11 Brooklyn Creatives Make a Townhouse Their Own

Clockwise from top left, photos by Michel Arnaud, David A. Land, Lesley Unruh, Michel Arnaud, David A. Land

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    Here are the stories of 11 creative Brooklynites and their families who took on the renovation and decoration of an historic Brooklyn townhouse and adapted it to suit their own modern lives. Each property posed its own challenges — including rentals, one that was chopped up into apartments, and another that was a dilapidated, uninhabitable wreck.

    Each story first appeared in Brownstoner magazine. The results are as unique as their inhabitants. All mix the modern and the antique, yet defy trends and easy categorization.

    Avent-deLeon

    Avent-deLeon at home. Photo by Michel Arnaud

    Creative Life: Family and Community Inspire Bed Stuy’s Kai Avent-deLeon

    Minimalism gets a bad rap. When you’re talking about a home, it’s a word that connotes austerity, a lack of humor, a disinterest in comfort. In practice, though, minimalism doesn’t have to be the inverse of softness, warmth, welcome—the attributes most would agree we want in our homes. Kai Avent-deLeon’s Bed Stuy apartment is instructive: minimal but inviting, uncluttered but rich, understated but also distinctly unboring.

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    Visual stimulation is turned up to the max on a wall of the living room, whose art includes a “numeralism” collage by New York artist Suzi Matthews and a fiber wall hanging by L.A.-based craftsperson Tanya Aguiñiga. Photo by Michel Arnaud

    Fun and Games: Wall-to-Wall Art, Vibrant Color Set Brooklyn Heights Townhouse Apart From the Rest

    The hot pink stair rail, egg-yolk-yellow radiators and cabbage rose wallpaper on the ceiling in the front hall are a dead giveaway that this is not a conventional Brooklyn Heights townhouse. “Fearless” is how one of the homeowners describes its freewheeling style. “We like what we like, and don’t care if it ‘goes,’” says her husband.

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    The gold sofa is vintage. Both paintings are by Barnett; the rug is her design. Photo by Lesley Unruh

    Designer Malene Barnett Goes Full Spectrum With Color in Her Bed Stuy House

    You can’t judge a book by its cover, but with its turquoise door and yellow stairs, the facade of Malene Barnett’s Bed Stuy home tells you something about what awaits inside. “That was my way of giving you the sense that you’re going to enter something a little different,” says Barnett. “I wanted it to feel like I was in the Caribbean. That’s my way of reminding myself of my goal,” she adds with a laugh, “to have a house in the Caribbean.”

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    Furnishings in the front parlor are a blend of antiques inherited from his parents and grandparents, like the tall 18th century English cabinet in the corner, and her pedigreed mid-century modern pieces, including an orange Eero Saarinen Womb chair and ottoman and a Harry Bertoia Bird chair, also with its ottoman. A 1950s Swedish glass chandelier reflects the homeowners’ interest in combining antique and modern. Photo by Lesley Unruh

    Divine Pairing: Bed Stuy Townhouse Is a ‘Very Personal Mash-up’ of the Antique and the Modern

    In an 1890s Bed Stuy row house with exceptional details and furnishings that span three centuries, there is nothing that is not of decorative or historic interest. It was the extent of the woodwork that finally sealed the deal, blackened though it was from 125 years of paint, shellac and plain old grime. “The woodwork was at least 90 percent intact, and it’s really the reason we bought the house,” says the female member of the couple who, in 2009, purchased the four-story row house, then just a step up from an S.R.O., or single-room occupancy, on one of Stuyvesant Heights’ most garden-proud blocks.

    kathryn scott

    The credenza and coffee table were both custom made in China; the top of the latter is carved from one piece of white Chinese marble. The credenza is topped with old library lamps. ” I do have shades that go inside, but I actually like them better as skeletons,” Scott says. Photo by David A. Land

    Wondrous Beauty: Inside the Brooklyn Heights Home of Artist and Designer Kathryn Scott

    Kathryn Scott’s gracious Brooklyn Heights brownstone is not what most people think of when they imagine a “starter home.” But strictly speaking, it is. The home is five floors; Scott purchased the third and fourth as her first apartment, in 1986; years later, she bought the parlor and garden floors as a home for her mother; in 2006, she bought the top floor apartment. Upon her mother’s passing, Scott combined all but the top floor into a single home.

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    French Art Deco armchairs, faux shagreen coffee tables and framed art matted in white provide a pale contrast to walls the color of bitter chocolate. The yellow artwork is by the well-known American artist Donald Baechler. Photo by Matthew Williams

    Designer Glenn Gissler’s Sophisticated Brooklyn Heights Duplex Is a Repository of Art and Antiques

    When interior designer Glenn Gissler went apartment hunting six years ago, the longtime Manhattanite had been to Brooklyn very few times before. He was astounded by the charm and amenities he found in the upper duplex of a circa 1890 row house in central Brooklyn Heights. “The apartment exceeded my list of ‘must haves,’” Gissler said, recalling his initial reaction. “You mean I can have all this — two floors, a fireplace, a washer–dryer and a terrace — 10 minutes from Greenwich Village?!”

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    A painting of Queen Nzinga Mbande of Angola hangs to the left of the living room mantel. The home’s decor blends modern touches with older details, like the original plasterwork the couple preserved. Photo by David A. Land

    Striking Art and Playful Inventiveness Create Comfortable Clinton Hill Home

    A designer’s home is both her calling card and her workshop, but the most important thing, at least to Delia Kenza Brennen, is that it feel like home — a place where she, her husband, and their two daughters can be comfortable. This was especially important at their Clinton Hill townhouse, a property that has been in her family going back several generations.

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    Photo by Matthew Williams

    A Clinton Hill Brownstone Reflects a Young Family’s History and Values

    A Clinton Hill brownstone where a young family lives is quite intentionally the embodiment of their family values. Growing up in an area of Westchester one of the homeowners describes as “not diverse at all,” she felt torn between two different worlds of her upbringing — one black, the other white.


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    Photo by Michel Arnaud

    A Brownstone Dweller Brings Back the Glorious Details on a Distinguished Bed Stuy Block

    The classic Brooklyn brownstone has undergone an astonishing renaissance in recent years, essentially supplanting the deluxe apartment in the sky in the popular imagination’s ideal of urban living. But Daniel Thompson isn’t some recent convert; he’s a Victorianist born and bred.

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    Photo by Michel Arnaud

    A Boerum Hill House Proves a Good Luck Charm for “Talk Stoop” Host Cat Greenleaf and Family

    In New York, it often seems as if good and bad luck starts with where one lives. It’s not uncommon, for example, to hear people describe landing a great apartment as the stroke of good fortune that finally shifted their New York trajectory, the catalyst for a long string of future joys and success (or else, as the source of ongoing agita). But few homes have played as decisive and direct a role in their inhabitants’ professional rise at Cat Greenleaf’s brick townhouse in Boerum Hill.

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    Photo by David A. Land

    Pattern Play: Creative Family of Four Makes Warm and Colorful Home in Central Brooklyn

    People love to make dire pronouncements to soon-to-be parents. They’re usually some version of you’ll never sleep again but one I remember particularly well came from a visitor to our home taking in all the bric-a-brac and declaring that, obviously, we’d soon childproof and redecorate ourselves toward respectable, parental blandness.

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