A Budget Friendly Brownstone Renovation in Brooklyn
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In 2009, Dawn Casale and Dave Crofton faced a quandary: With the arrival of their son, Nate, they had outgrown their apartment in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. And though unwilling to stray far from nearby Boerum Hill, where they opened a boutique bakery, One Girl Cookies, in 2005, they were largely immune to the charms of the neighborhood’s brownstones, which they viewed as being long on period detail but short on light and space.

The island and cabinets, fashioned from remilled Douglas-fir beams salvaged from upstate New York, sport inexpensive drawers from Ikea. The Carrara marble for the sink surround also came from the firm’s warehouse, from a section of slab orphaned from an earlier commission. A Viking chimney wall hood tops a free-standing range by Bluestar.

Photo by Matthew Williams

Kitchen & Dining Room

“This room really became the heart of the space,” Dawn Casale says. “If people are sitting at the dining table or in the living area, you’re able to have a really free-flowing conversation and there’s a nice dynamic happening on the entire floor.”

Photo by Matthew Williams

So they set a less-than-realistic goal of finding something close by with an open, loftlike feel. “We gave our realtor a somewhat impossible task of finding us a place that probably didn’t exist,” Casale acknowledges. Then they saw a three-story brownstone just a few blocks from their shop. Its location on a corner lot let ample natural light penetrate the building’s core. Even better, it had been completely gutted, giving Casale and Crofton a blank slate on which to create their living space from scratch.

The Torroja pendant light by David Weeks hangs in the dining area, standing in sharp relief to the home’s original brick, now painted white (in Benjamin Moore Paper White)along with the wooden floorboards (in Benjamin Moore Revere Pewter). Radiant heat underfoot means a toasty interior even without a surfeit of textiles.

Photo by Matthew Williams

For help, they turned to MADE, the Brooklyn firm that designed their bakery. A team led by MADE principal Ben Bischoff replaced the front-to-back stairway with one that coils beneath a skylight. The move freed space at each end of the house and allowed for an open plan on the main level. The new layout encourages an easy flow of conversation and foot traffic across the dining, kitchen, and living areas.

Entrance

By moving the foot of the stairway away from the front door, Bischoff and his team carved out a transition point from the stoop and sidewalk below, providing a welcome measure of privacy. (Visitors must scale the steps and stand at the door before they can peer in.) The concrete floor tiles were left over from an earlier MADE project. “We didn’t have an equal balance of black and white or even the right sizes,” Bischoff says, “so we made a design moment out of what we had.” Saving on the floor tiles meant that Casale and Crofton could spring for hand-finished wallpaper by Swedish company Sandberg.

Photo by Matthew Williams

Bischoff and his crew made ample use of salvaged and surplus materials in the 2,400-square-foot house, creating wiggle room in the budget so Casale and Crofton could afford a few splurges on wallpaper and custom finishes. A product of serendipity and creativity in equal measure, the house hits the elusive sweet spot that these Brooklyn bakers were seeking.

Living Area

Bischoff’s team retained the exposed brick on the interior, painting much of it white to help the space reflect sunlight. “There was an interest in having an open, more contemporary layout, but we still wanted some sense of living in this building that’s 100 years old,” Bischoff says. “That motivated us a lot to keep the brick. It’s a very subtle echo of what the house originally was.”

Enclosing the ductwork would have forced the architects to lower the ceiling or install a subpar air-conditioning system. So it was left exposed, contributing to the floor’s loftlike atmosphere.

New meets old with the furnishings as well: An antique barbershop pendant provides contrast to a sculptural lamp and a rug from Anthropologie. Investment buys were made with budget in mind, like the leather sofa scored at ABC Carpet & Home’s outlet store.

Photo by Matthew Williams

Bathroom

A creative way of cutting costs is on display in son Nate’s bathroom, where the wall tiles are arranged in a whimsical, irregular pattern making use of slim sections of tile cut for transitions and corners. “We came up with a pattern that could incorporate random sizes so we were able to order the exact amount of tile that we needed,” Bischoff says. “It allowed us to get the most out of the tile price because there wasn’t that 20 percent that [would normally go] into the landfill.” The two-bowl sink is the Vitviken model from Ikea; it’s topped with a chrome Hansgrohe faucet and accented by Ikea’s Godmorgon medicine cabinets customized by MADE.

Photo by Matthew Williams

Nate’s Bedroom

Now three, Nate occupies coveted corner real estate in a third-floor room with a treetop-level view. “It’s a great space,” Casale says, “although it is the noisiest room in the house because of the street. But by now he’s so used to sleeping through all of the sounds, I don’t think it bothers him.”

The brightness of the space is enhanced by an accent wall coated in fire engine–red chalkboard paint (Benjamin Moore Natura flat-finish paint in Vermillion mixed with unsanded grout) that Nate can scribble on—as soon as his parents get around to telling him that it’s allowed. A matching red pendant lamp from the Soho shop Kiosk hangs above a six-foot-tall teepee by Dexton Kids.

Photo by Matthew Williams

Master Bath

Casale and Crofton’s bedroom is configured as a casual open suite, with a sliding aluminum screen as the only barrier separating an adjacent bathroom and walk-in closet. The screen’s dappled, lacelike pattern was designed by Fiyel Levent, a local artist and architect. Bischoff handed her design to a metalworker, who then carved it into aluminum with a digital laser cutter. It runs on a track in front of a partial wall covered in wallpaper by Neisha Crosland.

The vanity, designed and built in the MADE studio, sits atop the legs from an antique refrigerator that Bischoff and his team found in a junkyard. Calacatta mosaic tile, another MADE leftover, lines the floor of the shower (not shown). The firm had a limited surplus, so the amount of tile available dictated the shower stall’s footprint. “We have a keen understanding of the challenges presented by integrating the new with the existing,” Bischoff says of his approach. “We took this blank canvas and tailored it to the needs that Dawn and Dave had for their home. The result is fresh and unique but retains the patina of the many parts from which it was made.”

Photo by Matthew Williams
Details
Project: Boerum Hill Townhouse
Architect: MADE L.L.C.
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