A series of perplexing decisions confronted architect Drew Lang of Lang Architecture as he masterminded the renovation of a dark and dreary sliver of a brownstone, formerly three apartments, and turned it into a bright and airy dwelling for a family of former Manhattanites.
To name a few of the main challenges:
- how to retain historic character while giving his clients the open 21st-century home they wanted
- how to treat the front entry/parlor area in a building a mere 14 feet wide
- where to locate the kitchen, with space at such a premium.
In the top photo, a “laylight,” or glazed panel below the existing skylight, disguises the industrial-wire-glass original, as well as the fact that it is off-center.
The gut renovation, with all new windows, mechanicals and a largely rebuilt interior, was “a balance of restoration and modernization,” the Manhattan-based architect said. “It was a hard balance to strike, because the clients wanted to keep existing moldings and detail, but they also wanted to open the whole thing up.”
While Lang and his contractor, Creo Projects, removed a lot of walls — and hence a lot of trim — they reproduced and incorporated the profile of the original crown molding in replacement moldings wherever possible, and brought vintage features like the lovely curving staircase and marble mantels to a high level of polish.
Parts of this project were featured previously on Brownstoner and sparked so much interest, we thought it merited a closer look.
Ultimately, the parlor floor became a small living room with a custom window seat at the front and a spacious kitchen, with a new steel balcony and stairs leading down to the garden, at the rear.
“The biggest and most evident challenge had to do with the public entry,” Lang said. In a house only 14 feet wide, “you can’t create a distinct, separate entrance at the parlor level and at the same time have a nice well-proportioned room adjacent to it.”
“We wanted to retain the vestibule, and in order to do that, we had to balance it with something,” the architect said. “We went back and forth about what that space should be and ended up creating a cased opening with a window seat.”
While some houses on the block have parlor windows that go all the way down the floor, in this case it had already been shortened. “That made the decision easier,” Lang said.
The cornices on the ceiling are original to the house. New rift- and quarter-sawn white oak floors were sourced from the Hudson Company.
The staircase had been walled off to create a hallway when the building was used as a multi-family, but fortunately, not in a way that ruined it. Portions had to be shored up, but all in all it was in good shape.
The architect and clients considered putting the kitchen on the garden floor but ultimately placed it on the parlor level. “The clients saw themselves spending most of their time in the kitchen and wanted to be in the space with the highest ceilings and best light,” Lang said. “It was worth giving up direct access to the garden in order to get that.”
Lang removed most of the rear wall on both parlor and garden levels and inserted a new wall of steel-framed windows with a vintage industrial aesthetic by Brooklyn’s A&S Windows.
The kitchen is laid out along the side walls of the room, with banks of custom cabinets by cabinetmaker Brendan Mckeever, painted a warm gray, on either side. Each has a sink, countertops and backsplash of blue-gray pietra cardosa sandstone from Stone Source.
The master bedroom has restored pine floors.
The wood floor of the master bath and a vintage tub provide warm contrast to the marble tile of the shower, a herringbone-patterned Calacatta marble from Urban Archaeology. The rainhead shower is from Watermark.
The graceful original staircase extends all the way down to the garden level, where the floors were painted white. There’s a mud room, family/TV room and home office on the ground floor, opening to a flagstone-paved terrace.
The Insider is Brownstoner’s weekly 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? Please contact Cara at caramia447 at gmail dot com.
[Photos by Ty Cole]
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