Symmetry, leafy brackets and over-the-top ornament are just a few of the facets of this Italian-inspired style — the classic look of Brooklyn brownstones.
This may be the only townhouse in Brooklyn with a room dedicated to a urinal, entered via swinging saloon-style doors. “It’s the kind of thing you can do when you have 6,000 square feet,” said Elizabeth Roberts of Ensemble Architecture.
The busy Gowanus-based firm masterminded the transformation of this five-story, 25-foot-wide corner building, taking it from a three-family plus doctor’s office to a four-story home for a single family, with a rental apartment and a professional office on the garden level.
It was a lucky score: an 1890s brownstone in Carroll Gardens with an exceptionally long (70 feet) parlor floor and a load of well-preserved detail. The new homeowners came to Brooklyn-based architect Kim Hoyt for help creating an owners’ duplex out of two separate flats, as well as a new kitchen at the rear of the parlor floor.
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.
Good thing Park Slope-based designer Jennifer Morris has a background in the hospitality industry. When a couple who’d just bought a four-story, 18-foot-wide brownstone in Fort Greene called her mid-renovation for help “picking out finishes,” she naturally asked, “Where’s your layout?” The reply: “We don’t have one.”
The homeowners had no architect, though demolition and construction were already well under way. The garden floor, where the new kitchen was slated to go, had been gutted, the hallway opened up to the main living space. “They’d never done a renovation before and didn’t know what to ask or anticipate, or what the process should be,” Morris recalled.
Morris enlightened them about design coming before renovation — “not while you’re standing in a gutted space.”
She rolled up her sleeves, cleared her schedule, and created a new layout for all four floors, found a kitchen fabricator, selected materials, finishes, furnishings — “all in lightning speed,” said Morris, a former designer for the Rockwell Group, known for hotels and restaurants worldwide. “Fortunately, my background is ‘We need 500 chairs by tomorrow!’”
A remarkably high number of Brooklyn brownstone listings this spring and summer may indicate a wave of homeowners cashing in as property values reach new heights, The Observer noted Wednesday.
Without explicitly naming the neighborhoods or data sets that led them to this conclusion, The Observer offered anecdotal firepower to the claim that the current number of on-the-market townhouses in brownstone Brooklyn has increased. The pub counted 91 townhouses for sale in the spring and about 75 in the summer — many of the homes sporting “ridiculous” price tags.
“People have seen prices go up and they’re cashing out — when they see their neighbor sold their place for X, they wonder why they can’t get the same,” Town Residential broker Terry Naini is quoted as saying.
No one in the world has a kitchen like this, except the owners of the wide, five-story brownstone holding these stunning faceted beechwood cabinets. They’re the handiwork of Workstead, a design studio with offices at the Old American Can Factory in Gowanus.
Functional considerations came first — how to create cabinet handles without hardware? — but aesthetics were never far behind. “We got to thinking about carving out material in order to create utility,” said Ryan Mahoney, one of three Rhode Island School of Design architecture school alumni, along with Robert Highsmith and Stefanie Brechbuehler, who comprise the small firm.
“We had the idea that instead of adding something, we would subtract wood to create handles for the cabinetry. Once we had this rule of thumb to go by and began to work with the material, we came up with this wedge-shaped profile for the cabinet faces and started getting interesting forms and patterns,” he said.
The designers lined up the sink countertop against the existing bank of windows at the rear of the house, eliminating the typical backsplash, to maximize the experience of looking out into the garden. The generous light that pours in through those windows makes the carved faces of the cabinets appear ever-changing, Mahoney said. “They can be subtle or dramatic, depending on time of day.”
A pretty little 1880s brownstone with an abundance of intact detail was the object of a scenario like many playing out all over Brooklyn these days. “The young couple buying the house — still with its traditional layout, including an old, walled-off kitchen at the back of the garden floor — wanted to bring it into the 21st century and open it up for contemporary living,” said Kimberly Neuhaus of Neuhaus Design Architecture P.C.
And so the couple hired the Brooklyn-based architect to do just that. “Little” was the operative word here.
At just 17 feet wide and slightly more than twice as deep, “it was a challenge to take this tiny three-story house and make it feel bigger,” Neuhaus said. She took several bold steps to make that happen:
Artist Steven Weinberg recently painted a fanciful 25-foot mural of Brooklyn brownstones inside a newly renovated Crown Heights home. Weinberg — who moved from Brooklyn last year to open a Catskills inn — popped downstate to complete the entire mural in a single summer day. In a blog post detailing his work, Weinberg writes:
“It’s great working with the source material of my former hometown, Brooklyn. I love drawing mountains and trees now, but it’s something totally different taking in all of the amazing details of Brooklyn’s architecture.”
People who love old houses tend to love their quirks, so the couple who bought a mid-19th century brownstone on Joralemon Street were charmed by the fact that the house is not perfectly rectilinear. It’s a rhomboid, or slanted rectangle – that is, the opposite sides are equal in length and parallel to each other, but the corners don’t quite form right angles (as you can see in plan, below).
“It’s a funny little house,” said Erin Fearins, an interior designer at CWB Architects, who headed up the furnishing and decorating of the home’s parlor floor and master bedroom after whole-house renovations were complete. “To make the weird wall condition less noticeable, we created a neutral envelope with simple window treatments, interjecting color and texture.”