How the owners of Harlem Underground built a family home above their restaurant

How the owners of Harlem Underground built a family home above their restaurant

In 2015, Carl Cassell and Ana Silva sold their house and used the proceeds to expand the living space above their Queen West restaurant, Harlem Underground. To speed up the construction process, they decided to convert three prefabricated steel shipping containers into a rear extension. “I grew up in Jamaica playing in shipping containers,” Carl says.

They went through seven crane operators before they found one who would do the job. “They were all concerned about the overhead wires,” Carl says. “I said, ‘Listen, I have visualized it. They can go in.’ ”

And they did, without a hitch, in three hours. Carl and Ana also fashioned the containers’ steel doors into two decks and added a steel structure to the top of the building to create a new third floor. All told, they boosted their living space from 650 to 3,450 square feet, with three bedrooms.

Carl and Ana with their kids, Myles, Lua, Jodie and Zava:

They love being so close to work. “It’s great to be able to pop down to the restaurant when we’re jammed,” Ana says. Their older kids also work at the restaurant. “They can work late then head up to bed,” Carl adds. “And I always make it home for dinner.”

Carl and a friend built the stairs and the rails. They’re wrapped in oak. Carl made the fireplace surround look like pricy corten steel by treating some sheet metal with corrosive chemicals:


The chandelier is a DIY creation. They opted for a table rather than an island so they could move it out of the way:


Carl and Ana’s bedroom:


The younger girls’ bedroom:


Carl created this portrait of his dad out of hair extensions:


This piece was left over from an art show at the restaurant: