The Insider: Apartment into Loft in Brooklyn Heights

Welcome to The Insider, Brownstoner’s weekly in-depth look at interior design and renovation in the borough of Brooklyn. It’s written and produced by Cara Greenberg, a design journalist who blogs at casaCARA: Old Houses for Fun & Profit. Find it here every Thursday at 11:30AM.

IN THE MID-’80s, a developer chopped up a former YMCA building in Brooklyn Heights, creating condominium apartments with dropped ceilings and sorry little galley kitchens. When a couple in the arts — she’s a fashion editor, he’s a screenwriter — bought a 1,344-square-foot duplex in the building a few years ago, they called on Brooklyn-based designer Elizabeth Roberts to help them realize the potential they knew was there.

Roberts removed walls, raised ceilings and doorways, and re-thought the uninspired staircase to the upper level, where three bedrooms were converted to a master bedroom and a home office (there’s a powder room on the lower level, a bath-and-a-half upstairs). Most strikingly, the kitchen area was opened up to bring in light and make the space more conducive to entertaining.

Fred Taverna of New York Interior Construction (212/251-0790) saw the project through. Total cost: approximately $300,000.

“When they purchased it, it was an apartment,” says Roberts. “Now it’s a loft.”

Photos: Sean Slattery

More, including ‘befores’ and construction shots, after the jump.

Each floor of the duplex measures 24′x28′, with 13′ ceilings downstairs and 10′ ceilings upstairs.

 

Framing three tall existing windows with bookshelves made the wall read (pun intended) as one cohesive unit. Window seats cover unattractive radiators. The library ladder came from Putnam, a 107-year-old company located in SoHo. A new floor of reclaimed walnut, from LV Wood, was laid on the lower level. Sofas from George Smith.

 

Awkward wall planes, cheap doors, and an uninspired staircase had to go.

 

The ‘before’ kitchen had no natural light, let alone charm.

 

The new kitchen cabinets, painted Ralph Lauren ‘Surrey,’ began with IKEA boxes; a millworker created custom doors. The counters are honed Carrara marble from SMC Stone in Brooklyn; an open shelf of the same material has lighting underneath. In between, there’s white subway tile from Nemo. Room for a pantry off the kitchen was found in “funny little space hidden behind drywall,” Roberts says. Range: DeLonghi / Fridge: Lieber / Dishwasher: Meile

 

The long farmhouse table is the scene of frequent dinner parties.

 

“We kept the basic structure of the existing stairway, but re-dressed it in a style more in keeping with the building’s grand original entry stair,” Roberts says. New wood treads were added to the existing metal risers, which were painted pale gray, along with new pre-fab balusters and handrails.

 

The homeowners salvaged old wood doors from the original YMCA building and used one on the powder room, above. They kept the existing corner sink. The great wallpaper is vintage.


Have you missed any installments of The Insider? You’ll find them all right here.

30 Comment

  • I adore the bookshelves surrounding the windows.

  • Wow, this is so elegant. I love the elimination of the “awkward wall planes, cheap doors, and an uninspired staircase.” It shows how you can change a space. And not to dive into a discussion about costs, but this very beautiful kitchen looks like it might have been fairly reasonably priced — as high-end kitchens go. Look at that nicely handled transition from dishwasher to cabinets. Does anyone know what kind of stove vent that is?

  • I am currently contemplating an apartment renovation that would be almost like this — but was hoping to get it done for 150k. 300k seems like a lot. Hope it includes those g. smith sofas.

  • Nice. My favorite parts: the bookshelves, of course. I like the punch of color in the kitchen, the RL paint is a great color. They also did a great job on the stairs. The salvaged door is wonderfully warm and woody, making me want to see much more woodwork, somewhere. But that’s not a dig, just my personal preference.

  • Nice. My favorite parts: the bookshelves, of course. I like the punch of color in the kitchen, the RL paint is a great color. They also did a great job on the stairs. The salvaged door is wonderfully warm and woody, making me want to see much more woodwork, somewhere. But that’s not a dig, just my personal preference.

  • Very lovely home. Thanks to the owners for sharing.
    I thought it was very informative to include the overall costs number. Hopefully Cara can continue to disclose that in the future. I know no one wants this column to devolve into a purely $$ discussion, but it’s helpful to future renovators to know what you can potentially get at a certain cost range.

  • Maybe I’m crazy, but this renovation seems like a prime example of why working with an architect is worth every penny, if it’s in your budget.

    A homeowner such as myself could point to a photo in a magazine and say “I want those kinds of kitchen cupboards.” But rare would be the homeowner or contractor who could reimagine the existing space for better sight lines and more functionality, while working around structural columns.

  • It’s great to have the budget. It sounds like they did quite a bit in addition to the kitchen and stairs.

  • I too have been considering an apartment renovation that would be somewhat similar to this and one change involved taking down a wall between my living room and dining room that is now on the living room side a wall of bookshelves. Never thought of putting them around the windows! Great ideas here, lovely space.

  • thanks for share the project cost. It sure lends to peeps claiming renovating a brownstone house can get toward or past $1M.

  • Looks good, but seems like a pretty high cost for renovation. You could do a whole brownstone for that amount. Hope they don’t need to sell soon or they bought the apartment at a low enough price point that they have some equity left.

  • it won’t be this nice / lux but I’m redoing (kitchen, bathrms, flooring, walls, doors, electric, etc) a similar size pad for a ton less so don’t give up my fellow peeps with the peanut budgets.

  • FINALLY! An apartment that looks like an average* person lives there and not an uber rich couple with their model kids*

    Nice place. The decorating is not my style, but I’m sure it suites the homeowners. There are some nice details in the apt. and an overall improvement to the before.

    Cara, Thanks for including the construction cost. I guess you didn’t want 50+ posts debating the cost :-)

    * No offense to the owners or average people. I am one myself. Also no offense to uber rich people or their model kids.

  • FINALLY! An apartment that looks like an average* person lives there and not an uber rich couple with their model kids*

    Nice place. The decorating is not my style, but I’m sure it suites the homeowners. There are some nice details in the apt. and an overall improvement to the before.

    Cara, Thanks for including the construction cost. I guess you didn’t want 50+ posts debating the cost :-)

    * No offense to the owners or average people. I am one myself. Also no offense to uber rich people or their model kids.

  • Expert textpert, I was saying to myself, YES!!! Refrigerator magnets holding “stuff” on the fridge door! People live here!

  • Beautiful transformation, especially the kitchen. The old one was certainly a bummer. I think many people are afraid to use anything but very neutral paint colors on kitchen cabinets, but here it really makes the whole thing pop.

  • where was the YMCA in Brooklyn Heights anyway?

  • where was the YMCA in Brooklyn Heights anyway?

  • love this to pieces. One small gripe: that’s not enough kitchen storage. Needs some more cabinets or shelves on the those high walls– it will take away from aesthetics but the added function of storage outweighs the loss

  • love this to pieces. One small gripe: that’s not enough kitchen storage. Needs some more cabinets or shelves on the those high walls– it will take away from aesthetics but the added function of storage outweighs the loss

  • Joralemon St, Ben. Erica, the bookshelves were custom-built as part of the project. ExTex, I don’t mind a…. ummm, lively discussion… about money (or anything else), it’s just that homeowners, architects, and designers are often very close-mouthed about it. Not so in this case, though I’m sure the 300K is just a rough ballpark.

  • Only 19 comments!?
    Cara, you shouldn’t have included the cost of construction. Let us duke it out and then come on her late in the day and say btw, the cost is X, I forgot to mention it :-)

  • Only 19 comments!?
    Cara, you shouldn’t have included the cost of construction. Let us duke it out and then come on her late in the day and say btw, the cost is X, I forgot to mention it :-)

  • Haha, yes, maybe that’s the secret of generating comments…leave ‘em guessing about the price!

  • ah yes, joralemon. I know the building now.

    i have come back to brownstoner today specifically to comment here — i love this feature, cara. I couldn’t understand why I didn’t like this place more. I felt like I should like it, but I was just left a little cold. Then I realized: rugs. This place with rugs would be really great. And maybe big big art some place.

  • Love this renovation – clean and modern-ish but still warm.

    The kitchen cab paint color is listed as RL’s Surrey but online swatches and other spaces painted in Surrey show a dark gray color, not this lovely blue. Cara, can you double-check this?