The Insider: Family Restores, Reinvigorates Bed Stuy Brownstone — Starting With the Woodwork

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Talk about dark woodwork. The longtime owners of this three-story row house had painted all the moldings and trim black. Most walls were dark red, except for the kitchen, which was lime green.

“The woodwork had layers and layers of caked-on paint,” said Sonya Lee, a LEED-certified architect licensed in three states, who was hired by new homeowners to bring the house into the modern age for their family of four. “You couldn’t see the remarkable carving. Restoring all that was really what brought life back to this house.”

The renovation, however, was far from purely cosmetic. The structure needed some repair, plumbing and electrical was replaced throughout, all the back windows are new, the parquet floor required extensive matching and patching, and the kitchen and baths did indeed need total gutting.

“The house had had a lot of poor, ad hoc renovations over time and had taken quite a bit of abuse,” the architect said. “We wanted to be historically sensitive and bring back what was authentic, but in areas where there was clearly nothing we could bring back, like the kitchen, we brought in the modern life the clients wanted.”

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But it was the stripping of the woodwork, all done by craftsmen working on site, that took the most time. “It took eight hours to remove paint off just one door frame, eight hours per side on each door,” Lee said. They discovered three different types of wood throughout the house: mahogany, white oak and pine. “We took away all the paint and grime, then carefully used a light stain to bring back the warmth.”

The lightening of the woodwork, plus liberal use of white paint, transformed the darkest and dreariest of houses into a bright, practical family home, without sacrificing — in fact, enhancing — the beauty of the building’s historic fabric.

The rooms on the parlor floor remained intact, with all their original detail. The front room is used as a living/TV room, while the elegant rear parlor, which has bay windows overlooking the garden, is conceived as a library/sitting room.

The ground floor kitchen is wholly new. The adjacent dining room retains a great deal of detail, including stained glass panels. Upstairs are two bedrooms and two entirely new baths.

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Sonya Lee Bed Stuy

Parquet floors throughout the house were severely water-damaged in many places. “When we first lifted the moldy red carpet, we were happy to discover this beautiful wood flooring,” Lee recalled. Then they realized how much of it was in need of repair and replacement.

Elegant Interiors Flooring painstakingly cut pieces of parquet and “amberized” the wood to match the existing.

Benjamin Moore paint colors include Rodeo on wainscoting, Chantilly Lace on the ornate stair balusters and Kendall Charcoal on the stairs.

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Sonya Lee Bed Stuy

Furnishings belonging to the homeowners are in a contemporary and classic modern vein.

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Sonya Lee Bed Stuy

Pocket doors on the parlor floor were found to be intact and functioning. They were even able to clean and re-use about three-quarters of the original hardware, with the remainder salvaged to match.

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Sonya Lee Bed Stuy

Lee specified Isamu Noguchi’s Akari pendant lights for the two parlors.

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Sonya Lee Bed Stuy

The downstairs dining room is laden with period detail, all painted white, including paneled wainscoting, door trim, original built-ins with stained glass panels and decorative plasterwork on the ceiling.

All the original mantels had disappeared form the house long ago; the mantel in the dining room was salvaged from another house of similar vintage.

The modernistic ‘Waterloo’ chandelier is from Park Studio LA.

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Sonya Lee Bed Stuy

A poorly constructed powder room and laundry room were removed to open up space for a wholly new kitchen with custom white oak cabinetry on the garden level.

“Because the homeowners cook quite a bit and entertain in the kitchen, and the kids play here, we wanted to make sure it was a bright and light area that felt comfortable,” Lee said.

They used white upper cabinets and kept the ground neutral to mitigate low ceilings. Concealed appliances help create a “very minimal, clean interior,” the architect said.

A trio of matte black Caravaggio pendant lights hangs above Dupont Zodiaq countertops.

New wood windows and a single lite glass door from Anderson admit maximum light.

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Sonya Lee Bed Stuy

Pivoting pocket doors conceal a work/play station in the kitchen.

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Sonya Lee Bed Stuy

Large gray porcelain tiles from Nemo Tile clad the kitchen floor.

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Sonya Lee Bed Stuy

Worn woodwork in the third floor bedrooms was painted white.

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Sonya Lee Bed Stuy

Fabric decals from Pop and Lolli decorate the children’s room. The pendant light came from Ay Illuminate.

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Sonya Lee Bed Stuy

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Sonya Lee Bed Stuy

Both top-floor bathrooms — one with a tub and the other with a shower — have similar fixtures and finishes, including Grohe fixtures and Duravit sinks on custom teak vanities.

Cement floor tile is ‘Diamond Twist’ from Clé. The Daro tub from Duravit is surrounded by a Corian tub apron and deck.

The architect spec’d pendant lights from Plumen for both baths.

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Sonya Lee Bed Stuy

Can’t imagine the extent of the transformation? Check out some “before” photos, below.

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Sonya Lee Bed Stuy

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Sonya Lee Bed Stuy

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Sonya Lee Bed Stuy

[Photos (except “before” images) by Mark Wickens]

Check out the new ‘The Insider’ mini-site: brownstoner.com/the-insider

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. Got a project to propose for The Insider? Contact Cara at caramia447 [at] gmail [dot] com.

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