A Timeworn Brownstone in Brooklyn Becomes a Growing Family’s Sanctuary
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A Timeworn Brownstone in Brooklyn Becomes a Growing Family’s Sanctuary

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By Alia Akkam
After a top-to-bottom renovation and a two-story extension, garden views now fill this 19th-century home in Fort Greene.

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. 

A calming vibe is immediately instilled at the entry.

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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. 

The townhouse's brilliant extension is defined by the garden, located just off the living room.

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.

The fireplace, flanked by speakers, is a central feature of the living room.

"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. 

A subtly curved staircase leads from the neutral-hued living room to the kitchen.

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. 

A sleek, metal-clad island topped with Paperstone plays a starring role in the roomy kitchen, which has bleached oak and off-white Lapitec cabinets.

Natural light from the garden fills the parlor-level kitchen.

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. 

Flaunting minimalist curves, the staircase is a visual focal point.

"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." 

The understated dining room, where eating takes place underneath a modern, elegant white chandelier.

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. 

The peaceful upper deck is accessed via the master bedroom.

Oak flooring extends from the master bedroom into the bathroom, complementing the duo of marble sinks.

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. 

At the top of the house is the sky-lit playroom, connecting the children's and guest bedrooms.

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.

Fort Greene Townhouse floor plans

"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      

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: TBD Architecture & Design Studio / @TBDdesignstudio

Builder/General Contractor: Cardinal Construction

Structural Engineer: Joseph Benigno, PE

Landscape Design Company: Foras Studio