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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