Brooklyn Home Keeps its Historic Bones While Getting a Much Needed Interior Update

By Kelsey Keith / Published by Dwell
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A creative couple flips the script on their family home, a former workman’s cottage on the northern edge of Brooklyn.

If it’s not the raw brick siding, it’s the house numbers—a sleek neon "175" in sans serif font—that give it away. The miniature, functional art piece is the work of Jill Magid, a conceptual artist. She and her husband, advertising executive Jonny Bauer, finished a head-to-toe remodel of their row house in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn in mid-2013, and those neon house numbers act as a modern beacon on an otherwise unremarkable street. 

Margarita McGrath and Scott Oliver of Noroof Architects termed the 1,650-square-foot house in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, "Pushmi-Pullyu," in reference to the interior-exterior flow they created. Resident Jill Magid, pictured on her front steps with son Linus, is a conceptual artist; she fabricated the neon house numbers.

Margarita McGrath and Scott Oliver of Noroof Architects termed the 1,650-square-foot house in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, "Pushmi-Pullyu," in reference to the interior-exterior flow they created. Resident Jill Magid, pictured on her front steps with son Linus, is a conceptual artist; she fabricated the neon house numbers.

The couple bought the home—located at the end of a row of three matching turn-of-the-century workers’ homes—in June of 2011, then hired local firm Noroof Architects for the renovation. The five-month permitting process was the first stumbling block; during inspections with their architects, engineers, contractors, and city officials, they learned that the light remodel they had anticipated was turning into a major gut job. "But we were so determined to keep the shell," says Bauer. 

An ample sill made of English elm was built into two front windows to create a gathering spot that is visually connected to the street. Donna Wilson’s lively Ernest pouf in coral Nos Da upholstery for SCP adds extra seating in the living room.

An ample sill made of English elm was built into two front windows to create a gathering spot that is visually connected to the street. Donna Wilson’s lively Ernest pouf in coral Nos Da upholstery for SCP adds extra seating in the living room.

To start, the circa-1899 house had no real foundation: It was situated on sand. The structure was so unsound that the contractor wanted to take down the street-facing facade, but Magid and Bauer put their collective foot down. Houses on the street all had brick fronts until the 1970s, when local contracting companies started selling vinyl siding—now the  dominant facade material in Greenpoint. 

The former workman’s cottage had undergone dated renovations.

The former workman’s cottage had undergone dated renovations.

The original brick front tied the structure to its historical fabric, a main selling point for the couple. In order to shore up the exterior, the architects had to painstakingly add a poured-concrete load-bearing wall into the brick shell. Noroof partner Scott Oliver says, "We took the studs off inside of the brick. Every four feet, we had to pour concrete, let it set, and pour a little more."

A vintage sofa purchased from Open Air Modern mixes with Low Pad chairs, by Jasper Morrison for Vitra, in the living room, which features a window inspired by Marcel Breuer’s Whitney Museum of American Art.

A vintage sofa purchased from Open Air Modern mixes with Low Pad chairs, by Jasper Morrison for Vitra, in the living room, which features a window inspired by Marcel Breuer’s Whitney Museum of American Art.

The city also recommended covering the original ceiling beams on the first floor, which Magid and Bauer wanted to expose. The beams were "the only thing I fell on my sword for," says Bauer. After some investigating, Noroof found a fireproofing paint for steel that is also made for wood, but only in one color—white. "I had to write to the city to get special permission to use it," Noroof partner Margarita McGrath says. Both architect and client agree the trouble was worth it: "We were all really worried about it looking like a condo."

"We wanted as much built-in storage as we could fit in order to maximize the space and not have furniture getting in the way." —Jonny Bauer, resident

"We wanted as much built-in storage as we could fit in order to maximize the space and not have furniture getting in the way." —Jonny Bauer, resident

Several updated touches define the first-floor living space. To make sure it didn’t look too new, the homeowners chose reclaimed wood: Elm for the window seat was handpicked by their older son, Linus, from a tree farm outside of Hudson, New York; the ash flooring was reclaimed from a demolished church in Ohio. Noroof designed a canted window, set into the thick, property-line-adjacent party wall, which they call the "Breuer window" for its resemblance to the iconic fenestration of the Whitney Museum. 

In the kitchen, matte Caesarstone tops an island composed of custom millwork and stainless-steel Ikea cabinetry. A bright-green Vola faucet adds an idiosyncratic touch of color.

In the kitchen, matte Caesarstone tops an island composed of custom millwork and stainless-steel Ikea cabinetry. A bright-green Vola faucet adds an idiosyncratic touch of color.

They used a matching blackened steel for the custom staircase, which, though open between the risers and along the sides, hews to the city’s mandated maximum gap of four-and-a-half inches. The decoration is kept spare: Patterned Moroccan concrete tiles delineate the entry area, and seamless built-in storage by the front door jamb keeps detritus in check. ("We’re very messy people, and we need as much stuff to be stowed away as possible," Bauer says.)

The second-floor bathroom includes a washroom that can be closed off from the bathing area with a sliding glass door. Bauer and Magid can supervise the kids’ baths or use it as a steam room.

The second-floor bathroom includes a washroom that can be closed off from the bathing area with a sliding glass door. Bauer and Magid can supervise the kids’ baths or use it as a steam room.

Because of the extensive structural work required in the renovation, material decisions were not taken lightly. Magid and Bauer invested most of their funds in the reclaimed flooring and a few pieces of custom woodwork in the kitchen that surround off-the-rack Ikea cabinetry. They also splurged on an outdoor barbecue by Tec that the family regularly uses to cook, even in the winter. "Being Australian, this is most important to me," Bauer explains. "We cook 70 percent of our meals here." Economical choices include James Hardie cement-panel lap siding for the back facade, simple Decorators White paint by Benjamin Moore, and concrete masonry unit walls and a concrete floor slab for the first-floor rear extension.

A Godmorgon vanity from Ikea is paired with white field tiles from Mineral Tiles.

A Godmorgon vanity from Ikea is paired with white field tiles from Mineral Tiles.

Despite well-laid plans once the construction got underway, the layout changed when the family learned that Linus would be getting a younger sibling. The family had Noroof reconfigure the upstairs so that the master bedroom, initially slated for the front of the house, moved to the rear extension, next to a shared bathroom. Baby Banks, now a year old, occupies a petite chamber carved out on top of the stairwell—complete with a window onto the upstairs landing and a built-in changing table—next to his older brother’s room. Linus resides in the "quietest room in the house," which is outfitted with a bunk bed by Oeuf, nautical wallpaper, custom floor-to-ceiling built-in storage, and a rocket-ship mobile scored on a trip to Mexico City.

An interior window creates flow between the skylit landing and baby Banks’s room.

An interior window creates flow between the skylit landing and baby Banks’s room.

In the year since its completion, the neighbors have taken to the reconstructed home. "Some of the old houses have been demolished, so people have thanked us for saving ours," says Bauer. "They bring us cheesecake once a week. Our son walks their dog. It’s pretty safe, and it’s a real neighborhood." Judging from the number of passersby ringing the doorbell to catch a glimpse of the makeover, the new-old house is a welcome addition indeed.

Magid selected lively Whitby wallpaper by Mini Moderns for Linus’s room, along with Oeuf’s Perch bunk bed. The homeowner found the light-up rocket-ship mobile on a trip to Mexico City.

Magid selected lively Whitby wallpaper by Mini Moderns for Linus’s room, along with Oeuf’s Perch bunk bed. The homeowner found the light-up rocket-ship mobile on a trip to Mexico City.

Floor-to-ceiling windows accentuate the home’s indoor-outdoor flow and connect the first-floor dining room to a patio. The vintage Russell Woodard dining set came from the Brooklyn Flea, and the Sterling II barbecueis by Tec.

Floor-to-ceiling windows accentuate the home’s indoor-outdoor flow and connect the first-floor dining room to a patio. The vintage Russell Woodard dining set came from the Brooklyn Flea, and the Sterling II barbecueis by Tec.

Blackened steel for the Noroof-designed minimalist staircase matches the living room’s "Breuer" window; reclaimed ash flooring came from a demolished church in Ohio.

Blackened steel for the Noroof-designed minimalist staircase matches the living room’s "Breuer" window; reclaimed ash flooring came from a demolished church in Ohio.

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Project: Pushmi-Pullyu

Kelsey Keith

@kelseykeith

Kelsey Keith has written about design, art, and architecture for a variety of print and online publications.

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