An Epic Brownstone Remodel Hits the Reset Button
A couple’s own pied-à-terre in their townhouse is finally complete
Over a couple of years, Janet and Jerry, a couple from Long Island who bought a historic Crown Heights, Brooklyn brownstone, embarked on a bottom-to-top renovation. After remodeling two of the floors as rentals with Sweeten, (See blog posts for the third floor and garden level) we get the details on the final apartment, a project high point indeed as it marks the completion of the townhouse’s top floor and the pair’s own NYC pied-à-terre.
The backstory: The duo knew when they closed on the circa 1910 building, a “bring your architect” purchase in need of a total gutting, that a big job lay ahead. Janet, president of the New York School of Design, and Jerry, a doctor, posted the project on Sweeten, a renovation platform connecting homeowners to vetted general contractors, and hired a Sweeten architect and a Sweeten contractor. Read how a neglected and cramped one-bedroom gives way to a space with a loft-like feeling.
“After” photos by Pixy Interiors for Sweeten
Blog post by homeowner Jerry as told to Sweeten
This is it. Our apartment. The pied-à-terre we’ve long waited to move into. We have a primary residence on Long Island, but we work in NYC and spend about half our time here. We decided to invest in a multi-family townhouse in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, rent the main units and keep the smaller, fourth-floor apartment for ourselves.
From the time we first saw the top-floor space, we knew it would be our nest. Like the other apartments, this one-bedroom unit needed work. It was dark and chopped up, the kitchen was a wreck and the bathroom was in disrepair. We started thinking about how to refresh the under 600-square-foot space and make it feel larger. Our goal was to create an open and airy studio. We planned to maximize natural light and use natural materials for an organic feel.
In our project’s earlier phases, we’d worked to preserve the building’s architectural features. But in this unit, previous renovations had removed most original detail. Hardwood floors had been replaced with linoleum. Moldings that might have graced the overhead plaster were forgone for a drop ceiling. Only the window moldings and the fireplace remained. Given this situation, we felt free to rethink the space. We decided to use modern elements, bringing in Scandinavian style and Californian mid-century modernism as influences to the new interior.
These subtle architectural elements bring the space together while simultaneously differentiating the sleeping and living rooms.
Our Sweeten architects worked closely with Janet to achieve several architectural changes. First, we moved the entrance from the fourth floor down to the third, making the stairway part of the apartment’s interior. This increased privacy and usable space, and also allowed us to increase the living room’s natural light with a skylight at the top of the stairs.
Next, we exposed the living-room ceiling. Opening it to the original wooden beams provided for more vertical space and a lofty room. Initially, we were going to paint the wooden ceiling and exposed beams white. Our Sweeten contractor suggested the beams looked really good unpainted and unfinished. The adjacent sleeping area, however, would have a new lowered ceiling, and an archway. Together these subtle architectural elements bring the space together while simultaneously differentiating the sleeping and living rooms.
A key facet of our design concept, the arch plays nicely with horizontal lines throughout the apartment, including the exposed beams and the long kitchen countertop. It also connects with a number of graceful curves, like the rounded mirror over the restored fireplace and the rounded lighting fixtures.
WATCH VIDEO: Janet and Jerry talk about the start of their renovation on NBC’s Open House NYC
With the ceiling beautified, we moved to the problematic floors, which were covered in vinyl and old carpeting. We wanted natural wood and after much searching, we chose white-oak flooring and planned to lay it in a custom herringbone, or chevron, pattern. Unfortunately, there was a long lead time for the wood to be custom cut (nearly two months, as the supplier told us that it would require shipping the planks to Europe), not to mention a high price. Just before going back to the drawing board, we found a pre-cut herringbone at half the price. It came out fantastic.
Once the floors were down we were ready to build the kitchen. We wanted dark wood cabinets, and while we were planning, Ikea came out with a new style that not only looked great but pleased our budget! [See more money-saving ideas for your kitchen renovation.] We wanted countertops that would complement the cabinets and wear well, and considered marble, granite, and a few synthetic materials, but ultimately chose soapstone for its durability and appearance. The veined black goes nicely with the apartment’s other dark features and looks fantastic as a backsplash.
To stay minimal, we hid appliances in cabinets; our washer/dryer combo, fridge, and pull-out freezer all fit under the counter. The pendant lights over the kitchen counter, the chandelier above the old fireplace, and the bedroom fixtures are simultaneously industrial, modern, casual, and polished.
In the bathroom, we managed another stunning redesign thanks to our Sweeten architects. The shower, a vertical space with a skylight, is flooded by day with natural sunlight, making it feel almost like it’s outside. One disappointment that turned out fine was with the stone floor tiles. We spent a lot of time picking them out, but after accepting our order, the supplier said that only one box of tile was available.
Our contractor solved the issue by taking a large slab of the same stone and custom cutting it into a single 3’x3’ shower base as well as a door saddle, and a stone shelf. We chose an in-wall toilet to maximize space.
Having knocked down walls and invited light in every way imaginable, we felt successful in our visual opening of the space. We went even further by creating an outdoor area. The roof had formerly been inaccessible but we replaced a window with a glass door; it leads to a new roof deck with views of the neighborhood and Manhattan in the distance.
Through it all, we felt lucky to work with Sweeten, which connected us with both our architect and contractor and helped us troubleshoot on many occasions. The process came with so many rewards. While Janet says she most appreciated the design work and creative discussions, I’m just enjoying our apartment! It’s like staying in a nice hotel with a feeling of being home. The best of both worlds.
Thank you, Janet and Jerry, for sharing your entire home with us!
LIVING ROOM RESOURCES: Wall paint in Cotton Balls: Benjamin Moore. Poolesville European white oak flooring: PID. Chandelier above fireplace: Schoolhouse Electric. Theresa Rand coffee table: Menu Design Shop. Doorknobs: Omnia.
BEDROOM RESOURCES: Ceiling light, sconce lights: Schoolhouse Electric. Mill C bedside table with laptop tray: CB2. Spindle Nightstand: Industry West. Airisto bench/side table in ash: Finnish Design Shop.
KITCHEN RESOURCES: Paint in Cotton Balls: Benjamin Moore. VOXTORP kitchen cabinets and sink: IKEA. Ipanema Reserve countertops and backsplash: M Teixeira Soapstone. Faucet, #1959LF-BL: Delta . Undercounter refrigerator and freezer: Liebherr. Pendant lights: Schoolhouse Electric. All-in-one 2.3 cu. ft. front-load washer and electric ventless dryer: LG. Fellow Stagg Pour Over kettle: Williams Sonoma.
BATHROOM RESOURCES: 18″ x 18″ Marine Black Phyllite floor tiles: M Teixeira Soapstone. Matte white wall tiles 3”x9”: COLORI. Shower fixtures; Contemporary and Purist Line fittings: Kohler. Toilet: Duravit. GODMORGON vanity, ODENSVIK sink : IKEA. Faucet: Grohe. Hardware, lighting, towel bar, tissue holder, robe hook, Swedish utility rack: Schoolhouse Electric. Mirror: CB2. Waffle towels: Snowe.
Before you buy a townhouse, read our guide on buying and renovating a multi-story fixer upper.
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