The Insider, Brownstoner’s weekly in-depth look at renovation and interior design, is written and produced by design journalist/blogger Cara Greenberg. Find it here every Thursday at 11:30AM.

WHAT DO YOU DO with an empty 60’x100′ lot? If you’re a construction manager for a real-estate company, you put two buildings on it: a 3,800-square-foot house for your family to live in, and right next door, a building with three rental apartments to help pay for it.

The homeowner called DUMBO-based CWB Architects to come up with a design concept. “The big idea was to create an inner courtyard,” says Brendan Coburn, a principal in the firm. This was accomplished with a more or less F-shaped design. The owners’ house is on the left, with its front entry set back and a translucent garage door. Unseen from the street: a double-height living room with a wall of glass and an open staircase, and a roof deck with an expansive view toward New York Harbor. The apartment building on the right has windows to match, so the buildings appear a cohesive unit.

Coburn is a huge fan of row house architecture (CWB recently designed three contiguous soon-to-be-built row houses in Cobble Hill). “They’re pretty close to an ideal form of human habitation,” he says. “Their energy efficiency is extraordinary, the scale is manageable and pleasant, they’re easy and relatively quick to build, and they last a long time.” He recalls a grad school professor talking about four necessary types of space: public, private, natural, and visual. “Brownstone Brooklyn is that. You have community space on the parlor and garden floors, and everybody has their own space upstairs as well. Then there’s the garden, or natural space, and the wonderful visual connection to it. It can be very good for one’s soul.”

Photos: Rachel Stollar

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The Insider, Brownstoner’s weekly look at how Brooklynites are renovating and decorating their homes, appears here every Thursday at 11:30AM. It is written and produced by Cara Greenberg, a design journalist who blogs at casaCARA: Old Houses for Fun and Profit.

The classic Greek Revival townhouse was in need of a major overhaul when Brendan Coburn of CWB Architects came on the scene. “The brick was good,” he recalls. “Whoever the mason was in the 1840s knew what he was doing.” But the rest of the house was “sagging all over the place,” with wood and plaster detail in sorry shape, and an addition at the back that was literally falling down.

The homeowners, a couple with young children, wanted to fully restore the building, keeping its original one-family configuration. This was accomplished with the help of Pilaster, Inc., a Bronx-based general contracting and millwork company. Among the major aspects of the job: excavating three feet from the low-ceilinged cellar to accommodate fitness equipment and storage, and rebuilding the entire floor structure with LVL (laminated wood lumber), an engineered joist made of recycled wood. Then came new baths and kitchen, a rebuilt extension, new windows and French doors, and “tons of millwork and cabinetry.” Original wood detail was copied and replaced, plaster moldings re-cast. “There is not a single compromise in that house,” Coburn says.

The risk-taking decor by Brooklyn-based interior designer Jennifer Eisenstadt might be called ‘bold traditional.’ Taken individually, she says, “Most pieces are fairly traditional. It’s the combination that makes it interesting.” Like Coburn, who often works in a modern mode, Eisenstadt is versatile; she doesn’t have a specific style. “I try to give clients the best of what they’re looking for,” she says, “and help articulate their tastes and visions in cohesive ways.”

Top: A laundry room and butler’s pantry for outdoor entertaining are located in an extension at the back of the house.

Photos copyright Francis Dzikowski/

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The Insider, Brownstoner’s weekly coverage of interior design and renovation in the borough of Brooklyn, is produced and written by journalist/blogger Cara Greenberg. Find it here Thursdays at 11:30.

“It started with the stove,” says North Fork, L.I.-based designer Kate Altman, who recently transformed an “impossibly bad” ’70s galley kitchen in a brownstone floor-through for a professional couple and their 11-year-old daughter. It’s now a warm, appealing, functional space with a couple of showstopping features: the lipstick-red Italian range and a custom porcelain backsplash inspired by antique Chinese patterns but whimsically including the Brooklyn Bridge.

The old kitchen was so narrow the fridge didn’t fully open; the work counter was 12″ deep. Altman bumped out a wall to enlarge the room, stealing a few feet from the adjacent dining area. Now there are wraparound CaesarStone counters and custom-built, floor-to-ceiling cabinets.”We quadrupled the storage,” says Altman. “Every square inch is used. It’s tight as a ship.” Scott Solfrian, an architect and owner of BLDG, served as general contractor.

In the early ’90s, Altman owned a beloved Park Slope fabric store, Sewing Circle. Her newest venture is Altman’s North Fork Home in Cutchogue, L.I., a mini-emporium of all things sewing and needlework, along with a selection of decorative and useful household items and gifts.

Photo: BLDG

Details and more photos on the jump.


The Insider, Brownstoner’s weekly look at how Brooklynites are renovating and decorating their homes, is written and produced by Cara Greenberg, a veteran design journalist and proud Brooklyn resident.

Hard as it may be to believe, ten years ago this immaculate 1873 brownstone on one of Clinton Hill’s most elegant blocks was chopped into six SRO [single room occupancy] units, sharing four kitchens between them. Its wood floors were so grimy no one knew they were parquet. Its imposing arched entry door had cardboard panes instead of glass. The sky was visible through holes in the top-floor ceiling.

When the current owners — a couple with two teenagers, who live on three of the four floors and rent out the garden level — bought the building in 2001 and embarked on a renovation, the house more than met them halfway. Behind the jerry-rigged kitchens, original detail lurked. The plaster crown moldings and hefty stair balusters were all there — in need of repair, but basically intact. Seven marble fireplace mantels remained. In the basement, they found all the house’s original panel doors. With the help of a master carpenter, plasterers, and other tradespeople, they put it all back together again.

The eclectic furnishings, strong on 20th century modernism, demonstrate how sympathetically clean-lined modern design can work against the more ornate splendors of 19th century row house architecture. Turkish rugs, African artifacts, found objects, and contemporary artworks round out the decor, making for a unique and lively mix.

Lots more photos and details on the jump.

Photos: Cara Greenberg