Budget Breakdown: A Brooklyn Brownstone Gets a Vibrant Renovation For $910K

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By Kelly Dawson
When a Brooklyn-based couple sought to renovate a brownstone in Crown Heights, they knew exactly which architect they wanted for the job. If only the rest of the work was that easy.

Sometimes you lose before you win. That's the underlying lesson that Brooklyn couple Thomas and Jon learned about house hunting in the borough—well, at least in the beginning. When it all started, the pair had put a bid on a home in Sunset Park because they liked the style of its renovation. But alas, their bid wasn't successful. When the sellers gave them the bad news, they did the next best thing and asked for the person responsible for the work: It was Alexandra Barker of BFDO Architects.

$80,000
Windows & Doors
$22,000
Roof & Siding
$15,700
Wood Flooring
$39,700
Trim & Millwork
$18,900
Bathroom & Kitchen Fixtures
$13,000
Tiles
$15,000
Indoor & Outdoor Lighting
$2,000
Wallpaper
$4,200
Door & Cabinet Hardware
$9,000
Fireplaces
$10,900
Stone & Fabrication
$24,900
Appliances
$15,000
Furniture
$10,000
Backyard
$26,000
Deck
$11,400
Garden
$50,000
Demolition
$393,000
Construction
$60,000
Plumbing
$50,000
Electrical
$40,000
Mechanical & HVAC
Grand Total: $910,700
Thomas and Jon lost a bid on a different brownstone in Sunset Park that Barker renovated. They wanted her input on their home, so when they bought this property in Crown Heights, they called her firm. 

Thomas and Jon lost a bid on a different brownstone in Sunset Park that Barker renovated. They wanted her input on their home, so when they bought this property in Crown Heights, they called her firm. 

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With Barker's information in their back pocket, Thomas and Jon set out on their house hunt yet again. When they found a rundown brownstone in Crown Heights, and came out ahead of the competition, they knew who to call for a renovation that could be all their own.

"We originally gave Brothers Cement an orange color that they couldn't match exactly, but we ended up with that beautiful yellow color, so we were happy," Barker says.

"We originally gave Brothers Cement an orange color that they couldn't match exactly, but we ended up with that beautiful yellow color, so we were happy," Barker says.

"The house had a beautiful staircase and parquet floors on the first floor, but it also had two extensions that were awkward proportions," Barker says. "The second floor was not even finished, and the kitchens and bathrooms were very dated."

"We put a big skylight over the stairwell in order to bring light into the center of the house, and we opened up the stairwell to maximize how much light reached the first floor," Barker says. 

"We put a big skylight over the stairwell in order to bring light into the center of the house, and we opened up the stairwell to maximize how much light reached the first floor," Barker says. 

The couple—Thomas is a doctor who is now running a health-related startup, and Jon is a senior director at a nonprofit—wanted the project to have fewer twists than it took to get the keys. They asked Barker to replace the awkward extensions with a new one, and ensure that there was no noticeable difference between the original floor plan and those additions. A modern, seamless approach was key, they told her, but they didn't want to lose any original details during the update, either.

Barker salvaged the original glass windows in this living room, although the surrounding millwork had to be replaced. 

Barker salvaged the original glass windows in this living room, although the surrounding millwork had to be replaced. 

In all, the renovation would yield a 2,000-square-foot home, where Thomas and Jon would have two bedrooms and two-and-a-half bathrooms to themselves, and the basement would hold a rental apartment. It would cost $910,700 to get it all done, which is surely a pretty penny, but Barker's team and the couple found ways to cut costs where they could.

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The owners wanted the first floor of the home to flow seamlessly from the front to the back. They called upon a friend's business for their lighting to save on costs.

The owners wanted the first floor of the home to flow seamlessly from the front to the back. They called upon a friend's business for their lighting to save on costs.

"We based our budget on previous projects we had completed, and we planned to have the owners purchase many of the finish materials to save money on the contractor's pricing," Barker notes. "The owners had a connection to a lighting distributor who supplied many of the pendants and wall sconces at a discount. Then we used IKEA cabinet bodies for all the millwork in the kitchen and in the den, and finally, the contractor fabricated custom doors and shelving on-site."

"We chose a gray veined marble (Vermont Royal Danby, from ABC Worldwide) for the kitchen counter," Barker says. "We found bleached walnut floors from Madera to tie the parlor floor together."

"We chose a gray veined marble (Vermont Royal Danby, from ABC Worldwide) for the kitchen counter," Barker says. "We found bleached walnut floors from Madera to tie the parlor floor together."

Once the budget and plan were in place, the team and the owners got to work. Thomas and Jon requested color and pattern, and Barker kept this goal in mind for every room. She called upon local company Brothers Cement to custom-mix the bright canary shade of the tiles in the entryway, and the owners found a gray-veined stone slab at ABC Stone that worked for their master shower.

To save money, the team sourced IKEA cabinet bodies for the kitchen and den, and then built and assembled them on-site.

To save money, the team sourced IKEA cabinet bodies for the kitchen and den, and then built and assembled them on-site.

"It took us a long time to decide on the accent wall of the dining room, but we decided that a pale blue would complement the metallic tones of the living room, the saturated tone of the entry, and the red bar stools in the kitchen," Barker notes. "The rest of the palette was white, gray, and walnut."

The home has two bedrooms; this master suite leads to a private deck. The bold accent wall complements the color in the dining room.

The home has two bedrooms; this master suite leads to a private deck. The bold accent wall complements the color in the dining room.

Nevertheless, the initial lesson of a loss before a win still occurred in the midst of all this progress. The owners wanted to salvage the original parquet flooring that drew them into the home's first floor, and they thought of ways to reuse it on the second floor. But, there wasn't enough flooring for the space, so they had to bring in strip wood. Then they had to replace the entire heating system. And finally, they needed to figure out a way to introduce natural light on the first floor.

Barker mixed inexpensive subway tiles with an expensive marble slab in the master bathroom. The mix of high and low pieces defines the style of this home.

Barker mixed inexpensive subway tiles with an expensive marble slab in the master bathroom. The mix of high and low pieces defines the style of this home.

"The first floor of the house ended up being quite deep, at more than 55 feet from front to back," Barker adds. "So we put a big skylight over the stairwell in order to bring light into the center of the house, and we opened up the stairwell to maximize how much light reached the first floor."

The "white, gray, and walnut" palette balances the owners' desire for bold shades. It's especially apparent in the upstairs hallway.

The "white, gray, and walnut" palette balances the owners' desire for bold shades. It's especially apparent in the upstairs hallway.

In all, the 15-month renovation turned out to be a win-win. The owners moved into a brownstone that embodied their sophisticated style, with a mix of investment pieces and budget-friendly items that intertwine for a personalized finish. Perhaps it's better than the property that initially drew them to Barker: Despite the twists and turns, they got what they wanted, and it's theirs to keep.

"I particularly love the blue paint on the custom millwork in the small office on the second floor," Barker says. She used paint to make an impact throughout the home without breaking the bank.

"I particularly love the blue paint on the custom millwork in the small office on the second floor," Barker says. She used paint to make an impact throughout the home without breaking the bank.

Looking back, Barker and her team learned lessons too: "We learned that working with local suppliers helps save on shipping and allows for more customization, and that using the contractor's in-house millworker helps us move quickly with the fabrication and installation of millwork," she says. "Mixing expensive finishes with inexpensive ones like IKEA cabinets and subway tiles helps keep costs down, and paint is a relatively inexpensive way to make a big impact."

Related Reading: Before & After: A 19th-Century Brooklyn Brownstone Is Saved From Utter Disrepair

Project Details:

Architect of Record, Cabinetry Design: BFDO Architects

Builder: Mark Chan/GTN Contractors

Structural Engineer: Albanna Engineering

Project Architect: Christina Ostermier

Photographer: Francis Dzikowski/OTTO