Budget Breakdown: A Brooklyn Brownstone Gets a Vibrant Renovation For $910K
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.
Windows & Doors
Roof & Siding
Trim & Millwork
Bathroom & Kitchen Fixtures
Indoor & Outdoor Lighting
Door & Cabinet Hardware
Stone & Fabrication
Mechanical & HVAC
|Grand Total: $910,700|
Get carefully curated content filled with inspiring homes from around the world, innovative new products, and the best in modern design
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.
"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."
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.
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.
Shop the Look
"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."
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.
"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."
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.
"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."
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.
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."
Architect of Record, Cabinetry Design: BFDO Architects
Builder: Mark Chan/GTN Contractors
Structural Engineer: Albanna Engineering
Project Architect: Christina Ostermier
Photographer: Francis Dzikowski/OTTO