A Brooklyn Brownstone Rental Nears Move-In Day
A couple’s Crown Heights garden floor apartment gets the finishing touch in phase two
Seeing your home’s main supporting beam replaced by a massive steel plank elevates you in the home-renovation hierarchy—and that’s exactly how Jerry and Janet honed their reno chops. In this blog post, we visit the couple in the second phase of the project. To recap: They’d purchased a historic brownstone with “good bones” on a quiet street in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. They were aware that the circa 1910 building was in need of a total interior gutting and posted their project on Sweeten, a free service matching renovators with vetted contractors.
What they didn’t expect to learn was that the wooden beam that had brought essential stability to their brownstone for 100-plus years suffered from rot. They’d hired both a Sweeten architect and a Sweeten general contractor to drive the overhaul. Once the couple had installed the integral metal beam running through their long-sought brownstone, they were initiated. Moving walls, installing a kitchen, and replacing splintered floorboards were achievable tasks. They were pros.
After completing the renovation’s core work, which also included bringing the four-family building’s heating, electrical, and plumbing systems up to date, Jerry and Janet jumped into renovating the building’s first two residential units. Click to see phase one of their renovation. Now they were ready to begin the overhaul of the building’s ground-floor unit, a garden apartment with good rental prospects with the same Sweeten architect and contractor.
We kept and restored moldings, and employed skilled woodworkers to make new lookalike moldings and panels where they were missing.
Janet, the president of the New York School of Design, and Jerry, a doctor, had embarked on the townhouse renovation with some serious objectives in mind. They would have, once finished, three units to rent as well as their own top-floor studio pied-a-terre, which they planned to use as a second home. A key goal was to preserve the building’s prewar details while streamlining and modernizing the interior spaces. They also wanted to create bigger, brighter apartments and therefore planned to convert the building’s traditional two-bedroom configurations to one-bedroom layouts. The project also included opening up the kitchens and enlarging the bathrooms. All applied to the ground-floor garden apartment.
The plans called for essentially gutting the whole ground floor, as they had with the others. “We wanted to keep as many of the old architectural elements as possible,” Jerry said. “To that end, we kept and restored moldings, and employed skilled woodworkers to make new lookalike moldings and panels where they were missing.”
The initial plan for the fireplace was to remove it—although the mirrors were original and in good shape, it’s doors were damaged and the pillars didn’t suit their aesthetic. Their architect suggested they “repaint it and open it up to the brick in the bottom area, “Jerry said. “We really like how it turned out.”
They also preserved as much original wood flooring as possible which were stained and discolored, including the inlaid mahogany borders. “We were surprised when both our Sweeten architect and contractor said that the living room floors were salvageable,” he said. The width of the boards was no longer made but “the contractor went out of his way to find a warehouse with a supply of vintage floorboards to fill in gaps and match to the existing flooring,” Jerry said.
(Above) Previously a closet, now the kitchen, with the original bathroom behind the closet. Original built-in cabinets seen on left.
Janet had input on the entire project, from layouts to surfaces. In this apartment, she and the architects decided to move things around, shifting the kitchen forward and the bath back. By reshuffling the spaces and putting the kitchen adjacent to the living room, they were able to create a kitchen island that floats on the edge of the living space. The quartz-topped island has counter seating, making it great for quick breakfasts and weekend gatherings; it incorporates an under-counter sink and is lit by a pair of modern pendant fixtures. The shiny stainless-steel hood and dishwasher are from IKEA, as is the gray cabinetry. “We really like the geometric tiles we chose for the kitchen backsplash,” Jerry said. They add unique character and dimension to what is now a highly visible wall.
Putting the kitchen here opened up what had formerly been a hallway, lined with inset wall cabinets. The doors of these units had been painted a bright chartreuse green—not the couple’s color, but there was a character to them that they wanted to preserve. The contractor stripped the paint, resurfaced, and repainted the doors to look almost new. “We are very happy with the restoration of the cabinets,” Jerry said. “It’s a great feature for the apartment—it adds so much storage space.”
Janet loves how the original doors, now bright white, add a historic touch and some concealed storage to the wall facing the kitchen. The contractor installed new shelving and additional drawers, too, to increase the cupboards’ sleek functionality.
Going for a more open layout really worked in other ways, too, with their old-new aesthetic. The revamped kitchen’s modern appliances are a great contrast to the fantastic old fireplace that is the living room’s most notable feature. They kept it, had the contractor replace the broken display door and window with a very close match, and repainted its mirrored mantel.
The kitchen’s relocation also did wonders for the bedroom, which is at the apartment’s rear. Having opened up the space, they expanded it further by eliminating the rear portion of the apartment’s narrow floor-through hallway and a tiny water closet next to the garden door. When all those walls came down, they had a large, sunny bedroom, flooded with light but completely private. There was room as well to build a large, sliding-door closet with built-in shelving.
(Above) Formerly the hallway and kitchen, now the bedroom
The bathroom is next to the bedroom, and it is a bit modern, a bit old-school. The fixtures and hardware, including the faucet and an open train-rack shelf, nod to the traditional. The couple stuck with the elongated shower tile they had chosen for the other rental units—like subway tiles, but stretched—and went with a large rain shower head to add modern luxury to the large stand-up shower. The hexagonal floor tiles are repeats from upstairs as well.
From the front door to back, the apartment came together beautifully, and Janet and Jerry have their Sweeten team to thank. Jerry recalls that the general contractor, who managed the timeline and the subcontractors from one phase into the next, did an excellent job communicating and keeping the project on schedule. “We found the company honest and responsible for the quality of all work,” he said. “At one point, when we felt like some of the workmanship was sub-par—some newly installed tiles in the bathroom were cracked—the contractor acknowledged our complaint and worked to fix the issue.”
Sweeten also matched them with an architect. Prior to tapping the service, they were about to hire an architect they found on a chat forum only to discover the architect had a less than stellar reputation.
Jerry said that the fact that this has so far been such a smooth project is almost unbelievable, given that on closing day he’d had no idea where to start looking for a good, honest contractor. “Without Sweeten, I would have randomly chosen a company I found on my own,” he confesses—and may or may not have had success.
They had the peace of mind of having the service “be the middleman,” he said. “With Sweeten, the contractors are more accountable. Suddenly, my experience and satisfaction matter much more which is great.”
Now, with the end nearly in sight, they feel successful indeed. The apartment is gorgeous, livable, and comfortable. “Soon it will be rented out to a lucky tenant,” Jerry said, “and we’ll move to the top floor.” Check back to see how Janet and Jerry make the upstairs apartment their own.
Thank you for sharing, Janet and Jerry, and we look forward to the next phase!
KITCHEN AND LIVING AREA RESOURCES: Wood flooring: Original oak hardwood mixed with replacement planks. Cabinetry, hardware, dishwasher, and sink: IKEA. Refrigerator: Bosch. Range: Whirlpool. Lighting: Schoolhouse. Tex backsplash: Mutina. Faucet: Delta Faucet. Wall paint in Balboa Mist, #OC-27CK and Classic GrayCK, #OC-23CK: Benjamin Moore. Quartz countertops in Pure White, #1141:Caesarstone.
BATHROOM RESOURCES: Hexagon Floors and Metro wall tile in white high gloss: Nemo Tile. Sink and toilet: Duravit. Faucet and shower fixtures: Kohler. Lugarno Trank Rack wall racks: Restoration Hardware. Lighting: Schoolhouse. Heartland medicine cabinet, #HEOC1724: FOREMOST. Knobs: IKEA. Wall paint in Intense White, #OC-51: Benjamin Moore.
OTHER RESOURCES: Doorknobs: Omnia.
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