The Insider: Pretty Parlor Floor in Fort Greene


    This is The Insider, Brownstoner’s weekly report on a recent renovation/interior design project in the borough of Brooklyn. It’s written and produced by Cara Greenberg, who blogs at casaCARA: Old Houses for Fun and Profit. Find it here every Thursday at 11:30AM.

    WILLIAM CALEO’S BUSINESS is doing what he loves to do: renovate vintage townhouses. A former actor, he bought and refurbished his own Park Slope brownstone in 2004, later founding the Brooklyn Home Company with several partners. To date, most of TBHCo’s dozen or so projects have been traditional brownstones converted to floor-through apartments and sold as condominiums. There are two new-construction projects in the planning stages, including an 11-story building on Bergen Street between Third and Fourth Avenues.

    The Brooklyn Home Company is a one-stop shop with an artistic bent — a real-estate development company with its own in-house construction firm, architects, and design team, all the way up to sales and marketing. Caleo’s sister Lyndsay is the creative force behind the company’s interiors. When a project is ready for market, TBHCo will fully stage one unit per building with furnishings custom-designed for that unit, often by Fitzhugh Karol, a sculptor and furniture designer.

    Each unit in a TBHCo building is treated entirely separately — no cookie-cutter design here. “Every space has a certain spirit to it,” Lyndsay says, even when it’s little more than a shell. She sees her task as “getting the details right while respecting what’s already there,” re-using old brick and wood wherever possible. “They have a beautiful patina that took 100 years to acquire.”

    The parlor floor of this classic 1870s brownstone — a 20’x80′ building with lots of existing detail and an extension dating back almost to the time of its original construction — was part of the company’s first project. “I poured my guts into it,” Caleo says, even painstakingly going over the wide plank floors “probably ten or twelve times” with low-grit sandpaper. They sold the apartment to Lesley Townsend, who runs Manhattan Cocktail Classic, an annual cocktail festival. Lesley selected the paint finishes and furnishings, choosing to keep some of Fitzhugh’s imaginative pieces.

    Much more on the jump…

    Photos: Emily Gilbert

    The pier mirror and mantelpiece mirror with their original distressed glass were already painted but peeling badly; they were cleaned up and repainted. The metallic Venetian plaster wall treatment was done by Arlene McLoughlin, a local muralist. The leather armchair is a ‘Frankie’ chair from American Leather; the small brass and mirror coffee tables from Studio Mix, and the sofa (discontinued) from Design Within Reach.


    The antique dining chairs, upholstered with burlap grain sacks, are from Jayson Home and Garden, the custom dining table from Liza Sherman Antiques. The ostrich photograph is by Sharon Montrose, an L.A.-based photographer.

    The apartment’s wide-plank flooring was discovered under a scuffed and pockmarked later floor. It was sanded multiple times, then treated with Minwax dark walnut stain plus two coats of oil-based polyurethane in a satin finish. On the wall opposite the kitchen, Fitzhugh Karol built bar shelving and crafted the tree-trunk side table.


    The centrally located kitchen is what Bill Caleo calls ‘white Shaker,’ with painted wood cabinets from Rich Maid and white carrara marble countertops. There’s a washer in the island and a 24″ dryer in the cabinets at right. The Capital range, with a 36″ hood by Best by Broan, are brands TBHCo often uses. Kitchen stools came from Moon River Chattel in Williamsburg.


    The bathroom wallpaper is by Jill Malek, a Brooklyn designer. The pedestal sinks are from Toto; there’s basic white subway tile in the shower enclosure and inexpensive ($8/square foot) Ann Sacks tile on the floor.


    The apartment’s second bedroom, used as a den, was painted Benjamin Moore’s Affinity ‘Caponata,’ with gold metallic pinstripes by muralist Arlene McLoughlin. The atmospheric 1920s painting above the sofa shows the homeowner’s grandmother as she appeared in a Broadway show. The floors were given the same treatment as in the rest of the apartment, but they took the stain differently for a sort of tortoise-shell look.

    Fitzhugh Karol’s multi-drawer sideboard was the first of many similar ones he has since been commissioned to make.


    A custom mirror by Fitzhugh Karol reflects a glimpse of the bedroom at the rear of the apartment.


    If you’ve missed any installments of The Insider, you’ll find the entire archive right here.

    What's Happening