Brownstone Boys Reno: Separating the Owner’s Duplex From the Garden Apartment

Original detail could be lost if we build a wall

Editor’s note: Welcome to the seventh installment of Brownstone Boys Reno, a reader renovation diary. We’re excited to publish their tale of buying and renovating a brownstone in Bed Stuy. See the first one here. They also blog at

Our building has a few interesting challenges that we need to solve as we complete the design. We’ve been working on one situation and we have some ideas but we haven‘t fully decided how to resolve it yet.

Our building is configured as a garden-level one-bedroom rental with a duplex on the parlor and top floors. The garden-level entrance under the stoop opens up into a common hallway with a staircase that goes up to the parlor level. The one bedroom apartment is self contained and there is a door off the common hallway.

The issue is that if our future tenant climbs the stairs from the common area he or she will be in our duplex apartment. So a wall has to be built. We’re trying to decide where.

brownstone boys

The original floor plans

We’re not excited about building a wall. We want it to be the least intrusive to the space as possible and for it to seem like it belongs there. There are also some really nice original details on the banister and stairs that we would potentially lose with some of the options. Closing the stairs up all together is also not an option because we would like access to the basement where we will have the laundry.

We’re hoping some of you may have had a similar problem that you’ve already solved or may just have some great ideas!

brooklyn design

The hallway from the duplex level that needs to be configured

Here are some options we’re considering:

Option A — Build the wall on the parlor level under the main stairs. With this option the wall would be on our level. We could extend the wall down from the bottom of the staircase to the floor so that you can see into the stairwell that goes to the parlor level. There would be a door at the top of the stairs. We think this option could look like it belong there, especially if we match the moldings and woodwork that is on the bottom of the stairs. It also has the advantage of hiding what would be a dark staircase to a closed door. If we choose option A the drawback is that we are closing in space on the duplex level. We would also lose some nice detailing and would need to remove the banister that separates the parlor hallway from the stairs below.

brooklyn design

The hallway view from the garden apartment

Option B — Build the wall on the garden level along the garden level stairs. We could keep the openness in the duplex stairwell and entry. We could also keep the parlor level details and banister intact. The drawback is that the lower stairs that would be visible from the parlor hallway would be closed in and lead to a closed and locked door. It has the potential to be dark unless we figured out a way to cleverly light it. We would also need to completely remove the banister from the lower stairs. Instead there would be a wall with a simple handrail.

brooklyn design

We are thinking of extending the wall to where the stairs are

Option C — Build a wall at the garden level entrance. This option would be nice as it wouldn’t require us to alter the stairs or banister at all. We could just build a wall in the garden level common hallway that would separate the stairs from the part of the hallway that the tenants have access to. So far we have not been able to figure out how to do this without reconfiguring the garden apartment. The current door is too far back to be able to build a wall in a place that makes sense.

Options A and B seem to be the most viable. We aren’t particularly excited about either of them but we need to separate the apartments. Are there possibilities we haven’t thought of? Or should we go with one of these? Let us know what you think!

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