Boerum Hill Reno: In the Middle of Things

One of our readers, interior designer Lauren Stern, has been renovating a brownstone in Boerum Hill and wanted to share her half-way-there images and story. The home, purchased in August 2011, was broken up into three apartments. She and her husband were not exactly sure how much work they would need to do. As she explains, “the previous owner had painted the marble mantelpieces, dropped the ceilings and installed linoleum tile over the original heartwood pine floors. We were unable to do exploratory work before purchasing the house so we weren’t entirely sure what we’d find when we removed these layers.”

What they found was a mixed bag. The good news: the middle and front of the house retained many original details that they can restore including the arch, visible in the before photo on the left, plaster moldings under the dropped ceiling and some beautiful floors. The bad news: water damage had destroyed the floors in the back of the house and left the rear facade in need of major repair.

It took nine months to hire an architect, come up with a design, get approval from the buildings department, remove the asbestos and hire a contractor. They wanted to convert the three family to a single family home so there was plenty of work to do. They added steel supports in the basement to level the floors, reconfigured rooms and replaced plumbing, heating and electric. Along with the entry arch and other details, they were able to hang onto the pocket doors between the front and rear parlor–which are being stripped. Some beams and flooring had to be replaced due to water damage. And now they are beginning to close up the walls. So far, thanks to architects, NV/Design Architecture and contractor, Kelly Construction, the project is within the budget and only slightly delayed. Stern is managing the project and she runs her own interior design business: Lauren Stern Design.

Click through for more photos.

The previous owner had a bedroom in the rear parlor. This room will be the kitchen. The pocket doors have been restored and they stripped the paint from the marble mantelpiece and moved it to the master bedroom. The range will be where the fireplace appears in this photo.

This is one of the third-floor bedrooms with the original beams restored.

A garden-floor room with radiant heat installed in the floor. Black and white cement tiles will be installed soon.

The original heartwood pine floors and a skylight in the third floor hallway. Both will be restored, including an oval, plaster insert in the skylight.


They opened up portions of the back facade and added steel-framed windows and doors.

31 Comment

  • three families lived there. now one person has grand and unused rooms. lauren, rich person lauren, i hope this is great for you because you just may be building yourself an outhouse in heaven – rather than heaven on earth.

  • Can you tell me who manufactures the steel-framed windows and doors. They look great and I’m looking to do the same for my brownstone.

  • looks like they destroyed it.

  • “but, but, but its not fair. i want a brownstone too”


  • you, i am talking about you realtors!

  • OMG, get off this blog if you don’t want to read about brownstone renovations. That’s what this is all about.

  • Back in 2006, when I first started reading Brownstoner, long before working here, I thought it would be cool to have a reno blog spot on here, and share with like minded people my old house and what I was doing. Boy, was I naive.

    I’d never do it in a million years now. Who needs the jealousy and snark? One is either too poor to renovate to the high standards here, or has the nerve to have enough money to do what they have always wanted. You can’t win.

    I love the original entryway, and I really like the steel windows/doors, too. Go Lauren Stern, who cares what some of these people say. You’ll be enjoying your home, and they’ll be eating a bowl of jealousy.

  • While I don’t think Daniel presented his point in the best manner, it is not an unreasonable one for us to consider. Much of the redevelopment of Brooklyn has been providing additional housing and density where it makes sense – near transit lines, etc. Other aspects of landmarking and gentrification have the somewhat perverse (in a fairly neutral meaning of that word) of reducing density in those neighborhoods which would otherwise be desirable to many. Yes, this is returning the houses to their original function as single family homes, but even in that context the 21st families are smaller and don’t have the servants living upstairs. And just because it was okay in the 19th century to dedicate the best housing stock to a relatively small wealthy class, doesn’t mean we can’t talk about such a use of resources now. Especially on a blog which is not subtitled “oohing and ahing over rich people and their real estate ventures”, but rather “Brooklyn inside and out.” I am not sure where the conversation ends up, but there is no reason to rule it out as long as we have it in a respectful manner.

  • beautiful work on the rear facade… I really wanted to work with A&S, but ultimately had to trim budget and used aluminum. maybe next time.

    props for the copper downspout too!

  • Very cool. So for the kitchen you are going to have a counter facing the back underneath those back windows in the parlor? Would love to see that layout and how it turns out!

  • “building yourself an outhouse in heaven” I always imagined angel poo would smell an awful lot like flowers. Now digging a latrine in Hell that might be a whole nother story.
    Love the rear facade…How do the windows meet energy guidelines? Are they double paned?

  • I remain confused how there is so much money in interior design, but I’ll freely admit that is sour grapes. Love the back windows too.

    I have to say for me though, one of the things that scared me away from home ownership was the impression I got here that one has to spend $500K on the renovation or it just isn’t done. I mean, I know, it’s New York, somehow everyone has a few million just lying around to renovate with, just as they also have 50% down for the co-op in Turner Towers and $40K for the private school because PS 8 is improving, but not fast enough.

    That’s New York. It only becomes really depressing when these same fortunate souls start complaining about rent stabilized tenants.

  • Dear Putnamdenizen, Daniel and other critics: Do you know Lauren Stern or how large her family might be? Does she have extended family who will reside with her? Does she use one floor for her office and employees? I’m fairly certain you know nothing about her or how she will use the building, so why would you make assumptions, post negative comments and lecture about appropriate use? Your self-righteousness based on ignorance is stunning.

    • Really, freeleeny? I actually thought I was being pretty gentle. I guess tone is hard to convey on an internet post. My comments were not directed at Lauren Stern, but rather at a general phenomenon. I am sure that Lauren Stern, who chose to open up her home, was well aware of the danger of the caustic comments so accurately described by Montrosemorris.

  • get off my internet, is that it? sorry, get off my block doesn’t work either.

  • The lady runs her own interior design business. Of course she’s going to do a bang-up job and not skimp on the spending.

    Radiant heating – I need to get that in my upstairs bathrooms.

  • Re density:

    From the US Census:

    Average square feet of floor area in new single-family houses constructed in 2010:

    2,392 US
    2,443 US inside metropolitan statistical areas
    2,091 US outside MSA
    2,613 US Northeast Region

    • But the average density of a single family house isn’t really all that relevant to discussing the density of urban neighborhoods. What would be more interesting is how the population density of “south” Fort Greene has changed in the last 25 years. Of course in my corner of Clinton Hill is it probably going way up, as the new infill condo buildings are being constructed on empty lots, and empty houses are being sold. I guess in some ways this concern is more linked to the post about how Williamsburg could be better “utilized” if it hadn’t been downzoned around Bedford.

  • where’d lauren’s comments go?

  • I’m not wealthy, or even well enough off at the moment for my druthers, but I don’t care if a homeowner lives alone or has a big family. When we start saying how much space a person can live in brings to mind countries that made people/families double and triple up in apartments made for one family…don’t want to see that happen here, do we?

    And really, if one has the servants live upstairs (the au pair these days, or the housekeeper, not the cooks and maids and drivers and gardeners of the past), that would make it ok….really? I think many workers prefer living off site these days and not being constantly under the thumb of their employers. Which is why au pairs tend to be young, or imported from elsewhere…they haven’t the range of job choices, or are willing to do it temporarily for the experience of living abroad cheaply.

    Yes, there’s a conversation to be had about housing planning when planning new construction, and density in urban areas, but the renovation blog post about one person renovating a home is not the place to have that conversation…that should be obvious. We still do have the right to determine where and how big our homes should be. (Though there is a limit, even in my mind, as I’m thinking about the recent movie the Queen of Versailles….but zoning is the way to handle that, not attacking individuals.)

    I do agree with Heather about the crassness of some complaining about rent controlled, rent stablilized or legally protected elderly tenants. Buy an empty house if you need to kick people out of their homes (yeah, I realize that creates bad incentives to harass tenants out prior to sale, but that is nothing new…stronger tenant protections can help with that.) Yes, I realize many of the renovations that are discussed on this blog wouldn’t happen if people didn’t kick out tenants legally and illegally…but there’s nothing contradictory in my mindset that likes looking at renovations and also strongly believes that the legal rights of tenants to remain in their homes should be respected.

    There’s always been a lot of money in interior design…think of the roman mosaic murals we see in digs revealing old homes. Though I’m often reminded that the money people have does not always come from working in their artistic professions…there’s often a banker spouse, or inherited money, at work in brownstone renovations.

    And yes, MM, I would never post my home here … I think of it like politics, I haven’t a thick enough skin for it. But then I don’t get the revealing-your-life-on-the-interet thing anyway – seriously, I’m still a Facebook resister.

  • Seems obvious to me – Lauren is willing to showcase her home in pursuit of publicity for her business. I say, more power to her. We can learn some things from observing her project, as long as she shares both the pain and the mistakes (there is always plenty of that), as well as the bling.

    As for the amount of money spent on brownstone renos featured on bstoner, I’ve been through the process, and while I know there are folks who think they managed to renovate their homes for far less, I also think that a couple of factors distort the picture:

    1) I’ve discovered that most people don’t really track or accurately recall the total cost of their renovations, especially if it happens gradually over time.

    2) Much depends on the initial condition of the building. If it’s close to move in condition, but for some kitchen and bath refreshing, that’s one thing. If it’s a complete top to bottom upgrade of structure and replacement of essential systems, I challenge anybody to escape with less than a couple hundred grand sucked out of their bank account just for the basics.

    It simply costs a small fortune to modernize a building that hasn’t been touched in ages, and do it all in one shot. Looking at the photos still gives me post-trauma stress from my own reno.

  • No judgments here. Just a laid back and respectful young married couple of non-smokers with great credit and no pets desperate for a home in your (or your neighbors) 2 bedroom garden rental unit–we have a pretty flexible move-in date so please let us know if you can help. These brokers fees are killin us :)

  • The “window” on the second floor right is obviously a door. What sort of deck will be constructed? I presume there will be a staircase down to the garden. What plans are there for the garden, and how deep is it?

  • Love the steel windows nd doors.mwhat I the cot of openigjis p and adding steel windows. We are considering this for our greenpointtownhouse and are wondering if we can afford it?

  • Adam, why would I rent to someone who is so willing to violate posting rules by spamming us with your ad – doesn’t seem respectful at all to me.