When Ann Ballentine discovered a rustic former candy factory on Washington Avenue in Brooklyn’s Clinton Hill neighborhood in 1979, she knew she had found something special, and she intended to keep it that way. Over the past four decades, the Virginia native not only transformed the four-story brownstone into a collection of artist studios, but she also succeeded in cultivating a true safe haven for scores of creatives from near and far. Quirky building bones aside, what makes this space so unique is its owner — an altruistic den mother, more interested in fostering a collaborative culture among her tenants than anything else. “I’m not a money-motivated person,” says Ballentine. “For me, it’s about happiness. It makes me happy when people have talent and work hard. When they are doing well, I am just proud of them.”
Between the coronavirus pandemic and the continued civil unrest across America this year, it may seem as if there is not much cause for celebration. And yet there are signs of solidarity everywhere, including among this patchwork family bound by their love of art and New York City. Here, as an homage to famed photographer Ormond Gigli’s iconic 1960s image, Girls in the Windows, the tenants stand tall together in vibrant color, reminding us of the life that still goes on inside all of our homes and how powerful we can be when we are united.
1. JIM GAYLORD, abstract artist: "What makes the building special is Ann," says Gaylord, who has had a studio here since 2007. "She is a rare breed of landlord who doesn't do it for the money; she just wants to offer an environment for creative people to thrive." Fendi jacket and shirt. Tie Bar tie.
2. REBECCA LITT, oil painter: "The things that make New York great are all the events — the art openings, the music, the restaurants," says Litt, who grew up outside Washington, D.C. "They're on hold, and that's hard. But they'll come back, and we'll be glad to be here when they do." Brandon Maxwell coat and belt.
3. EVAN WELSH, Northern Spy Records office manager: "It's heartening to see how much passion New Yorkers have, particularly in response to social justice issues," says the Utah native. "This building represents that vibrancy for me. There's so much artistry flowing out of here." Prada coat and shirt. Glasses, his own.
4. VANESSA PEREL-PANAR, jewelry designer: "It's a cool space for a cross-pollination of creativity, like the 'old New York' you hear about," says the designer, who normally co-hosts monthly happy hours for tenants. "It exists here, and it's thriving." Marc Jacobs coat.
5. MARK ZIMMERMANN, abstract painter, sculptor, writer: The artist, who grew up in Hawaii and western Kentucky, has had a studio in the building for 16 years. "When I first exhibited here, it was the talk of the New York art world," he says. "I'd never give it up." Balmain coat. Shirt and necklace, his own.
6. KURT HUGGINS, illustrator, concept artist: "As soon as I moved in here, I also got a full-time job doing concept art, which came about from fantasy films of the '70s like Star Wars. I consider this building a good-luck charm," says the Atlanta-born artist. "It has, for lack of a better term, 'magic' to it." Paul Smith coat and shirt. Glasses, his own.
7. MARGARITA CORPORAN, event photographer: "I've been through crises before — blackouts, 9/11, Hurricane Sandy," says the D.C.-born photographer, who, for the first time in 30 years, returned to her hometown for two months during the quarantine. Now back in N.Y.C., she says, "Every time we go through something, I feel a sense of solidarity with everyone around me. I missed that. I want to be with my fellow New Yorkers and go through this with them." Brandon Maxwell gown. Maryjane Claverol turban. Belt, her own.
8. JEANNE LAMBERT, educator, photographer: The artist met her husband — and 33-year tenant — Rafael Ramirez, on the G train, which he rode to and from his art space. "When Rafael and I started sharing the studio 10 years ago, we renovated it together," she says. "That was the best summer of my life." Chanel coat and belt (worn as necklace). Vince pants.
9. RAFAEL RAMIREZ, industrial designer: As the tenant who has been in the building the longest (since graduating from college in 1987), Ramirez has seen plenty of change. But, the Puerto Rican- born artist says, "Ann is the common thread. She has always tried to have this ideal group of people who all get along." Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh blazer. Calvin Klein shirt. Watch and glasses, his own.
10. MEGAN CANNING, mixed-media artist: "I have been in spaces before that were very lonely," says the Ohio-born artist known for using hand embroidery and paint in her work. "You can feel the difference here." Proenza Schouler coat.
11. EILEEN MURPHY, oil painter: "I would've become completely unhinged without this building," says the landscape artist, who lives nearby in an apartment that Ballentine had helped her find. "Ryan [Greer] made my mask. Rafael 3D-printed handle covers for high-touch surfaces. It's the best group of people around." Aliètte gown. Gaspar Gloves by Dorothy Gaspar gloves.
12. RYAN GREER, leather goods designer: "I'm from a very small town," says the Adirondacks-born creator. "Over 20 years, I think I have rebuilt that feeling in this neighborhood." Dolce & Gabbana suit. Tie Bar tie. Shirt, his own.
13. AMANDA FRIEDMAN, painter, art teacher: Friedman admits that the past few months have been tough. But protesting in support of Black lives alongside other New Yorkers has renewed her sense of hope. Ballentine also remains a consistent source of positivity. "Ann treats the building like a work of art," Friedman says. Carolina Herrera dress. Watch, her own.
14. CHRISSY ANGLIKER, abstract painter: "The building has good cheekbones," says the Swiss-born artist, who co-hosts studio happy hours with Perel Panar. "But for Ann, it's all about cultivating a community. She knows our star signs and how we balance each other out. It's bananas!" Halpern dress. Roger Vivier pumps. Vanessa Lianne Jewelry earrings.
15. IRAM YEATES, portrait painter: "Quarantine sucked the life out of creativity to a degree, but we push on," says the artist from Trinidad, who mainly paints dancers and jazz musicians. "Like a church is a harbor for souls, this building is a harbor for creativity. These walls protect us and give us a blank canvas to do what we need to do." Pyer Moss robe. Shirt, pants, hat, glasses, and belt, his own.
16. JAMES O'MALLEY, custom furniture maker: The craftsman has found many like-minded artists, including Zimmermann, to collaborate with over his 31 years in the building. "It feels like home," he says. Eckhaus Latta coat. Banana Republic shirt. Warby Parker glasses.
17. JULIE DILLER, fashion designer: "I'm basically a fashion hermit, and I'm cool with that," says the Midwestern-born designer. "This place is an oasis for me." Boss dress. Roger Vivier pumps. Earrings, her own.
18. KATHY STECKO, ceramist: "This building is Ann's living sculptural piece," says Stecko, who was introduced to her husband, Kele McComsey, by Ballentine. Eckhaus Latta dress. Gaspar Gloves by Dorothy Gaspar gloves. Reinstein Ross earrings.
19. KELE MCCOMSEY, mixed-media artist: "If you talked to Ann, she'd definitely take credit for us being together," says the artist, who took Stecko to the Whitney Biennial for their first date nearly two decades ago. MSGM sweater.
20. FRANCKS DECEUS, painter, illustrator, sculptor: "I've been to almost every major city in this country," says the Haitian-born artist. "There's an unmatched level of energy here." Brandon Maxwell jacket. Shirt and necklace, his own.
21. CHARLES SHEDDEN, painter, sculptor, writer: "I don't think there are too many landlords in the world who chastise their tenants for not playing their music loud enough," Shedden, an artist from New Jersey, says, smiling. "I feel pretty lucky." Gabriela Hearst jacket and pants. Banana Republic shirt. Tie Bar tie.
22. SANDRA PEREZ-WEEDEN, jewelry maker: "I'm happy here," says the born-and-bred New Yorker. "It's my sanctuary." Carolina Herrera dress. Earrings, her own.
23. DANIEL TERNA, photographer: Ballentine helped Terna's parents find a home in the early '80s. So when he needed a studio, he turned to her too. "We all recognize how lucky we are to be part of this building," he says. "We need each other." Boss suit, shirt, and tie. Shoes, his own.
24. ANN BALLENTINE, owner: "For as long as I can remember, this has been a neighborhood where everybody got along," says Ballentine, who worked as a real estate broker in the past. "There were artists from Pratt Institute and a lot of jazz musicians — I mean, the Marsalis brothers grew up down Washington Avenue. It was just a place where everybody loved everybody." The Vampire's Wife dress. Jimmy Choo flats. Earrings and tights, her own.
For more stories like this, pick up the September issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download Aug. 21.