The Insider: Beautiful Basement in Prospect Lefferts

Welcome to The Insider, a design and renovation column appearing on Brownstoner every Thursday at 11:30AM. It’s written and produced by Cara Greenberg, who also contributes The Outsider, Brownstoner’s new garden column, Sundays at 8AM.


HERE’S WHAT PROFESSIONAL DESIGN can do: turn a miserable subterranean space under a 1915 Tudor-style row house in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, formerly used for laundry and junk storage, into a serene and lovely 800-square-foot office suite for two psychotherapists, with a waiting room clients have been known to come early just to relax in.

Jennifer Katz and Maria Gonzalo hired Manhattan-based interior designer Caroline Beaupère for the job. “We gutted everything,” Beaupère says. “It was major work.” Windows were unblocked, and a concrete slab floor removed and ceiling beams exposed to gain additional height in a space whose original ceiling height was barely 7 feet. “We gained about a foot by removing the ceiling and building a new slab as low as we could.”

Colors, materials, and furnishings, including earthy wood pieces, a whitewashed oak floor, and linen window shades, were all chosen, Beaupère says, to create a “soothing, Zen environment.”

See more, including ‘befores,’ after the jump.

Photos: Matthew Arnold

Have a look at the ‘before,’ above: a typical basement where no one wanted to spend a moment more than necessary.


A view of the new waiting area/conference room facing toward the rear of the building. One of two offices is behind the wall at left; there’s a bathroom straight ahead down the hall, and another office at the front of the building, where there’s also an entry from the street. A pale wash on the new wide-plank oak floor brightens this central space, which doesn’t have any natural light. “It also works very well with the exposed brick,” Beaupère says. They managed to expose the brick along the length of both party walls, though major restoration was required.

 

A crystal chandelier from Design Within Reach “adds a feminine touch,” Beaupère says. “I wanted to mix the brick and wood with something delicate and elegant.” The reclaimed-wood conference table and console are from Environment Furniture, the curved armchairs Design Within Reach.

 

White leather armchairs in the waiting area come from De la Espada; the slab coffee table from Kings Road Home. Gray chairs and coat rack: Design Within Reach. Even the landscape photographs by Matthew Arnold are intended to help clients “escape,” as Beaupère puts it, as soon as they arrive.


Both offices, above, one at the front and one at the back of the building, have windows. Ducts and pipes for central air and heat are boxed around the perimeter of the ceiling. The color scheme is largely neutral, with tranqil touches of pale blue. Furnishings are from eBay (the blue chair, top, and ’50s accent tables) and Design Within Reach.

 

The bathroom floor is made up of four different sizes of limestone tile. Thin strips of pale-green glass, evoking bamboo, line the walls of the stall shower (the space is sometimes used for guests). Bathroom tile from Urban Archaeology. The travertine sink is from a custom marble supplier.


If you’ve missed any installments of The Insider, go here to find them. And don’t forget to check out The Outsider, Brownstoner’s new garden column, this Sunday after 8AM.

 

35 Comment

  • Looks great but indeed it is a basement. Wonder if there is a dehumidifying system.

  • Looks great but indeed it is a basement. Wonder if there is a dehumidifying system.

  • srsqualms

    A lovely basement. To me, it would be weird if my therapist’s office had a shower.

  • daveinbedstuy

    qualmy, what are you going to a therapist for? :)

  • daveinbedstuy

    qualmy, what are you going to a therapist for? :)

  • minard

    The most important part of this sort of renovation, and one that I wish could have been discussed more, is the climate controls. Subterranean space tends to be dank and unpleasant. It needs dehumidifying, and robust heating and cooling systems. Especially heating. Without good heating this sort of space is uninhabitable during the cold months. Radiant heat is a good option. Did they use that? I don’t see any separate heating registers.
    The decor and furnishings are lovely of course, kudos to the designer, but making a space like this comfortable as well as beautiful is the challenge.

  • minard

    The most important part of this sort of renovation, and one that I wish could have been discussed more, is the climate controls. Subterranean space tends to be dank and unpleasant. It needs dehumidifying, and robust heating and cooling systems. Especially heating. Without good heating this sort of space is uninhabitable during the cold months. Radiant heat is a good option. Did they use that? I don’t see any separate heating registers.
    The decor and furnishings are lovely of course, kudos to the designer, but making a space like this comfortable as well as beautiful is the challenge.

  • no-permits

    isn’t a full bath in the basement illegal?

  • no-permits

    isn’t a full bath in the basement illegal?

  • Most of the moisture in basements comes up through old concrete floor slabs. When the old slab is removed and proper vapor barrier is installed under the new slab, the need for dehumidification is much reduced. Still ventilation is important especially in the winter when the windows are closed. If you control the moisture issue the need for heating is minimal – no exposed walls and ground temperature at a stable 50 degrees.

  • daveinbedstuy

    Monard…shall we…..

    In NYC…a basement = garden level and, as long as it’s 50% above ground, with windows, is generally legal.

    A cellar is not legal.

  • blowfish

    I agree with Joe Bushwick. My bedroom is subterranean and the temperature stays pretty constant. We just have a baseboard heater along one wall and it keeps the large space nice and toasty in winter months. but again, without it, the temp doesn’t drop too much. in the summer, it stays cool enough that we don’t need air conditioning. we use a little plug-in dehumidifier and that keeps it dry, but without it, the humidity only gets to 80% tops anyway. the developers must have used the flooring joe mentioned. we have a door we can open for ventilation. a cooling/heating/dehumidifiying system would have been nicer aesthetically but its not needed.

  • minard

    I”m not going to argue with people who like living in subterranean spaces without climate controls. To each their own.
    I would rather wait as long as possible before forced to spend a lot of time underground.

  • NeoGrec

    There is a hvac system in place, just not many details about it furnished: “Ducts and pipes for central air and heat are boxed around the perimeter of the ceiling.”

  • very nice. also curious about water and humidity control. Also, in my basement there are pipes and electrical running between the floor joists, which I don’t see here. Did they re-route all of that stuff into the hvac chase? I particularly like the lights used in the exposed ceiling.

  • Townie

    sta r t i n g t o f e e l a l i t t l e

    C l a u s t r o p h o b i c………

  • Townie

    sta r t i n g t o f e e l a l i t t l e

    C l a u s t r o p h o b i c………

  • This is a cellar; you can see from the window position that it is more than 50% below grade. It is not legal for “living” purposes, however, it may be used as home office (provided that, per fire code rules, there are two means of egress, presumably the front and rear of the space here). A stall shower is legal in a cellar or basement; a tub is not

  • This is a cellar; you can see from the window position that it is more than 50% below grade. It is not legal for “living” purposes, however, it may be used as home office (provided that, per fire code rules, there are two means of egress, presumably the front and rear of the space here). A stall shower is legal in a cellar or basement; a tub is not

  • Love the furniture choices, but I thought every therapist’ office was supposed to have the Eames lounger (at least everyone I’ve ever been in).

    The before pictures are classic, by the way…

  • I think the reno is lovely…obviously a lot of time and effort and MONEY was spent to make patients feel better or good while waiting for their appointment. My question is—-why, would you spend so much money on fixtures and floors and furniture that is going to be treated shabbily? Most dr’s offices I have been to are fairly utilitarian, with good reason.

  • ilovestoops

    This is an amazing transformation of the space! I could never have imagined that it could changed so dramatically – brilliant! I have a “rec room”. temp is comfortable year round – less cold in winter than upstairs, and less warm in summer. baseboard heat; no dehumidifier but humidity doesn’t feel higher than upstairs. no cooling but use fan when I’m down there in summer.

  • ilovestoops

    This is an amazing transformation of the space! I could never have imagined that it could changed so dramatically – brilliant! I have a “rec room”. temp is comfortable year round – less cold in winter than upstairs, and less warm in summer. baseboard heat; no dehumidifier but humidity doesn’t feel higher than upstairs. no cooling but use fan when I’m down there in summer.

  • Thank you for your kind comments on design. The space is absolutely as comfortable as it is beautiful. Being an English basement, it does have windows allowing for natural light and ventilation. It also has a proper HVAC and Dehumidifying System making this whole floor welcoming and a real pleasure to visit!

  • Thank you for your kind comments on design. The space is absolutely as comfortable as it is beautiful. Being an English basement, it does have windows allowing for natural light and ventilation. It also has a proper HVAC and Dehumidifying System making this whole floor welcoming and a real pleasure to visit!

  • Beautiful renovation. Clean and bright, yet doesn’t hide the fact that it’s a basement, which I think is the fault of many basement renovations. I especially like the exposed ceiling joists. My one really big concern is the wood floors. What happens if you have an abnormally heavy rain, burst pipe, backed up drain, etc. I think I would feel more comfortable with flooring that wouldn’t be totally ruined if it got wet – tile, stained concrete, epoxy, etc. Althought I realize that the wood is an important part of the overall design here.

  • Gorgeous, and best of all, no historical details were destroyed to make the space modern. Wonderful job.

  • People are doing great things with their English basements in PLG. We love ours as a family room. In the evening I want to settle on the sofa to watch TV in a cozy and private room and not feel on display with a total fishbowl effect like you feel on a garden level where your full size windows are mere feet away from people passing on the sidewalk. Getting to hear all their shouting and talking to boot. Lastly, these English basements aren’t “subterranean”. The house is elevated in front, at least the limestones and brownstones are (don’t know about the tudors) so when you count how many steps down from sidewalk level, which is how the DOB does it, the front door to the English basement is only a couple steps down from what is the sidewalk level. We run a dehumidifier overnight in the rainy months but have no fancy HVAC and our English basement is not damp or smelly at all. I’ve been in Garden level floors that are way more damp than our basement — it’s all about what you’ve done to the outside in back to keep water away from your house.