Eager to start a family, a New York couple living in Tribeca spent quite a bit of time scouring Brooklyn’s culturally diverse Fort Greene neighborhood for a spacious new home. Close to the area’s namesake park and Brooklyn Academy of Music, the four-story townhouse they eventually found was not only a dream for them, but also for TBD Architecture + Design Studio.
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"As much as we love the original detailing of brownstones, it’s hard to design around them and come up with layouts that work for modern living," says Selin Semaan, co-founder of the New York firm.
This particular attached 1899 Italianate-style row house was in a state of extreme disrepair when Semaan and her partner Joshua Weiselberg encountered it, so they stripped the structure down to its shell. Except for the brick façade that they restored, everything was rebuilt from scratch, freeing the designers in their approach. A 400-square-foot, full-width, two-story extension to the rear of the interior is undoubtedly the highlight.
"We retained some of the proportions and tried to recreate the original spirit, like the scale of the parlor floor and the arched openings," says Weiselberg. The interior is minimalist, calling to mind, say, architectural designer John Pawson, with an emphasis on natural materials and elements that are meant to patina over time. Walls and various curves, for instance, were plastered smooth and coated with matte paint to amplify the sunlight and shadows that play across the house’s different surfaces.
Other than the desire to upgrade to a larger, beautifully designed home, the couple weren’t exactly sure how to use this much space. TBD ensured that the single-family dwelling, previously carved into multiple units, was organized efficiently and impactfully.
Anchored by a wood-burning fireplace, the ground-level living room, adjacent to the family room, dominates the extension, which links up to the parlor-floor kitchen. Through full-height glazing, it frames the view to the commodious, landscaped rear yard.
"It’s twice as deep a yard for Brooklyn," Weiselberg points out. "There’s an incredible amount of trees and plenty of distance between this house and the next."
Above, the second floor was transformed into a calming master suite complete with walk-in closet and office. It was clear early on, say Weiselberg and Semaan, that the upper deck overlooking the garden would be most appropriately reached from the bedroom, a calming retreat with oak flooring. Melding a vanity crafted from slabs of gray marble with a large-format porcelain tile shower, the bathroom has a similar organic vibe.
Since purchasing the home, the couple has had one child, inspiring a kid’s zone on the third floor—where there’s also a guest bedroom—including a playroom crowned with a skylight.
Taking some two years to complete the transformation, the biggest challenge for TBD was connecting the living spaces to the backyard. Semaan says that a brownstone’s most stunning floor is typically the parlor, so the custom-designed kitchen became the heart of the house, featuring high baseboards, a sculptural metal-clad island topped with Paperstone, and bleached oak and off-white Lapitec cabinets. When casually dining on one of the island’s bar stools doesn’t suffice, the parlor also houses an airy dining room, which once again nods to the garden’s lightness.
"When you enter the house it feels soothing, like you've been transported," says Semaan, "It’s mostly due to the finishes we used—and because you can also see right through to the backyard and all that openness."
Related Reading: 10 Unbeatable Brownstone Renovations in Brooklyn
Builder/General Contractor: Cardinal Construction
Structural Engineer: Joseph Benigno, PE
Landscape Design Company: Foras Studio