The Insider: All the Details in Boerum Hill

WELCOME to The Insider, Brownstoner’s weekly exploration of creative approaches to interior design and renovation, written and produced by journalist/blogger Cara Greenberg. Find it here Thursdays at 11:30.


TALK ABOUT SNAP DECISIONS. The 1870s brick row house Nancy Blechman bought in 1987 was the very first one she looked at. “I fell in love with my neighbor’s magnolia, which has since died,” says Blechman, who retired recently after a career as a senior financial officer in the not-for-profit world. “Under pressure from my family, I did look at some other houses, but I turned right back around and bought this one.”

The house had plenty to recommend it besides the tree next door, including such coveted details as a gilded pier mirror between long four-over-four parlor windows, a black marble mantel in Eastlake style, original pocket doors with etched glass, and hefty plasterwork in the back parlor/dining room.

Blechman raised her now-grown daughter in the lower duplex, and rents out the two upper floors. She did no major renovation until this past year, when she finally updated a dreary galley kitchen at the back of the parlor floor, replacing it with a warm, inviting new one that reflects the antique look of her decorating — a look that harks generally back to the Arts and Crafts era. She also splurged on some new furniture. Blechman spends a lot of time in Amsterdam, and there’s something of a European feel about the place, with its mix of found and inherited pieces, exotic items picked up in her travels, and a collection of paintings by David Fisch, a close friend who died in 1993.

Much more after the jump.

Photos: Cara Greenberg

The high-ceilinged front parlor has an over-the-top pier mirror original to the house. 


Among Blechman’s recent purchases: two slipper chairs from Mitchell Gold, covered in ‘Zankari Leaf,’ an overscaled, Moroccan-inspired print. 


The striking stone mantelpiece was left as found: black stone, with sections painted to look mottled and incised decoration. 


The Federal-era glass-fronted bookcase was left to Blechman by her friend, the painter David Fisch, whose work hangs all over the house. The new blue sofa is from Ethan Allen.


Sliding French pocket doors between the front and back parlors had some broken panes when Blechman took over the house.  “The more intricate medallions are the original etched glass, and the matched ones are sandblasted,” she says. “To get them etched was outrageously expensive.” The pattern of the panes replicates the original, she says.


A recessed arch in the back parlor, an elaborate ceiling medallion, and moldings were all in good shape. Blechman picked out the details in an historic blue-gray. “Most people don’t like it,” she says. “They think it should be either white or a more subtle color.” She found the 1820s lighting fixture over the kitchen island in an Amsterdam antique shop and carried it home on the plane in well-wrapped pieces. 


The pressed oak dining chairs were recently repaired and recovered in a Brooklyn shop, Mod Restoration, using Baldelli Park Caviar fabric from Robert Allen


The new kitchen has off-white wood cabinets and a matching island from Lowe’s, with vertical grooves suggesting period-appropriate wainscotting, and a granite countertop. Blechman has a serious collection of vintage copperware throughout the house, so she went with a deep hammered copper sink bought on eBay, and a gooseneck faucet in a similar finish from Perrin & Rowe. She found hammered copper cabinet handles at Gracious Home to tie things together.  Several decorative tiles bought in Amsterdam — some from the 1920s, others 1960s re-issues of earlier patterns — are set in a backsplash of celadon-green crackled glass tile. 

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24 Comment

  • I absolutely love the kitchen. I love the copper tea pots above the cabinets. I have a “watering can” collection above my cabinets in different metals….

    I love the back splash she chose. I love the painted tiles as well. Just looking at it I actually feel like sitting at the table with coffee and a book, it looks so inviting.

  • I want to respect Nancy’s privacy, but this is an awesome block – almost bought a floor-through across the street. It’s within the historic district and is lined with mature trees, absolutely lovely.

    Cara, this is a wonderfully eclectic series. Would make for a great coffee table book!

  • Nice, understated, livable.

    My only quibble is that the pier mirror should be gilded not just painted gold.

  • nice. plus extra credit for it not being a huge pricey gut renov with top shelf architect, GC, and materials.

  • So lovely and gracious. Her kitchen renovation is in harmony with the rest of the home. I am always so happy to see the integrity of a brownstone

  • Books, plants, great art–what an inviting, lived-in space. Love it.

  • Lovely how everything seems to fit so harmoniously, not a sour note in this great brownstone.

  • Warm, inviting, sophisticated yet comfortable. What a lovely home!

  • Nice project, great photos. But I think the kitchen cabinets and under cabinet lighting and over-the-range microwave look cheap, not up to par with everything else.

  • Beautiful moldings and I actually really like the blue-gray color.

  • Beautiful moldings and I actually really like the blue-gray color.

  • Love it love it love it! I like all the furniture and all the detail. I even like the painted highlights for the plaster. And if some subsequent owner does not like it, no harm done. He or she can just paint it all white! Can I possibly get in line to be residuary legatee?

  • There are many things I like here. The perfect scale and proportions of the furnishings and art create lovely vignettes. The photos are great and highlight the home’s formal symmetry.The individual elements are mostly very beautiful. The accessory-rich, house-plant-filled design feels appropriately Victorian. All good!

    But that’s where it ends for me. Recent decorating trends have favored an eclectic mix of periods and elements — often unrelated, but possessing a unifying thread. I can’t find the unifying thread here. My eye is drawn all around the rooms with each item saying “Look at me, look at me”. Everything is the focal point, nothing allows the eye to rest. The inset back splash tiles are beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but placed besides the copper sink, pulls and pots, and the lime green plastic drainboard and with the under cabinet lights sparkle and the great green crackle tiles and the magnificent ceiling plaster work with contrasting paint color in order to draw even more attention to it, I want to get out of there! (Sorry!!!)

    I love when homeowner’s blend their “favorite things” together. Treasures from travels or grandma. It makes their home personal and warm, but editing some out and placing them against a cohesive backdrop allows them to be seen better.

  • Like the kitchen a lot, except for the granite, as I’m just not a granite countertop lover. Like the decorative tiles in the backsplash, though probably would have stuck with either blue OR green accents in them – I love both colors and am fairly eclectic, but not that eclectic. Wouldn’t have painted trim blue, but get why it works for some, in some rooms – I like bold color choices, so don’t like to criticize them without seeing the room in person. Like the chair fabric – did a similar art deco flower and vine pattern on mine, though in thicker fabric.

    Like the old furnishings. The new couch and slipper chairs don’t seem to fit in with the place, in my opinion. I like older styles with the other furnishings, the mantle, pier mirror, etc. But what matters is that the owner likes them!

  • I like this particular installment because it seems to be more in the spirit of what I thought this column was going to be. It shows how someone furnished and decorated their home. It’s not the “vision” of an interior designer or architect, and it doesn’t have that professionally photographed vibe; the place is tidy, but the owner’s personality hasn’t been completely erased in order to get a magazine worthy photo. I don’t agree with all of the design choices, but I know I would instantly feel at home sipping a cup of tea at the table with the owner.

  • I like this one very much. I love a home that has meaning for the owner, a collection of objects from travels, a favorite color, furniture or objects handed down, as well as new things bought because they, too, will be loved. That makes a home, not how much you spend or the provenance of the furnishings or art, or anything else. Homes like this also show great imagination, and that’s key to me, as well.

    Great job, Cara, and the photos are great, too.

  • Hi, I’m “Blechman”, the homeowner. Thanks for all the lovely comments. I know my more is more style isn’t everyone’s but it suits me. I love Cara’s column and am thrilled that she featured my home.

  • i dont get where all the love comes from. I am a big fan of restoration but here i just see flea market. Could this be the new brooklyn flea?

  • there is entirely too much visual clutter in this house. she needs to remove half of it. while it’s lovely, she needs to embrace minimalism. it’s way overdone.