A Sunny Brooklyn Home Designed for Booklovers and Cats

BFDO Architects revamped this townhouse to suit a literary couple and their two inquisitive felines.

Photo: Francis Dzikowski
Photo: Francis Dzikowski

BFDO Architects revamped a house in the Windsor Terrace neighborhood of Brooklyn to suit the owners — a literary couple who asked for plenty of bookshelves and sunlit nooks for working — and their two inquisitive felines.

Alexandra Barker, the founder and principal of BFDO Architects, has a particular talent for giving beautiful but weathered buildings a new lease on life. For this Brooklyn row house, her work included cleaning up the façade and painting the front door to give it a welcoming burst of color.
Before Barker and her team started the renovation, the interiors were musty, with lots of heavily stained wood.
“The clients wanted to find interesting ways to bring color and light in,” Barker says. The renovation entailed removing walls and freshening up architectural details, like the ones seen in the open entrance. The existing pine floors were sanded and refinished.
A portion of the interior, with the original doors and floors from before the renovation, can be seen here. It seems some architectural tinkering had also occurred.
“The layout was configured as an open, airy — 20-by-50-by-10-foot tall — primary living space on the parlor floor,” Barker says. One side of the living-room area has a full-length bookshelf, an art wall, and some lounge space. “The design brief also called for special accommodations for their two shy but inquisitive cats,” says Barker about the pieces that let the cats circulate through the room. The Eva Zeisel coffee table is from Design Within Reach.
Certain design elements were put in place with the cats in mind. Photo: Francis Dzikowski
“The shelves project to create steps for the cats to climb up to a continuous open ledge, where they can observe activities from a high vantage point,” Barker says. “Trap doors allow the cats to access rooms above at either end of the house.”
This original built-in cabinet could have been removed in the renovation, but Barker decided it wasn’t merely a remnant of the past. She gave it some attention and a new finish to reinvigorate it.
The old-but-feels-new cabinet is now a centerpiece in the dining area — a nod to the history of the house, but without any fustiness. The dining chairs are from Cabin Modern in Cobble Hill. The X-Rod dining table is from Recycled Brooklyn. The light fixtures are a combination of pieces: The Foscarini Big Bang Chandelier is from Y Lighting, and the smaller pendant lights are from Nest in Park Slope, which is now closed. The rug is from Flor.
The kitchen, seen here before the renovation, shows its age.
The cabinets seen here are from Ikea, but they sport cabinet fronts from Semihandmade. The high chairs are from Cabin Modern.
The master bath comes to life with Moroccan Fish Scale tiles (Barker calls them “mermaid scale” tiles) from Mercury Mosaics. The Richmond claw-foot tub is from Victoria + Albert. The faucets are the Avalon model from California Faucets.
The studio upstairs is on the backside of the house, which has a balcony. Here, in the corner, Barker was asked to create a skylit “nest” where her client “could have a concealed, elevated space to write and think,” she says. “The structure is formed from recycled door moldings from the house.”
The back of the house, pre-renovation, with only a basement door allowing access to the garden.
After the renovation, the back of the house is filled with light and has outdoor space. Downstairs, the former basement area has been deemed a “cat-free zone,” and includes a workout space and guest suite. Barker says that she has done pet-friendly designs before, but adds, “it wasn’t privileging the animals in quite this way.”
A Sunny Brooklyn Home Designed for Booklovers and Cats