A House Grows in Brooklyn
While most people living in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn didn’t see much to love about an abandoned, weedy lot squeezed between two old town houses, one couple couldn’t help but see it as an opportunity to finally build their own home. "I used to walk the dogs around here all the time," says Darcy Miro, relaxing in the airy living room of the four-story town house she and her husband, Lars Weiss, have since built on the site. "I kept walking by this empty lot that had a little wooden ‘for sale’ sign. And I thought, How amazing would it be to actually build a house?"
Miro, a 32-year-old jewelry designer, and Weiss, a 35-year-old music producer who runs the record label Home Style Cooking, had fallen for the neighborhood long before. They already owned a one-bedroom apartment nearby, and rented a studio on the same block as the empty lot. "I came to this neighborhood and fell in love with how real it felt," says Miro. "It was so incredible because it was Brooklyn—very urban—but it had trees and was still amazingly diverse."
After eyeing the 20-by-80-foot lot for more than a year, the couple finally decided to make some inquiries. They learned that the city had demolished the old town house occupying the site in 1993, and that the owner of the remaining land was eager to sell. They bought the lot soon after for $180,000.
The next step—finding an architect—was easy. Miro had collaborated on the bronze façade of the American Folk Art Museum in New York with architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, so she asked them for a recommendation. They put her in touch with a former employee, Martin Finio, who had since launched his own practice, Christoff:Finio Architecture, with his wife, Taryn Christoff.
But even before meeting the architects, Miro and Weiss had specific ideas about what they wanted: The house would have to include studios for both of their businesses. They also wanted to preserve the exterior walls of the adjoining buildings as their own interior walls by hanging floors between them. "Those two walls felt like they had so much history," Miro explains. And to keep costs down and give the house a personal touch, they decided they would complete the vast majority of interior work—tiling, painting, and even framing some of the bedroom walls—themselves.
When construction began in early 2002, Miro and Weiss were so optimistic that the house would be completed before the end of the year that they invited their families to have Thanksgiving dinner there. But they had to cancel those plans when construction dragged on, then had to do the same in 2003. It wasn’t until 2004 that the house was finally ready for guests.
Still, they were well rewarded for their perseverance. The resulting 4,200-square-foot town house gives them an extraordinary space in which to live, work, and raise their one-year-old son, Lucien. The ground floor and basement are dedicated to a jewelry workshop and a recording studio, and the living quarters begin on the second floor with a dining area, kitchen, and high-ceilinged living room. The third floor is a loftlike reading room that overlooks the living and dining areas, and the fourth floor has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a laundry room.
Throughout the house, Miro and Weiss selected commercial products like metal railings, boxy industrial baseboard heaters, and a mix of concrete and wood-plank flooring. They also left many ducts, pipes, and electrical conduits exposed because there were few interior walls in which to hide them. But in the end, they warmed up the overall feel of the space with their own labor-intensive finishes and a collection of mid-century-modern furniture. Miro cast the bronze handles for the vanity in the master bathroom herself. They sanded and sealed the construction-grade floorboards and painted the bedroom walls a comforting off-white (Benjamin Moore’s Limestone). Downstairs, they equipped the dining table with a slightly mismatched collection of chairs by Norman Cherner, and anchored the living room around a long, low coffee table topped with a piece of antique wood recovered from a 15th-century Italian monastery.
"It’s a lot of love," says Miro, summing up the many years of work the couple poured into the house. "You can continually throw a lot of money at a house, or you can put in more love and really get something out of it." With total construction costs running around $500,000, Miro and Weiss were able to build their own house in an area where similar town houses sell for well over a million dollars. Love, it seems, has given them not only a very personal home, but one that might otherwise have been out of reach.