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At 5,000-plus square feet and chock full of intact details, the circa-1910 Neo-Federal brick townhouse was grand to begin with.
Its biggest drawback? The location of the kitchen in the rear extension, blocked off from the rest of the house. “There was a time when the household had a staff, the kitchen was in the basement,” said architect and founding partner Brendan Coburn of The Brooklyn Studio (formerly known as CWB Architects). Later, a butler’s pantry in a rear first-floor addition was converted into “an insanely narrow, austere galley kitchen,” Coburn said. The new homeowners, a young family of four, “wanted the same thing that most people want these days: a kitchen that everyone can hang out in.”
The Dumbo-based company was behind an intervention, moving the kitchen to the center of the house and planning a dining area in the back. Then came a bold stroke: the architects came up with the idea of creating a dining room with a curved bay window inspired by streamlined trains like the fabled 20th Century Limited, in operation from 1902 to the 1960s. “It would be like being in a dining car connected to the garden where you could hang around for a long time,” Coburn said. “And we didn’t increase the footprint of the expansion one bit.”
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Customers loved the concept. “Once we had the curved window image in mind, we decided to expand it,” Coburn said, ditching another existing multi-paned bay window on the back of the house and replacing it with a curved, three-story-high bay of glass. .
The remarkable windows and remodeled rear extension, along with a brand new kitchen, were the most significant architectural changes, but not the only ones. Although the house was generally in exceptional shape, Brooklyn Studio still had to replace compromised framing on the top two floors, make structural repairs to the grand staircase, and redo existing skylights.
The early 20th-century townhouse has “a Renaissance palazzo layout,” Coburn said. The new kitchen and dining room are on the first floor. “The second floor is what would be called piano noble, with higher ceilings,” where the living room is located. The bedrooms are on the floor above.
Brooklyn Studio restored the stone pillar and vestibule, replastered the brickwork, renovated the ironwork, restored the wooden cornice and installed modern steel windows in the original openings. They also replaced the roof and updated two existing skylights.
The front door leads to a wide central hall. There is a home office on one side, a new mud room with space for bikes on the other.
Jesse Parris-Lamb chose the green floor tile and designed the painted ceiling.
The woodwork along the winding staircase was among many millwork upgrades done in various places throughout the house. New white oak floors were laid on the diagonal.
Brooklyn Studio’s design for the new kitchen includes a highly figured marble backsplash as a focal point. The limewashed hood has brass edges that catch the sink hardware, shelf jacks and pendant lights.
The original curved china cabinet remains. To the right, a rust-coloured pantry acts as a passage to the dining room.
Opposite the kitchen island, a fireplace with original tooth molding was enlivened with blue and white checkerboard tiles.
Custom wildflower-embellished silk wallpaper, chosen by Jesse Parris-Lamb, brings nature right into the bright dining room.
Brooklyn Studio created the banquette and two uniquely shaped custom tables that can be used together or separately.
The customers themselves specified the cork floor.
Jesse Parris-Lamb’s furniture tends to be a subtle hybrid of traditional and modern, with varied textures throughout.
A “before” photo of the rear facade highlights the extent of the architectural upgrade.
This image served as inspiration for the design of the new windows.
The new three-story bay window brings the rear of the house in line with the architectural quality of the well-built front facade.
Alive Structures, a Brooklyn-based landscape architecture firm, orchestrated the design and planting of the backyard.
[Exterior photos by David Mitchell; interior photos by Nicole Franzen]
The insider is Brownstoner’s weekly in-depth look at a notable renovation and/or interior design project by design journalist Cara Greenberg. Find it here every Thursday morning.
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