The Insider: Vertical Loft House in Park Slope

Join us here every Thursday at 11:30AM for 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, who blogs at casaCARA: Old Houses for Fun & Profit.


THIS RADICAL RE-THINKING of a late-Victorian brownstone interior began with architect Eric Liftin of DUMBO-based MESH Architectures facing all the usual problems presented by an 18-foot-wide row house: a dark central core, cramped corridors, small rooms, an awkwardly placed kitchen.

His clients, Laura Lau and Chris Kentis, a pair of filmmakers with one child, had originally been looking for a loft, but fell in love with the central Park Slope location of this house. They asked Liftin to open up the triplex to space and light (the garden floor is a rental apartment). “They wanted the kind of family living that’s inherent in a loft — open and informal, rather than feeling everyone is isolated on different floors and cut off from each other,” says the architect.

Liftin and his team removed walls on the parlor floor to create one loftlike space, and opened up the central core of the house. “The central stair was very tight and dark, with narrow stairs and corridors,” says Liftin. “We stripped away plaster and sheetrock to show the old structure.” The original mahogany staircase remains, its elaborate carving a striking decorative feature on the parlor level. In the halls and landings on the two upper floors, flooring was replaced with translucent glass to allow light from an enormous new skylight to suffuse the entire house.

MESH re-purposed some materials from the old structure that was cut away, using salvaged studs from parlor floor walls to construct new walls on the upper floors. Ceiling beams were left exposed in the central zone, with lights made of plumbing pipe nestled among the joists. “At night, the whole vertical space is illuminated with a warm glow,” Liftin says.

The job also entailed re-plumbing, re-wiring, and cleaning up the heating and central air systems. Great Will Construction was the general contractor.

Photos: Frank Oudeman; MESH

Lots more photos, including ‘Befores,’ after the jump.

MESH opened a zone through the middle of the house, with a huge skylight at the top. In this zone, translucent floors allow light to penetrate, and finishes were peeled back to reveal the original structure.

 

The living room, with built-in seating and a new fireplace, is at the front of the parlor floor. The kitchen is at the rear. The original  floor was “in really bad shape,” Liftin says. It was replaced throughout the house with Brazilian hardwood flooring.


 

The turn-of-the-century mahogany staircase is no longer in a closed-off hall, but open to the main living space.


Above: what was.


The built-ins, says Liftin, are “a way to maximize seating in an odd-shaped space and make it feel continuous.” The original mantel was replaced with a sleek modern wood-burning fireplace.

 

The rear wall of the house was opened up and the structure supported with a steel beam. New steel and glass doors lead to a deck. New flooring in the kitchen area is Fireslate, a composite material made of powdered stone and binders. “It’s impervious to heat and can be cut into any shape,” Liftin says.


The kitchen cabinets are lacquered plywood, built by Great Will, the general contractor. The countertop, like the floor, is made of Fireslate.


Above, the windowless existing kitchen in the middle of the parlor floor.


Many of the house’s original moldings, doors, and stair parts were retained. The mantels, like the one shown here in an upstairs bedroom, were not to the clients’ taste. “That which was usable we kept,” says Liftin. “The rest we sold to Old Good Things so that others might enjoy.”


The second floor has a master bedroom in front and child’s room in back, with a bath and closets in the middle. The wall is a translucent frosted material called Panelite, made of fiberglass with an aluminum honeycomb core, that lets light into the bathroom.


Salvaged studs from the parlor floor walls were re-purposed and left exposed in the upstairs hall.


Stripped-down structure, as in the exposed brick walls of the master bedroom,  juxtaposed against existing Victorian elements, is a theme that runs through the entire house.


The translucent wall in the hall admits light into the master bathroom’s shower area. The vanity and tub surround are made of ipe wood. The glass tiles are ‘Glacier,’ from Stone Source.


‘Pipe lights’ between the exposed ceiling joists in the central core of the house, with 20-watt incandescent bulbs, were designed and fabricated from plumbing pipe by MESH Architectures. The hallway floors are laminated, acid-etched, tempered glass,  3/4″ thick.


The architects removed a dropped ceiling on the top floor, exposing the full height of the ceiling in the hall and two home offices.



 

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47 Comment

  • Ok, I’ll plunge in here. Let me make the usual preservationist statement by saying in an ideal world, I wish they had done this with a house with less detail. But they didn’t, and I’m glad they sold the mantels and whatever else to Olde Good Things instead carting it off to Ye Olde Landfill. What is done is done.

    That said, I like a lot of what they did. I happen to really like the juxtaposition of finished old wood against brick, and like the stairs exposed like this. I like the inventive industrial look of the pipe lights and the open beams, especially on the top floor. I like the exposed beams and the pin pendant lights in the dining room.

    I think the house is very successful on the parlor floor and the top floor. I really don’t like the translucent panels on the bedroom floor, or the way the middle floor hall is so cramped. I understand why, for privacy, but I don’t feel this floor was nearly as successful as the other two, which are very airy and feel very spacious.

    The brownstone as loft look is limited by the challenges of vertical narrow spaces, which are the antithesis of “loft”. I think if this had been a traditional large open space, it would have been much easier to encapsulate the bedrooms and bathrooms in a more spacious way, but you have to work with what you have. I like some of the materials used, like the fireslate.

    I’m partial to the “befores” but do like the light and space in the “after”. I’m not going to hate on this. It is one of the more interesting brownstone “lofts” I’ve seen. There are some ideas here I’m going to put in my “wanna” file.

    Nice pick, Cara.

  • callalily

    Hm….turned a Victorian home into an industrial loft. Nicely done. This is not your average “we just took out all the trim and put in a bunch of downlights” conversion to an airplane hanger. Will it stand the test of time? Not sure.

  • callalily

    Oh wait a sec, just realized the shots of the original hall and the original mantle are “before” pictures and all that was demolished. Well, obviously, I prefer the original space. I don’t see why people find Victorian floor plans “cramped” and “dark.” I find them gracious and fluid. Victorian houses are modern spaces designed to be flexible with sliding doors and transoms that can be altered on the fly to control privacy and temperature or for entertaining, depending on the needs of the moment and the configuration of the household — the same values Frank Lloyd Wright was promoting about ten years later.

  • stuyheightsarch

    I like what they did I just wish they would have brought a house that had less intact details so I agree with MM. Mopar I think you are right with time telling about this this house… I wonder in 2030 will we be saying its a 2012 modern Loft look. Kinda like the 1970s modern brownstone in PS that is sometimes on tour.

  • Is it me, or does this place look unfinished? I’m a big fan of exposed brick & beams, translucent flooring, modern fireplaces, etc., but this is the ugliest jumble of trendy elements I’ve yet to see on this site.
    There’s simply no rhyme-or-reason to the choices made, no consistent aesthetic, and I don’t think there’s anything harmonious about the juxtaposition of old & new. Believe me, it can be done right – but in this case, it wasn’t. Just look at the inept handling of the transitions from finished-to-unfinished surfaces…
    On the plus side, it does have a lot more light.
    Grade: D+

  • callalily

    This is the second or third house we’ve seen that has tried to maximize space with built-in furniture, a clever solution in a narrow room. However, these solutions have been horizontal. Victorians are vertical. Anything long, low, and horizontal, whether it’s a platform bed or a bookcase running the length of the building, is jarring in a Victorian. Maybe more traditional built-ins, such as window seats and bookcases flanking fireplaces or filling whole walls in middle rooms, might be good space saving solutions in houses less than 20 feet wide?

  • I like it. Not the translucent flooring though, but everything else yes, I do.

  • I like it. Not the translucent flooring though, but everything else yes, I do.

  • more4less

    if a developer is allowed to build some modern looking houses in these BK hoods, it’ll sell fast and for top $$$ as there is demand and tiny supply. There are many rich peeps who like these BK hood locations but prefer modern pads. I can’t be hard on them for ripping out the details from the house – ie not like there are a ton of shells, no-detail houses, etc nearby that we can scream “why didn’t you buy that one instead of this detailed one???”

  • wasder

    I think this is pretty friggin innovative and cool.

  • callalily

    Sure, let the developers build beautiful architect designed modern houses in keeping with the scale, height, and setbacks of the street. Why not? I think it would be fantastic. Instead we get Fedders monstrosities. As for Victorians with intact insides, there are very few, and it’s important to preserve the ones left. Daily they are being destroyed in my neighborhood by flippers.

  • callalily

    Sure, let the developers build beautiful architect designed modern houses in keeping with the scale, height, and setbacks of the street. Why not? I think it would be fantastic. Instead we get Fedders monstrosities. As for Victorians with intact insides, there are very few, and it’s important to preserve the ones left. Daily they are being destroyed in my neighborhood by flippers.

  • daveinbedstuy

    Love the kitchen and bathroom but I hate modern looking fireplaces.

  • daveinbedstuy

    Love the kitchen and bathroom but I hate modern looking fireplaces.

  • minard

    So much money thrown into these poor old houses to turn them into something they are not.
    I would rather look at that beautiful, gorgeous, rejected mantle than at crummy floor joists. No accounting for taste I guess.
    The translucent floor is one of the AIA requirements for every ultra-high-end rowhouse rehab: exposed joists-check, exposed brick -check, translucent floor -check.
    Somehow I do not think the owners will ever truly be happy if what they really want is an open sunny loft. This housing type is the opposite. I wonder how much it will cost future owners to put it all back together?
    I do like the kitchen and of course the baths are resort hotel like.
    I appreciate greatly that they left the beautiful mahogany stair in place. I’m sure that was a debate -it’s soooo old,,,,and daaaark…and it has like carvings on it…..it’s like a museuuuuuuuum.
    Lots and lots and lots of money, I wish I liked it more.

  • I’m not keen on the bathrooms but I know that’s a personal aesthetic; otherwise gorgeous – I love the kitchen and upstairs, and the postmodern relic staircase in particular

  • I’m not keen on the bathrooms but I know that’s a personal aesthetic; otherwise gorgeous – I love the kitchen and upstairs, and the postmodern relic staircase in particular

  • This idea of bringing more central light into the narrow rowhouse was also covered by the NYTimes for a house in Harlem. (Don’t yell at me, I know this site is dedicated to Brooklyn.)

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/15/garden/an-inner-courtyard-unites-a-harlem-home.html
    Comparing the two purely on the available pics, I like the Harlem one more. Of course, they reportedly sunk $675K into it!

    • more4less

      given how pricey renovations are on this insider thread, I don’t doubt this renov here is north of 500k and good odds of it being 600k+. in other words, similar amount spent

    • Wherebklyn, I was thinking of the same article. In that case the house had been quite ravaged over the years and there was not a lot left to save. Here it really seems like a shame and a waste. I’m not saying the end result is terrible; it looks fine, although it looked fine before, and leaving more or less intact certainly would have been a lot cheaper and less wasteful.

  • I don’t mind the aesthetic of the renovation but I agree with others here that I’m stunned when people tear apart a well-preserved brownstone to make it something modern. There are plenty of opportunities in Brooklyn to make a modern loft space with buildings not so carefully taken care of.

  • I don’t love this place. First, I hate the translucent flooring and the translucent walls. I mean I HATE them. Just horrible. I dislike the modern fireplace and the built in seating on the parlor floor. Overall, I’m okay with the garden level and the parlor floor. I agree with others that there is just way too much exposed joists. I like the look – but not everywhere. Considering how much they probably spent, I think it should be so much better. Did I mention I HATE the translucent flooring. Just hate it.

  • brownstoneshalfoff

    Sa-weet! I like it. I’m so biting their style. Nice mix.

    Now they’re gonna want twice peak (new peak?) if, God forbid, they have to sell in the not-so-distant future.

    ***Half Peak Comps Euroding***

  • I’m not a fan of this one – I’m finding it neither here nor there. But I’m also not a fan of heavy, ornate Victorian woodwork so this is probably not the house I would have purchased. My favorite detail of the whole project is the steel beam on the parlor floor. I want to like this more than I do but after looking a couple of times, I can summon neither enthusiasm nor outrage.

  • I’m not a fan of this one – I’m finding it neither here nor there. But I’m also not a fan of heavy, ornate Victorian woodwork so this is probably not the house I would have purchased. My favorite detail of the whole project is the steel beam on the parlor floor. I want to like this more than I do but after looking a couple of times, I can summon neither enthusiasm nor outrage.

  • callalily

    “So much money thrown into these poor old houses to turn them into something they are not.”

    Quote of the day!

  • callalily

    My Victorian has translucent doors. They’re original. Nyah-nyah. However, they don’t do much to illuminate the interior hall.

  • callalily

    My Victorian has translucent doors. They’re original. Nyah-nyah. However, they don’t do much to illuminate the interior hall.

  • Another horrible renovation. Yesterday’ house was awful, this is worse.
    Why do people buy intact brownstones then make them look like condos?
    Ugly and wrong for the space,it still looks like a narrow house but has lost all the grace and charm.

  • Another horrible renovation. Yesterday’ house was awful, this is worse.
    Why do people buy intact brownstones then make them look like condos?
    Ugly and wrong for the space,it still looks like a narrow house but has lost all the grace and charm.

  • I hope THEY like it
    Cause I am with Parksloped on this – awful.
    Its not that I think modern is bad – I dont- I often like it, or I think that renovated victorian is bad – I dont I often like it, or that I think that a mix of victorian and modern is bad – I dont I often like it…
    its just that this one (to me) is awful. For one every time I walked from the kitchen I would think that the contractors forgot to finish the ceiling.

  • This is a disaster. Awful.

    I’ll admit quite a bit of creativity is on display here, but a home is not supposed to be a test of architect’s creativity it is a house where people live. It’s interesting, it’s thought-provoking, but the *feel* of the place is all wrong. They’ve inserted a (very nice) modern home into an old building in a disjointed way that makes me think of a modular home. That grand old staircase looks like a ghost freight train running through the side of the house screaming “look what you did to me!!”. The house has been opened up and exposed in a way that feels naked and unprotected, with those see-through floors and open joists making me wonder if something’s going to fall on my head or ancient dust float down from above.

    Why, why, did they do this!?!

  • Hi All, I’m the architect who designed this renovation. It’s great to see some spirited debate. Of course I can’t convince everybody to like the house and its finishes — that is personal taste, and ultimately it’s up to the owners, who love living there and got a living space that fits their life style.

    I would make a few points, however:
    The house was not well preserved. It had already been extensively renovated by a family that installed a lot of new work in the Victorian style.

    Most of these brownstones were designed with a kitchen down in the basement, where ceilings are low, and the gracious spaces are at parlor level. This house had been renovated with the kitchen in the middle of the parlor level, small and spatially isolated from the other rooms. My clients don’t want this layout because cooking is part of family life. The “loft” part of the project is the openness of the spaces, and in fact you can achieve this in narrow brownstones.

    When looking at these houses, I always look to preserve the best spaces, details, textures — the soul of the house. It is different every time. We recently renovated two lovely houses in Fort Greene where we kept more elements than in this case because there was more to preserve. We kept the best of this house. (The fireplace surrounds were not beautiful, and they would have needed surgery anyway because the innards of the fireplaces/flues needed complete rebuilding.)

    It is perfectly legitimate to prefer smaller, darker spaces, but in this case the owners wanted light and space. And I should add that the project was done on a budget — it was done for less than you might think!

    Again, thank you for your thoughtful comments.

  • Hi All, I’m the architect who designed this renovation. It’s great to see some spirited debate. Of course I can’t convince everybody to like the house and its finishes — that is personal taste, and ultimately it’s up to the owners, who love living there and got a living space that fits their life style.

    I would make a few points, however:
    The house was not well preserved. It had already been extensively renovated by a family that installed a lot of new work in the Victorian style.

    Most of these brownstones were designed with a kitchen down in the basement, where ceilings are low, and the gracious spaces are at parlor level. This house had been renovated with the kitchen in the middle of the parlor level, small and spatially isolated from the other rooms. My clients don’t want this layout because cooking is part of family life. The “loft” part of the project is the openness of the spaces, and in fact you can achieve this in narrow brownstones.

    When looking at these houses, I always look to preserve the best spaces, details, textures — the soul of the house. It is different every time. We recently renovated two lovely houses in Fort Greene where we kept more elements than in this case because there was more to preserve. We kept the best of this house. (The fireplace surrounds were not beautiful, and they would have needed surgery anyway because the innards of the fireplaces/flues needed complete rebuilding.)

    It is perfectly legitimate to prefer smaller, darker spaces, but in this case the owners wanted light and space. And I should add that the project was done on a budget — it was done for less than you might think!

    Again, thank you for your thoughtful comments.

  • minard

    “It is perfectly legitimate to prefer smaller, darker spaces,”

    -Thank you. But that’s not what we’re saying.

  • daveinbedstuy

    Yeah, my house runs east-west and is full of light practically all day long.

  • daveinbedstuy

    Yeah, my house runs east-west and is full of light practically all day long.

  • Not my taste although I do like the idea of the skylight. Cara, thank you for bringing us a variety of renovations! If they were all just respectful restorations of the original Victorian there would be no variety or controversy!

  • Yes, and I anthropormorphize my cat too. What overblown reactions to a fanastic renovation. Not everbody likes dark woodwork and having to have lights on all day.

    I would die for that parlor floor and the concept of bringing light in as it’s done is fabulous. The exposed brick walls are a beautiful contrast with the walls and the beams. The lighting is not to my taste, but still conceptually thrilling. And having that od staircase seals the deal…just enough link with the past.

    Liftin, congrats. Only one question: what’s the longevity of glass floors? An d they can’t be tempered as they’d crack with a scratch, so are they wire-reinforced?

  • cara greenberg

    I’m basically of the same mind as combustiblegirl, who said <> However, this place grew on me as I worked on this post and interviewed the architect, and I began to understand the modernist language being spoken here and his respect for the original construction, if not the late-Victorian detail. That said, I’m relieved they retained the staircase and balusters and most of the doors and window moldings. It’s really just the mantels and plasterwork, which weren’t fabulous. If it were my place, I would have used white paint, mirrors, and good interior lighting, gotten rid of that central kitchen and maybe opened up the parlor floor a bit. But it’s not my place.

  • While some modern/traditional renovations in brownstones are nice, I don’t like to see exposed brick or exposed beams in them, as they just don’t look good to me in these buildings. I like the modern touch of opening up the back to have more windows in a kitchen ok in some of them.

    But brownstones can be renovated so they aren’t dark without destroying the essential qualities of a brownstone. Only the extra deep ones originally built with one apartment per floor, and some mansions built extra deep, actually are so deep that they need light brought in through the center to get the central area of the floor light. Enough light can be brought into the center of a typical depth brownstone such as this with just taking down walls, in some cases changing a floor layout to be open front to back, or else changing a 3 rooms deep layout to a 2 rooms deep layout, either of which choice leaves room in the middle for nice passageways, storage areas, and baths if you like them in the middle. I think some of those renovations seem like they are even more light than this one, as bare brick walls and exposed brown beams soak up light and seem dark to me. Some nicely renovated brownstones seem more lofty…meaning more light and airy, with long sightlines…than this one does.

    But they did this because they wanted a loft. This wouldn’t satisfy me as a loft. I think of a loft as more open, much wider, and not having to run up and down stairs so much, and the nice old staircase, to me, looks out of place in a modern loft. They have a mish-mash that architects like right now…can’t wait for that trend to be over before more of these houses see their interiors destroyed.

  • Ok, I wanted to like this house but don’t. I don’t get it. You tore apart a house with original details to make it look like a half finished construction zone? That’s how it looks to me. By a shell and do this to a shell. I’d say ok then. Or get your own lot and build on it.