Design Brooklyn: The Many Lives of a Carriage House in Brooklyn Heights

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Welcome to Design Brooklyn, an occasional column featuring Brooklyn interiors, both residential and commercial. The column is written by Anne Hellman, with photographs by Michel Arnaud. They blog at Design Brooklyn and have a book of the same name coming out in October from Stewart, Tabori & Chang, an imprint of Abrams. You can preorder copies here.

Although the owners of this 1850s carriage house in Brooklyn Heights finished major renovations in 2009 in time for their wedding, they have been perfecting it ever since. With the help of Baxt Ingui Architects, the couple transformed what had been a hasty renovation job by a developer into an elegant and open multilevel home.

Because the brownstone on the exterior of the building matches that of Grace Church across the street (one of Brooklyn’s great landmarks, built in 1854), the owners surmise that the house not only dates from the decade but also served as a carriage house for the church until it was turned into an apartment building in 1919. In excavating the perimeter, they found evidence that the ground floor had been used as a parking garage while the floor above housed tenants. Milk bottles from 1918 and 1919 were found in the earth, and the couple display these on a windowsill as decoration.

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Much of what Baxt Ingui had to accomplish was to undo the cheap renovation layered on by the developer in 1990. They stripped the first level to the original unhewn brownstone and wood-beamed ceilings. The kitchen offers an up-close look at these original beams, which are curiously beveled on both ends in an early form of fireproofing. The kitchen is also where some more modern touches have been inserted, such as an island countertop in solid walnut, custom cabinetry, and up-to-the-minute appliances.

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A skylight runs the length of the stairwell that leads up to the second level and onto the roof. The architects fitted custom bookshelves along the stairs and underneath them, facing the living room. Upstairs, the original wide-plank floors have been carefully preserved, as have the expansive, sun-filled arched windows. The design includes slender skylights notched between two ceiling joists to maximize the amount of loft-like light bathing the upstairs den and adjoining bedrooms. Clean white walls and burnished-wood detailing heighten the effect.

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In the master bedroom, the stone wall of the kitchen below extends here as well to bring the material that makes this house and other older homes in Brooklyn so unique — raw 1850s brownstone — into the interior.

One rarely finds this kind of breadth in a Brooklyn townhouse. Stepping up another flight onto the roof, a spacious roof garden unfolds — a meandering green space with views of the surrounding neighborhood and city beyond.

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14 Comment

  • Shocker, rich people with unlimited funds can do a high end reno! They should have hired an inferior decorator, all this brown and cream and beige is making me sad.

  • This is the carriage house to end all carriage houses. I agree with the owners that it was probably built by Grace Church and possibly designed by Upjohn. It is a magnificent building but it had fallen on hard times. Congratulations to the young owners who really put their hearts and souls into the restoration and rehabilitation. I see them occasionally walking their Scottie in the nabe and am glad that they and their marriage survived the grueling years of construction.

  • street view shows you the construction in progress

  • Moonface, while we definitely don’t have “unlimited funds” we are lucky enough to have hired some of the best craftsmen I could find to help us restore our home. And my wife and I agree with you, the house needs more color. Much like I waited 5 years before I renovated, we’re taking our time adding color through furniture and art so we get it right.

    Minard, thanks for the extremely kind words and the concurrence on the origins on our house. Maybe some day we can get Montrose Morris to write us up as Building of the Day to shed some definitive light on the issue. Also, I had no idea you lived in the neighborhood. Introduce yourself next time you see us! (Sadly though it will be sans Scottie. We had to say goodbye to him about a year ago. He was 15.5 years old and the years had caught up to him.) Lastly, our marriage didn’t have to endure the renovation. I did it solo and met my wife exactly 100 days before the renovation was done (which was also our wedding day).

    JeremyL, thanks for the kind comments on our pumpkins. We really do enjoy contributing them to the neighborhood every year. This year will be tricky as we have a toddler and a 2nd one due just 2 weeks before Halloween. Somehow or another we’ll get it done though!

    Back to Moonface, that $6MM number on Trulia is completely wrong. The $7MM number is what they estimate our home is worth. Which, if true, certainly made my purchase 10 years ago a wise investment. (That Corcoran number, if I recall, is what the last owners were asking. It’s not what I paid though. I recognized what a lemon of a renovation had been done on the house and negotiated accordingly.) All of this is academic though as my wife and I intend to spend the rest of our lives in this house.

    • First of all, your home is lovely. I love the exposed stone, it’s so unusual to Brooklyn, and really adds to the home’s character. I also like the rest of the design choices, and would only add some color, and I’m happy to see that is coming, but either way, she’s gorgeous. I don’t blame you for wanting to live there forever. I agree with houselove, it is thoughtfully thought out and a real beauty.

      I’d love to write it up as a BOTD, and will see if I can find out anything new. Carriage houses and other service buildings are hard to research because of their nature, they tend not to get written about, and the ambiguity about what building it really belongs to reflects that. I don’t know what I could add, especially from internet info. This might take digging around in person. But you can believe if Minard says its the carriage house to Grace Church, he knows what he’s talking about; he’s an expert.

      At any rate, you have done a wonderful job with a wonderful building. Congratulations!

    • coolstorybro! sorry about the dog, enjoy the house!

  • The house is perfect! It’s not ‘brown, cream, and beige’–it’s wood, stone, and light! The white tones and wood and stone textures are calming. Just looking at the rooms, with the space to think and breathe and soothe the, I can easily picture just dropping into one of those chairs and spending the rest of the week reading and listening to jazz. The few touches of color are just enough. Accenting that beautiful natural stone with the white mortar was a very inspired way to make the entire wall a piece of art.
    It is one of the most thoughtful interiors I have seen. Clearly, time was spent feeling the space and deciding how each area was used, and consideration given to each element. Those little glass bottles are a precious detail. I cannot imagine a single person whose blood pressure would not go down ten points just entering the space. Kudos!

  • I think it’s beautiful and don’t think it’s lacking in color either. I love the stone wall and the green painted island as foils to the rest of the space. So unusual and yet appropriate to the interior.