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This may be the only townhouse in Brooklyn with a room dedicated to a urinal, entered via swinging saloon-style doors. “It’s the kind of thing you can do when you have 6,000 square feet,” said Elizabeth Roberts of Ensemble Architecture.

The busy Gowanus-based firm masterminded the transformation of this five-story, 25-foot-wide corner building, taking it from a three-family plus doctor’s office to a four-story home for a single family, with a rental apartment and a professional office on the garden level.

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Owned by a single family for a century, this Gilded Age townhouse near Prospect Park came into modern times with nearly all its original detail preserved.

That’s not to say the new homeowners didn’t have work to do. First they hired Red Hook-based MADE Architecture to, among other things, design new bathroom layouts as well as a new layout and cabinetry for the garden-level kitchen, and to bring the intact but timeworn woodwork to a high level of polish.

Then in came Ensemble Architecture to choose furnishings and finishes, including floor and wall tiles, light fixtures, countertops, plumbing fixtures, wallpaper and paint colors. The Gowanus-based studio, which was founded in 1998 by Elizabeth Roberts and now comprises 13 architects and designers, recently expanded its interiors department.

An artist and a cookbook writer needed a place to live and work. Her sculpture is large-scale; his profession requires a kitchen that can occasionally double as a TV studio.

After years of moving from one rental to another, they found a 3,500-square-foot co-op on the ground floor of an old Williamsburg warehouse and called on Elizabeth Roberts of Gowanus-based Ensemble Architecture to pull the space together to suit their needs.

Roberts carefully considered how to maintain the integrity of the existing industrial space while creating a functional, inviting residence with a bit of polish. “It was an important decision to leave the ceiling and columns and structure as they were, and let them be real features,” Roberts said.

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WELCOME TO THE INSIDER, Brownstoner’s weekly in-depth look at a notable interior design or renovation project, written and produced by Cara Greenberg. Find it here every Thursday at 11.

WHERE MOST PEOPLE SEE A WRECK, architects see glorious opportunity. So said Elizabeth Roberts, founding principal of Gowanus-based Ensemble Architecture, of this four-story brick row house whose new owners are a young family late of SoHo.

“The house was in really bad shape,” said Roberts of the neglected 20-by-36-foot structure, into which the architects managed to fit four bedrooms, a study, three full baths and two half baths.  “It had been vacant, water had been leaking for a few years, and the rear wall was falling down. The opportunity was there for opening it up a lot, and putting on a two-story addition.”

That 13-foot-deep addition was the project’s boldest stroke. Now, the new garden-level kitchen, as well as the back parlor on the floor above, open into a two-story volume containing a high-ceilinged dining space.

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The Insider is Brownstoner’s weekly in-depth look at a recent renovation/interior design project here in the borough of Brooklyn. It’s written and produced by design writer and blogger Cara Greenberg. You’ll find it here every Thursday at 11:30AM.


IT’S NOT AN UNCOMMON COMPLAINT among owners of Brooklyn row houses, especially narrow ones like this 16-footer that hadn’t been renovated “in a million years.” “The clients’ main concern was how dark it was,” says architectural designer Elizabeth Roberts, who re-thought the 1890s building — an owners’ triplex with a rental apartment below — in its entirety. “We spent a lot of time figuring out how to lighten up and open up the space.”

“The house was just dripping with detailed woodwork and it wasn’t the clients’ taste,” Roberts says. “We made careful choices of what would stay and what would be removed.”

Among the major changes: taking down walls on the parlor floor to create one flowing space; replacing damaged wood flooring on the parlor level with poured concrete plaster; an all-new kitchen incorporating original detail; and a new ‘bathing room’ that doubles as creative workspace for one of the homeowners, who is a sculptor and textile designer.

The renovation budget of $750,000 also included all new mechanicals, central air, a high-efficiency gas boiler, and a revamped cellar with an art studio, cedar-lined closet, and wine cellar. On the garden level, there’s a one-bedroom rental apartment, plus a powder room accessible only to the owners.

Read on after the jump…

Photos: Sean Slattery

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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.

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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