Before & After: An Italianate-Style Brownstone in Brooklyn Rises Above Years of Ad-Hoc Remodels

By Melissa Dalton / Published by Dwell

Urban Pioneering Architecture strategically preserves the historic details of this Clinton Hill row house while creating a garden-level apartment and a top-floor guest suite.

Left vulnerable to the whims of several owners over the years, this 1860s brownstone in Brooklyn’s Clinton Hill "had seen countless, ad-hoc renovations that left it in need of a total overhaul," describes Urban Pioneering Architecture. The firm teamed up with CNS Construction and the new homeowners to rescue the brownstone, replacing the front stoop, creating a garden-level apartment and a triplex above, and making a top-floor suite for guests.

Before: Front Exterior

Before: When the new owners bought the house, it was set up as a single-family house with the kitchen at the garden level. The renovation created a two-bedroom rental apartment at the garden level and a three-floor unit above.

Courtesy of Urban Pioneering Architecture

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After: Front Exterior

For the new entry, the team installed custom double doors topped with a transom. The stoop and door header are new constructions that matches the home’s original style. Black paint on the exterior trim looks sharp against the preserved facade.

Photo: Kate Glicksberg

After: Entry

The vestibule is new, but attention to detail helps it blend in with the old. "Molding, casings, and wall paneling was replicated and reinstalled to create a new opening that looked like it had always been there," says Urban Pioneering Architecture. The glass door with the decorative metalwork is from Irreplaceable Artifacts, and the tile is the Circulos pattern from the Cement Tile Shop. 

Photo: Kate Glicksberg

Before: Living Room

Before: the red tile around the fireplace surround was jarring.

Courtesy of Urban Pioneering Architecture

After: Living Room

Custom shelving now flanks the fireplace, now composed of encaustic tile from the Cement Tile Shop and a marble hearth. A floating cabinet on one side balances an uncovered radiator on the other, and Benjamin Moore’s Chantilly Lace unifies the scheme. Throughout the first floor, Bona Traffic white oak floors with a matte finish is laid in a herringbone pattern.

Photo: Kate Glicksberg

Before: Central Foyer

Before: the firm estimates that a renovation in the 1920s or 1930s created a central foyer between the living and dining rooms.

Courtesy of Urban Pioneering Architecture

After: Central Foyer

The space is now defined by a contrasting coat of Benjamin Moore Witching Hour. The cozy niche contains a vintage Overman loveseat and Pholc wall sconce.

Photo: Kate Glicksberg

Before: Central Staircase

Before: this grand central staircase was inserted during the same renovation in the 1920s/1930s.

Courtesy of Urban Pioneering Architecture

After: Central Staircase

Now, the stairs and railing are painted Pitch Black from Farrow & Ball and a Gubi Cobra wall sconce illuminates the way.

Photo: Kate Glicksberg

Before: Dining Room

Before: These windows in the previous formal dining room were modified to create access to the backyard.

Courtesy of Urban Pioneering Architecture

After: Dining Room

Now, glass and steel doors from A&S Window open onto a deck and significantly brighten the combined kitchen and dining room with natural light.

Photo: Kate Glicksberg

A custom dining table made by the owner is surrounded with vintage Eames chairs and topped with a vintage Louis Poulsen PH Snowball pendant by Poul Henningsen. The metal sideboard is from Muji, and the paneling is original.

Photo: Kate Glicksberg

Before: Kitchen

Before: the existing kitchen for the triplex was downstairs and accessed by a dumbwaiter and servant staircase, so the clients transformed the formal dining room into a combined kitchen/dining room.

Courtesy of Urban Pioneering Architecture

After: Kitchen

The kitchen was a collaboration between Urban Pioneering Architecture, Alex Scott Porter A+D, MW Construction, and CNS Construction. The lower cabinetry boxes are IKEA units with custom fronts and panels painted in Benjamin Moore Midnight Dream by MW Construction, while the upper floating walnut cabinet is custom. A Carrara marble counter syncs with the backsplash, which is Boneyard Brick from Chelsea Arts Tile & Stone. The pendant lights are the Mass Light NA5 from Norm Architects for &Tradition.

Photo: Kate Glicksberg

Before: Rear Extension

Before: "The rear extension previously had only a dumb waiter and servant staircase from the original kitchen to the formal dining room, and served no other purpose than circulation," says Urban Pioneering. 

Courtesy of Urban Pioneering Architecture

After: Rear Extension

The new configuration removes the staircase in order to separate the floors. This made room for an additional bedroom in the garden apartment below and provided enough space for a powder room and breakfast nook on the parlor level.  

Photo: Kate Glicksberg

The powder room combines Farrow & Ball wallpaper with a Cedar & Moss sconce and CB2 mirror.

Photo: Kate Glicksberg

In the quiet eating nook, a custom bench sidles up to a Saarinen Side Table and Vitra Standard chair by Jean Prouve.

Photo: Kate Glicksberg

Before: Rear Extension Exterior

Before: a view of the exterior of the rear extension and its lackluster siding.

Courtesy of Urban Pioneering Architecture

After: Rear Extension After

Now, the rear façade has been transformed by taking off the siding to reveal the old brick, which has carries the patina of an old mural.

Kate Glicksberg

Before: Master Bathroom

Before: on the second floor, there is now the master suite and a combined guest room/office. This shows the bathroom that would become part of the en-suite.

Courtesy of Urban Pioneering Architecture

After: Master Bathroom

Now, a generous shower has a custom step-through window from Starr Windows & Doors to access the roof deck. Floors are Nero Marquina hexagon tile, and the custom vanity has a marble counter. A Kohler Purist faucet and Cedar & Moss sconce complete the look.

Photo: Kate Glicksberg

After: Master Bedroom

In the master bedroom, a pair of DCW Mantis sconces are positioned between the traditional molding, which mimics what’s found on the lower floor. The paint color is Benjamin Moore Alaskan Husky custom mix, and the quilt is from Hay. The side chair is an Urban Outfitters find.

Photo: Kate Glicksberg

After: Guest Room/Office

In the guest room/office, IKEA wall shelving and desk anchor the space.

Photo: Kate Glicksberg

Before: Third-Floor Kitchenette

Before: on the third floor, the owners wanted to create a guest suite that could be closed from the hallway in order to maintain privacy. For it, the third-floor kitchenette needed updating.

Courtesy of Urban Pioneering Architecture

After: Third-Floor Kitchenette

"When the doors to the hall are closed, the suite has internal circulation behind the kitchenette which allows for guests to have complete privacy and move between the rooms without going into the hallway," explains the firm. IKEA cabinets and a custom, stainless-steel sink and integrated counter from CNS Construction make the room sleek and functional. The white metal wall shelves are also from IKEA.

Photo: Kate Glicksberg

Before: Guest Bathroom

Before: the finishes in the guest bathroom were dated.

Courtesy of Urban Pioneering Architecture

After: Guest Bathroom

The team wrapped the room in floor-to-ceiling penny tile with black epoxy grout. The vanity is a custom build from the contractor.

Photo: Kate Glicksberg

After: Garden Level Apartment

In the garden apartment kitchen, IKEA cabinet boxes received fronts from Reform, in the Basis style. An Andrew Neyer Barbell Pendant echoes the black two-inch hex wall tile. The black wire and wood open shelves are the client’s own and similar to the String Pocket Shelf, says the firm.    

Kate Glicksberg

A classic scheme in the apartment bathroom utilizes white subway tile and two-inch black hex tile, both from Nemo. The vanity was sourced from IKEA, and a Cedar & Moss sconces flank the mirror.

Photo: Kate Glicksberg

Clinton Hill Brownstone floor plan

Photo: Urban Pioneering Architecture

More Before & After: An Artful Update Streamlines a Portland Midcentury, A 19th-Century Row House Becomes a Boho Newlyweds’ Nest

Project Credits:

Architecture: Urban Pioneering Architecture /@urbanpioneering

Builder: CNS Construction

Structural Engineer: Dunne & Markis

Lighting Design: Old Lights On

Cabinetry Design: MW Construction

Kitchen Design: Alex Scott Porter A + D

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