Renovating An Old House

If you’ve ever renovated an old house, chances are there are some things you wish you’d done differently. Here are the top 10 things to know before you start — all from hard-won experience.

10. Do everything at once up front.
It will seem more expensive, but we promise you will save money and mental trauma in the long run. You only want to open and close the walls once. Plastering, painting and floor refinishing should all be done before you move in. (more…)

Red Hook Brooklyn -- Row House Gut Renovation

This month marks Brownstoner’s Steel Anniversary. We’re taking some time to look back at our past, even as we design a new future.

A sunken living room with a fireplace. A bathtub with a view. A secret garden. Balconies and roof decks. Even a 40-foot-tall fluorescent light installation running from basement to roof.

In designing his home in Red Hook, a circa-1900 brick row house on a cobbled street one block from the water, and carrying out a near-total renovation of what was little more than a shell, Thomas Warnke put in pretty much everything he ever wanted. (more…)

Passive House Brooklyn Brownstone

Though currently a hot commodity, brownstones aren’t known for their energy efficiency.

“It’s amazing how much money is spent just heating building materials,” Michael Ingui, Partner at Baxt Ingui Architects, recently told Brownstoner. But that’s no longer the case in at least one newly renovated townhouse — the first passive-certified, landmarked home in Brooklyn. (more…)


The extravagant but dilapidated brownstone at 7 Arlington Place in Bedford Stuyvesant, famed as the family home in Spike Lee’s Crooklyn, made headlines when it sold for $1,700,000 in 2013. Now newly restored and decorated, the home debuted Saturday as a bed and breakfast.

Built in 1887 in the Renaissance Revival style, the house was designed by one of Brooklyn’s finest 19th century architects, George P. Chappell. It is full of his signature original touches, such as as custom woodwork with foliate motifs you won’t find in any other row of brownstones. (more…)

Brooklyn Renovation Bed Stuy Brownstone Into Charming Condos

Photo by Steve Chan

It’s the thing in Brooklyn these days to convert chopped-up brownstones back into single-family homes. Rarer is the instance when a homeowner beautifully transforms a single-family brownstone into condos.

But that is exactly what Amy Werba, a French-Italian former actress, did with the Halsey Street brownstone she purchased in 2012. When Werba acquired the 19th-century Italianate home, it was not aging gracefully.

“The brownstone property was in terrible shape,” Werba told Brownstoner. “The home was squatted in with everything becoming rotten. Not a single original detail could be saved.”


laundry room renovation pink tiles

A year ago, our bathrooms — with plumbing ranging in age from 65 to 100 years old — were demolished to make way for all the new “guts” of the home: you know, trivial stuff like plumbing, electric and heating.

I was horrified by the thought of contributing otherwise useful materials to a landfill, so (in addition to sinks, mirrors and tubs) I asked our contractors to carefully salvage as many of the 1950s pink tiles as they could. We got a nice haul — about 750 four-inch squares.

Fast forward to now, and they’ve sat moldering away in our basement with zero game plan. Maybe I could sell them to a purveyor of all things retro? Maybe a neighbor or a reader would want them? I had no clue what their final destination would be, I was just happy to have saved them from the dumpster. And finally, like a bolt of lightning from Poseidon himself, their purpose became crystal-clear: I can actually reuse them again in this house!


Brownstone Renovation: Back Wall Replaced With Windows In Brooklyn

Photo by Ty Cole via Remodelista

It’s a simple fact: Brownstones weren’t built for light. Pre-renovation, the parlor floor of this 1899 Italianate row house in Carroll Gardens was dark and cramped, with interior dividing walls making it feel even narrower than its 14-foot width.

Drew Lang of Lang Architecture opened it up, creating the latest gorgeous example of a rear wall transformed by a wall of windows. The renovation was featured by Remodelista.

The redesign called for tearing out the back wall and replacing it with two stories of custom steel windows from A&S. Lang and his team carefully considered the proportions of the panes, and decided on 12.5-inch squares of glass. The windowed door on the parlor floor leads to a steel balcony with stairs to the garden.


Brooklyn Renovation Blowing Out the Back Wall in Carroll Gardens

In December, when Jessica Siegel and her husband saw a “for sale” sign in the window of a narrow four-story Carroll Gardens home, they immediately called to make an offer. And were initially outbid.

But the other buyer got scared off by the building’s water damage, sagging floors and even worse problems — so by the end of March, they had the keys in hand.

“It’s the tiniest house with grandest details,” Jessica Siegel told Brownstoner. Measuring only 11 feet wide on the inside, the mid-19th-century four-bedroom came with a swooping curved staircase and elegant moldings.

It also came with the worst termite damage their inspector had ever seen in the neighborhood. But Siegel — a designer at GDD Interiors — saw the home’s problems as an opportunity to start fresh.

“It gave us license to bring back the grandeur while maximizing space,” she said. “On the parlor and garden levels, especially, every quarter inch counted. But we didn’t just butcher what was there.”


Coney Island Cyclone

The skies are blue, roller coasters are flying high, but my luck just plummeted… the plumbers have discovered that 100% of my sink fixtures do not work.

We expect that when trying to fit modern-day hardware into sinks that are 65 years old there will be a few bumps in the road. And, indeed, the formerly pink sink that we moved up to the third-floor blue wave bathroom had issues. But not with the fit. Rather, the box containing the faucet — which had been specially ordered to fit the sink exactly — was missing some key components. So, the plumber circled the six missing items on the installation instructions, and back I went to the plumbing supply store. All the parts just arrived, install next week.


bathroom1&2 007

Our second bathroom is FINISHED! This month marks the one-year-anniversary of the purchase of our new home, and the anniversary of us surviving 12 months of life in a two-bedroom apartment (with three kids!) following the sale of our jumbo-sized Queen Anne home in Ditmas Park.

When we bought the beach house last summer, we were thrilled by many things about it: the stunning view, the marble fireplace mantel and, yes, even the lucky find of a full bathroom on the attic level. But with that bath’s dark floral wallpaper, a badly cracked floor and a toilet that hadn’t flushed in over 30 years, we knew it’d be a full gut.

It also happened to be the only bathroom with a view of the water, so I was really looking forward to it becoming something less skeevtastic. Initial dialogue with contractors centered around simply replacing the existing toilet, sink and tub.

But once I discovered an enchanting little blue tile at Brooklyn’s Decor Planet, I knew I was heading to Mermaidville on a magical cloud of fairy dust. (more…)