The Insider: Architects Build New House Within Old Walls in Boerum Hill

Photo by Hannah Frishberg

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Don’t be fooled by what looks like a century-old brick townhouse in a row of the same. Only the front and side party walls here are original. Behind the repointed facade is a totally new single-family home, with a two-story wall of glass at the rear and a spectacular double-height home office in what was once the cellar.

“We started from scratch,” said John Nafziger of Bigprototype, a boutique architecture and design firm based in Bed-Stuy. “The existing structure was so damaged and out of kilter it wasn’t worth saving. The cost of shoring it up would have been higher than just removing it and putting in a new, more solid structure that could do exactly what we needed it to do,” in terms of stair openings and the like.

Within the 18-by-40-foot perimeter of the original house, the architects created a four-bedroom home on five levels, saving money where they could.

Almost all materials are “off-the-shelf standard,” Nafziger added. “We weren’t picking out marble from Italy or anything like that, but within a modest budget, we were able to create some special moments.”

Chief among them is the glass rear wall. “It’s essentially a commercial storefront,” Nafziger said. “That was a big opportunity,” not just to admit additional light, but also to create a dramatic visual connection to the outdoors.

Nafziger and his business partner, Sarah Strauss, met as colleagues at the Yale School of Architecture and formed their company in 2004. Their Fulton Street space also houses a wood shop for fabricating custom elements, used in their residential and commercial projects in New York City, Long Island, Puerto Rico and elsewhere.

The general contractor was Joel Eckstein of M Squared.

Boerum Hill Townhouse Renovation Bigprototype

Boerum Hill Townhouse Renovation Bigprototype

Oak flooring throughout the house is stained dark for a more custom look.

The living room’s gas fireplace has a surround custom-fabricated of cold rolled steel. “Typically, that type of fireplace would be inserted in the wall, but we didn’t have the depth,” Nafziger said. Instead, it projects out a few inches, with storage for DVDs, etc., tucked along the sides.

Boerum Hill Townhouse Renovation Bigprototype

The colorful abstract painting anchoring the front hall is a 1990 work by artist Tim Steele.

Boerum Hill Townhouse Renovation Bigprototype

Bookshelves in the dining area were designed to conceal heavy-duty steel studs that shore up the party wall.

Boerum Hill Townhouse Renovation Bigprototype

Boerum Hill Townhouse Renovation Bigprototype

A few feet of open space, where a new steel-framed staircase goes down to the garden-level kitchen, creates a visual connection from the parlor-level dining room to the outdoors.

Boerum Hill Townhouse Renovation Bigprototype

A metal fabricator constructed the new steel and wood stairs mostly offsite.

Boerum Hill Townhouse Renovation Bigprototype

Boerum Hill Townhouse Renovation Bigprototype

Boerum Hill Townhouse Renovation Bigprototype

Custom oak cabinets in the garden-level kitchen provide abundant storage.

Boerum Hill Townhouse Renovation Bigprototype

A large pane of glass on the landing going up to the second level frames a pleasant view of neighboring backyards.

Boerum Hill Townhouse Renovation Bigprototype

Boerum Hill Townhouse Renovation Bigprototype

Fixtures, tiles and hardware for the baths and kitchen, including the skylit master bath with its walk-in shower, were selected by Coco Kanakis, a Bedford Corners, N.Y.–based interior designer.

boerum-hill-townhouse-renovation-bigprototype-16

Boerum Hill Townhouse Renovation Bigprototype

A door under the front stoop opens to a staircase descending into a double-height studio/office carved partially out of the original cellar space.

Boerum Hill Townhouse Renovation Bigprototype

Boerum Hill Townhouse Renovation Bigprototype

[Photos by Hannah Frishberg]

The Insider is Brownstoner’s in-depth look at a notable interior design/renovation project, by design journalist Cara Greenberg. The stories are original to Brownstoner; the photos may have been published before.

Got a project to propose for The Insider? Contact Cara at caramia447 [at] gmail [dot] com

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