The Insider: Minimalist (But Not Minimal) Reno Redeems Run-Down Fort Greene Row House

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Let’s hope the owners of this four-story house, steps from the Brooklyn Academy of Music, got a very good deal when they bought it. The house had last seen renovation in the 1970s, and somewhere along the line any shred of history or character was lost.

“The house had been 100 percent stripped,” said Eric Liftin, founding principal of Dumbo-based MESH Architectures. “There was not a single old detail remaining, and it was run-down at the same time.”

It was barely livable, but the homeowners — a couple who both work in design-related fields — had MESH do a quick basic fix-up and moved in almost immediately. A year later, they called on the same firm to do the whole shebang, while they holed up on the ground floor.

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In a total gut reno, the architects reconfigured the 18-by-35-foot building, which had been two duplexes, creating an owner’s triplex over a ground-floor rental. The triplex has living, dining and kitchen areas on the parlor level, a master bedroom and study on the floor above, and two additional bedrooms on the top floor.

Among the extensive changes, MESH installed all-new Kolbe windows in keeping with historic district requirements, removed a wall on the parlor level to open up the space, and glazed the entire rear wall of the parlor floor, leading to a new steel deck.

They also removed a set of interior stairs that were no longer needed for a lower duplex, as the new ground-floor rental unit has its own street entrance. (MESH also renovated the rental apartment, not pictured here.)

All mechanicals needed replacement. MESH took advantage of the gut to install a Mitsubishi mini-split system, with condensers on the roof, for air conditioning in summer and heating in winter. There’s one wall-mounted, individually controlled unit per room. “The technology has gotten much more efficient in the last few years,” Liftin said. “It’s electric, but not nearly as costly as electric resistance heating.”

The owners wanted “minimal detail and neutral color” as a backdrop for their own furnishings, art and objects, they told the architect.

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Mesh Architectures Fort Greene

Narrow strip flooring, left from the 1970s reno, was sanded and given an ebony stain.

An existing vestibule at the front entry was left as-is. Both sets of doors were replaced with new.

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Mesh Architectures Fort Greene

The simple sheetrock surround on the front parlor’s fireplace, with a plank of wood for a mantel, is in keeping with the owners’ minimalist tendencies.

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Mesh Architectures Fort Greene

The new glass doors spanning the rear wall are from the Austrian company Gaulhofer. They both slide and tilt for ventilation.

The kitchen cabinets are from IKEA, with Corian countertops and appliances from Bosch and LG.

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Mesh Architectures Fort Greene

The brick party wall on one side of the house was left exposed and painted, which brings texture and warmth to the dining area at the rear and the stairwell at the front of the house.

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Mesh Architectures Fort Greene

MESH was able to retain the existing stair structure, but refinished the treads. Cotton rope woven up and down between eye hooks replaces a formerly solid wall.

The door under the stairs leads to a tiny powder room.

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Mesh Architectures Fort Greene

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Mesh Architectures Fort Greene

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Mesh Architectures Fort Greene

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Mesh Architectures Fort Greene

The master bath, with its clawfoot tub from Randolph Morris, is completely open to the master bedroom at the front of the house.

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Mesh Architectures Fort Greene

A study at the rear of the second floor is effectively part of the master suite.

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Mesh Architectures Fort Greene

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Mesh Architectures Fort Greene

The hallway on the top floor, where there are two bedrooms, benefits from a skylight above.

[Photos by Fernando Gomez]

For comparison’s sake, take a look at these “before” photos:

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Check out the new ‘The Insider’ mini-site: brownstoner.com/the-insider

The Insider is Brownstoner’s weekly in-depth look at a notable interior design/renovation project, by design journalist Cara Greenberg. Find it here every Thursday morning. Got a project to propose for The Insider? Contact Cara at caramia447 [at] gmail [dot] com.

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