A Tattered Brooklyn Brownstone Is Brought Back to Life With Big Doses of Color

Michael K. Chen Architecture resuscitates a Clinton Hill residence by restoring its historic details and applying bold hues throughout.

Rotting ceilings; peeling lead paint and crumbling plasterwork; warped floorboards: Just a few years back, this brownstone in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn seemed beyond repair. "To call it faded would be a gross understatement," says architect Michael K. Chen, the founder and principal of Michael K. Chen Architecture. 

Built in 1895, the four-story, 3600-square-foot home had been abandoned for 20 years, and looked it. But when its newest owners—a tech investor and an art teacher at a public school—purchased the home, they were inspired by what was still apparent underneath the grime and decay: a playful color palette that included a bright raspberry in the living room, a sky blue at the staircase, and a fern green in the front hall. 


The ensuing top-to-bottom renovation restored key historical elements, like the large built-in mirror in the entryway. The doors, baseboards, arched casework, wainscoting, and plaster were all reconstructed. 

"We took castings of the original carved plaster brackets and moldings, and replaced them in kind," Chen says. At the staircase, the architect merged old and new, reworking the original railing profile and integrating it with a modern bent steel treatment, fabricated by Kin & Company.

Parlor Floor:

With the bones of the house restored, it was time to bring back the color. "Our strategy was really an attempt to tease out the qualities of light, and to maximize delight in the individual rooms," says Chen. "We had epic color palette meetings, looking at deck after deck for paint colors that spoke to us or provoked a particular sensation."

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The color picks are bright, moody, and saturated, and range from an earth pink in the living room, to an orange sorbet in the office, and to a serene blue at the stairs. On the garden level, Chen employed 2,800 custom encaustic floor tiles in 17 colorways to create a gradient that runs from the front of the home to the back of the garden outside. "You don’t look at the color, you inhabit it," says Chen. "It surrounds you, and you perceive the shifts and play of natural light in the space in a way that is both subtle and rich."

Garden Level:

Upper Floors:

Clinton Hill Brownstone floor plan

Clinton Hill Brownstone floor plan

Clinton Hill Brownstone floor plan

Clinton Hill Brownstone floor plan


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