The Insider: 12-Footer in Lower Slope

The Insider is our weekly, in-depth look at what’s happening on Brooklyn’s interior design and renovation front, written and produced by journalist/blogger Cara Greenberg. Find it here every Thursday at 11:30AM.



TWELVE FEET SIX INCHES, to be exact. The narrow townhouse on the fringe of Park Slope stands alone, sole survivor of an original pair. “They were probably built in the 1880s or ‘90s by a developer who wanted to maximize income on a 25-foot lot,” says Manhattan-based architect Tim Rasic, who bought the skinny singleton in 2005 and made it work for himself, his wife Lisa, and the two little ones who arrived soon after.

It was a full-on interior and exterior renovation. “There had been only two owners before us, each of whom had the house for about fifty years,” Rasic says. “And they hadn’t done any work in the last fifty.” The big job included a new brownstone façade, all-new electric (the existing wiring was the very old braided type), removal of an outside toilet in a lean-to off the back wall, and chipping away concrete in the backyard to reveal old bluestone.

The serene, sun-filled interior plays off opposites — traditional and modern, rough and refined. Furnishings are a down-to-earth mix of passed-down family pieces, locally sourced vintage items, modern Italian lighting, and good old IKEA.

Photos:  House/Alick Crossley Garden/Elizabeth Dooley

Much more, including the lush garden and a complete list of contractors, after the jump.

To the right of the house, where its identical next-door neighbor once stood, is a 12-1/2-foot wide driveway with a new metal gate, used by the Rasics for outdoor dining as well as parking. The front of the house was re-faced, the stoop re-sculpted, and metal handrails restored. There’s a new cornice above, and all-new Marvin windows. Using the original interior vestibule doors as a template, Rasic had a new arched front door custom-made to replace an inappropriate later addition.

 

The 45′ long parlor floor had been carved up into a vestibule, a hall, and two small rooms. Rasic left the vestibule but removed the other walls (all non-structural in such a narrow house) to create an open, loft-like space. When they removed layers of  wall-to-wall carpet and “awful strip flooring,” they found old heart pine underneath. They sanded it and put down liming wax “to lighten in the look,” Rasic says. They also sanded down the staircase, which had been painted over many times, and left it natural. The front parlor is used as a library/home office, and sometimes for dining. The walnut bookcase unit in the right foreground was custom-made by a local supplier, Atlas Industries. The mid-century console at left came from Time Galleries in Park Slope.

 

The living room at the rear of the parlor floor is furnished mostly with flea market finds and family pieces. The sofa is Crate & Barrel (discontinued).


In the garden-level kitchen, Rasic used IKEA’s Akurum cabinets to save money on built-ins, but splurged on commercial-grade appliances from the GE Monogram line. “I wanted no upper cabinets so the room would feel as wide as possible,” Rasic says. The opposite wall has lower cabinets only, also Akurum.

 

The dining room is at the front of the house, on the garden level. Walls throughout the house are new. Rasic laminated sheetrock to all the walls to help with insulation and in order to put electrical boxes in the baseboard and not have to chop into old plaster walls. “I like the smoothness of the new drywall versus the roughness of the floors and stripped doors,” he says. The ’70s table and chairs, made by the Lane furniture company, came from Time Galleries in Park Slope. The rug is IKEA.


The second floor master bedroom features a Spanish hutch passed down by family members. “Some of the inspiration for the distressed wood throughout the house came from this piece,” Rasic says.

 

The larger, sunnier room on the second floor became the nursery.


In a 3′x7′ space off the second floor stair landing, where there had been two back-to-back closets, Rasic created a bathroom with a shower stall, sink, and toilet. Walls, ceiling, and floor are lined with sheets of low-maintenance Corian. The sink, faucet, and mirror are all from Vola.


On the top floor are two more bedrooms, one used as a dressing room. The upholstered bench is from White Trash.

 

The bluestone patio is new. Salvaged pieces dug from the backyard were used to build raised planting beds at the rear of the garden.


Lisa Rasic designed the north-facing garden, with planting beds at the rear to escape the house’s tall shadow. Her starting point was “whatever survived there before,” including hosta, hydrangea, and spirea. They improved the compacted soil, “did a lot of re-positioning” of existing plants, and added more, including clematis, climbing hydrangea, containers of boxwood “for structure,” and herbs in terracotta pots.


The neighborhood is busy, says Lisa Rasic, “but you wouldn’t know it, sitting back there. It’s a walled garden, basically.”

 

| RESOURCES |

Exterior Restoration Valaroso Contracting Corp.

Driveway Gate & Iron Stair Railings Vinnie’s Italian Art Iron Works

New entry doors  Designer Doors & Home Decor

Marvin Windows  Bay Ridge Windows & Doors

Bluestone Patio Stone & Garden

Interior Renovation Pat O’Brien, Leeside Clan Inc.

Corian Bathroom Sterling Surfaces

 

 

55 Comment

  • Given that my 20′ brownstone has no actual rooms wider than 12′, I see no reason that, with a good architect and sensible design, this isn’t just as good.

    Yes, well done.

  • Love it love it love it. The Rasics rock. Does Ikea still make that blue rug under the dining room table? I need one of those, but I don’t recall seeing it during my recent visits….

    There’s often some negativity about narrow houses on this site, and their abrupt dismissal always makes me wonder. Next time people are tempted to post, What, only 16′???!!! they should remember this dazzling house as an example of a narrow house’s potential. This couple has two (beautiful) children and the place looks plenty comfortable for all.

    Great post, Cara. Your photos show the place at its best.

  • Wow! I often walked past this house and always wondered about it. Pacing it out with my feet I thought it was 10 feet wide. :-)

    Lovely renovation!

  • Nice job. I usually hate wide open brownstones, but this is well done, and considering the narrowness, quite attractive as well as useful. I’m glad they kept the vestibule, I don’t like to open the front door and be on someone’s couch.

    From the general appearance, the curved staircase, shape of door, and wide plank subfloor, and marble mantles, I’d say the house is earlier than the Rasic’s think, probably 1860′s through 70′s, not 80′s through 90′s. It’s an Italianate, many of which are quite narrow, for the reasons Tim Rasic stated.

    Again, nice job! And Cara, they just get better and better!

  • Not my photos! There’s a photo credit near the top of the post. Dropping my impartial reportorial stance for a moment, I happen to LOVE this house — so bright, livable, and down-to-earth. And yes, 12′ wide rooms need not be at all claustrophobic. To live as one family in a house like this, though, you have to be prepared to go up and down stairs a lot.

  • Not my photos! There’s a photo credit near the top of the post. Dropping my impartial reportorial stance for a moment, I happen to LOVE this house — so bright, livable, and down-to-earth. And yes, 12′ wide rooms need not be at all claustrophobic. To live as one family in a house like this, though, you have to be prepared to go up and down stairs a lot.

  • Not to be too much of an echo but this is great. I also completely agree with omitting upper cabinets. What a great result.

  • Not to be too much of an echo but this is great. I also completely agree with omitting upper cabinets. What a great result.

  • You could well be right about the age of the house, Montrose. It seems earlier than late Victorian. Tim Rasic had been unable to determine the age of the house from existing records, and was guessing.

    • When people guess the age of houses, they always say 1880′s or 1890′s; they forget just how old many parts of Brooklyn are. I bought a house in the Columbia St waterfront district that seemed pretty old to me, but my agent thought it was 1880′s. I did some research later, and it was built in the mid 1840′s!

  • We use to have a 14 footer that we also opened up. When we went to sell it, every buyer admitted that they were hesitant to see a “narrow” house, but realized how wide it felt once they got inside. All our rooms were as wide as any room in most 20+ footers.

  • Love the light fixtures in the dining room and bedrooms. Gorgeous with plenty of sparkle potential! Where are they from?

  • Beautifully done.

    Regarding the age of the house, you can try the BHS library which has detailed maps over time, so you can see when the lot was still farmland and when the houses first turned up. My house is 1878, and there’s a real similarity to the look.

  • They seemed to have manage around the skinny quite well and the garden is lovely.

  • They seemed to have manage around the skinny quite well and the garden is lovely.

  • Narrow for my taste but fracking awesome. This is how a parlour should open up. Tear down that damn bearing wall and hang the floor above on a beam (albeit applicable to the typical 20-footer, not here).

    Awwww, look at the little kiddies!

    ***Half Peak Comps Euroding***

  • Narrow for my taste but fracking awesome. This is how a parlour should open up. Tear down that damn bearing wall and hang the floor above on a beam (albeit applicable to the typical 20-footer, not here).

    Awwww, look at the little kiddies!

    ***Half Peak Comps Euroding***

  • I like it also.

    It was great to have the lot next door as well.
    Loving the back yard, it is like a hidden treasure.

  • The light fixture in the dining room is a “caboche” (whatever that means) suspension lamp from Foscarini. The others are Artemide.

  • LOVE it all, and especially the garden! Kudos to them for managing to avoid “Unhappy Hipsters” look!

  • Narrow and neat. Pretty cool house!

    The 3′x7′ bathroom is interesting. The shower is in the front. What is the door made from? Is that a step down into the bathroom/shower to accommodate the shower pan? It’s a great solution for a tight space. Just wondering logistically if it works.

  • We saw this property when we were looking at houses and I still think about it. The views out the back (of the atlantic center mall) were a dealkiller, though, not to mention the cost of renovating. But it had tons of charm even in its run down state.

  • I dub the new look Swedish-Italianate.

    Was about to post the same thing Montrose already said about the building’s age: This is an Italianate house, and the style as well as certain building techniques such as a curved staircase, make it likely to be earlier than ’80s or ’90s.

    Two questions: How do you finish the floors like this? Just rub them with liming wax and nothing else? No oil? What is liming wax?

    How wide was the living room originally? About 8 feet? (Mostly I am asking just so I can say freakin’ ridiculous!)

    Personally, I wouldn’t have covered plaster walls with sheetrock. If you use mesh tape when you skim coat, the cracks will not return. I thought running electric through baseboards is forbidden by code.

    Nice restoration job and beautiful garden.

  • Bluestone looks so much better than concrete. But concrete probably keeps the water away from the foundation. Is there a trick to installing bluestone so water doesn’t pool or run through the cracks into the basement?

    • Looks like there is a pitch and a drain further away from the house.

      might even have a concrete base under the bluestone. You could even dig down near the house and fill with gravel keeping the draining water away from the house.

    • Looks like there is a pitch and a drain further away from the house.

      might even have a concrete base under the bluestone. You could even dig down near the house and fill with gravel keeping the draining water away from the house.

    • I had that problem, and I just plugged up the seams within a couple of feet of the house with latex concrete patch and it fixed the problem. This may not hold for very long, but it was quick and cheap.

  • Bluestone looks so much better than concrete. But concrete probably keeps the water away from the foundation. Is there a trick to installing bluestone so water doesn’t pool or run through the cracks into the basement?

  • My apologies to the photographer.

    This house is on the fringe of Park Slope and it looks out on the Atlantic Center Mall?

  • Very nice indeed! I am pretty big, and have never liked even walking into some of these narrow houses, but they did a great job opening this one up. It also has high ceilings, which helps. There are some narrow houses just West of the Gowanus in Carroll Gardens that have low ceilings to boot; must have been made for very small people.

  • It’s on Dean between 4th and 5th, closer to 5th. Isn’t that technically Park Slope, or is it just no-person’s-land? I’ve asked Tim Rasic, the architect/homeowner, to jump in here with answers to questions relating to drainage, floor refinishing, bathroom logistics, etc.

  • Very nice. I would have gone with more color on the walls and such, but it’s a lovely reno.

  • unless i’m mistaken, this was just in biggest sales – $1.795, and is not in south slope but in north slope at dean street. so much for the atlantic yards effect, i guess. or maybe they will be renting out their driveway to defray! anyway, lovely renovation all around.

  • unless i’m mistaken, this was just in biggest sales – $1.795, and is not in south slope but in north slope at dean street. so much for the atlantic yards effect, i guess. or maybe they will be renting out their driveway to defray! anyway, lovely renovation all around.

  • Oh, I was thinking South Slope. Guess that neighborhood is Park Slope now; wouldn’t know what to call it otherwise. Not quite Prospect Heights, either.

  • Oh, I was thinking South Slope. Guess that neighborhood is Park Slope now; wouldn’t know what to call it otherwise. Not quite Prospect Heights, either.

  • Are there two fireplaces on the parlor floor on opposite walls? I’ve never seen that before. Nice post, Cara!

  • Are there two fireplaces on the parlor floor on opposite walls? I’ve never seen that before. Nice post, Cara!

  • Beautiful renovation (although I’m a little biased as this is my favorite house style) All of the design decisions are right on. I think the best part was the restraint they used; they didn’t go overboard or make anything too slick. They just let the house’s own elegance speak for itself. I love the bathroom design. Reminds me of a yacht bathroom where everything is made to get wet.

  • Beautiful renovation (although I’m a little biased as this is my favorite house style) All of the design decisions are right on. I think the best part was the restraint they used; they didn’t go overboard or make anything too slick. They just let the house’s own elegance speak for itself. I love the bathroom design. Reminds me of a yacht bathroom where everything is made to get wet.

  • Sorry I tried to post earlier but it did not seem to work.

    Thank you for all the comments and interest. The house was really a labor of love for us.

    To answer some questions posted:

    As for the age of the house, I don’t disagree that house might possibly pre-date the 1880’s.

    The light fixtures in the bedrooms are from Artemide and the light fixture in the dining room in from Foscarini.

    The 3’x7’ bathroom has a raised floor and custom corian shower to allow for the drain without chopping the floor joists.

    The liming wax is manufactured by Briwax and over-coated with a clear wax coat. Liming wax is used to create a similar effect as traditional liming used to lighten wood.

    The original front parlor was about 6’ wide and the entry hall was about 4’-10 wide.

    The bluestone is set on sand and pitched away from the house. We also installed a garden drain in the patio and excavated and waterproofed the rear wall of the house.

    Best,
    Tim Rasic

  • these articles are awesome and this house is really well done, there is something about the 12 footer that is really appealing

    only thing that would make the insider better would be floorplans

  • When it comes to establishing the age of a house, I believe Montrose says she accesses Brooklyn block and lot maps via the NYPL. I wanted to also mention that you can purchase terrific reproduction block and lot maps from Wards Maps online. They have multiple sheets from several old Brooklyn atlases ranging from 1873 to 1909. Find the one you want and order it. Cost ranges from $15 – $70, unframed, depending on size. I have one from 1880 of Prospect Heights and GAP showing my house. Our neighbors love looking for their houses on it! The quality of the reproduction is very high. You used to see these at flea markets but they are getting rarer and rarer.

    Oh, and I meant to say, — great house! Thank you, Cara and the Rasics.

  • Six feet! Crazy. Thanks for all the info, Tim. Very informative. I learned about latex concrete patch too — gotta try that on our cracked stoop.

  • Does Lisa Rasic do garden design professionally? I would love to make our yard into something like that.

    Also, did they add the ceiling plaster ornamentation, and if so, who did the work?

    • Just FYI, the main plantings here seem to be hostas, hydrangeas, daylilies, and box. These are mature plants that have been here for years — they are sizable. Not sure about the vines — I’ve never had good coverage like that.

    • Lisa Rasic is not a professional garden designer, but I’m sure she’s flattered by the question. Re the plasterwork on the living room ceiling, Tim Rasic tells me it’s original, and only needed minor restoration. They replaced some sections of plaster crown molding where a wall was removed.

    • Definitely flattered. Sorry for the late reply but every time I tried to sit down and type the kids pulled me away.

      To create something like this try thinking about vertical green where ever you can. Then you can add flowering vines like Moonflower (start from seed; more work but so worth it for evening blooms!) and Clematis and larger flowering easy-care shrubs like Hydrangea (in a container or in the ground).

      For vertical green: We planted a Manhattan Euonymous to mask a large A/C condenser in the back. We bought it from Chelsea Gardens already on a 4×4 trellis, but it took only one year to grow another 4 feet tall on stakes that we added. English Ivy also grows quickly and is evergreen year round. Ours was there when we bought the house (covering that rear wall), but we lost 1/2 of it in a windy snow storm and it was back in only 2 years. Both are in the rear of the garden where there is more sun. Boston Ivy is lovely to add because it changes color in the fall. Then the leaves fall off so don’t use it for screening. In a spot that receives a little less light, you can plant Climbing Hydrangea. It’s not evergreen, but it climbs and blooms. We found some at Lowe’s. The wonderful pyramidal boxwoods were a terrific find at Home Depot, along with the containers that we put them in.

      For groundcover, I found Coral Bells (Huechera) and Black Mondo Grass to work really well. Coral Bells are easy to find. Black Mondo Grass is more difficult to find. I bought a bunch at GRDN in Boerum Hill and then got lucky one day and found more at Lowe’s, but couldn’t find it again there the next two – three seasons. Most of the Hosta was there already. There were very large so I was able to split them (very easy to do and the hosta doesn’t mind) so that we had enough to line the path. You just have to watch for slugs. Put down bait if you see them so you don’t end up with holes in your hosta by the end of the summer.

      Good luck and have fun!

  • Thanks, Cara, this is so informative.

  • Thanks, Cara, this is so informative.