The Insider, Brownstoner’s weekly peek at how Brooklynites renovate and decorate their homes, is written and produced by Cara Greenberg.
Asked to describe her decorating style, the owner of this detail-laden 1890s row house shot back: “Mom, Dad, and Grandma.” By the time she and her husband bought the building in March 2009 and spent half again as much restoring its fine woodwork, plasterwork, stained glass, and other details — not to mention all-new mechanicals, windows, and a roof — there was little left over for furnishing. No matter: both come from families possessed of taste and generosity.
Her dad was an architect with a fondness for 20th century modern; his was a historian and antique collector. Much of their parents’ and grandparents’ bounty landed here, following the couple — she’s a graphic designer, he owns a wine store in Manhattan — from their Carroll Gardens rental, where they lived before embarking on the year-long quest that led to this lovely block just outside the Stuyvesant Heights historic district.
A legal two-family being used as a four when they bought it, it is now a single-family residence with a home office on the ground floor and a triplex above. They demolished existing kitchens and baths and re-purposed those spaces, installed two-and-a-half new baths and a new kitchen, and removed walls to create a building-wide master bedroom and a charming, garret-like office/library upstairs.
The most laborious task was stripping “many, many layers of shellac and paint” off the outstanding late-Victorian woodwork throughout the house, including an over-the-top carved oak staircase in the entry hall, as well as mirrors, moldings, doors, and fireplace mantels.
A resource list of tradespeople appears at the end of this post.
Two dozen more photos on the jump…
Photos: Cara Greenberg
The 20’x45′ sandstone house was built as part of a group of five similar houses, probably by developer Frederick B. Norris around 1893.
Like the rest of the house’s original woodwork, the oak in the entry hall was caked with paint and shellac. After stripping and refinishing with tung oil, it gleams. Pine subfloors, sanded and polyurethaned, run throughout much of the house.
The elaborately carved staircase is in remarkable shape, preserved as it was by layers of paint.
Plaster crown and other decorative molding was restored and walls skim-coated throughout the house. The flooring in the parlor — oak strips on the diagonal, with a simple border — was re-laid after a long-ago fire. The velvet sofa and Oriental rugs are among the genteel family hand-me-downs.
An impressive floor-to-ceiling oak mirror in the front parlor reflects the one in the entry hall. The couple bought the 1950s chandelier by Erik Hoglund direct from Sweden. “I wouldn’t want to live in a place that was completely antique or completely modern,” says one of the homeowners. “A combination of the two is a must.”
More modern: the Harry Bertoia bird chair and ottoman and Eero Saarinen Womb chair are the real vintage thing.
Like all the mantels in the house, the one in the dining room at the rear of the parlor floor combines woodwork and mottled ceramic tile. 200-year-old French Provincial dining chairs are covered with Weiner Werkstatte fabric.
The new kitchen, in an alcove at the rear of the parlor floor, is sleek and white, with carrara marble countertops, Italian plastic cabinetry from European Kitchen Center, and a refrigerator tucked into a former closet.
The homeowners have the luxury of space, enough to turn one of the third floor bedrooms into a dressing room, with a 19th century sleigh bed, a mirror and crystal chandelier from the Paris flea market, and an armoire bought years ago in an Atlantic Avenue antique shop. It’s topped with a bird cage found at Manhattan’s Triple Pier Expo.
A salvaged sink came with its original hardware. The mirror and sconces are also vintage. There’s a new walk-in shower, and wonderful floor tiles from Mosaic House.
The master bedroom runs the full width of the building, with a suzani-covered bed and yellow silk sofa. Like the fireplace in the dressing room next door, this one has a metal insert with a woodsy scene.
The tile in the top floor bathroom, formerly an apartment kitchen, is also from Mosaic House; the pedestal sink came from New York Old Iron Works. The claw foot tub was found elsewhere in the house.
The top floor guest room has a brass bed and vintage Knoll dresser; the witty rug is from CB2.
The male half of the couple has his own dressing room, above, in a central pass-through between the two rooms on the top floor.
The front room on the top floor is also his domain, furnished with a desk, chaise, and other antique pieces passed down from family members. A wall of bookshelves fits neatly into an area that was once a bathroom.
Architect / John Hatheway / 718-855-4414
General contractor / M&S Construction / 646-436-4705
Decorative plaster restoration / Jason Kuriloff, Kevin Perez /718-596-8309,
Wood stripping and refinishing / Khem Brady / 917-685-1807
Stained glass restoration / Sunburst Studio / 718-768-6360