In Brooklyn, an 1890s Townhouse Is Reborn With Tons of Light and a Crisp Black Facade

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By Somer Charanek
The Red Hook home was once a warren of dark rooms.

When Joe and Ali Pivar purchased their 1890s townhouse in Red Hook in late 2012, their realtor told them they got the last good deal in the transitioning Brooklyn neighborhood. But like all good deals, it came with a downside. The house, unaltered since the ’70s, was a warren of small, windowless rooms, serviced by ancient utilities. 

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Architect Allison Reeves was renovating a townhome in Red Hook when she discovered that the existing redbrick facade was falling apart. With contractor John Fasano, she put in a new exterior of dark bricks, punctuated by a slanted pane of glass by Bieber Windows. A new roof supports a deck as well as the home's mechanicals, which the residents opted to move out of harm's way after Hurricane Sandy flooded other homes in the area.

Architect Allison Reeves was renovating a townhome in Red Hook when she discovered that the existing redbrick facade was falling apart. With contractor John Fasano, she put in a new exterior of dark bricks, punctuated by a slanted pane of glass by Bieber Windows. A new roof supports a deck as well as the home's mechanicals, which the residents opted to move out of harm's way after Hurricane Sandy flooded other homes in the area.

A gut job was needed, which Joe largely took on himself. By the time the couple met their architect, Allison Reeves of ardesign, through friends, the house had been hollowed to a shell. "Whenever there was an option between something fussy and something stripped down, we chose the latter," says Ali. The simplified interior allowed Reeves to focus on the one feature the owners wanted most: light. 

The residents furnished the interior themselves, even hand-picking the exposed reclaimed beams from a barn in Pennsylvania. The dining table and shelving unit are 1970s vintage and the sofa is from Design Within Reach. The height of the top level varies from around nine to 12 feet. 

The residents furnished the interior themselves, even hand-picking the exposed reclaimed beams from a barn in Pennsylvania. The dining table and shelving unit are 1970s vintage and the sofa is from Design Within Reach. The height of the top level varies from around nine to 12 feet. 

In her design, Reeves "flipped" the layout of the two floors the couple use—totaling 1,200 square feet—putting the kitchen and living area on the top level and the bedrooms on the level below, in order to maximize illumination in the places where Joe and Ali spend most of their time. She removed the old pitched roof, and, by installing heavy-duty reclaimed timber beams, was able to raise the ceiling to almost 12 feet in the front half of the house. The heightened volume provides space for a large glass bulkhead above the stairs. Additional light funnels in through an oversized, angled box window that takes the place of two existing windows in the new dark gray brick facade.

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The guest room features a bed from West Elm.

The guest room features a bed from West Elm.

"Before construction, we removed every finish and covering to expose the layers beneath. It was almost like an archaeological exercise." Allison Reeves, architect

Next to the steel-and-wood staircase, which leads to the roof, a patch of glass flooring lets sunlight filter down to the bedrooms.

Next to the steel-and-wood staircase, which leads to the roof, a patch of glass flooring lets sunlight filter down to the bedrooms.

The suffusion of light in the kitchen-living-dining area flows down to the bedroom level through a patch of glass flooring and an open staircase. According to Ali: "The bedroom floor is so naturally well lit during the day that we don’t need to turn on the lights."

The downstairs garden space offers another outdoor escape. 

The downstairs garden space offers another outdoor escape.