Here’s a jaw-dropper of an 1883 brownstone that was restored and tricked out with Victorian-style appointments by the guy who literally wrote the book on restoring brownstones — or the journal at least. That would be Clem Labine, who bought this house, at 199 Berkeley Place in Park Slope, over 50 years ago and subsequently founded Old-House Journal (“Restoration and Maintenance Techniques for the Antique House”).
Labine and the other restoration pioneers of the day who came to be known as “brownstoners” were “part of a growing movement to take back the housing stock of the city; the row houses and the brownstones,” Brownstoner columnist Suzanne Spellen wrote.
The house now up for sale — an SRO when Labine bought it, in a neighborhood that at the time had many a rough edge — is a highly distinctive property that shows the fruits of Labine’s slavish efforts in every room. “A 19th-century ornamental wonderland,” the Times called it in a writeup Sunday. Its rooms are also among a select handful of residences chosen to illustrate the brownstoner bible, Charles Lockwood’s “Bricks and Brownstones.”
Perhaps most striking is the custom stenciling, murals and period wallpaper on the walls and ceilings. Note the handprinted friezes and ceiling medallion in the front parlor, aka the “Peacock Parlor,” inspired, the listing tells us, by Whistler’s Peacock Room in the Freer Gallery in Washington, D.C., and awash in peacock imagery, down to the custom peacock-feather carpet.
Or note the dining room, with its sunflower motif, or the second-floor library, the “Athenaem,” whose walls and ceiling are adorned by a collage of Victorian reproduction wallpapers.
The house is awash in lovingly restored original detail, as you might imagine: walnut-burl wainscoting, built-in china cabinets, marble and mahogany mantels (including one with pictorial Minton tiles), stained glass, original hardware, loads of carved woodwork, marble sinks. And it’s stocked with antique light fixtures, including a Tiffany lamp and many chandeliers.
A legal two-family, the house is set up as a single residence, with six potential bedrooms on the upper floors. There’s a smallish kitchen in an extension on the parlor floor, with a tin ceiling, open wood shelving and appliances that are not Victorian reproductions.
There’s a rear garden that’s been given the same care as the interior, and sports gravel pathways, a waterfall, a “babbling brook” and a fish pond.
Listed by Annie Rose and Ron Emenheiser of Brown Harris Stevens, the house is asking $3.895 million, a good deal more than the $25,000 Labine paid for it in the late 1960s.
What will happen to it now is an interesting question. It would seem a shame to renovate away the distinctive elements of Labine’s labor of love; on the other hand, not every buyer wants to live in a museum-like period piece. What would you do with it?
- Find Your Dream Home in Brooklyn and Beyond With the New Brownstoner Real Estate
- Walkabout: The Care and Feeding of Old Houses, Part 1
- The House That Helped Launch a Brownstone Revolution Is for Sale