Ask Brownstoner


Our kitchen cabinets were installed today, so we’re ready to have the counters cut. As some readers may recall, we bought two large slabs of 2-inch 1 1/2 thick marble that came out of an old theater in the West 40’s at Build It Green NYC a couple of months ago. So now we need a recommendation of someone who can come to the house to create the template, then go pick up the slabs in Queens and finally cut and finish them. Preferably this would all happen next week. Any ideas?


We can’t believe our collective good fortune in the salvage department. Today, a reader in Park Slope who is combining two apartments in a 1905 limestone walk-up building has no need for the extra built-in server/sideboard. In addition to period moldings, it also has built-in mirrored walls and (what looks like) a marble counter. This is an exceptional piece and if no one else takes him up on his offer to give it away to anyone willing to perform a careful extraction and removal, we may have to take it, even though we have no immediate use. Getting it out of there won’t be a trivial task, but if you can re-use it in your own space, man, will it be worth it!
1905 Server [Brownstoner Forum]


We got an email yesterday from someone who trying to decide whether to lay an new cement floor in her basement or to do something a little more ambitious that would require some excavation. She reminded us that there were two posts in the Forum in April on this subject and was curious to know how the two projects panned out. If either of the original posters are reading this, we’d love to hear an update.


We have a three new Forum posts this morning that could use your attention. One reader poses an interesting question about stripping the paint off lincrusta, another worries about tax hikes resulting from a C of O change and a third asks for advice on building a new backyard fence. On another note, we want to encourage people to use the forum to donate, sell, or trade building parts and architectural salvage. Send us a photo and description and we’ll post it for you.
Lincrusta, Taxes and Fences [Brownstoner Forum]


We’re considering building brick walls in our back yard instead of the standard off-the-rack wood fence that seems to be the default choice these days. We’d like to do it out of salvaged bricks, so one challenge will be tracking the materials down. The bigger question, though, is this: How does one construct a stable brick wall that won’t have any adjoining walls to support it? How thick does it need to be? What pattern do the bricks have to be set in? Would it be crazy for us to attempt this ourselves or should we hire a pro? If so, who?


I’ve just had a sobering pre-purchase house inspection and am still in shock. The house is a 4 story 3-family on a beautiful block in Stuyvesant Heights. My second offer of the asking price of $700,000 was accepted. The house will be delivered vacant. The owner has lived in the house for almost sixty years. One tenant has lived in his apartment for 40 years. There are some lovely hidden details (tin ceiling, fireplaces, pocket doors, herringbone parquet floors), however they are painted over, or had wood paneling, carpeting, dropped ceilings, etc. put up over them. I had hoped I could do a renovation of $100,000 for the two rental units and then at some point, start to work on my duplex, for another $50,000, maybe.

The inspection shows that the house basically needs everything, and that if I’m going to renovate the tenants’ units, the only sensible thing is to do the whole house. The inspector (who I think is great) feels the price for the work is minimally $300,000, and that’s not with fancy finishes. All major systems need redoing, plus a new roof, re-framing of a few beams and staircases, facade work, cement work (cracked sidewalk), fire escape work, new windows – you name it.

About the only things that can be preserved/restored are most of the floors, and some of the ceilings, the fireplaces (non-working at the
moment) and one set of badly hung, painted pocket doors. If I had the money, I might do it. But I just don’t have the extra $200,000 this project will take, not to mention 6 months to a year of paying the mortgage while I continue to rent in Manhattan.

Yet somehow, I’m wondering if there’s any way not to walk away from this house. Should I offer the owner something outrageous like 550K, or walk? I love the block!

With my budget, am I likely to find anything that’s decent that’s in better shape in Bed-Stuy/Crown Heights? Should I start looking elsewhere? At foreclosures on PropertyShark?

Any and all comments greatly appreciated!


We’ve had lots of new submissions in the Forum in the last couple of days. One homeowner with a leaky central air system needs a fix, a Decatur Street brownstoner needs a plumber who has experience with tankless “on-demand” water heaters, and Fort Greene owner is desperately seeking help with a real estate tax problem. Share the love.
Plumbers and Taxes [Brownstoner Forum]


We’ve had several new posts from readers in the Forum in the last couple of days that could use some input. One person has a question about which direction the joists run in his Bed Stuy brownstone; another is seeking tips for fortifying his Fort Greene house; and a third needs a recommendation for a good roofer and waterproofer. Please take a gander.
Joists, Security and Roofers [Brownstoner Forum]