WELCOME to The Outsider, Brownstoner’s weekly exploration of the many and varied ways Brooklynites approach their green spaces. Written and produced by Cara Greenberg, you can find it here every Sunday at 8AM.


A 2,000-SQUARE-FOOT BACKYARD, shared by three buildings, was overgrown and mostly neglected space until Andrea Solk, a LEED-certified architect and recent West Coast transplant, spent the better part of this spring working to reclaim it. Solk, a renter in one of the buildings, is trying, with the owners’ permission, to “transform it without any intention beyond growing vegetables and making a nice space for everyone to hang out in.”

She’s had the help of assorted folks who’ve pitched in at weekend work parties, and the benefit of advice from Andrea Parker, Julia Price, and Maggie Hansen, all practicing Brooklyn-based landscape architects who consulted on such matters as how to deal with existing contaminated soil.

One of the initial tasks was removing dirt from buried pieces of slate and flagstone to uncover a patio area. In order to grow edible food, they built raised beds out of wood and salvaged brick, filling them with fresh soil and compost. Two cubic yards of imported topsoil at $35/yard has been the main expense to date, along with some Greenmarket veggie starters and a few bags of compost. “It’s incredibly low-budget,” Solk says.

Clusters of clay pots, plastic buckets, and “anything we could find” are filled with broccoli, sprouts, cabbage, tomatoes, eggplants, and herbs. At the rear of the lot, where there’s daylong sun, Solk plans to put more wooden beds with tomatoes, cukes, squash, melons, and other summer veggies that need a lot of sunlight. There are flowers as well, including bachelors buttons and foxgloves, along with rose bushes that have been there all along. Right now, watering is done by hose and watering can, but Solk hopes to put in a drip irrigation system.

The photos in this post were taken in late April. “It was very undefined space,” says Solk. “Now it’s starting to look like a cared-for garden.”

Photos: Andrea Solk


WELCOME to The Insider, a weekly interior design/renovation series by Cara Greenberg. Find it on Brownstoner every Thursday at 11:30; and don’t forget The Outsider, our new garden series, every Sunday morning at 8.

This post is sponsored by Open Air Modern.

Open Air Modern offers authentic mid-century furniture along with out-of-print design, photography, and art books.

THIS SUPER-MODERN TAKE on the Brooklyn row house archetype is one of eight unique places on the 25th BOERUM HILL HOUSE TOUR, happening this Sunday, June 3, from 1-5PM. On a State Street lot many will remember as the site of a tragic gas explosion that reduced a brownstone to rubble, the lot remained vacant for years until Ben and Christine Hansen, both architects, acquired it in 2009 and designed a replacement.

Outside the boundaries of the Boerum Hill Historic District, the Hansens were free to design a strikingly modernist home for themselves and their two children. With a zinc-clad front bay and large steel-framed windows, the house stands out visually among other townhouses on the block, relating to them with its familiar high stoop and placement of the front door.

All-steel construction allows for flowing spaces inside, with large openings between rooms, 11-foot ceilings, and different-size footprints from floor to floor. On the 20’x40′ garden level, there’s a family/play room, plus guest room and bath. The 20’x50′ parlor level has a living room in front and kitchen/dining in back. On the 20’x40′ second floor are two children’s bedrooms with a bath in between. The master suite is on the 20’x32′ top floor.

Above: Rear view of the townhouse, with its cantilevered kitchen extension.

More photos and details, including a list of major suppliers, after the jump.

Photos: Francis Dzikowski

Join us here every Thursday at 11:30AM for The Insider, Brownstoner’s weekly in-depth look at interior design and renovation in the borough of Brooklyn. It’s written and produced by Cara Greenberg, who blogs at casaCARA: Old Houses for Fun & Profit.

THERE’S A NEW ONLINE MATCH-UP SERVICE in town, but this one is strictly business. Instead of potential romantic partners, helps homeowners find architects, designers, and contractors for their home-improvement projects, from large (whole-house renovations) to small (a wall of bookshelves).

Launched last year by Jean Brownhill Lauer, a Bed-Stuy resident who trained as an architect, theSweeten vets and pre-approves all professionals, thoroughly checking their references and quality of work so you don’t have to. She conducts face-to-face interviews, checks licensing and certificates, and monitors client feedback before inviting them to join the network. Design professionals pay for membership; homeowners pay nothing.

One such member is Sarah Zames of General Assembly, an architect who’s just wrapping up a Brooklyn Heights studio renovation she contracted through theSweeten. Her previous project, the subject of this post, was her calling card: a little bit of suburbia in Williamsburg. The home is a 1950s brick single-family across from Cooper Park, with front and rear yards and a parking alley, as well as air rights to build upwards in the future.

The current homeowners, a couple in the arts with a small daughter, hired General Assembly in January 2011, shortly after they bought the house. It had been unoccupied for three years. “It was a disaster,” recalls Zames. “It would definitely have scared most people off. The entire thing had to be completely gutted, re-plumbed, and re-wired, and the HVAC system replaced.” After a lightning-quick four-month renovation, the new owners had a completely remodeled home with a newly efficient floor plan, and were able to move in by Memorial Day.

The house is essentially a split-level, with a ground-floor living room/dining area/kitchen measuring just 300 square feet. Steps lead down to a guest room/art studio on the lower level. There are two bedrooms and a bath on the second floor.

The general contractor was Trevo Contracting, with millwork by Tribeca Design Build. Total cost of the job: under $250K. The house was staged for photography by Sarah Zames.

See lots more photos and read all about it after the jump.

Photos: Joe Fletcher (1st and 2nd floors); Paul Clemence (studio)


Welcome to The Insider, Brownstoner’s weekly in-depth look at interior design and renovation in the borough of Brooklyn. It’s written and produced by Cara Greenberg, a design journalist who blogs at casaCARA: Old Houses for Fun & Profit. Find it here every Thursday at 11:30AM.

IN THE MID-’80s, a developer chopped up a former YMCA building in Brooklyn Heights, creating condominium apartments with dropped ceilings and sorry little galley kitchens. When a couple in the arts — she’s a fashion editor, he’s a screenwriter — bought a 1,344-square-foot duplex in the building a few years ago, they called on Brooklyn-based designer Elizabeth Roberts to help them realize the potential they knew was there.

Roberts removed walls, raised ceilings and doorways, and re-thought the uninspired staircase to the upper level, where three bedrooms were converted to a master bedroom and a home office (there’s a powder room on the lower level, a bath-and-a-half upstairs). Most strikingly, the kitchen area was opened up to bring in light and make the space more conducive to entertaining.

Fred Taverna of New York Interior Construction (212/251-0790) saw the project through. Total cost: approximately $300,000.

“When they purchased it, it was an apartment,” says Roberts. “Now it’s a loft.”

Photos: Sean Slattery

More, including ‘befores’ and construction shots, after the jump.

The Insider, Brownstoner’s weekly in-depth look at interior design and renovation, appears every Thursday at 11:30AM. Written and produced by Cara Greenberg, a design journalist who also blogs at casaCARA: Old Houses for Fun & Profit.

Photo: Elizabeth Lippman

This revamp of a parlor floor in a brick Boerum Hill row house was two-fold. First, Brooklyn-based architect Alicia Balocco opened up an existing 17-foot extension on the 20’x40’ building with a bank of aluminum-framed glass doors; a new atrium-like skylight spanning almost the full width of the building lets even more sun shine in. She also improved the kitchen layout and added a bathroom with distinctive tile walls.

Then, local interior designer Julia Mack (that’s Julia in the photo, above) gave the clients, a couple with two teenage kids, the fresh and modern look they wanted. “The house didn’t have a lot of lavish detail,” Mack says. “It seemed a perfect opportunity to bring in some modern design and not feel you were turning your back on anything that was already there.” As always, Mack made a special effort to work with local suppliers in sourcing furnishings both vintage and new.

Kitchen/bathroom/extension photos: Courtesy Alicia Balocco; Living/dining room photos: Elizabeth Lippman

More photos and info on the jump…


Welcome to The Insider, Brownstoner’s Thursday series exploring the creative ways we renovate and decorate our homes here in the county of Kings. The Insider is written and produced by Cara Greenberg, a veteran design journalist and Brooklynite who blogs at casaCARA: Old Houses for Fun and Profit.

You’d never guess from the vinyl-clad exterior of this Red Hook row house that something dramatically loft-like is going on inside. Architectural designer Elizabeth Roberts transformed the space within, including a formerly unfinished, unheated basement, to create a bright modern home for her clients — Brandon Holley, the editor-in-chief of Lucky magazine, and John Deley, a pianist and composer. “We took down every interior wall and dug down to gain some ceiling height in the basement,” says Roberts, principal of a 4-person firm in Clinton Hill.

The 20’x50′ basement level became the main living space. Roberts opened up the back wall and spanned it with glass sliding doors, poured a concrete floor, and inserted a new kitchen and bath. A flight of monumental wood steps leads down from a street-level entry foyer and sleeping loft. Until recently, there was a two-bedroom rental apartment on the building’s second floor. That has been incorporated into the growing family’s living space, with three new bedrooms and two baths (the new top floor will be the subject of a future post).

Above: Elliptical table from Kartell, Mies van der Rohe chaise from Herman Miller, vintage fireplace.

More photos and details on the jump.

Photo: Sean Slattery