05/28/15 11:00am

WELCOME TO THE INSIDER, Brownstoner’s weekly in-depth look at a notable interior design or renovation project, written and produced by journalist/blogger Cara Greenberg. Find it here every Thursday at 11 am.


AFTER THE NEW OWNERS of this exceptional brownstone had shelled out the price of admission, “budget-friendly” became their decorating watchword. Tamara Eatonan up-and-coming interior designer, was on the case to help the couple, who recently relocated from L.A., create a fresh, lighthearted home for their young family within the envelope of a seriously detailed late 19th century row house near Prospect Park.

The house was in estate condition, with a load of original detail including mother-of-pearl inlay in woodwork around doors and fireplaces on the parlor floor. “There was not a ton we had to do,” Eaton said.

Because furnishings from the couple’s California residence were to be repurposed in this totally different setting, Eaton saw her challenge as “making their very modern things work in a traditional brownstone. We painted most walls white to freshen things up and make the woodwork feel less heavy, and because she is a fashion stylist, added a bit of gloss and glamour with fun wallpaper and light fixtures.”

A 25-year-old kitchen on the garden level was left untouched due to budget constraints. Eaton oversaw the revamping of four bathrooms with basic white fixtures, plus quirky wallpaper or bright paint just for fun.

See more after the jump.

Photos by Jeffrey Kilmer


05/21/15 11:00am

WELCOME TO THE INSIDER, Brownstoner’s weekly in-depth look at a notable interior design or renovation project, written and produced by journalist/blogger Cara Greenberg. Find it here every Thursday at 11 am.

rustic-modern row house

SOMETIMES A GUT JOB is the only answer, as was the case with this 15-by-44-foot four-story row house in Bed Stuy. It had been ripped apart by a developer and then abandoned during the recession, even becoming home to squatters for a time.

“It was a total wreck. There was nothing at all worth saving,” says Gitta Robinson of Brooklyn-based Robinson + Grisaru Architecture, the firm hired by new owners to transform a shell into a home.

Brick party walls and wood joists were practically all that remained. At least the joists were in decent shape.

The architects decided to keep them uncovered on the two lower floors, to add ceiling height, and painted them white. Exposed brick was likewise kept exposed.

“There was a debate on whether it would stay natural or be painted white,” Robinson recalls. Natural won.

Where a chimney breast was removed in the dining area at the rear of the parlor floor, above, the void was patched in with mortar. The homeowners — he is a graphic designer and she a landscape designer — loved the effect and kept it, even matching the mortar treatment on the rear wall of the parlor floor.

In a bold design stroke, the architects removed 2.5 feet of flooring at the rear of the parlor level, creating an open two-story slot that connects the garden and parlor floor acoustically and lets in extra light. Ideally, the architects and homeowners would have liked to replace the whole back wall on the two lower stories with glass, but a tight budget prevented it. (more…)

07/29/12 8:00am

THIS EDITION of The Outsider, Brownstoner’s Sunday garden column, is the last to be written and produced by journalist/blogger Cara Greenberg. It’s been fun… now get growing!

Sponsored By James Stephenson's Artist Garden.

James Stephenson brings 20 years of experience in high level hardscape design and all aspects of garden installation from planting to irrigation and lighting.

THERE’S REALLY NOTHING you can’t grow in containers, provided the container is big enough — trees, shrubs, grasses, bulbs, perennials, annuals. On a 4,000-square-foot bi-level roof terrace atop a converted factory building in Williamsburg, garden designer Rebecca Cole has done just that, creating an urban woodland for her client, with elements of prairie meadow, too.

The view is a triple whammy, with the East River, Manhattan skyline, and monumental latticework of the Manhattan Bridge all seen in close-up. It cried out for equally dramatic landscaping. The client, who is in real estate, hired Cole to turn the vast 11th floor terrace into something a couple could enjoy without feeling lost in space.

Cole, a well-known TV personality and author, created the look of natural landscaping, with metal cubes containing birch trees and grasses, ‘carpets’ of sedum, and lots of annual color. She carefully planned the placement of containers to break up the space into functional areas. “You can literally wander as you would through the woods,” she says, “taking different paths around birches and evergreens, coming upon places to sit, noticing pretty little ground covers.”

More after the jump.

Photos: Courtesy Rebecca Cole



07/26/12 11:30am

A FOND FAREWELL to Brownstoner readers from Cara Greenberg, whose final installment of  The Insider this is. Stay tuned for an announcement of continuing  coverage of interior design and renovation in the greatest borough of them all.


ROBERT FARRELL is an interior designer with eclectic style, at ease in high-end showrooms yet not above rescuing a deserving chair from the street. With interests ranging from antiquity to modern art, he lives stylishly on the ground floor of an 1863 row house, unfazed by the fact that the apartment measures just 600 square feet. “Small spaces make you think about how and what you need to live,” he says. “They’re an opportunity to edit down and live only with the things you really want.”

His key decision upon moving into the place in the mid-1990s: what color to paint the walls. “The reason I’m here is for the garden,” says Farrell, whose floor-through is attached to an impressively landscaped backyard, featured recently in The Outsider. He chose a pale gray-green celadon (Benjamin Moore #465) for the main walls “as a way of connecting inside and outside,” he says. “It goes with everything.” To further brighten the space and “capture a feeling of being in the woods, with filtered, dappled light,” Farrell incorporated natural woods and used accents of yellow, red, white, and chrome in his decor.

Since the apartment is essentially two rooms, each serves many purposes. At the front of the building is a living room that quadruples as a bedroom, guest room, and library; there’s a dining room at the rear with a galley kitchen along one wall and a home office tucked into a corner. The space is divided by a pair of original parallel walls a few feet apart, which Farrell has dressed with floor-to-ceiling linen curtains “to make the interior softer and create a sense of depth from front to back.”

Read on and see more after the jump.

Photos: Brian Riley

Above: Farrell’s dining area displays his trademark balance between antique and modern. A contemporary Spanish table with a cast aluminum base sits on a contemporary kilim. White 1950s ant chairs and a mid-20th century light fixture brighten an old wood pantry cabinet from France, a carved antique mirror, and wood Venetian blinds. “You can’t do contemporary on the left and antiquity on the right,” says Farrell. “It all has to be considered simultaneously.”


07/22/12 8:00am

WELCOME TO The Outsider, Brownstoner’s weekly series exploring the various creative ways Brooklyn residents deal with their outdoor spaces. Written and produced by Cara Greenberg, you’ll find it here Sundays at 8AM.



Sponsored By James Stephenson's Artist Garden.

James Stephenson brings 20 years of experience in high level hardscape design and all aspects of garden installation from planting to irrigation and lighting.


A TRUE GARDENER like Elke Kuhn, whose outdoor space is a 15′x25′ terrace behind her second-floor apartment on Atlantic Avenue, doesn’t let a few obstacles get in the way. Hardly any direct sun? So be it. Kuhn makes the most of every ray that manages to penetrate the ailanthus canopy around her north-facing terrace: a single hour in the morning and a couple more at midday. By choosing the right plants and coddling them — even shifting them around from time to time to give each its place in the limited sun — she has wrought a lush miracle.

No car? No worries. She does her plant-shopping on foot at the Borough Hall Greenmarket and local stores like GRDN on Hoyt Street, takes the bus to Gowanus Nursery in Red Hook, and relies on Bruno’s Housewares  on Court Street to deliver pots, soil, and other heavy supplies. (The cast iron urns are from Restoration Hardware.)

Among Kuhn’s shade-lovers: vines and climbers like moonflower and morning glory, hibiscus, ferns, caladiums, coleus, hostas, spotted begonias, passionflower.  No ordinary impatiens here. Kuhn, an artist, goes in for exotic foliage and unusual color combinations. Her favorite combo: gray/silver (dusty miller, for example) with chartreuse and/or burgundy (sweet potato vine) —plus splashes of color from “as many flowers as I can get.”

As important as the plants are the pots. Her collection started in the 1970s with handmade English pots from Smith & Hawken. Others range from expensive pots by Campo di Fiori to a few picked up on the street. About half of Kuhn’s plant material comes indoors for the winter. Hardier perennials stay outside, moved close to the wall of the house. “I put them into cardboard boxes, and I may throw a blanket or sheet of plastic over them,” she says.

More, including Kuhn’s tips for container gardening, after the jump.

Photos: Cara Greenberg


07/19/12 11:30am

WELCOME to The Insider, Brownstoner’s weekly exploration of creative approaches to interior design and renovation, written and produced by journalist/blogger Cara Greenberg. Find it here Thursdays at 11:30.


TALK ABOUT SNAP DECISIONS. The 1870s brick row house Nancy Blechman bought in 1987 was the very first one she looked at. “I fell in love with my neighbor’s magnolia, which has since died,” says Blechman, who retired recently after a career as a senior financial officer in the not-for-profit world. “Under pressure from my family, I did look at some other houses, but I turned right back around and bought this one.”

The house had plenty to recommend it besides the tree next door, including such coveted details as a gilded pier mirror between long four-over-four parlor windows, a black marble mantel in Eastlake style, original pocket doors with etched glass, and hefty plasterwork in the back parlor/dining room.

Blechman raised her now-grown daughter in the lower duplex, and rents out the two upper floors. She did no major renovation until this past year, when she finally updated a dreary galley kitchen at the back of the parlor floor, replacing it with a warm, inviting new one that reflects the antique look of her decorating — a look that harks generally back to the Arts and Crafts era. She also splurged on some new furniture. Blechman spends a lot of time in Amsterdam, and there’s something of a European feel about the place, with its mix of found and inherited pieces, exotic items picked up in her travels, and a collection of paintings by David Fisch, a close friend who died in 1993.

Much more after the jump.

Photos: Cara Greenberg


07/15/12 8:00am

WELCOME TO The Outsider, Brownstoner’s weekly exploration of the many different approaches Brooklynites take to their outdoor spaces. It’s written and produced by Cara Greenberg, who blogs at casaCARA: Old Houses for Fun and Profit. Find The Outsider here Sundays at 8AM.

A FEW SHORT YEARS AGO, Robert Farrell’s backyard consisted mainly of multi-colored impatiens and a patch of grass. It was pretty, yes, but labor-intensive. Farrell couldn’t go away for more than a day or two in high summer without worrying about watering. Today, it’s a densely planted woodland, with a few small trees and a variety of shade-tolerant perennial plants, from hydrangeas and astilbes to ferns and foxgloves.

What brought about the shift? “Coming to terms with the fact that my north-facing garden was getting shadier,” says Farrell, an interior designer who’s been renting the garden floor of a row house since the 1990s, with exclusive use of the backyard. “The grass wasn’t doing well, and I was tired of mowing. I wanted a garden that would come back every year and that I wouldn’t have to put a lot of effort into, or spend hundreds of dollars each year re-installing.”

Farrell made no changes to the existing hardscaping. There’s a central rectangular bed with a path around it, and concrete patios at either end of the garden. Along the rear property line, he built a three-sided pavilion with a metal roof and white corrugated plastic walls. “The pavilion extends my living space throughout the year,” says Farrell, providing seating for outdoor entertaining and cover from the rain.

More about Farrell’s private woodland after the jump.

Photos: Robert Farrell


07/12/12 11:30am

WELCOME TO THE INSIDER, Brownstoner’s weekly exploration of the creative ways Brooklynites renovate and decorate their homes. It’s written and produced by journalist/blogger Cara Greenberg. Find it here Thursdays at 11:30AM.

This post is sponsored by Open Air Modern.

Open Air Modern offers authentic mid-century furniture along with out-of-print design, photography, and art books.

1850s HOUSE, 1950s FURNISHINGS — it’s amazing how well and often that combination seems to work. Evidence: the home of interior designer Julia Mack and her husband John, an architect, which they renovated from the ground up and furnished mostly with mid-20th century design classics.

It was in Italy that Mack first realized how brilliantly modern furnishings can be integrated into antique structures. “There’s a longstanding precedent in Europe, where the homes can be older than our Brooklyn townhouses by several hundred years, but the focus is on keeping the decor fresh from generation to generation,” she says. “You see it in old Italian villas and urban townhouses in Amsterdam and London. They often have extremely contemporary kitchen appliances, bath fixtures, and lighting — all cutting-edge modern, within the envelope of a 400-year-old house. I realized that was an idea I wanted to work with in my own home.”

The Macks bought this Baltic Street house as a  ‘neglected dump’ in 2002 and spent a year upgrading the mechanicals. The 20′x40′ four-story building had been used as floor-through rental apartments; the first order of business was pulling out four nasty kitchens and four baths. Happily, the house’s original moldings, panel doors, wide-plank floors, and turned stair balusters were intact, along with a spectacular carved marble mantel in the front parlor.

When it finally came time for decorating, clean white walls formed the backdrop for their collection of mid-century modern furniture. Some is vintage, handed down by Julia’s parents and grandparents; other items are re-issues, many from Herman Miller and  budget-friendly sources like Bo Concept, Room & Board, and Modernica.

Read on and see more photos, plus a source list, after the jump.

Photos: Brett Beyer


07/08/12 8:00am

WELCOME TO THE OUTSIDER, Brownstoner’s weekly look at the ways Brooklynites design and utilize their outdoor living spaces. Written and produced by Cara Greenberg, you’ll find it here Sundays at 8AM.


FOR A CLIENT who wanted a Mediterranean feel on her apartment building’s rooftop, Glenn Smith of Glenn Smith Design, Inc., built a deck and shade structure reached by an elevated ‘bridge’ over an 8-foot-wide pond. Then he surrounded them with an eclectic assortment of grasses, succulents, and conifers.

The building is new construction, so weight bearing was not a significant issue, says Smith, who works mainly in Brooklyn and on the east end of Long Island. The surface of the 400-square-foot garden is covered with pea gravel, and there’s a walk made of round red concrete paving stones 12″ in diameter — the kind “you would find in a suburban backyard,” Smith says. “It’s supposed to be fun, casual, and comfortable.”

The budget? Approximately $25,000, including construction, plants, and Smith’s design fee.

Details and photos of the roof’s 2-year transformation after the jump.

Photos: Glenn Smith


07/05/12 11:30am

WELCOME TO THE INSIDER, Brownstoner’s weekly look at the wide-ranging ways Brooklynites renovate and decorate their living spaces. Written by Cara Greenberg, you’ll find it here Thursdays at 11:30.


PETER HASSLER is not most people. Certainly not in the way he’s set up his 1892 bay-windowed brownstone. “Most people,” he says, “put the kitchen on the parlor floor, and I understand the reasons. But I wanted to stay as true as possible to the original layout of the house, and keep the kitchen where it was originally,” at the rear of the garden floor. “That allowed me to have two massive rooms on the parlor floor that you could have a ballroom dance in.”

A web designer recently embarked on a partnership with Design Vidalan LA-based company expanding their interior design and renovation services into the New York area, Hassler bought the 18-foot-wide house some nine years ago. He accomplished most of the reno in a year-long push, including stripping and refinishing all the luscious woodwork and parquet floors, rewiring and replumbing the entire house, and putting in new heating and water systems.

He decorated mostly with modern pieces. “I wanted to let the best of the house shine through, while creating a bright, airy space,” Hassler says, “using clean lines, geometric shapes, and solid whites and blacks to contrast with the original detail.”

Hassler shares the lower duplex with Dahn Hiuni, a visual artist, and rents out the two floors above. He worked with an architect on finalizing drawings and filing them, then hired a crew and oversaw the construction himself. Besides the two huge bedrooms on the parlor floor, there’s a new half-bath in what used to be a closet. On the garden level, the living room sits between the kitchen at the rear, with a full bath in an extension next to it, and the dining room at the front of the house.

See and read more after the jump.

Photos: Patrick Mulcahy


07/01/12 8:00am

WELCOME TO THE OUTSIDER, Brownstoner’s weekly column about the ways Brooklynites use their outdoor spaces, from backyard to roof and in between. Written and produced by Cara Greenberg, you can find it here every Sunday at 8AM. 


‘LANDSCAPE URBANISM’ is the specialty of Future Green Studio, according to the Gowanus-based firm’s website. Meaning what, exactly? Principal David Seiter explains: “Typically, landscape architecture looked at parks and gardens, but as we’ve moved into denser urban environments, we’ve started to consider under-utilized spaces as landscape — streets, roofs, spaces between buildings, vacant lots, waterfronts, all sorts of post-industrial areas.” Landscape urbanism deals with “emerging landscape typologies,” like rainwater catchment systems and the overlooked potential of wild urban plants (otherwise known as weeds), “looking not just through an aesthetic but a productive or performative lens.”

That doesn’t mean it can’t be pretty. This 25′x50′ townhouse rooftop was conceived, says Seiter, as a “desert meadowscape of grays, pinks, and purples” — grown in 6-8″ of soil to limit weight load. The primary plants are grasses, flowering sedum, and groundcovers, planted in a random mix. Because the client had a strong interest in botanical diversity, “We packed in a lot of different plants,” Seiter says. As opposed to a monoculture, or using four or five plants repeated in various places, “Everything is a specimen.” And extremely drought-tolerant; there’s an irrigation system, but it’s used only two or three times a season.

The roof’s architecture was designed by N Architects in DUMBO. Future Green designed the plantings around areas carved out for decking, a shower, stepping stones, and an HVAC system. The green roof section, Seiter says, cost approximately $25/square foot, including drainage materials, substrate materials, soil, and plants.

More photos and a plant list after the jump.

Photos: Future Green Studio


06/28/12 11:30am

WELCOME TO THE INSIDER, Brownstoner’s weekly look at the creative and wide-ranging ways Brooklynites renovate and decorate their living spaces, written and produced by CaraGreenberg. Find it here every Thursday at 11:30AM.

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING completely different. Interior designer Christopher Coleman, whose office is in DUMBO, rocks vivid color and a playful mix of shapes and materials in his own 1,250-square-foot home in a Williamsburg loft building. He considers his New York base “a laboratory for design.” The use of color and pattern is so emphatic, from a yellow patent leather wall to a sliding red barn door separating the living area from the sole bedroom, not to mention checkerboards, plaids, and stripes — that you almost don’t notice that most of the wall area is actually white.

When Coleman and his partner moved into the nearly new building 3-1/2 years ago, they made a few minor changes: opening up the bedroom wall and substituting the barn door, adding a pantry and storage area in the kitchen, installing black low-pile broadloom carpeting over what Coleman calls the “gymnasium floors.” He likes the carpet for soundproofing, and for the way sensuous shaped furnishings are silhouetted against the black. Coleman is not big on square and rectangular furniture lined up against walls, he says. “It’s much sexier and more appealing to have shaped pieces of furniture floating in a room.”

Half of Coleman’s work is in Miami where, he says, “People are open to color and a little more daring. They want something fun and adventurous.” Coleman is clearly the man to deliver. “It bores me to tears when you open a magazine and everything’s from Holly Hunt,” he says. “Anyone can do that.”

See more of Coleman’s apartment after the jump.

Photos: Dana Meilijson, except as noted