The Insider: Every Object Tells a Story in Fort Greene Brownstone Lovingly Decorated by Owner

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James Deaver is not a professional designer; he’s an attorney. But that didn’t stop him from hands-on planning a major renovation of his beautifully intact circa 1870s brownstone, then confidently decorating with antiques and vintage modern pieces acquired over time. As such, the place feels very personal, and every picture and object has a story to tell.

“Every gay man thinks he can design his own home,” Deaver said. “I’m a lifelong fan of shelter magazines. Most of the ideas are stolen from Elle Decor, Architectural Digest and Verandah.”

A Los Angeles native who came to the East Coast for college and law school, Deaver lived in Manhattan for a while, moved to Brooklyn Heights in 2011 and bought his brownstone three years ago. He hired Philadelphia-based architect Mihoko Samejima and Alberto Renteria of Brooklyn’s Renteria Construction, and they were off.

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The house had been cut up into three apartments: a ramshackle studio on the garden level; a duplex on the parlor floor and the floor above, with a spiral staircase punched through to join them; and a floor-through on top. Deaver’s renovation created an owner triplex with a rental unit below.

Most of the mechanicals had been updated, the bathrooms were functional and there were new, energy-efficient windows. But although the house came with an extraordinary level of original detail, it wasn’t in great shape. “It was 90 percent there, but the building had seen a lot of hard life,” Deaver said. “It took two years of sanding, scraping, filling and artful restoration, and re-creating moldings as needed.”

When it came time to furnish, Deaver relied on pieces he’d had for 20 years, supplemented with some additional treasure hunting. “I love flea markets, consignment stores, estate auctions and the like. I found places for what I had accumulated over time and then wedged more things in. There’s a fine line between decorating and hoarding,” he said, “and I’m trying not to cross it.”

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The curvaceous sofa by Isamu Noguchi, a mid-20th century design, is from a 1980s reissue. “I bought it from a friend of mine, twice,” Deaver said. “He asked for it back, and then it came back to me a second time, covered in beautiful mohair.”

The Le Corbusier chrome-framed chairs are vintage 1960s from Cassina, with soft leather slipcovers made by an automobile upholsterer in Palm Springs.

A Venetian glass chandelier, found at a now-defunct Chelsea store, hangs from a plaster medallion original to the house. “It’s the kind of piece that could look terrible or marvelous. I was very pleased it did not turn out to be terrible,” Deaver said.

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The enormous pier mirror was purchased at Olde Good Things.

The red artwork, depicting Roy Rogers on Trigger, by the American artist Philip Simmons, sits above a 1970s minimalist steel sculpture from France.

The built-in bookcases on either side of the original etched-glass doors were fabricated by Brooklyn maker Jason Gandy of Aardvark Interiors.

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The brand new kitchen, painted Benjamin Moore’s Super White, was created from scratch. The main wall of appliances replaces two original closets.

Deaver also sacrificed a powder room in this area to accommodate all the cabinetry he wanted, including the large-scale peninsula. The millwork is custom, of painted wood with quartz backsplash and countertops.

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The millwork, which includes a bank of drawers and a cabinet filled with flea-market china, wraps from the kitchen into the dining area to create what Deaver called “an integrated rather than schizophrenic room.”

The marble mantelpiece, also found at Olde Good Things, replaced an absent one on the fireplace wall.

Benjamin Moore’s Temptation is a moody wall color that sets off the unusual furnishings, such as vintage school chairs from Brooklyn’s Holler & Squall and a table made from a banyan tree trunk.

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Books enliven a wall of the master bedroom, which also contains an inherited checkered wing chair and a pair of vintage 1960s lamps.

A new glass door leads out to a terrace that runs the width of the house.

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The master sitting/TV room is a mix of flea market and auction finds, including a seated Buddha and pony-skin Egg chair, along with a collection of framed photos and drawings, many by friends.

The mantel in this room is original.

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The stairs, illuminated by an Italian glass light fixture, are bare of carpet. The staircase was basically sound, Deaver said, except that “everything had slid slightly out of adjustment.” Gaps were filled and missing moldings were added. “Then we oiled the hell out of it and waxed it.”

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The top floor guest sitting room, painted a pale green from Farrow & Ball, is a “repository for interesting things that didn’t fit anywhere else,” Deaver said.

[Photos by Scott Wintrow / Gamut Photos]

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The Insider is Brownstoner’s weekly in-depth look at a notable interior design/renovation project, by design journalist Cara Greenberg. Find it here every Thursday morning.

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