his voice trailing off. In lieu of drawings, he took a typographic approach, writing nautical-themed words across the top.

To show their love of food (and expressly their nonvegetarianism), Baldivino painted a pig and a cow to flank the entrance to the kitchen. "The kitchen is definitely our favorite room in any house," notes Stacionis. In fact, if there's anything the pair is truly serious about, it's food and wine: Baldivino is a professional sommelier and Stacionis also works part-time at a wineshop. The two host regular wine-tasting soirees, which over time have become the catalyst for the homemade wine wheel found on another living-room wall. "People really get a kick out of the CAT PISS and WET WOOL aromas, but I think they find it really helpful to use as a reference," Stacionis explains, pointing out the different descriptions for various wines.

The apartment occupies the entire top floor of its building—which only adds to the tucked-away playroom-in-the-attic effect that Stacionis and Baldivino have designed for themselves. As with many New York residences, there's a shoes-off policy, but the request comes in the form of a twee suggestion painted at eye level as guests ascend the stairs to this charming abode inspired by animals and storybooks. And wine.

Why East Williamsburg?

"We love the neighborhood for its variety of good cheap eats, and all the different food shops," says Baldivino. "Plus the friendly mom-and-pop operations really give this area its charm."

Their favorite restaurants

Ralph's Italian Ices 357 Graham Ave at Conselyea St (718-387-0894, "Unlike the similarly named jewelry store, they have cheap ice."

The Bagel Store 754 Metropolitan Ave between Graham Ave and Humboldt St (718-782-5856, "These are the best bagels in the world. And their music selection is always strange and terrible—yet somehow still enjoyable."

Yola's Cafe 524 Metropolitan Ave at Union Ave (718-486-0757) "If there was a taco pageant, Yola's would definitely represent New York."

Their favorite shops

De Wine Spot 428 Lorimer St at Ten Eyck St (718-388-9463, "It's like a little treasure trove of great, small-production artisanal wines. So be a pirate and raid the booty!"

Emily's Pork Store 426 Graham Ave between Frost and Withers Sts (718-383-7216) "Jerry works the counter and his mom and dad make the Italian sausages. And they're so nice—the family and the sausages. We always seem to get there just after they close, but they let us in anyway."

Napoli Bakery 616 Metropolitan Ave between Leonard and Lorimer Sts (718-384-6945) "We can't walk home without gnawing down half a loaf of bread. And they give us semolina flour to make homemade pasta!"

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