04/15/14 11:30am


Interior demolition has started at 144 Willow Street, a landmarked building in Brooklyn Heights that Jared Kushner purchased from Brooklyn Law School in February as part of a bigger $36,500,000 deal.

A crew of at least eight started work late last week, a tipster told us. He didn’t see any certificate of no exterior effect, required by Landmarks, he said, except on former Watchtower buildings, which deeds indicate this was not.

An Alt-2 permit filed this month indicates a renovation is planned for the apartments on the basement through the fourth floors.

Kushner plans to turn three of the buildings in the recently acquired portfolio back into single-family townhouses, as we reported last week, but this one will remain apartments.

01/30/14 10:45am

plaster repair 2 1

When you stop and think about it, a wall (or a ceiling) is a canvas. It’s a large flat surface that we hang wallpaper on, or paint. Just because we are painting our entire canvas in one color doesn’t mean we aren’t creating a painting, just the same. So if our canvas has lumps and craters and missing pieces, why not use real canvas, or in this case muslin, to cover it up, and in the process create a nice flat smooth surface for our artistry? It sounds so simple it’s almost embarrassing. Well, that’s just another of the plaster repairs that have been developed over the years. We’ve gotten all technological and space-agey with our building materials. So much so that sometimes we forget that the simplest methods are often the best. And those methods can perhaps be tweaked to be even better than they were originally.

We’ve been talking about plaster walls and ceilings. We’ve gone from a history of plaster walls in Part One, to a history of drywall in Part Two, to the traditional methods of plaster repair in Part Three. Today, we’ll finish up plaster repair and talk about drywall repair and the use of drywall in conjunction with traditional plaster. For many of us, the two different substances have worked together in many of our older homes, a compromise we’ve made, primarily because of budget, but also because of ease of work, time, and availabilities of materials. (more…)

01/28/14 10:45am

plaster repair, ask-the-rehabber.com 1So you live in an older home with plaster walls and ceilings, and you need to renovate. You need to run new electric lines, or repair plumbing, or perhaps change the placement of a door in the room, or open up a floor. Do you keep the plaster walls? Or maybe your walls or ceilings are cracked, or the plaster is falling off, exposing lath or brick. Or do you tear the plaster walls down to the studs, or at least the lath, and start over with sheets of drywall? Or do you run your lines, or make your repairs, opening up the walls as needed, and then repair the wall or ceiling? These are decisions old house owners make regarding the question of plaster or drywall, or perhaps a combination of both. The answer has a lot to do with the condition of existing plaster, time, personal preference, and of course, money. Are you a renovator or a restorer at heart?

The use of plaster has an ancient history. That story was told in Part One of this series. A skilled plasterer was a craftsman, worth the time and expense because of the beauty and long lasting nature of his work. The invention and use of drywall, aka sheetrock, in the early 20th century, was seen as a revolution in rapid and inexpensive homebuilding, replacing plaster in new construction during World War II. Part Two of this series explored the early use and later innovations to this increasingly versatile building material.

Cracks in original plaster occur for a number of reasons. Houses settle on their foundations, cracks can occur from nearby construction or road vibrations. Stress fractures can occur. The expansion and contraction of the wooden lath for a hundred years can cause plaster to crack or bow. If the original builder cut corners and used an inferior plaster mix, that can be the reason, after 100 years, the plaster is in bad shape. Water leakage is a biggie. So are opening walls for electrical and plumbing upgrades. There are a lot of reasons why plaster gives out, but when it does there are repairs that can be made if you choose to keep your plaster. (more…)

01/23/14 10:30am

drywall, welkandsonsdrywall.com 1

I am in the eternal process of renovating my apartment. It’s in an 1899 brick row house in Troy, and looks very similar to many of the later row houses you’d find in many parts of Brooklyn, with some regional architectural differences. Actually, some of those differences are quite striking, and I plan on writing about it when I do some more research, but suffice it to say, where it counts, my Troy house is not all that different from my old Brooklyn house. Both were built in the same year, and both have many of the houses’ original plaster walls.

There are a couple of rooms in my apartment here that have had alterations over the years, and in the course of that, some of the walls have been replaced. I could tell you which walls are plaster and which are drywall in a hot minute. There is a feel to plaster that is totally different than the feel of drywall. Now, whoever did the replacement was good. There are no screws visible, or tape lines, and they put a good skim coat over the drywall. But it has that generic flatness, and it’s softer. Behind that skim coat, behind the thin sheet of drywall, is empty space and stud walls. Behind the thicker plaster walls, with three separate layers of plaster, is a wall of lath, and then the stud walls. Tap those walls. Solid. There is nothing that beats plaster.

Fortunately for me, the walls in my apartment are all good. A little bit of patching was needed to fill holes made for electrical and other repair work, and one spot where it looks like someone took their frustrations out on a wall. My apartment was college student housing a few years ago. Rensselaer Poly Tech is right up the hill, after all. “Quantum physics, argh!” Bam – foot through the wall. I can see it.

My ceilings, though – not so good. Some past roof leakage wrecked one ceiling; others have dropped ceilings that cover up years of deferred maintenance. And some have awful acoustic tiling pasted up there. Who knows what’s underneath? So I’m going to need to replace some of them. Guess what? The purist here is probably going to use drywall.

Both plaster and drywall are used in our period homes. But his was not always so. Last time, I talked about the history of plaster and its uses in building since antiquity. By the beginning of the 20th century, the United States Gypsum Company, one of the country’s largest plaster companies, started to sell a product they called “Sheetrock.” Like Kleenex, the brand name has become the commonly used product name. (more…)

12/23/13 10:00am

The Medgar Evers College Library in Crown Heights is getting a facelift, and these renderings we found tacked to the fence show what it will look like when construction wraps in May. The building at 1650 Bedford Avenue between Crown and Montgomery streets has been under construction since March, according to one of the workers on site. There will also be a new student welcome center in the front of the library.

We’ve included interior renderings and a current photo of the library after the jump. What do you think of the new design and updates to this 25-year-old building? GMAP


12/19/13 11:30am


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. (more…)

12/18/13 11:30am

Bar Chord-C1

The building at 1008 Cortelyou Road in Ditmas Park originally opened as a family-owned restaurant in 1927. Players for the Brooklyn Dodgers were known to stop in on their way to nearby Ebbets Field. The address has since lived through countless incarnations — lastly as a Mexican bakery — and now it has become Bar Chord, a neighborhood watering hole and music venue created by Christy and Jonny Sheehan. (more…)


A run-down but historic building at 71 Irving Place has been gutted and renovated and is back on the market. Last year, a section of the facade of the multifamily apartment building crumbled while it was for sale for $975,000. At the time, it was marketed as a gut renovation, not a teardown.

The new owners, Big Brooklyn Rehab Company, picked it up for $750,000 and decided to turn it into a three-family. They set up the 1870s brick building as a 2,500-square-foot owners duplex with two floor-through apartments above. Each unit has central air and three to four bedrooms. There are wide-plank oak floors, white lacquer cabinets, marble counters, vented range hoods, vented washers and dryers, and a roof deck. The ask for the whole building is $2,500,000.

What do you think of how it turned out?

71 Irving Place Listing [Corcoran]
Inside the Renovation at 71 Irving Place [Brownstoner]
Work Happening at 71 Irving After Building Collapse [Brownstoner]
A Building Collapse on Irving and Putnam [Brownstoner] GMAP
Photos by Corcoran


12/05/13 10:00am


A crumbling wood-clad 19th century row house on Smith Street with all its trim intact is probably going to be altered beyond recognition soon, according to neighborhood blog Pardon Me For Asking. Permits have been pulled for a two-story addition, and blogger Katia Kelly speculates the cornice will probably be removed and the facade altered.

Of course, it would be great if the addition were set back and not visible from the street, and the front facade were restored. The property is located at 159 Smith Street between Wycoff and Bergen Streets in Boerum Hill.

Small Wood Clad House on Smith Street Soon to Be Altered [PMFA]
Photo by PMFA

12/04/13 4:00pm



Home renovation matchmaking and blog site Sweeten has mapped every residential renovation project filed with the New York City Department of Buildings over the past 10 years. They pulled some data for us that shows Brooklynites filed 6,776 home renovations in the first six months of the year, and $77,710 was the average cost of those alterations. The biggest job during that time cost $7,000,000, based on self reported costs at filing. If you click on one of the mapped dots, it will tell you the name of the owner and the architect (if there was one). Sweet.

Image by Sweeten


11/19/13 9:00am


Soaring prices in Brooklyn for move-in-ready brownstones are attracting high-end flippers who renovate problem properties from the ground up with structural reinforcements, change C of Os from SROs, add central air, and restore or re-create historic details. It might be more accurate, in fact, to call them developers rather than flippers, since construction can last as long as a year.

In neighborhoods such as Carroll Gardens, Park Slope and Cobble Hill, where a 19th century brownstone with state-of-the-art mechanicals, kitchens and baths combined with historic detail in the formal rooms and bedrooms command prices of about $1,000 per square foot, a high-end renovation will sell faster and for a better price than a standard flip job, said developers working in these areas.

Take, for example, 377 6th Avenue in Park Slope, a HOTD here last year. The Anglo-Italianate brick row house with a bay window was listed, went into contract, and closed within two and a half months, according to StreetEasy. The ask was $2,975,000 and it sold for $2,847,500, according to PropertyShark.

Developers Nick Faselis and William Ruggiero reinforced the structure, repointed all the brick inside, changed the C of O from a two-family to a single family, and added herringbone floors, gothic marble mantels, built-ins, a marble bath, and other top-of-the-line finishes usually seen only in custom renovations.

The final sale price worked out to $972 a square foot, even though the house is less than 17 feet wide. (more…)

11/15/13 12:00pm


We frequently fantasize about how we could renovate one of the relatively affordable, family-sized units in the Clinton Hill Co-ops to make the most of its World War II-era design. So it was with great interest that we came across this renovation of one of these apartments on Sweeten. (In fact, Sweeten has done several projects in these buildings, they told us.)

The homeowners had already been living in the apartment for 11 years. The biggest changes they made were opening up the space by eliminating non-structural walls and replacing the beat-up parquet with white oak flooring. They also redid the kitchen and bath. Click through to the jump for a few more photos and to the story for before-and-after shots.

Kyle & Angela’s Mid-Century Inspired, Clinton Hill Renovation [Sweeten] (more…)