06/25/15 11:00am

WELCOME TO THE INSIDER, Brownstoner’s weekly in-depth look at a notable interior design/renovation project. Produced and written by design journalist Cara Greenberg, you can find it here every Thursday at 11.


The young British couple who bought a loft-like apartment in Jersey City’s Van Vorst Historic District called for decorating help on a relatively new resource: The New Design Project, a Williamsburg-based collaboration between Fanny Abbes, a designer, and James Davison, who handles the business end of things. Both are recent refugees from the world of finance.

The 1,600-square-foot unit, in a building that began life as a stable and was later used by the Metropolitan Opera for storing props and costumes, came pre-loaded with character, including exposed brick walls and heavily beamed ceilings.

But it has only one main exposure and was very dark, said Abbes, a Parsons grad who grew up in France and Africa and has spent her adult life in London, Paris and New York. “The big challenge was to increase light, drastically,” she said. (more…)

06/18/15 11:00am

WELCOME TO THE INSIDER, Brownstoner’s weekly in-depth look at a notable interior design/renovation project. Produced and written by design journalist Cara Greenberg, you can find it here every Thursday at 11.


WHO WOULDA THUNK IT: classic mid-20th century furnishings, both vintage and reissued, working so beautifully — and looking so natural — in a late 19th century limestone row house? The full-on renovation by Dumbo-based architects Delson or Sherman was an update of a one-family house. Once the reno was under way, Brooklyn-based interior designer Kiki Dennis came in to do the furnishing.

“We inherited a lot of original detail that needed restoring and refreshing, but all our interventions were primarily modern,” said Perla Delson. Chief among these were an all-new kitchen and three new baths, a reconfigured garden floor with a media room and music room, and two outdoor spaces. The backyard was redesigned, with landscaping by Mac Carbonell of Verdant Gardensand a new roof deck added.

The homeowners, a couple with two young kids, “knew what they wanted,” Delson said. “They really enjoy cooking and wanted a modern kitchen, not a kitchen that pretended to look old.” (more…)

06/11/15 11:00am

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


WHERE MOST PEOPLE SEE A WRECK, architects see glorious opportunity. So said Elizabeth Roberts, founding principal of Gowanus-based Ensemble Architecture, of this four-story brick row house whose new owners are a young family late of SoHo.

“The house was in really bad shape,” said Roberts of the neglected 20-by-36-foot structure, into which the architects managed to fit four bedrooms, a study, three full baths and two half baths.  “It had been vacant, water had been leaking for a few years, and the rear wall was falling down. The opportunity was there for opening it up a lot, and putting on a two-story addition.”

That 13-foot-deep addition was the project’s boldest stroke. Now, the new garden-level kitchen, as well as the back parlor on the floor above, open into a two-story volume containing a high-ceilinged dining space. (more…)

06/04/15 11:00am

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

Kitchen 2a

THE TRIBECA TRANSPLANTS who bought the wide brick row house in the heart of Cobble Hill knew from the outset there was no chance of a historical renovation. The four-story house had been broken up into three apartments and shoddily renovated in the 1970s.

“Almost nothing was original,” said Hope Dana of Platt Dana, the architecture team brought in to create a one-family dwelling and update the house from top to bottom. “There was no connection between the garden level and the parlor floor, all the brick was exposed, none of the fireplaces were working, and there was no original molding.” (The one exception was the molding around the arched entry doors at parlor level, which happily also remained.)

The parlor floor was one big room, with a tiny kitchen at the back. Yet the new homeowners “wanted to live in a traditional brownstone way,” said Dana, with two rooms on the parlor floor separated by pocket doors, and a kitchen on the garden level. (more…)

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