A Mix of New and Old in a Townhouse Renovation on President Street


James Cleary Architecture recently completed a gut renovation of a four-story townhouse in Park Slope. The clients were primarily interested in creating a comfortable home for themselves and their two children. They didn’t want to make “any design moves that were too aggressive,” said Cleary.

Existing original detail was retained and, when necessary — as it was for the staircase — restored. Some of the front rooms and hall still have their original Victorian wood work around windows and doors. New design elements such as the kitchen and the rear wall of windows were carefully balanced with the existing architecture.

The house was reconfigured as an owner’s triplex over a garden level rental apartment, with four bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms in the triplex. On the parlor floor, the masonry rear wall was demolished and a new wall of full-height, custom-made steel and glass windows, with an integrated glass door, was installed (above). The door opens onto a new full-width steel deck and stair that leads down to a refurbished rear yard.

The kitchen found a new home in the center of the parlor floor. Its features include Silestone counters and back splashes, walnut cabinetry, and a niche lined in robin’s egg blue enameled steel.

The hardwood floors are new, and were stained ebony. On the upper floors, concealed skylights flood the bathrooms with light. Frosted glass doors to the bedrooms also bring light into the center stair hall. Mechanicals were upgraded throughout the house, including heating, air conditioning, plumbing and sprinklers.

Integrating all the new infrastructure of a contemporary home is always a great challenge, said Cleary. “We joke that ‘we don’t do soffits.'” The firm designs concealed pathways for various elements such as central air and sprinklers and makes sure installers carry out the plans precisely, all of which takes more time than soffits. But, “boxing out ceilings or walls to accommodate piping or ducts means that the tail is wagging the dog,” he said.

As for the practical aspects of opening up the rear wall, it’s easier in a 19th-century row house than some other housing types because the rear wall supports only itself. However, “a properly engineered steel lintel is required to transfer the weight of the walls around the new opening and down to the foundations,” explained Cleary. And it’s important to hire an experienced and responsible contractor to do the work.

In this case, the team selected the only thermally broken steel mullion system on the market. This allowed for minimal mullion profiles (and minimal obstruction of the view to the rear yard) without compromising on the energy performance of the system.

Cleary’s favorite aspect of the renovation is the kitchen niche, whose steel cladding acts as a large magnet board to display family photos and the children’s latest artwork.

The contractor on the job was Andrew Giancola of Giancola Contracting.









19 Comment

  • Lovely. Perfect mix of old and new. Interesting trim color in the parlor…in a good way, historic but slightly different than most historic blues you see. Well done.

  • I really, really like the gray painted wood moulding wainscoating (?) going up the stairs, I really like that a lot, and I like the way the bannisters are wood and painted. It looks pretty.

  • Sorry, but it’s not doing it for me at all. It’s very well done, but I find the colors cold, and just don’t like the juxtaposition of the old – which is only in the hallways, and the new. The shot of the bedroom level hallway with the period staircase and the modern frosted door just isn’t my style. The interior spaces just aren’t special at all. I’m not knocking the workmanship or the quality of the work, it’s excellent, but this just doesn’t appeal to me. But everyone knows I’d be happy as a clam in a house that has never been touched.

  • It looks like a new construction condo. How did it feel tearing the soul out of a brownstone?

  • I think there was clearly effort made here to maintain some of the house’s history, whether through restoration or adding back moldings, etc… it seems like without a comprehensive list of exactly what was there pre-reno people have a tendency to assume featured houses were fully intact, which we all know is relatively rare.

    with respect to the steel & glass wall, the mullion and muntin profiles look more typical of aluminum… is that a consequence of the thermal break? is this a bliss-noram or a crittall product? I really wanted to use steel for a similar installation in my house because of the slimmer, more elegant profiles, but it was just too damn expensive…

  • This is well done. You can tell there was a budget here, but not a BUDGET. Small gripe (there is one with every project): if you restore the casing/trim around one side of a large opening – you need it on the other side. See the enlarged parlor opening between the stair and kitchen – it needs to be trimmed out.

  • I like the floors and some of the colors. Otherwise it’s overall rather bland.

  • I consider taking out the back wall and replacing it with glass a rather aggressive move…not that I don’t like it, I do, a lot, I almost always like them, and this one looks good. But to me, that’s an aggressive move on a brownstone, by definition.

    What would bug me most about his renovation is the kitchen in the middle of the floor…I’ve had this in brownstones, and unless there are side windows letting in light (which I’ve had and quite liked), I’ll never do it again, and certainly wouldn’t renovate placing the kitchen there. Perhaps because as I get older, and our eyes do take in less and less light as we get older, I really need natural light where I am working. Even when I was younger, kitchens without direct natural light are just not pleasant places to be in for me.

    I don’t like the blue/gray trim paint…not because I’m against painted trim, but it seems too cool to me. And I also don’t love the modern frosted glass door juxtaposed with the lovely old staircase. I know some like the contrast of the old and new design elements together, but me, not so much. I’d have gone for a traditional paneled wood door there.

    I really like the glass wall, as it isn’t smack up against old trim, and I like the stell deck, and the patio view from the outside.