A Brooklyn Brownstone Renovation “Flips” for the Better


Living space and rental come together in this Brooklyn brownstone renovation

brownstone renovation, Brooklyn

“After” photos by Kate Glicksberg for Sweeten

  • Homeowners: Bellamy, an executive at The GAP, and Zak, a senior environmental scientist, posted their project on Sweeten
  • Where: Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, New York
  • Primary renovation: Three stories of a 2,400-square-foot Brooklyn brownstone
  • Notable: Swapping the positions of their renovated garden rental and owners’ duplex
  • Result: Better functionality for the two-family building
  • Sweeten general contractor
  • Sweeten’s role: Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner.

Guest post by Sweeten homeowner Bellamy

Finding their circa 1900 Brooklyn brownstone home

After a grueling year-long search, countless open houses, and one house lost in a bidding war, we found our home. Remarkably, it had everything we wanted: it was a two-family home in the heart of “brownstone” Brooklyn, with original hardwood floors. Most of the houses in the neighborhood were built circa 1900. Many we viewed did not stand the test of time, but this home had been in the same family for years and did not show the usual wear-and-tear of a 100-year-old home. We were lucky, but it did need a major facelift.

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I was thankful to stumble upon Sweeten early in my renovation research for our brownstone in Brooklyn. While I had owned a home before, this was our first time doing a serious renovation that would require more than our DIY skills could handle.

The layout of the house and our budget did not afford us a ton of options, so the renovation was straightforward. We focused on structural changes to change the flow and use of the house. Thankfully, when we moved in, we were able to live in the garden floor apartment while we renovated the upper two floors where we would eventually live.

Salvaging and repurposing

We removed the original entry doors as you come into the entry foyer, but left the structural wall intact. This allowed the area to feel more open as you continue into the living area; it also gave back more livable space to work with. However, I loved the original details of the doors and wanted to find another use for them. Luckily, they just fit the ceiling clearance on the second floor and they found new life as the guest room headboard.

In the living room and through to the kitchen, we tore down two walls and exposed a long expanse of brick wall. The former owner had repointed the brick in the front room with black mortar, which was a real eyesore. When we exposed the whole length of the house, we were left with two walls that didn’t match. Limited by our budget, we repointed the half that was previously covered and experimented with painting techniques to blend the two together.

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An overhaul for the kitchen

I wanted the kitchen to be the focus of the home. There were three main obstacles: adding a door for backyard access, the ceiling height, and a non-negotiable double oven. I initially wanted to enlarge the back window above the sink to make it a focal point and let in more natural light. Not far along into the process, I had to abandon that idea since we were concerned with what the enlarged opening would do to the structural integrity of the home, given its age. It was also a huge expense so we chose to use those dollars elsewhere.

In the end, we actually made the window above the sink slightly smaller to allow for a proper backsplash. We replaced the second window with a door and added a small landing and stairs for easy backyard access.

The next question was how to vent the hood with 11-foot-high ceilings and open shelving left nowhere to hide. Ultimately, the ducting was kept exposed and vented directly through the wall outside. I love the industrial element it adds to the newly renovated space.

Lastly, where to fit the double oven? At first, I was concerned I would be giving up valuable pantry space, but the layout worked out perfectly and there was room for everything we wanted, even the custom built-in beverage taps. We are home-brewing enthusiasts and wanted a unique feature in our kitchen to showcase that.

WATCH: How Bellamy and Zak find their Sweeten contractor

Splurging and saving

The first-floor bath was an easy update. The layout was already functional, so we kept it as-is with a direct replacement—aka rip-and-replace—of all the fixtures. We were able to salvage the original door and reuse the existing tub. We later put our DIY skills to the test and added fun wallpaper and wainscoting.

My favorite splurge on the top floor was a heated bathroom floor—worth every penny in the winter.

The top floor previously served as a separate apartment complete with its own kitchen. We wanted to have a master bedroom, master closet, master bathroom, guest bedroom, and laundry room. The tricky part was figuring out where to put everything. The pre-existing kitchen allowed us to easily add laundry without a huge expense. Once that was decided, everything else fell into place.

The master bedroom closet is a dream spot that had been a small room that our contractor converted. My favorite splurge on the top floor was a heated bathroom floor—worth every penny in the winter.

Throughout the house, we did some major upgrades that elevate the whole space: we put up fresh drywall throughout the second floor, refinished the original floors in a dark walnut color, and replaced all the windows in the house.

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Managing the renovation budget and process

While I would not necessarily recommend living in a renovation (so much dust), it did allow us to check on the progress and be more involved in day-to-day decisions such as outlet locations and doorknob height. We optimistically thought the renovation would take three months, but we did add on some significant projects that stretched the timeline. Overall, the project took about five months to complete the top two floors with some minor updates in the garden apartment.

The budget was our major obstacle, but our Sweeten contractor was great at working with us to determine where we could splurge and where we could save. Once our contractor realized we were quite handy, we were able to figure out what we could do ourselves versus what we should leave to the professionals. For example, we chose to take on all the painting, which was a huge undertaking. I’m talking all ceilings, all walls, all trim, and multiple coats! I don’t think we understood what a huge task it was—and that in certain spaces, the contractor was unable to move forward until we completed painting. I’m glad we did it, but it was a grueling several months and I’m pretty sure I gave myself carpal tunnel.

Switching the brownstone layout

The biggest change in terms of the function of the home was separating the garden floor apartment from the upper two floors. In dividing the two, we were able to gain a coat closet in the apartment and additional storage space for us before the basement level. The ground floor is now available as its own standalone rental unit, while we live on the two floors above. Now that the house is done, I am so thankful we splurged on what we wanted—replacing the windows, skim-coating, and repointing the brick; those are some of my favorite things in the house.

Thanks to Bellamy and Zak for sharing your beautiful and unique Brooklyn brownstone renovation story with us! Here’s how they renovated their new garden rental space on a budget.

SHOPPING GUIDE

FOYER RESOURCES: Merola floor tile: Home Depot.

LIVING ROOM RESOURCES: Vega brushed brass blush-mount lamp: CB2.

GROUND FLOOR BATH RESOURCES: Merola hex black floor tile: Home Depot. Jeffrey Court Fresh White wall tile: Home Depot. Devine Color Speckled Dot peel-and-stick wallpaper: Target. Delta Foundations shower fixtures: Home Depot. ENSEN faucet: IKEA. Black towel bar hardware: CB2. The Copper Factory doorknob: Overstock.com. Godmorgon/Odensvik vanity and sink: IKEA. Framed fog-free wall mirror: Home Depot. Hinkley Lighting vanity light from Ainsley Collection, 56552PN: Build.com.

KITCHEN RESOURCES: Merola floor tile, FRC8TWED: Home Depot. Kitchen cabinets: Custom. Omnia cabinet knobs, 9153/18.3: Build.com. Drawer pulls: Custom. Quartz countertops, 1141: Caesarstone. Jeffrey Court Fresh White backsplash tile, 96012: Home Depot. Olde London apron-front farmhouse fireclay sink, OL33SG: Home Depot. Kenmore refrigerator, 70423: Sears. Bosch dishwasher, SHVM78W53N: Sears. Whirlpool self-cleaning double electric wall oven, WOD51EC0AS: Lowe’s. Kenmore slide-in gas cooktop, 34913: Sears.

MASTER BATH RESOURCES: Carrara marble hex mosaic floor tile, C33XH: MarbleOnline.com. Jeffrey Court Fresh White wall tile, 96012: Home Depot. Jeffrey Court Retro Octagon White Dot shower floor tile, 96025: Home Depot. Towel bar and toilet paper holder: CB2. Delta Porter shower fixtures, 142984C-BN-A: Home Depot. Godmorgon/Odensvik sink and vanity, 291.852.39: IKEA. Vanity cabinet fronts: Semihandmade. Hinkley Lighting vanity light from Ainsley Collection, 56552PN: Build.com. Home Decorators Collection framed fog-free wall mirror, 81160: Home Depot.

PAINT RESOURCES: Trim paint in Totally Black, HDC-MD-04: Behr. Wall paint in Pure White, PPU18-06: Behr.

See the downstairs rental results from Bellamy and Zek’s Brooklyn brownstone renovation story!

Remodel the brownstone of your dreams with help from our guide on purchasing and renovating a townhouse.

Refer your renovating friends to Sweeten and you’ll both receive a $250 Visa gift card when they sign a contract with a Sweeten general contractor.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, and scope, helping until project completion. Follow the blog for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation on Sweeten.



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$29M Townhouse on Upper East Side Is Most Expensive New Listing


A sun-filled, five-story townhouse on New York City’s Upper East Side has landed on the market for $29 million. Built in 1910, the multilevel home is this week’s most expensive new listing on realtor.com®.

Located just off Fifth Avenue, the limestone mansion sits on “one of the most coveted blocks,” according to the listing details, which note that it is flanked by and across from “houses of equivalent architectural merit.”

At 8,800 square feet, the spacious spread includes a finished basement, a gym, 12 rooms, a garden, and terraces.

The home also has an interesting history.

Once the headquarters of the New York Board of Rabbis, the building was purchased by an English businessman, Michael Cannon, for $4.8 million in 2000, according to the Observer. He then embarked on a gut renovation, leaving only the “French neoclassical façade.”

The owner reportedly sold it a year later to Alexander Von Fürstenberg and his wife, Alexandra, for a cool $12 million.

After the couple split up, Alexander Von Fürstenberg put the home on the market in 2005. The home sold for $14.5 million that year, and the real estate magnate Richard LeFrak was reported to be the buyer.

Fifteen years later, the grand residence has landed back on the market with a significant bump in price. Let’s take a peek inside. 

Entry
Entry

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Living room
Living room

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Library
Library

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Kitchen
Kitchen

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Dining room
Dining room

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Garden
Garden

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Music room
Music room

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The multistory abode features six bedrooms, six full bathrooms, and three half-bathrooms.

The classic but updated floor plan opens into a vestibule with double doors that leads to a gallery clad in white marble.

Beyond that space is a grand dining room that can easily fit up to 30 guests. The adjacent “pristine” eat-in kitchen and pantry offer top-of-the-line appliances and look out onto the garden. 

A wide staircase leads to the parlor floor, incorporating a broad landing, 12-foot-high ceilings, and hand-carved millwork.

Both the living room and wood-paneled library feature wood-burning fireplaces. The owner’s suite incorporates a bedroom and study, both with fireplaces, as well as a massive walk-in closet and marble-clad bath.

The fourth floor has three more en suite bedrooms. The top floor includes two more spacious bedrooms with bathrooms, currently functioning as a gym and a music room, both with terraces. An elevator also graces the building.

Best of all, it’s move-in ready for a buyer with means.

“It’s in mint condition,” says listing agent Serena Boardman. “It’s bright, it’s light, it’s airy.”

The upscale residence in a desirable neighborhood is just steps to Central Park, within easy walking distance to museums, shops, and restaurants.

Serena Boardman, Juliette Janssens, and Allison B. Koffman with Sotheby’s International Realty hold the listing.



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An Epic Brooklyn Brownstone Remodel Gets a Modern Loft Feel


A couple’s own pied-à-terre in their townhouse is finally complete

Over a couple of years, Janet and Jerry, a couple from Long Island who bought a historic Crown Heights, Brooklyn brownstone, embarked on a bottom-to-top renovation. After remodeling two of the floors as rentals with Sweeten, (See blog posts for the third floor and garden level) we get the details on the final apartment, a project high point indeed as it marks the completion of the townhouse’s top floor and the pair’s own NYC pied-à-terre. 

The backstory: The duo knew when they closed on the circa 1910 building, a “bring your architect” purchase in need of a total gutting, that a big job lay ahead. Janet, president of the New York School of Design, and Jerry, a doctor, posted the project on Sweeten, a renovation platform connecting homeowners to vetted general contractors, and hired a Sweeten architect and a Sweeten contractor. Read how a neglected and cramped one-bedroom gives way to a space with a loft-like feeling.

brownstone remodel

“After” photos by Pixy Interiors for Sweeten

Blog post by homeowner Jerry as told to Sweeten

This is it. Our apartment. The pied-à-terre we’ve long waited to move into. We have a primary residence on Long Island, but we work in NYC and spend about half our time here. We decided to invest in a multi-family townhouse in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, rent the main units and keep the smaller, fourth-floor apartment for ourselves.

From the time we first saw the top-floor space, we knew it would be our nest. Like the other apartments, this one-bedroom unit needed work. It was dark and chopped up, the kitchen was a wreck and the bathroom was in disrepair. We started thinking about how to refresh the under 600-square-foot space and make it feel larger. Our goal was to create an open and airy studio. We planned to maximize natural light and use natural materials for an organic feel. 

Brooklyn homeowners

brownstone floor plan

In our project’s earlier phases, we’d worked to preserve the building’s architectural features. But in this unit, previous renovations had removed most original detail. Hardwood floors had been replaced with linoleum. Moldings that might have graced the overhead plaster were forgone for a drop ceiling. Only the window moldings and the fireplace remained. Given this situation, we felt free to rethink the space. We decided to use modern elements, bringing in Scandinavian style and Californian mid-century modernism as influences to the new interior.

These subtle architectural elements bring the space together while simultaneously differentiating the sleeping and living rooms. 

Our Sweeten architects worked closely with Janet to achieve several architectural changes. First, we moved the entrance from the fourth floor down to the third, making the stairway part of the apartment’s interior. This increased privacy and usable space, and also allowed us to increase the living room’s natural light with a skylight at the top of the stairs.

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Next, we exposed the living-room ceiling. Opening it to the original wooden beams provided for more vertical space and a lofty room. Initially, we were going to paint the wooden ceiling and exposed beams white. Our Sweeten contractor suggested the beams looked really good unpainted and unfinished. The adjacent sleeping area, however, would have a new lowered ceiling, and an archway. Together these subtle architectural elements bring the space together while simultaneously differentiating the sleeping and living rooms. 

A key facet of our design concept, the arch plays nicely with horizontal lines throughout the apartment, including the exposed beams and the long kitchen countertop. It also connects with a number of graceful curves, like the rounded mirror over the restored fireplace and the rounded lighting fixtures.

WATCH VIDEO: Janet and Jerry talk about the start of their renovation on NBC’s Open House NYC

With the ceiling beautified, we moved to the problematic floors, which were covered in vinyl and old carpeting. We wanted natural wood and after much searching, we chose white-oak flooring and planned to lay it in a custom herringbone, or chevron, pattern. Unfortunately, there was a long lead time for the wood to be custom cut (nearly two months, as the supplier told us that it would require shipping the planks to Europe), not to mention a high price. Just before going back to the drawing board, we found a pre-cut herringbone at half the price. It came out fantastic.

integrated kitchen cabinetry

Once the floors were down we were ready to build the kitchen. We wanted dark wood cabinets, and while we were planning, Ikea came out with a new style that not only looked great but pleased our budget! [See more money-saving ideas for your kitchen renovation.] We wanted countertops that would compliment the cabinets and wear well, and considered marble, granite, and a few synthetic materials, but ultimately chose soapstone for its durability and appearance. The veined black goes nicely with the apartment’s other dark features and looks fantastic as a backsplash.

To stay minimal, we hid appliances in cabinets; our washer/dryer combo, fridge, and pull-out freezer all fit under the counter. The pendant lights over the kitchen counter, the chandelier above the old fireplace, and the bedroom fixtures are simultaneously industrial, modern, casual, and polished.

In the bathroom, we managed another stunning redesign thanks to our Sweeten architects. The shower, a vertical space with a skylight, is flooded by day with natural sunlight, making it feel almost like it’s outside. One disappointment that turned out fine was with the stone floor tiles. We spent a lot of time picking them out, but after accepting our order, the supplier said that only one box of tile was available.

Our contractor solved the issue by taking a large slab of the same stone and custom cutting it into a single 3’x3’ shower base as well as a door saddle, and a stone shelf. We chose an in-wall toilet to maximize space.

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Having knocked down walls and invited light in every way imaginable, we felt successful in our visual opening of the space. We went even further by creating an outdoor area. The roof had formerly been inaccessible but we replaced a window with a glass door; it leads to a new roof deck with views of the neighborhood and Manhattan in the distance.

Through it all, we felt lucky to work with Sweeten, which connected us with both our architect and contractor and helped us troubleshoot on many occasions. The process came with so many rewards. While Janet says she most appreciated the design work and creative discussions, I’m just enjoying our apartment! It’s like staying in a nice hotel with a feeling of being home. The best of both worlds.

Thank you, Janet and Jerry, for sharing your entire home with us!

LIVING ROOM RESOURCES: Wall paint in Cotton Balls: Benjamin Moore. Poolesville European white oak flooring: PID. Chandelier above fireplace: Schoolhouse Electric. Theresa Rand coffee table: Menu Design Shop. Doorknobs: Omnia.

DINING AREA AND STAIRWAY RESOURCES: Hackney marble dining table, storage bench: CB2 Rattan cane chairs: Industry West.

BEDROOM RESOURCES: Ceiling light, sconce lights: Schoolhouse Electric. Mill C bedside table with laptop tray: CB2. Spindle Nightstand: Industry West. Airisto bench/side table in ash: Finnish Design Shop

KITCHEN RESOURCES: Paint in Cotton Balls: Benjamin Moore. VOXTORP kitchen cabinets and sink: IKEA. Ipanema Reserve countertops and backsplash: M Teixeira Soapstone. Faucet, #1959LF-BL: Delta . Undercounter refrigerator and freezer: Liebherr. Pendant lights: Schoolhouse Electric. All-in-one 2.3 cu. ft. front-load washer and electric ventless dryer: LG. Fellow Stagg Pour Over kettle: Williams Sonoma.

BATHROOM RESOURCES: 18″ x 18″ Marine Black Phyllite floor tiles: M Teixeira SoapstoneMatte white wall tiles 3”x9”: COLORI. Shower fixtures; Contemporary and Purist Line fittings: Kohler. Toilet: Duravit. GODMORGON vanity, ODENSVIK sink : IKEA. Faucet: Grohe. Hardware, lighting, towel bar, tissue holder, robe hook, Swedish utility rack: Schoolhouse Electric. Mirror: CB2. Waffle towels: Snowe.

ROOF DECK RESOURCES: Marvin Swinging French door. Automated shade: Shade Store.

Before you buy a townhouse, read our guide on buying and renovating a multi-story fixer upper.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation on Sweeten.



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