Video: Architect Brendan Coburn Restores a Facade

In the second episode of Streeteasy’s new video series, Demo to Decor, Brooklyn architect (and Brownstoner officemate) Brendan Coburn tackles facades. Watch and learn how a pro restores a brownstone exterior, replaces windows and insulates — all at the same time.
Demo to Decor: The Renovation of NYC Townhouse: Episode 2: Fixing Up the Facade [Streeteasy]

9 Comment

  • Would like to see more of this type and quality of information on Brownstoner. Resurfacing brownstone seems to be such a hit and miss endeavor dependent on the expertise of the contractor. I have seen jobs done where the replacement surface mimics the original stone down to its magical sparkle and other cases where the color is way off and the surface resembles a poorly frosted cupcake.
    I have been postponing an inevitable total stoop rehab for years now as I try to prioritize everything that needs fixing. If I’m going to dip into my kids college fund, i want to make sure the money is well spent and the job lasts as long as I do. I think an entire video series on brownstone resurfacing could be very helpful in educating almost every brownstone owner. Thanks Mr. Coburn.

  • I hate the idea of removing all interior finishes including the built in window shutters in order to to box-in the rooms with sheetrock and pink insulation.
    Rowhouses have relatively small expanses of exterior walls, unless they are corner houses. Putting in this sort of insulation, as if you are renovating a freestanding wood frame building, is not logical. I think you get very little back and you have to rip out all the historic surfaces. Some people couldn’t care less about that, and that’s fine,. but others do care.

    • Sadly that seems to be the case judging by what I see being thrown into containers these days… Moldings, baseboards, doors, staircase parts, old radiators.

      When we had work done our contractor was pretty good at restoring what plaster remained and even showed us the benefits of stripping the layers of paint from all our woodwork in place even though the wood turned out to be poplar and we repainted it. It looks great with its idiosyncrasies and all.
      We had no additional insulation added to our exterior walls (except for around our wood replacement windows) and they don’t feel cold to the touch. I guess if you are spending that much money you want everything new from the ground up.

  • Minard I think your right… You can go to Hollywood and get a facade but the real charm of these houses is whats inside. It is very sad to see the original plaster and woodwork ripped out. This is going to become a high end suburban townhouse that you will find in LA.

    • I agree. Architects and contractors love to tear out too much. there is no reason to “insulate” the narrow front facade of a brownstone. The walls are 12 inches of masonry plus wood lath and three layers of plaster.

      • You can model the thermal resistance of the masonry, wood lathe and plaster combination of the original wall and it’s really not very high. That said, you get the best bang for your buck and least intrusive application by insulating the roof first and installing more thermally efficient windows. If new electric, plumbing and/or mechanical systems are required I guess one has to weigh the condition of the interior walls and trim, cost to work around them vs do new, and factor in the larger / more energy hungry mechanicals required for a less well insulated envelope.

      • Not to mention the loss of insulation by reason of the large windows. Glass is NOT a good insulator: single-pane = R-1, double-pane = R-2, triple-pane = R-2.78(?), masonry wall = R – 8 plus. Everything is a trade-off.

  • I don’t want to sound so negative. I enjoyed this video and I think it is very educational. I applaud Brendan for doing it and look forward to the next installment. Hopefully he will talk a little about saving some old features as well.

  • Let’s get our terms right – this is not restoration, it is rehabilitation. That is not a pejorative, but absent the front facade (which we haven’t seen), there is not a lot of restoration to be seen in this project.

    As for the facade, if you look carefully, many, if not most, brownstones are not brownstone. They are stucco. As Totoro says, that can have a range of appearance. In this case, I hope they were able to keep the rusticated stone and just reface (not “restore”) the ashlar.