The Insider: A Gowanus Wood-Frame House Doubles in Size, Discreetly

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The owners of this late-19th-century two-story wood-frame were ready to abandon their dream of adding square footage, after the first architect they consulted produced a design that would have been way beyond their budget.

But then they were introduced to Thomas Warnke, whose pared-down philosophy enabled the job to go forward at a price the couple could swallow. “I prefer clean and simple lines, not too many competing ideas in one project,” said Warnke, originally from Germany, who established his Brooklyn-based design practice, space4a, in 2007.

The existing house was 18 1/2 feet wide and 26 feet deep, just under 500 square feet per floor. Warnke designed a two-story extension at the back, adding another 450 square feet per floor and effectively doubling the size of the building.

He kept old materials wherever possible, including wide pine floorboards and a decorative tin ceiling, juxtaposing them with new materials like concrete and steel. The general contractor was Kowal Construction Corp. of Ridgewood, Queens.

Pictured in the top photo, the original structure wasn’t the full width of the property, but the new extension is. A slot window in the new addition, seen at the rear of the alley alongside the house, is the only clue from the street that the dwelling is no longer so tiny. The façade was painted a combination of Benjamin Moore‘s Deep Space and Black Panther.

Gowanus Brooklyn Wood Frame House Renovation

The staircase seen immediately upon entering is new, with steel stringers and wood treads. It replaces a closed staircase with an entrance to the basement underneath. “We relocated access to the basement in the new addition, so we were able to have this light, open stair,” Warnke said.

Gowanus-Brooklyn-Wood-Frame-House-Renovation

The original fireplace remains in the front room, now a spacious kitchen.The wide opening at the rear of the room is in the original back wall.

There’s a sink, fridge and pantry along the lefthand wall, as well as a small powder room and laundry, both added in this renovation. Along the righthand wall, a Corian countertop meets a counter made from recycled wood beams, with other old beams used for open shelving above.

The industrial range by Dacor, along with other nearly new, high-end appliances, were purchased at half-price when a house Warnke had previously designed was sold and the kitchen remodeled.

Gowanus Brooklyn Wood Frame House Renovation

Down three steps is the expansive, minimally furnished dining and living area on the ground floor of the new extension, measuring 20 feet by 19 feet, with a new concrete radiant heat floor.

Warnke designed the banquet-size table using a black walnut tabletop from BIG Reuse in Gowanus and a steel base made by Williamsburg-based Advance Steel Construction, which also fabricated the stair stringers, skylight frames and other metal details.

Gowanus Brooklyn Wood Frame House Renovation

A large sliding door opens to the backyard. On the left, a fixed window approximately the size of a door frames a view of greenery.

Gowanus Brooklyn Wood Frame House Renovation

The master bedroom on the upper floor of the new addition is flooded with light from south-facing windows. The room beyond, in the original part of the house, contains a library, home office and TV area.

Gowanus Brooklyn Wood Frame House Renovation

The remodeled master bath is partly in the original structure and partly in the new addition, the tub in the former and the shower, behind a frosted glass panel, in the latter.

Gowanus Brooklyn Wood Frame House Renovation

Gowanus Brooklyn Wood Frame House Renovation

An existing structure on the roof atop the original house, invisible from the street, was retained and is now a guest bedroom opening to a broad roof deck paved with concrete squares.

Gowanus Brooklyn Wood Frame House Renovation

The addition, seen from the rear, is “a clean, simple box,” Warnke said. “When you compare the front and back façades, you wouldn’t know it was the same house.” The rear wall is clad in Corten steel panels — a trend kicked off by the Barclays Center’s facade, as Brownstoner wrote about earlier this year — that are meant to rust, not just for appearance, but for weatherproofing.

Gowanus Brooklyn Wood Frame House Renovation

Gowanus-Brooklyn-Wood-Frame-House-Renovation

Gowanus Brooklyn Wood Frame House Renovation[Photos: Julieta Cervantes]

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? Please contact Cara at caramia447 at gmail dot com.

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