A Look Inside a Hancock Street House


The three-block stretch of Hancock Street between Bedford and Tompkins is one of the most remarkable architecturally in Brooklyn, and in fact, was the focus of this year’s Bed Stuy house tour, which took place Saturday. The Landmarks Preservation Committee will hold a hearing on landmarking this area and the surrounding blocks, known as the proposed Bedford Historic District, next week, on Oct. 30. Well, if you’ve ever wondered what some of these houses look like inside, here’s a glimpse. We attended an open house Sunday at 261 Hancock Street. This Renaissance Revival style house was built in 1891 by developer William Reynolds, according to the listing. (It also has a few Aesthetic Movement details, such as that screen above, from a photo on the Corcoran listing.) We don’t know the architect, although an attendee who lives nearby speculates based on similarities to two other nearby houses that it could be Swedish architect Magnus Dahlander, who designed a number of fine buildings throughout Brooklyn at this time. (That screen also reminds us of one in a nearby George Chappell house at 271 Jefferson Avenue.) All in all, it’s a grand Victorian, with an onyx fireplace, lavish woodwork, and unique details we haven’t seen anywhere else, such as the plaster corner decoration below. It also retains its original windows, a rarity in Brooklyn. By the way, in case you’re interested in the real estate aspect, the house is priced at $949,000, and will go to best and final this week, most likely today, in fact, according to one of the agents at the open house Thursday. We estimate it needs at least $300,000 of work, including electrical, plumbing, and restoration of kitchen, bathrooms, and plaster. The kitchen has all its original built-ins. (There might also be some issues with an extension and the first-floor flooring.)
261 Hancock Street [Corcoran]
Update: A Corcoran broker just called to say best and final bids will be taken Thursday. There will be two more opportunities to view the house by appointment today and Wednesday.

Above, the elaborate staircase with its original finish, from the Corcoran listing.
The tiled entry with a very unusual pattern.
The elaborate carved closets in the rear parlor.

A marble bar in the downstairs dining room, with a glimpse of the butler’s pantry that connects to the kitchen.

A detail of the fireplace in the front bedroom.

An unusual plaster detail in the main bedroom.

A bathroom with original tile.

An aquatic-themed stained glass window over a rolled glass window in the same bathroom. This bathroom also retains its original gas-and-electric combo wall sconce.

The stained glass skylight, in need of a little cleaning and restoration.

The building exterior.

27 Comment

  • While the woodwork is beautiful, there is too much of it. The tiled entry and the stained glass are nice surprises.

  • Looks amazing. Can all that detail be preserved with a full renovation? How bad is the plumbing/electric/mechanicals that this is going to need $300k in work?

  • It’s possible to save the detail, you just have to hire people are preservation and restoration minded. And you have to go over every stick of wood and piece of plaster and make sure they know you want to keep it. Working on a place like this is not the job of your average Mike Holmes kind of renovator. “Rip it out and start over.”

    If you’ve got the bucks to buy this, and the bucks to do a $300K reno, you should be able to find an architect and/or contractor who appreciates this kind of detail, which is a rare and wonderful thing.

    I love the woodwork, and since it’s never been painted, most of it, the really dark finish is more because of 100 year old shellac and varnish. That could be removed, and the wood treated with tung oil, and it would be a few shades lighter, and absolutely gorgeous.

  • Too much woodwork? Not for me. My house is similar, but the woodwork here seems to be even more extensive and of somewhat higher quality–I’m envious!

  • I also love some of the furniture in here. A little reupholstering, some spiffing up, and some of this “old junk” is just great.

  • I also love some of the furniture in here. A little reupholstering, some spiffing up, and some of this “old junk” is just great.

  • I love the woodwork, too, Bob. I really like the proportions in this house, quite grand. The bedrooms look huge, stretching the width of the house. I especially like the arched “hall room”, which would enable you to have a library, or dressing room or office off the bedroom. Very nice. This is an amazing house, and what I think of when I think of the best of Bed Stuy homes.

  • good luck stripping that fretwork screen. It took me four years to do mine.

  • Absolutely there is no problem preserving the detail while doing a full renovation. You just let the electricians and plumbers know to cut in only on the plaster, then when all that is done, you hire experienced plasterers to skimcoat throughout. This is the method they should use: paint on a thin coat of PlasterWeld (the pink goo, it is like a glue), then apply fiberglass mesh on top throughout, cutting to fit, then apply three thin coats of plaster, sanding between each application. Expert plasterers know how to do this (in fact, even I know how to do it, although I’m not any good at it) and it’s actually not any more expensive (might even be considerably cheaper, actually) than tearing out all the walls and details and replacing with sheetrock. As for the other questions about the estimate, the mechanicals shouldn’t cost more than $50,00 to $70,000 or so. More if you add in new stacks, HVAC, or heating. Restoring the bathrooms, the kitchen, restoring the missing sinks and plumbing in the passthroughs, possibly adding new flooring on the garden level, dealing with the extension and any permits needed for that, refinishing the floors, hiring someone with a heat gun to strip the paint in the parlor, etc., architect, contractor — it’ll be about $300,000. One are where you can save tons of money: Don’t replace the windows! They looked to be in great condition. If they’re drafty, storms will make them more efficient than any double paned new window, and they will last forever with proper maintenance.

  • Another note on preservation: The bathroom wall tile in both full baths was in very good condition. It would be possible to demo only the floor tile, which was cracked a bit in places, get exact copies of the porcelain hex made at Restoration Tile in Arkansas, re-do all the plumbing including running the supply lines under the floor, and redo the floor tile so it looks brand new. You could also buy a more period-appropriate salvage sink while keeping the tubs and toilets. Not only will this look great, it will also be tons cheaper than completely re-doing the bathrooms.

  • One of the houses on the Bed/Stuy House tour yesterday was very similar to this place. Of course, the house on the tour had all the wood beautifully refinished and was fully furnished. Really beautiful.

    • The houses on the tour were amazing and it was a great introduction for me to a neighborhood that I really did not know much about. I’ve got my apartment in CG set for the next few years, but once kids come, I could definately see myself picking up a fixer in Bed-Stuy with detail and bringing it back to life.

    • Joebushwick, the house on the tour you are referring to is one of my favorites ever, Aesthetic Movement tile and other details all over the place. And in utterly perfect condition. So frustrating photographs are never allowed on the house tour. Thank you so much, Amzi, for solving the mystery of the architect.

      • Yes, that was a truly fabulous house on the tour. One of the owners told me her father did the wood refinishing himself. I also loved the NeoGrec further west on Hancock with amazing detail, including cool thumb latch door hardware, and the house on the same block owned by two guys, one of whom (an architect) had designed a fantastic modern extension with a huge cantilevered mahogany window.

  • One of the houses on the Bed/Stuy House tour yesterday was very similar to this place. Of course, the house on the tour had all the wood beautifully refinished and was fully furnished. Really beautiful.

  • This is a amazing house first owned by a shoe manufacturer who had family living in this house until the 1940′s. It seems like this house has only had two owners which is why it looks the way it dose. Jeremiah D. McAuliffe is the architect of this home. McAuliffe is the architect to many of the homes in Park Slope, Fiske Tr area and Dean St. in Crown Heights North just to name a few.

  • No problem Cate when it comes to architects of southern Bedford Stuyvesant just ring me up I have a long list.

  • No problem Cate when it comes to architects of southern Bedford Stuyvesant just ring me up I have a long list.

  • Sorry, I had to stop in the middle of looking at that to wipe the drool off my face. Those fireplaces with the women in tile. We saw a few of them when house and apartment-hunting. Are they done by anyone in particular, or is that a stock Brooklyn feature?

  • Also, I wouldn’t touch the woodwork, I like the patina.

    • Me too. I think those who see “too much wood” are seeing the woodwork contrasted to fairly plain, white walls. To do this woodwork justice, try some Aesthetic era wallpaper(s) – then the richness would be balanced. Over the top? Yes – but that’s what this place is built for. If someone comes in an paints it all white, a la any NYTimes/Elle Decor interiors shots of the last 10 years, it’d be a shame – break from white! Take a risk!

    • Me too. I think those who see “too much wood” are seeing the woodwork contrasted to fairly plain, white walls. To do this woodwork justice, try some Aesthetic era wallpaper(s) – then the richness would be balanced. Over the top? Yes – but that’s what this place is built for. If someone comes in an paints it all white, a la any NYTimes/Elle Decor interiors shots of the last 10 years, it’d be a shame – break from white! Take a risk!

  • Such an unassuming exterior for such a grand interior!
    I agree with sitelines, wallpaper makes woodwork just feel right (and I’ve proven it). Plain painted walls just seem alien and inappropriate in houses like this. People who fear wallpaper should simply not buy houses like this one. (Wouldn’t that be great?)
    As for the fretwork spandrel room divider, it’s the exact same model as exists in our house, which is four years younger and several blocks east of this one, and by a different architect. I know of one neighbor who has it too. Just another catalog item, like everything in these houses. Viva l’industrial revolution!