The typical Brooklyn rowhouse requires interior structural columns to support the floors above. In modern renovations, when columns and walls are removed for greater openness, steel I-beams are often run along the ceiling to bear the load.
Architect Alexandra Barker of Downtown Brooklyn’s Barker Freeman Design Office (BFDO) came up with a different solution for her book-loving clients: cladding existing structural columns with sheetrock and using them as the sides of open bookshelves on the main floor of a 20-foot-wide wood-frame house. “They’re also a low-cost design feature,” Barker pointed out. “They add visual interest using something most people already have.”
The bookshelves were just one aspect of an overhaul that encompassed a full-on renovation of the three-story home’s main level, including a new L-shaped kitchen and a newly finished lower level used mainly by the homeowners’ children. (The bedrooms on the second floor were not part of the project.)
The original configuration of the main level was typical: a front room with pocket doors, a middle room, and a kitchen at the rear (this one had a 2-by-3-foot extension). “We opened everything up, resurfaced everything, and brought in a lot more light and connectivity between the kitchen and the rest of the house,” the architect said.
The general contractor was Altek Construction Corp.
Painting the wall along the staircase gray was “pragmatic, because it hides fingerprints,” Barker said. “The downside is it doesn’t reflect as much light from the skylight above.”
More bookshelves and purpose-built storage for a collection of vinyl records flank the clean-lined gas fireplace.
The decision to use as much reclaimed wood as possible, notably for flooring and on the kitchen cabinets, was spearheaded by the clients. The floorboards were sourced from Real Antique Wood in Irvington, N.J.
Furnishings, chosen by the homeowners, include a dining table and chairs from West Elm.
There’s ample space for cooking and congregating in the L-shaped kitchen at the rear of the house, which follows the footprint of a small existing extension.
Full-height glazing and corner-wrapping windows admit a flood of light.
The blue and orange Moroccan-inspired ceramic wall tiles from Ann Sacks continue a color motif begun with the entry hall wallpaper and expressed in light fixtures throughout the house.
The staircase had to be rebuilt in its entirety, Barker said. “We tied it in materially with wood treads and a cable wire balustrade.”
The bookshelves are deep enough to accommodate two rows of books, placed so the spines can be seen from both sides. The walkway along the stairs is quite narrow. “I like it,” the architect said. “It feels like being in library stacks.”
A new powder room with striking wallpaper from Williamsburg’s Grace & Favor is located at the end of the front hall.
Colorful his-and-hers studios, one for music and one for writing, are located on the lower level.
[Photos by Lesley Unruh]
Check out the new ‘The Insider’ mini-site: brownstoner.com/the-insider
The Insider is Brownstoner’s in-depth look at a notable interior design/renovation project, by design journalist Cara Greenberg. Find it here Thursday mornings.
Got a project to propose for The Insider? Contact Cara at caramia447 [at] gmail [dot] com
- The Insider: Revamping a Sunset Park Row House for a Clean, Modern Look
- The Insider: A Quick, Cost-Conscious Townhouse Reno in South Slope
- The Insider: Architect Divvies Up Narrow Fort Greene Brownstone for Extended Family