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

SOMETIMES A GUT JOB is the only answer, as was the case with this 15-by-44-foot four-story row house in Bed Stuy. It had been ripped apart by a developer and then abandoned during the recession, even becoming home to squatters for a time.

“It was a total wreck. There was nothing at all worth saving,” says Gitta Robinson of Brooklyn-based Robinson + Grisaru Architecture, the firm hired by new owners to transform a shell into a home.

Brick party walls and wood joists were practically all that remained. At least the joists were in decent shape.

The architects decided to keep them uncovered on the two lower floors, to add ceiling height, and painted them white. Exposed brick was likewise kept exposed.

“There was a debate on whether it would stay natural or be painted white,” Robinson recalls. Natural won.

Where a chimney breast was removed in the dining area at the rear of the parlor floor, above, the void was patched in with mortar. The homeowners — he is a graphic designer and she a landscape designer — loved the effect and kept it, even matching the mortar treatment on the rear wall of the parlor floor.

In a bold design stroke, the architects removed 2.5 feet of flooring at the rear of the parlor level, creating an open two-story slot that connects the garden and parlor floor acoustically and lets in extra light. Ideally, the architects and homeowners would have liked to replace the whole back wall on the two lower stories with glass, but a tight budget prevented it.


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

THE IMPRESSIVE DUTCH REVIVAL row house in Brooklyn Heights, with its stepped gable and bronze plaque reading c.1820, was once home to the prolific Brooklyn architect William Tubby (1858-1944). Renowned in particular for his Clinton Hill mansions, Tubby purchased the house as his private residence and lived there for decades, adding stained glass panels and other interior detail along the way.

Above: Sliding pocket doors between the dining room and new kitchen extension were designed to complement original leaded glass elsewhere in the house.

By the 21st century, parts of the house drastically needed improvement. “There was a small extension out the back with a tiny galley kitchen,” says Gitta Robinson of Robinson + Grisaru Architecture, the husband-and-wife team hired to create a much larger kitchen and turn part of the basement into usable space for a family of four. Working with contractor Robert Taffera, R+G demolished the existing addition and put a new two-story extension across the 25-foot width of the rear wall. “It’s in a landmark district and visible from a side street,” Robinson says. “We had to go through a lengthy review process. The community board rejected it as too modern, but Landmarks liked the design and approved it.”

The new design makes use of a steel window system with thin metal sections. Some of the windows are fixed. Others are awning-style, pivoting out for ventilation. The rear half of the basement was excavated to gain more ceiling height (there’s a guest room at the front of the building and mechanicals in the center), and the backyard dug out about six feet from the rear wall to create a well.

Photos: Melanie Acevedo

Lots more after the jump.