The Insider: Architect Tucks a Modern Interior Behind a Victorian Façade in Fort Greene

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It’s not what you’d expect to find behind the painted shingles of an 1860s wood-frame house with a peaked roof and an old-fashioned front porch: a detail-free interior, informed by modernist principles of space and light.

By the time Alexander Stoltz and Amy Chase of SA-DA Architecture acquired the Fort Greene house for their family in a 2011 estate sale, it had been used as an SRO for decades and had suffered “the depths of neglect,” as Stoltz, a licensed architect who grew up in SoHo and got his degree from MIT, put it. Chase, an Atlanta native, has a Masters from Pratt in interior design.

“I actually do believe beautiful details should be preserved, but this house had practically zero,” Stoltz said. “The roof was leaking and ready to fall in. It was in such terrible shape, all we could save were two fireplaces.”

“We had a very limited budget and redoing plaster moldings was not in the cards, so we took a stripped-down approach,” in keeping with the firm’s aesthetic on other residential and development projects in Brooklyn, Harlem and eastern Long Island.

A gut renovation was called for. Structural work came first. “We had to replace most of the beams throughout the house,” Stoltz said. “Some were bowing by as much as seven inches in the middle.”

The NYC Landmarks Commission had a say in their plans. The front was easy. “The houses on either side were built at the same time and their details were intact, so we just matched our neighbors,” said the homeowner/architect. They removed a concrete stoop and rebuilt the porch.

At the rear of the house, they sought permission for a two-story extension. Landmarks restricted them to a depth of only 12-1/2 feet, so as not to exceed the size of the extension on the house next-door, bringing the 20-foot-wide house to a total length of about 47 feet.

The addition, made of concrete block and wood, expands the ground-floor rental apartment and increases square footage on the parlor floor of the owner triplex, where Stoltz and Chase live with their two school-age children.

On the top floor, with Landmarks’ permission, they raised the roof as the neighbors to one side had already done. This allowed them to create a real room, now the master bedroom, at the rear of the building, where once the roofline had pitched steeply almost to the floor.

Stoltz saved money by acting largely as his own general contractor, collaborating with Phil Bird of The English Painting Company.

Interior Design Ideas: Brooklyn Townhouse Renovation SA-DA Architecture

Interior Design Ideas: Brooklyn Townhouse Renovation SA-DA Architecture

Front façade, before and after. The new stoop, newel posts, porch columns and balusters, along with the front door and the brackets under the eaves, were all matched to the neighbors’ on either side, whose original detail was intact.

New double-hung windows throughout the house are from Marvin.

Interior Design Ideas: Brooklyn Townhouse Renovation SA-DA Architecture

Interior Design Ideas: Brooklyn Townhouse Renovation SA-DA Architecture

Another salvageable remnant was the bottom (just the bottom) of the original mahogany newel post in the front hall. The rest of the staircase is new, including the walnut stair rail and simple painted balusters. The English Painting Company reconstructed the stringers, risers and treads; NE&WS of Maspeth, Queens, fabricated the railings and balusters.

Paintings throughout the house are by Stoltz’s mother, the noted artist Louise Peabody.

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Townhouse Renovation SA-DA Architecture

The kitchen is at the front of the parlor floor, with cabinets and counters by Henrybuilt. Appliances were sourced from another job, where clients of the couple were redoing a kitchen. “That’s how we got a $12,000 SubZero fridge for free,” Stoltz said.

Pendant lights above the sink came from the Jamie Young Company.

Interior Design Ideas: Brooklyn Townhouse Renovation SA-DA Architecture

The pendant light in the central dining area is from Luceplan.

Interior Design Ideas: Brooklyn Townhouse Renovation SA-DA Architecture

Interior Design Ideas Brooklyn Townhouse Renovation SA-DA Architecture

Interior Design Ideas: Brooklyn Townhouse Renovation SA-DA Architecture

The main living space, with large mahogany-framed windows, is at the rear of the parlor floor. (The garden can be glimpsed here in its “before” state.)

Interior Design Ideas: Brooklyn Townhouse Renovation SA-DA Architecture

Williamsburg-based WR Woodworking built the clean-lined custom cabinetry in the living room and hallway.

Flooring is inexpensive tongue in groove “character grade” walnut, refinished with tung oil for a richer look.

Interior Design Ideas: Brooklyn Townhouse Renovation SA-DA Architecture

The second floor has two bedrooms and a bath, where Stoltz and Chase used wood-grain-patterned OraItaliana wall and floor tiles from Stone Source. The sink is from Duravit.

Interior Design Ideas: Brooklyn Townhouse Renovation SA-DA Architecture

Interior Design Ideas: Brooklyn Townhouse Renovation SA-DA Architecture

The top-floor room in front, under the peaked roof, is used as a cozy den.

Interior Design Ideas: Brooklyn Townhouse Renovation SA-DA Architecture

In the master bath on the top floor, marble tile from Stone Source was used as wainscoting; fixtures are Duravit.

Interior Design Ideas: Brooklyn Townhouse Renovation SA-DA Architecture

Interior Design Ideas: Brooklyn Townhouse Renovation SA-DA Architecture

Before and after photos of the rear façade show the dramatic improvement made by raising the roof and adding the extension.

Interior Design Ideas: Brooklyn Townhouse Renovation SA-DA Architecture

Brooklyn-based garden designer Julie Cummings created both plantings and hardscaping, including a bluestone patio and fieldstone bench with a bluestone top.

The English Painting Company built the horizontal cedar fence.

Interior Design Ideas: Brooklyn Townhouse Renovation SA-DA Architecture

[Photos by Alexander Stoltz]

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.

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

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