It was supposed to be just a light renovation, something to clean up the look of this century-old Red Hook townhouse. But the new homeowners, real estate agent Chris Sheller and interior designer Kate Gray, soon discovered the thrills and pitfalls of gutting an older home — as well as the satisfying results.
After living in Red Hook for more than a decade, Sheller was ready to buy. He soon found a home for just the right size and price. The two-story 1,700-square-foot house needed some work — awkward partition walls closed off the space and the kitchen hadn’t been touched in years.
The initial plan was to install a new kitchen, fix up the bathrooms, paint, and maybe do something about those partition walls. But soon after demo started on the wood-frame home, the old plan went out the window.
“To do the home justice, we weren’t going to do it halfway,” Sheller told Brownstoner. “Once we started tearing walls apart, we saw there was so much more that needed to be done.”
A quick peek into the top-floor ceiling revealed an extra 3 feet of space. So down it came. Soon, the entire home was taken down to the studs and original clapboard, inside and out. “I’ve heard these homes are built to last 100 years and you have to rebuild ’em to last another 100,” Sheller told us.
A new roof went up — in addition to the new facade, windows, floors and stairs. No corner of the home was left untouched.
The pair worked with general contractor RGR Construction for the bulk of the work, along with Taferra Fine Building and Finishes and as Bednarz Construction for the finish carpentry. Kevin Byrne was the architect of record.
“I wanted the interior to feel bright, airy and comfortably casual,” said Gray, who served as the home’s architectural and interior designer. “The creative details add depth and texture in small doses.”
When choosing new materials and finishes, Gray made sure to go with details they’d be proud of. The home’s simple color palette repeats throughout, and because the space gets great light, Gray wasn’t afraid of adding some dramatic darker colors. While the dominant color scheme is white with touches of slate blue, the radiators and kitchen cabinets are painted black.
In the kitchen, Sheller and Gray made room for custom millwork, as well as high-end appliances. The kitchen backsplash tile is handmade from Urban Archaeology. Brass handles from Rejuvenation and wooden shaker knobs pop in front of the dark cabinets.
The open shelves and eating bar were made out of floor joists salvaged from a house in Cobble Hill. Honed Sugar White Marble runs along the long counter, while Calacatta Gold tops the shorter counter opposite.
Because the duo opted to keep just one bathroom upstairs, they decided to make it as luxurious as possible.
A glass wall separates the shower and the tub areas, surrounded by a specially troweled concrete wall treatment. The concrete work was done by a neighbor — a former plasterer — who came out of retirement just to do the job.
The vanity was designed by Gray — with a custom frame built by carpenter Erik Gonzalez and an Ikea drawer unit in the center to save on custom mill work costs. The top is marble. The feet are from Superfront, a Swedish company that sells interesting accessories for Ikea cabinetry.
The DIY mosaic on the bathroom floor — which Gray laid out by hand — was a way to get a creative result with simple porcelain tiles and a little ingenuity.
Other creative touches add character as well as functionality. The stairway’s rope handrail was a way to stay within the budget without using something generic — and it conjures Red Hook’s waterfront past.
“The staircase isn’t that wide and it’s nice that rope is a soft surface that doesn’t intrude into the walking space,” Gray told us. “Also, Red Hook has a nautical history that we felt tied nicely to the choice.”
They may have caught the reno bug — the duo’s thinking ahead, telling Brownstoner they’re already “starting to get our wheels turning on a couple future projects.”
[Photos by Carl Wooly and Chris Sheller]
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