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…)

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.”


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


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


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


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


WELCOME to The Insider, Brownstoner’s weekly in-depth look at the creative ways Brooklynites renovate and decorate their homes. Written and produced by Cara Greenberg, you can find it right here every Thursday at 11:30AM.


FOR MOST OF THE PAST 18 YEARS, Lula Blackwell-Hafner has lived in her grand parlor floor co-op, with its 12-and-a-half-foot ceilings, in a state of what might be called Bohemian splendor. Peeling plaster walls and cracked crown moldings served as atmospheric backdrop to her eclectic accumulation of vintage furnishings. The kitchen was a Danish modern disaster in the center of the apartment, bearing no relation to the building’s Italianate detail.

Recently, Blackwell-Hafner, a landscape architectural designer by profession, undertook to restore the plasterwork, refinish the tall mahogany doors and moldings, and install a brand new kitchen. Because her budget is limited but her handywoman skills prodigious, she did much of the work herself, with the assistance of Dave Cunningham, a Brooklyn-based plaster craftsman, and Colin Rice, a carpenter.

They repaired the heavy crown moldings decorated with what Blackwell-Hafner calls her ‘Shakespearean troupe’ of faces; replaced sections of ceiling with QuietRock, a drywall product designed for soundproofing; skim-coated all the walls; and painted them with Farrow & Ball ‘Modern Emulsion’ colors, washable and low-VOC, with a slight sheen. Blackwell-Hafner sanded and waxed the mahogany entry doors by hand to the point of bandaged fingers, and upgraded the new cherry kitchen cabinets, bought online, with wavy glass from old windows, which she cut and installed herself.

So far, Blackwell-Hafner has spent about $25K on this phase of the reno. What remains to be done: paving and a railing for the small deck off the rear parlor (presently a rooftop on the downstairs extension) and restoring tall windows there, and replacing plaster ceiling medallions and some of the worn-away faces in the crown molding.

See and read lots more after the jump.

Photos: Cara Greenberg


WELCOME to The Insider, Brownstoner’s weekly look at the multitudinous ways Brooklyn residents decorate and renovate their homes. Written and produced by Cara Greenberg, you’ll find it here every Thursday 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.

THE CLIENTS’ WISH LIST was not unusual: they wanted a home for themselves and their three young children that was “warm and comfortable, with a lot of play spaces,” says Kiki Dennis, the Brooklyn-based designer hired to pull together furnishings, paint colors, and final details upon completion of a top-to-bottom renovation.

A 19th century townhouse whose five floors had been broken up into apartments, it was re-designed by architect James Ramsay as a homeowners’ 5-bedroom, 4.5 bath quadruplex totaling about 5,500 square feet, plus a garden rental. The project was well under way when the current owners bought the building in mid-reno. There were few original details remaining except for stair balusters and some mantels. “Other architectural moves were more contemporary, almost minimalist,” Dennis says. Her clients were concerned that the house “not be too stark, but have elements of color and warmth.”

Dennis loved the steel-framed windows at the back of the parlor floor and the use of reclaimed teak in various areas. “We took cues from those materials, used a lot of neutrals, and added fun pops of color to bring the house to life,” she says. She also worked with the clients to buy art, an important factor in adding color to the space.

If this home looks familiar, it was one of several on the recent Brooklyn Heights House Tour.

Photos: Brett Beyer


WELCOME  to The Insider, Brownstoner’s weekly interiors column by design writer/blogger Cara Greenberg. Find it here every Thursday at 11:30AM. And be sure to catch The Outsider, our new garden column, Sundays at 8AM.

DK HOLLAND’S PRE-CIVIL WAR HOUSE is a favorite of passersby, often evoking cries of  “I can’t believe this is New York City!” The inside of the former hayloft and tack house — all three stories and 1,800 square feet of it — is no different, with bold color on walls, stairwells, and in the country-style furniture.

As a longtime graphic designer and former principal in Pushpin Studios, the firm founded by Milton Glaser and Seymour Chwast, DK’s sure hand with color reflects her interest in children’s book illustration (Chwast helped choose colors for the exterior — tan with blue window frames, in keeping with Landmarks requirements). “There are no bad colors,” DK says. “All colors go together in nature.”

DK did a top-to-bottom renovation between 2002-4, during which she added a kitchen in a new side extension, built the front porch, opened up the second floor as a loft-like bedroom/study, and put in new bathrooms and closets. The reno exposed original brick, ceiling beams, and mid-19th century wainscoting.

Todd Johnson was the architect for the exterior; he helped with the interior as well. Burda Construction was the contractor.

More of DK’s charming house after the jump.

Photos: Cara Greenberg


WELCOME to The Insider, a weekly interior design/renovation series by Cara Greenberg. Find it on Brownstoner every Thursday at 11:30; and don’t forget The Outsider, our new garden series, every Sunday morning at 8.

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.

THIS SUPER-MODERN TAKE on the Brooklyn row house archetype is one of eight unique places on the 25th BOERUM HILL HOUSE TOUR, happening this Sunday, June 3, from 1-5PM. On a State Street lot many will remember as the site of a tragic gas explosion that reduced a brownstone to rubble, the lot remained vacant for years until Ben and Christine Hansen, both architects, acquired it in 2009 and designed a replacement.

Outside the boundaries of the Boerum Hill Historic District, the Hansens were free to design a strikingly modernist home for themselves and their two children. With a zinc-clad front bay and large steel-framed windows, the house stands out visually among other townhouses on the block, relating to them with its familiar high stoop and placement of the front door.

All-steel construction allows for flowing spaces inside, with large openings between rooms, 11-foot ceilings, and different-size footprints from floor to floor. On the 20′x40′ garden level, there’s a family/play room, plus guest room and bath. The 20′x50′ parlor level has a living room in front and kitchen/dining in back. On the 20′x40′ second floor are two children’s bedrooms with a bath in between. The master suite is on the 20′x32′ top floor.

Above: Rear view of the townhouse, with its cantilevered kitchen extension.

More photos and details, including a list of major suppliers, after the jump.

Photos: Francis Dzikowski


Welcome to The Insider, here every Thursday at 11:30AM. It’s written and produced by Cara Greenberg, as is The Outsider, Brownstoner’s new garden series, every Sunday at 8AM. ALWAYS SEEKING LEADS TO WORTHY INTERIOR DESIGN AND GARDEN PROJECTS!!! Please contact caramia447@gmail.com

THIS MULTI-FUNCTIONAL SPACE at the top of a five-story brownstone was once “a weird scenario,” says Manhattan-based architect Ole Sondresen, who renovated the entire building for a pair of artists with two college-age children — a utilitarian attic, 22′x60′, divided up into “six or seven little storage spaces.” Now it’s a destination for the family, used for movie nights, games, and music-making. “It’s meant to be almost a cabin at the top of the house,” Sondresen says. “A getaway in one’s own space.”

Enhancing the cabin feeling is the unorthodox use of wood, wrapping around the entire ceiling and down the wall to become a bench under the windows. “We saw it as an upside-down space,” the Norwegian-born Sondresen says. “While the rest of the house has wood floors and plaster ceilings, this space has white painted oak floors and the warmth of wood as the ceiling.”

The contractor was William Dorvillier.

More photos and details of the attic loft, as well as the new kitchen on the parlor level, after the jump.

Photos: Ole Sondresen