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An 1890 Brooklyn Townhouse, Reinvented for Modern Times

Originally posted on Remodelista by  on July 12, 2021

In the high-stakes world of speculative real estate, it’s not surprising that so many people stick to familiar and unimposing design choices. But what made us take note of this Bed Stuy, Brooklyn, townhouse fixer-upper was the inventiveness of the overhaul.

Owner Tatiana Cames of Townhouse Therapy is both a real estate broker and a remodeler: her firm has its own general contracting division and since 1992, she’s been seeking out historic structures “in frightening shape” and turning them around. For this particular project, she began by enlisting architects Thom Dalmas and Bretaigne Walliser to take on the gut renovation and enlargement of a 1899 brick structure, a single-family house that had been long ago divided into apartments and was very beat up. Two years, a back extension, and new top floor later, she got it ready for showing by taking TBo’s advice and calling in the city’s star staging sisters Hollister and Porter Hovey of Hovey Design.

Both duos are longtime Remodelista favorites and had collaborated on another Brooklyn townhouse: see The Anti-White Box Development. The architects, formerly of Fabr Studio, are here unveiling the first project by their new design firm, TBo (for Thom-Bretaigne office). Theirs is not a cookie-cutter approach: “We go into each project trying to infuse our buildings with something nuanced and spirited.” Join us, for a look around.

Photography by Jonathan Hökklo courtesy of TBo (@TBo_architecture), unless noted.

The cast-in-place concrete back extension &#8\2\20;interlocks with the original masonry construction, hugging and intertwining with the old building,&#8\2\2\1; says Bretaigne. &#8\2\20;The windows in the rear are deliberately oversized to suffuse the space with light and create a sense of scale and volume unexpected for a townhouse.&#8\2\2\1; The new third floor is clad in Corten siding (scroll to the end for a closeup). A back stair connects the parlor floor to the garden level, which has a separate apartment that can be used as a rental.
Above: The cast-in-place concrete back extension “interlocks with the original masonry construction, hugging and intertwining with the old building,” says Bretaigne. “The windows in the rear are deliberately oversized to suffuse the space with light and create a sense of scale and volume unexpected for a townhouse.” The new third floor is clad in Corten siding (scroll to the end for a closeup). A back stair connects the parlor floor to the garden level, which has a separate apartment that can be used as a rental.

Parlor Floor

The architects restored the living room to its original dimensions and preserved the existing fireplace. Known for their celebration of simple materials, they applied Diamond veneer plaster walls and restored the original woodwork throughout. The floors are reclaimed heart pine from Provenance.
Above: The architects restored the living room to its original dimensions and preserved the existing fireplace. Known for their celebration of simple materials, they applied Diamond veneer plaster walls and restored the original woodwork throughout. The floors are reclaimed heart pine from Provenance.

To furnish the rooms, the Hoveys dipped into their vintage European collections and travel treasures: the chairs and console are midcentury Italian and the coffee table is a 1970s Milo Baughman design (the sofa is West Elm’s discontinued Double Dream). As with all Hovey projects, Hollister created abstract paintings to define the key spaces; the mantel’s sea life canvas introduces the upstair’s tile palette to the main floor.

The living room entry was widened to open it to the entry. The scale of the original windows and doors, Bretaigne points out, &#8\2\20;helps to ground the older parts of the house. We didn&#8\2\17;t, however, replicate these in the extension: we think it&#8\2\17;s important to have a different syntax for the new spaces.&#8\2\2\1; The terra-cotta vase on the pedestal is by Jaye Kim from Sincerely, Tommy.
Above: The living room entry was widened to open it to the entry. The scale of the original windows and doors, Bretaigne points out, “helps to ground the older parts of the house. We didn’t, however, replicate these in the extension: we think it’s important to have a different syntax for the new spaces.” The terra-cotta vase on the pedestal is by Jaye Kim from Sincerely, Tommy.

The dining room overlooks the kitchen located in the extension. Here, the architects preserved the houses&#8\2\17;s original rear brick wall and window openings—&#8\2\2\1;but cut these openings down to the floor, so that one can walk through them: they became a passageway between the preexisting and the new space.&#8\2\2\1; The walls are finished with a mix of mortar, lime, and sand known as &#8\2\20;pigmented bagged brick.&#8\2\2\1;
Above: The dining room overlooks the kitchen located in the extension. Here, the architects preserved the houses’s original rear brick wall and window openings—”but cut these openings down to the floor, so that one can walk through them: they became a passageway between the preexisting and the new space.” The walls are finished with a mix of mortar, lime, and sand known as “pigmented bagged brick.”

A \1960s rattan high-back chair and \1950s rosewood console table, both Italian, stand next to the exposed concrete framing of the extension. One of the Hoveys&#8\2\17; favorite furniture sources is LiveAuctioneers.com: &#8\2\20;in a turn of fate, we found a bunch of gorgeous Italian and French midcentury pieces at auction the week prior to our install.&#8\2\2\1; Go to Real Estate Staging with Style and Affordability for their secrets to creating pulled-together rooms.
Above: A 1960s rattan high-back chair and 1950s rosewood console table, both Italian, stand next to the exposed concrete framing of the extension. One of the Hoveys’ favorite furniture sources is LiveAuctioneers.com: “in a turn of fate, we found a bunch of gorgeous Italian and French midcentury pieces at auction the week prior to our install.” Go to Real Estate Staging with Style and Affordability for their secrets to creating pulled-together rooms.

&#8\2\20;Our approach for the extension was to create a spatially distinctive environment that would both complement the original Italianate and Federal details and bestow something new,&#8\2\2\1; says Bretaigne.
Above: “Our approach for the extension was to create a spatially distinctive environment that would both complement the original Italianate and Federal details and bestow something new,” says Bretaigne.

&#8\2\20;The kitchen design is centered on a large island, placing emphasis on the rich red stone surface and the idea of a large, communal gathering spot in an otherwise spartan space,&#8\2\2\1; says Bretaigne. Note the extension&#8\2\17;s Douglas fir beams and clerestory windows.
Above: “The kitchen design is centered on a large island, placing emphasis on the rich red stone surface and the idea of a large, communal gathering spot in an otherwise spartan space,” says Bretaigne. Note the extension’s Douglas fir beams and clerestory windows.

The custom millwork is oak topped with Rosso Collemandina marble. The \1960s counter stools are by Tito Agnoli. Photograph by Hollister Hovey.
Above: The custom millwork is oak topped with Rosso Collemandina marble. The 1960s counter stools are by Tito Agnoli. Photograph by Hollister Hovey.

Second Floor

Tatiana says she envisions a buyer &#8\2\20;with European sensibilities who leans to the artistic side&#8\2\2\1; and has a family: the second floor was set up as the kids&#8\2\17; area. Shown here, a central play space. The Hoveys accessorized it with pieces from their straw animals collection.
Above: Tatiana says she envisions a buyer “with European sensibilities who leans to the artistic side” and has a family: the second floor was set up as the kids’ area. Shown here, a central play space. The Hoveys accessorized it with pieces from their straw animals collection.

“We found the Spanish cactus and burro at shops in New York and Connecticut a few years back, the buffalo is by Javier Sanchez Medina, who is the reigning king of the craft. Before lockdown, we visited his atelier in Madrid.” The Harlee Director’s Play Chairs are by Leanne Ford for Crate & Kids. Photograph by Hollister Hovey.

As on the first floor, the original brick wall was preserved; it opens to a bedroom in the extension. Of the new circulation, Bretaigne says: &#8\2\20;Instead of a typical townhouse layout, you have an unfolding space with myriad passageways and light pouring in from many directions.&#8\2\2\1; Photograph by Hollister Hovey.
Above: As on the first floor, the original brick wall was preserved; it opens to a bedroom in the extension. Of the new circulation, Bretaigne says: “Instead of a typical townhouse layout, you have an unfolding space with myriad passageways and light pouring in from many directions.” Photograph by Hollister Hovey.

The bedroom is sectioned off from the closet by a paneled wood divider—a combination of reclaimed Southern Yellow pine and Douglas fir—that doubles as a headboard. The house&#8\2\17;s natural wood tones and &#8\2\20;emphasis on warm hues,&#8\2\2\1; came from the architects&#8\2\17; travels in Spain and Portugal just before they started working on the project.
Above: The bedroom is sectioned off from the closet by a paneled wood divider—a combination of reclaimed Southern Yellow pine and Douglas fir—that doubles as a headboard. The house’s natural wood tones and “emphasis on warm hues,” came from the architects’ travels in Spain and Portugal just before they started working on the project.

The walls in the extension are made of mortar-washed masonry blocks: &#8\2\20;These are very standard building materials that come in myriad sizes, so we used blocks of different sizes together to invest the wall surface with more texture,&#8\2\2\1; says Bretaigne. The chair is Rietveld&#8\2\17;s Painted Wood Dining Chair from the Hoveys&#8\2\17; holdings.
Above: The walls in the extension are made of mortar-washed masonry blocks: “These are very standard building materials that come in myriad sizes, so we used blocks of different sizes together to invest the wall surface with more texture,” says Bretaigne. The chair is Rietveld’s Painted Wood Dining Chair from the Hoveys’ holdings.

The bath has a double utility sink—the wall-mounted Brockway from Kohler with Kohler&#8\2\17;s Triton Bowe gooseneck spouts—and a floor of cement tiles from Villa Lagoon Tile of Gulf Shores, Alabama.
Above: The bath has a double utility sink—the wall-mounted Brockway from Kohler with Kohler’s Triton Bowe gooseneck spouts—and a floor of cement tiles from Villa Lagoon Tile of Gulf Shores, Alabama.

Twin beds with duvet covers—minus the duvets—from Hawkins New York. The marble table lamp is the Hübsch from Smallable. Photograph by Hollister Hovey.
Above: Twin beds with duvet covers—minus the duvets—from Hawkins New York. The marble table lamp is the Hübsch from Smallable. Photograph by Hollister Hovey.

The smallest space is styled as a baby&#8\2\17;s room. Throughout the house, notes Bretaigne, &#8\2\20;there is very little reliance on paint but instead on hand-troweled plaster surfaces that we think have a wonderful luminous effect. We were trying to keep things unfussy and generous; we wanted to let this house breathe.&#8\2\2\1;
Above: The smallest space is styled as a baby’s room. Throughout the house, notes Bretaigne, “there is very little reliance on paint but instead on hand-troweled plaster surfaces that we think have a wonderful luminous effect. We were trying to keep things unfussy and generous; we wanted to let this house breathe.”

The floors and baseboards are reclaimed heart pine. The original window surrounds were stripped,  restored, and left raw or lightly oiled.

The family bath&#8\2\17;s harlequin floor was inspired by some of Picasso&#8\2\17;s Blue Period paintings. Like the other bath, the cement tiles are from Villa Lagoon Tile. Photograph by Hollister Hovey.
Above: The family bath’s harlequin floor was inspired by some of Picasso’s Blue Period paintings. Like the other bath, the cement tiles are from Villa Lagoon Tile. Photograph by Hollister Hovey.

Third Floor Addition

The new-construction top floor was conceived as a private aerie with its own arched passageways. The window surrounds are clear white pine left raw.
Above: The new-construction top floor was conceived as a private aerie with its own arched passageways. The window surrounds are clear white pine left raw.

The sitting area is furnished with a CB\2 sofa and Madeline Weinrib rug from ABC Carpet . The interior  steel windows bring light into the bath. Photograph by Hollister Hovey.
Above: The sitting area is furnished with a CB2 sofa and Madeline Weinrib rug from ABC Carpet . The interior  steel windows bring light into the bath. Photograph by Hollister Hovey.

The top floor is clad in black corrugated steel and a weathered-steel rain screen: &#8\2\20;the layering of this cladding and the fact that light filters through it helps to subtly soften the scale,&#8\2\2\1; say the architects. &#8\2\20;It catches the evening sun brilliantly.&#8\2\2\1;
Above: The top floor is clad in black corrugated steel and a weathered-steel rain screen: “the layering of this cladding and the fact that light filters through it helps to subtly soften the scale,” say the architects. “It catches the evening sun brilliantly.”
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