Architect Couple Brings New Life to a Brooklyn 1880s Townhouse
NEW YORK—Architect Kyle Page and his wife, landscape architect Hardy Stecker, didn’t want to live in someone else’s design when they bought their first home together, so they scoured select parts of northern Brooklyn looking for something in need of extensive renovations.
“When we went into contract in 2012, we could still afford in Clinton Hill, but not many properties,” said Mr. Page, who owns Sundial Studios, a DUMBO-based architectural firm. “I think that, for one, the size of this house [2000 sq feet] put us in a cost range.”
“And the other thing is that this house needed a lot of work, and the asking price reflected that.”
They closed on their 1880s townhouse in 2013, and then found out Ms. Stecker was pregnant with their first child. They spent several months waiting for permits to convert their new home from a one-family to a two-family property. Their renovation work started in May 2013.
Extensive structural work was required, including removing an illegal extension, rebuilding the front stoop, fortifying the interior stairs and pouring a slab at the garden level. All the plumbing and electrics had to be replaced, because they were not up to code.
They moved in during October, with renovations ongoing. “We had a baby shower at the end of the month and welders were installing our front railings as guests arrived,” Mr. Page said.
They installed a deck out the back behind the kitchen, and added two bathrooms on the upper levels, and a small washroom on the first floor.
Their house was finished around the time their son Otis was born in December 2013. The garden level one-bedroom rental was finished in March 2014.
Creating Openness in A Narrow Space
From the outside, the south-facing three-story townhouse in Clinton Hill looks incredibly narrow.
Inside, it’s just 12 feet 11 inches wide, and 40 feet deep. But 10 foot-high ceilings, lots of natural light from the south, and clever use of space give the home a spacious, welcoming feel.
The fluted glass door at the entrance allows light to pass through, but also offers privacy from the street. The entrance foyer is framed by high windows above and beside it.
“We kind of fell in love with the staircase in the beginning—the way that the house has a wonderful vertical connection. There’s separation, and spaces in rooms, but there’s a core center that makes it intimate and have character,” Ms. Stecker said.
The interior design of the home, including the color palette they choose, all flowed from the first material they chose: a piece of Carrera marble from Swan Tile & Cabinets in Queens.
The huge slab of marble became not only their kitchen countertop, but also the tops of the vanity units in the two upstairs bathrooms.
The whole house has this continuity in design materials.
The doors, windows, and skirtings throughout are all framed with reveal trim detail, which was manufactured by Milgo Bufkin in Newton Creek.
The east-facing walls in the bedrooms and living rooms all have a segment of exposed brick, and simple light-colored wooden shelving, which Mr. Page and a friend from Colorado made.
“This is a small house. We don’t have much storage. We wanted something that provided storage and that was inexpensive as well,” Mr. Page said.
The shelves in each room hold different types of books: art and architecture on the first floor, hardback fiction in the guest room, and paperback fiction in the master bedroom.
The house has a floor plate total of 1500 square feet across its three stories, and a 500 square foot rental unit at the garden level. The half-landing staircase acts as a spine, connecting the different parts of the house.
On the third floor, the landing separates a nursery and a bathroom at the south end of the house, from the master bedroom at the rear. On the second floor, the guest bedroom and bathroom are also at the south end, with the TV room at the back.
And on the first floor, the living room at the entrance of the house is separated from the open plan kitchen and dining room, with its adjoining mini powder room, by the entrance to the stairs.
The bathrooms they added on the second and third floors replaced the only other bathroom on the landing between the first and second floors, which is now a broom closet.
For the shower walls in the bathrooms, Mr. Page invested in tiles from Heath Ceramics in Sausalito, Calif. “They just have a beautiful selection,” he said. He chose tiles in a blue shade for one bathroom, and green for the other.
The majority of the bathrooms’ walls and floor are filled with small white penny tiles. Where the floor meets the wall at the south side of both bathrooms is a convex curve, rather than the typical 90-degree angle, in small penny tiles.
Ms. Stecker loved the skylight above the third floor stairwell. It was her idea to create a stained glass map of their local streets to put there, and it includes their home’s narrow rectangular plot.
Furniture with History
Mr. Page owns furniture that has been in his family for generations. Some details date back to the 1880s, the same period the townhouse was built.
A spooled bed, which is now in the guest bedroom on the second floor, was reportedly made by an officer on Napoleon Bonaparte’s staff, according to an article in the Washington Star in 1975.
A wooden rocking chair in Otis’s room on the third floor has been in the family since at least the 1930s, according to Mr. Page. It was what his grandmother sat in to nurse his father, Otis Junior, and whose father was Otis Senior.
Outside the room, in the hallway leading to the stairs, two framed, tinted color photos hang on the wall. One photo is Mr. Page’s grandfather, Otis Senior, and the other, his grandmother. They were likely taken in the 1930s, Mr. Page said.
“Hardy took them to be restored, and the framer that she took them to said the frames were from the 1880s,” Mr. Page said.
On the second floor hallway, leading to the stairs, are three framed samples of the house’s original grey speckled wallpaper—that was Ms. Stecker’s idea.
A friend of theirs painted the large painting hanging above the stairwell between the first and second floors.
For Mr. Page, who has lived in garden apartments in Fort Greene since he moved to New York in 2003, outdoor space for his dog Mazzy was a must.
They still have plans for the outside, which is Ms. Stecker’s specialty.
“We are going to pave the yard in spring, so we can have Otis be able to play out there,” she said.