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:
- On the garden level, all walls came down to make way for a sleek modern kitchen, and the masonry back wall was replaced with glass to open the house completely to the garden.
- The original stair leading down from the parlor floor was walled off and claustrophobic. A new staircase with floating oak treads is light and airy, while a glass panel in lieu of a wall provides physical, but not visual, enclosure.
- There was just one small opening from the stair hall into the front parlor. “We created two openings into the front parlor and made them larger than the original,” said Neuhaus.
Later came interior design by Tamara Eaton, who reached into her bag of furniture tricks to enhance the sense of spaciousness begun in the renovation.
Plans, photographs, and details below.
On the garden level, an old-fashioned enclosed kitchen and stair hall were removed in favor of a continuous sweep of space.
On the parlor floor, a single stingy opening from the stair hall became two wider ones. A small sewing room at the back of the original house was removed, and the trim around its door repurposed for the new openings.
Intact Victorian plaster and wood moldings, along with original oak floors and stair balusters, remain on the parlor floor. Bulky furniture would have overstuffed the narrow space, so Eaton used pieces that are lightweight and easy to move around, including what she calls “skeletal” armchairs, and kidney-bean-shaped coffee tables from Oly Studio.
To save on the expense of stripping painted woodwork, the architect and homeowners decided to strip only the original pocket doors between the front and back parlors. Other moldings were repainted, though not without significant prep.
The compromise, which also keeps the small space from feeling too woodwork-heavy, satisfied everyone. (There’s a guest room behind the pocket doors.)
The new glass panel along the stairwell creates enclosure without sacrificing precious inches to a railing or solid wall.
The all-new kitchen is a thoroughly modern intervention, with a marble island and high-end appliances, including a Franke sink with Grohe faucets, a Sub-Zero fridge and Wolf range. The two outer glass panels at the rear of the house are fixed in place; the two central ones slide apart in opposite directions.
The dark wood of walnut veneer cabinetry helps integrate the new kitchen with the original woodwork upstairs.
The existing stone mantel and cast-iron fireplace insert in the garden floor’s dining and sitting area were stripped of white paint and given a wax finish, as was the fireplace on the floor above.
Photos by Jeffrey Kilmer
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.