A 19th-Century Schoolhouse in Brooklyn Becomes a Classy Apartment

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By Jennifer Baum Lagdameo
Inspired by the character of their landmarked building from 1873, two Brooklyn-based interior designers celebrate the heritage of their home by transforming it into a glamorous penthouse that highlights period-appropriate details.

When interior designers Keren and Thomas Richter of the Brooklyn-based design studio White Arrow moved into their 2000-square-foot home back in 2010, they embarked on a personal project that would take years to complete. 

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Formerly home to the Long Island Business College, the historic building in Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood had been turned into utilitarian artist lofts in the early-1980s. When they took over the space, they initially did some minor renovations, making the unit habitable until they were prepared to take on major renovations. 

When the couple was ready to get started on the big project five years later, they teamed up with architect Kevin Greenberg of Brooklyn’s Space Exploration to turn the utilitarian three-bedroom, one-bath space into a polished two-bedroom, two-bath home that would embrace period-appropriate architectural details—many of which weren't previously there.

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Wanting the apartment to feature a sense of history that would relate to the building’s exterior, the Richters designed custom Victorian millwork and tracked down original tin ceiling tiles. They turned to architectural salvage for doors and hardware, and customized pieces to suit their needs. But when it came to furniture and lighting, they took a more modern and artful approach, choosing handpicked bespoke furnishings. "Our goal for this project was to provide a classic, elegant backdrop for the eclectic elements sourced by The White Arrow," explains Kevin. 

Living Room: Before

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Living Room: After

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The living room features White Arrow-customized Tobia Scarpa sofas. "We painted them white, and then I had my shoe guy dye the cushions white," explains Keren. It also hosts an Yves Klein coffee table, which "was an amazing eBay score," a Josef Frank carpet that Keren won in an auction, and a floating credenza, which was created by White Arrow to play off the Milo Baughman side table. The unit's high ceilings also allowed the couple to incorporate a real palm tree as part of their decor. The pink swivel chairs on the other side of the living space were won at auction and reupholstered. 

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The living room daybed was specially designed by White Arrow for this space. The mantel was added after the renovation was completed, but was designed to look like an original feature. 

In the dining space, White Arrow designed the table and paired it with a collection of Børge Mogensen chairs bought at auction that were painted black. The chandelier is by Los Angeles-based lighting designer Brendan Ravenhill.

Dining Room: Before

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Dining Room: After

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White Arrow added historic touches to the kitchen, choosing reclaimed North American chestnut flooring.

Kitchen: Before

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Kitchen: After

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A kitchen island was added with bar stools from Sawkille and Bestlite Pendants from Gubi

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"There's a nice tension that exists in this renovation. The building has exquisite original architectural details, and we kept the delicacy of that detailing at the front of our minds as we designed—allowing it to serve as our inspiration for the slender proportions that prevail in the kitchen and the dressing room millwork. We added arched elements on the existing windows. Additionally, an extra arched framing device that springs from corbels acts as a divider between the kitchen and dining room," explains Kevin Greenberg of Space Exploration.

White Arrow chose to paint the floors black in the other half of the apartment. The French doors leading to the guest room were some of the first architectural salvage pieces Keren purchased. "When I originally bought them, I wasn't sure where they would go, but they ended up influencing later design decisions," explain Keren. 

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The design team added historic touches that weren't previously there. A mix of 1700s Delft ceramic tiles that Keren collected from various online sources add a unique touch, along with an antique earthenware sink. The faucets are from Barber Wilsons & Co Ltd.

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Calcified-lime plaster, which was used to whitewash the exterior of building, was employed in the bathrooms, giving them a more Mediterranean feel. 

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The guest room features metallic wallpaper from Calico Wallpaper's Inverted Spaces collection. The walls are finished with a combination of traditional wainscot specified by Space Exploration. 

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Originally, the unit had three bedrooms, but the renovation reconfigured it into a two-bedroom space, adding a dressing room and an additional bathroom. 

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The dressing room has a small footprint, but works well, thanks to careful planning and good lighting. It leads to the master bathroom.

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Keren and Kevin wanted to incorporate a metal-and-glass dividing element into the master bathroom in order to take advantage of the natural light in the room. Space Exploration designed the system, which was fabricated and installed by Mitchell Dose and glazed with Bendheim Full Restoration Glass—conveying the look of traditional mouth-blown glass. Set off from the rest of the bathroom, the "wet room" houses the shower and tub. 

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Vintage Moroccan tiles were sourced by White Arrow and used for the flooring. All the bathroom hardware is from Barber Wilsons & Co Ltd

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Project Credits:

-Architect of record: Space Exploration Design

-Builder/general contractor and cabinetry design/ installation: Tristan Warner Studios

-Interior design: White Arrow 

-Room cabinetry details: Collaboration between White Arrow and Space Exploration Design

-Custom entry coat closet: David Stanfill - initial baseboards, crown moldings, and salvage door install/repair (part of the first phase of construction in 2010) 

-Metalwork in bathroom: Mitchell Dose (ladder, ladder rail, and shower doors)

-Fireplace/mantel installation: Merino & Sons