The Insider: Radical Reno in Red Hook

Welcome to The Insider, Brownstoner’s Thursday series exploring the creative ways we renovate and decorate our homes here in the county of Kings. The Insider is written and produced by Cara Greenberg, a veteran design journalist and Brooklynite who blogs at casaCARA: Old Houses for Fun and Profit.

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You’d never guess from the vinyl-clad exterior of this Red Hook row house that something dramatically loft-like is going on inside. Architectural designer Elizabeth Roberts transformed the space within, including a formerly unfinished, unheated basement, to create a bright modern home for her clients — Brandon Holley, the editor-in-chief of Lucky magazine, and John Deley, a pianist and composer. “We took down every interior wall and dug down to gain some ceiling height in the basement,” says Roberts, principal of a 4-person firm in Clinton Hill.

The 20′x50′ basement level became the main living space. Roberts opened up the back wall and spanned it with glass sliding doors, poured a concrete floor, and inserted a new kitchen and bath. A flight of monumental wood steps leads down from a street-level entry foyer and sleeping loft. Until recently, there was a two-bedroom rental apartment on the building’s second floor. That has been incorporated into the growing family’s living space, with three new bedrooms and two baths (the new top floor will be the subject of a future post).

Above: Elliptical table from Kartell, Mies van der Rohe chaise from Herman Miller, vintage fireplace.

More photos and details on the jump.

Photo: Sean Slattery

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An open staircase leading down from the entry level to the main living space is made of powder-coated white steel and wood salvaged from an industrial building in Manhattan. The building-wide “stadium seating” that spans the back wall came from the same source. “The idea is that someday a baby grand will go into the living room, and it could be used as a performance space,” Roberts says.

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There is no handrail on the staircase. “The clients were open to that, and there haven’t been any accidents,” Roberts says. The kitchen was done on a tight budget, with cabinets from IKEA.

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The edges of the massive timbers — probably structural members, Roberts says — were finished to emphasize the pattern of the grain. The underside was left unfinished, however, to provide “some hints of the past.”

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On the entry level, a sleeping loft with sitting and dressing areas is mostly open, with the bed shielded somewhat by the chimney stack. A wall of closets hides behind white curtains.

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The glittering mosaic tile in the master bath is from the Bisazza showroom in SoHo.

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The enormous aluminum and glass sliders along the back wall of the building are from Arcadia.

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A separate carriage house in the backyard was converted into a state-of-the-art music recording studio.

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The existing vinyl-clad façade was intentionally left unchanged “so that the house respects and fits in with the eclectic and modest streetscape,” as Roberts puts it.

Photos: Sean Slattery

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Basement level, left: 1 garden   2 living   3 dining   4 breakfast   5 guest room   6 kitchen   7 guest bath   8 mechanical / 2nd entry
Entry level, right: 1 entry   2 sitting area   3 sleeping   4 master bath   5 laundry   6 roof deck   7 garden [below]


23 Comment

  • Looks great! This would be a great model for a lot of modest houses around north Brooklyn – Greenpoint, Bushwick etc. I wonder if they would be willing to share some ideas of budget. Especially the cost of digging out the basement.

  • Looks great! This would be a great model for a lot of modest houses around north Brooklyn – Greenpoint, Bushwick etc. I wonder if they would be willing to share some ideas of budget. Especially the cost of digging out the basement.

  • Oh, and the floors are gorgeous. Where they original to the building or reclaimed wood from another source.

  • does anyone know how a staircase without a handrail can pass building code?

  • does anyone know how a staircase without a handrail can pass building code?

  • Not crazy for the bathroom look but hey, it’s not for me! I do love the old timbers…

  • I agree about the resemblance to buildings in Greenpoint and Bushwick. They always look so unpromising compared to beautiful brownstones, but they can be transformed, as this renovation shows. Re the floors, the lower level is poured concrete; the upper level is reclaimed pine from the same source as the stair treads — an old industrial building in the Garment District. I’ll put out a feeler to the architect and see what I can find out about costs and codes.

  • Is it my vision again or is that fireplace not attached? Does anybody know whether a fireplace like that provides decent heat?

    Nice renovation! My favorite part of this design is the ledge steps to the back yard.

  • Elbow, you’re not supposed to look quite that closely! The fireplace is not hooked up in this photo, but it has since been moved upstairs to the new bedrooms, which will be the subject of a future post.

  • Elbow, you’re not supposed to look quite that closely! The fireplace is not hooked up in this photo, but it has since been moved upstairs to the new bedrooms, which will be the subject of a future post.

  • Yeah I got a fine from DOB for having an internal staircase without handrail. Great looking reno though!

  • Yeah I got a fine from DOB for having an internal staircase without handrail. Great looking reno though!

  • not loving it, way too modern for me. I like the concept, I love Red Hook, but there doesnt seem to be many windows, I am not fond of a cave like home.

    The bathroom, will be dated in a few years, it is way too taste specific, whick is OK since it is the owners that are living there….

  • really cool…i love this new “insider” feature. this’ll make me think twice about some of the houses around the hood with unattractive facades…and what may lie beneath ;-)

  • Too much blingy tile in the bathroom for my taste, but the rest of the interior is fantastic. But please, change the facade. After all that work, one shouldn’t be left with a “butter face.”

  • Anyone know what brand , or name for that type of old radio being used as a side-table is? Would love to google it to see if similar items are for sale.

  • Anyone know what brand , or name for that type of old radio being used as a side-table is? Would love to google it to see if similar items are for sale.

  • So true, would not guess spectacular inside from outside. Also might guess LA or at least CA, not NYC, if just shown a few of the pics. Great place.

  • Gosh, I would never “do” a place like this, but I sure do love looking at it. I can’t imagine *living* with that bathroom, but I love looking at it. Ditto the stairs, that wall of curtains in the bedroom, etc. etc.

    What a great piece! Who would ever guess that an interior like that lurked behind that facade?

  • Nice space, but it is not to code and the code exists for a reason. The stairs and loft railings are really dangerous. I hope no one breaks their neck….

  • I dont get the sequence.
    So you arrive upstairs, in the bedroom? These are people who one day would like to have piano recitals and to that end have incorporated stadium seating, but all those people will arrive by traipsing through the bedroom? Hmmm.
    Then, there are upstairs bedrooms but no stair exists on the plan to get there. do they also get access through the bedroom.
    Please tell me this is a temporary solution while the upstairs is being worked on and when finished the entry floor bedroom will become “public” space.
    The aesthic is cool though and I love the sliding doors to outside with the steps going full width.

  • I love the bathroom, but do these people not have books?

  • Yes, there’s an entry vestibule (not pictured). Then you walk through the bedroom/sleeping loft to descend the stairs to the main space on the basement level. There’s a flight of original stairs at the entry vestibule that leads to the newly renovated top level, with three new bedrooms. There are floor to ceiling books on two walls of the living room. As for the cost of digging out the basement, Elizabeth Roberts said the foundations were such they were able to dig down and gain a few inches without expensive underpinning.