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At home: Graphic artist falls for brick walls, wood ceilings and big windows of downtown loft
AT HOME WITH Brandon Barnes and Natalia Calleya

At home: Graphic artist falls for brick walls, wood ceilings and big windows of downtown loft

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When Brandon Barnes decided to look for a new apartment in the bustling downtown loft district, he adopted an unusual approach.

“Six years ago I was living in the Grove. I had a few friends who had lived downtown in a 2,000-square-foot apartment on the 10th floor overlooking the Arch. ...

“It was the coolest place I’d ever seen anyone live.

“I thought ‘I need to scratch that itch. It’s too interesting of a lifestyle, and I want to explore it. I can at least look,” he says.

So he went on Google street view to look at the loft buildings, checking the windows for “now leasing” signs. “I found this place. I thought Majestic Stove Lofts is a really silly name, but I’ve got to see this. I came down on a whim and talked to them. They showed me three units. I loved this one, and I didn’t see any reason why I shouldn’t live here.”

Brandon Barnes and Natalia Calleya enjoy their downtown loft and have an eclectic style of decorating. Video by Hillary Levin, Post-Dispatch

The strong open wood ceiling that reveals wide floor joists, industrial-sized windows and brick walls appealed to this graphic designer whose intricate drawings often incorporate urban settings, mechanical devices and sci-fi sensibilities. The style of the apartment was a good fit for him.

Several years later, when he brought his girlfriend, Natalia Calleya, to the apartment for the first time, she was also captivated by the space.

“I really liked his style with the exposed brick and all the industrial touches,” she says. “The art, the lights, the plants, his pets — I loved it.”

At Home in a Downtown loft

The furnishings could be described as an eclectic collection of friends' leftovers. Barnes, who used to be in a local band and still plays the bass guitar for fun, picked up the pair of leather armchairs when helping a friend move. 

Photo by Hillary Levin,

“She saw my strand lights and said she had to have those for her apartment,” Barnes says. Even though the space is huge, there is only one wall with windows. Still, the couple rarely turns on the overhead track lighting.

“One of the first things I did was to shine lamps up the walls to emphasize the height of the ceilings,” he says. “I use multiple lights throughout the space to get the right light levels. The strand lights actually put out a lot of illumination. Having only natural light on one end of the space has been a challenge. I would love to have windows on another side, but this works for us.”

The space is filled with serendipitous furniture finds, like the leather armchairs in the living room that Barnes picked up helping a friend move. He built the coffee table of reclaimed wood and steel pin legs.

The well-used patterned living room rug had been gifted to Barnes for another apartment, but it was too big for the space. Barnes unrolled it over the concrete floor at the loft with room to spare.

The couple bought the wood and wire Ikea sofa new because of its references to Barnes’ wire and wood sculptures. “The sofa also has a lot of built-in storage space and bookcase spaces,” Calleya says. “The cats have claimed the bottom shelf as their space to hang out.”

The cats have been strategically excluded from plant areas because they can’t be trusted to act right. “We place the plants up high and close together so there’s no room to get near them,” she says.

“I really wanted a six-toed cat with big thumbs, so I got Gram from a rescue site about nine years ago,” Barnes says. He doesn’t regret his choice but didn’t realize six toes gave Gram special skills. “He can open the cabinets and the doors using that big thumb.”

Atlas the turtle hangs out in a big aquarium just off the living room. “I’ve had him since I was a little kid,” Barnes says. “He must be 20 years old now.”

“Twenty five,” Calleya says. “You’re 32 now.”

“Oh. Right. At least 25, plus he’s got a good 10 more years in him. He loves wandering around the floor here. The cats don’t bother him,” Barnes says.

Calleya moved in last summer.

“It’s a short walk to several restaurants and bars,” Calleya says. “When the weather is nice it’s a 30-minute walk to the Arch. The neighborhood is quiet and safe. There’s great public transportation to Washington University. I don’t feel uncomfortable at all walking.”

As much as they both enjoy living downtown, change may be coming in the future.

“This place has been a place of growth for me. Six years is the longest I’ve lived in any one spot, but this will probably be my last year here. It is really kind of bittersweet, but I’m looking at buying a house, still in the city, and relatively soon. In the meantime, we’ll enjoy loft living. Soon we’ll be out on the shared outdoor patios, sitting around the fire pits, enjoying the company and the view.”

At Home in a Downtown loft

Natalia Calleya and Brandon Barnes in their downtown apartment loft, Tuesday, March 3, 2020. Photo by Hillary Levin,

Brandon Barnes and Natalia Calleya

Home • Downtown West

Ages • Brandon is 32, Natalia is 28.

Occupations • Brandon is a graphic designer at Intaglio Marketing and co-owner of the Livery, a bar and music space on South Broadway. Natalia is a doctoral student in nuclear physics at Washington University.

Family • The two share their downtown living space with Atlas, a turtle, and two cats, Gram and Poupette.

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