space of the week

Saving Face

A historic townhouse in Prospect Lefferts Gardens manages to stay in character while enjoying some very modern interventions.

Photo: Nicole Franzen
Photo: Nicole Franzen

Rus Mehta and Tal Schori of GRT Architects had constraints when it came to the renovation of their client’s 19th-century four-story townhouse, including its location within the Historic District of Prospect Lefferts Gardens. Specifically, the fact that the parlor floor had previously been turned into doctors’ offices and needed a residential reconfiguration, and then the budget, which necessitated thrifty choices in materials and in the scope of the design program. Mehta and Schori rose to the occasion, creating, among other startling spaces, a completely new kitchen and pantry with a new spiral stair down to the garden level, seen above.

A full view of the staircase. Photo: Nicole Franzen
The former kitchen, seen here, felt like an afterthought in the back of the house. Photo: Courtesy of GRT Architects
The entirely new custom kitchen is now in what had been part of the formal dining room. “We didn’t want it to be sort of luxe,” Schori says. “By bringing the kitchen out of the little addition into the body of the house, we wanted it to become more than a single-function space.” The magical ingredients here are commonly used kitchen materials: plywood, laminate, and linoleum, but used here in an enticingly fresh and modern way. “We have exposed plywood and the laminate set into the frame with custom brass pulls and a stainless-steel countertop,” Mehta says. The island top is Forbo Marmoleum. The stove is Bertazonni and the faucet is Watermark. Photo: Nicole Franzen
The façade of the townhouse, with its Romanesque and neo-Renaissance motifs, had to be carefully updated because of its landmark status. The original windows were replaced with custom-made insulated replicas. Photo: Nicole Franzen
The entrance foyer and stair were left untouched, but once inside, you have a view toward the picture window at the back and the refreshed living and dining room beyond. The original parquet floors were in good condition and just needed to be stripped of the coating of shellacked polyurethane, which gave it a yellow cast. It is now a natural matte finish. Photo: Evan Jorgensen
A big old heavy ceiling beam was not original and had no structural use beyond hiding a fluorescent light in the living room. Photo: Courtesy of GRT Architects
“We were trying to add contemporary insertions as much as we were trying to edit the historical detailing that was there,” Schori says. Here in the restored living room, the biggest change is the enlarged entrance between the dining room and living room. “It was originally a big heavy articulated pocket door that had about a four-foot opening,” Schori says. The architects made the decision to highlight modern insertions instead of replicating former details, so here, where the floor wood had to be ripped up in the threshold area, they added a brass plate rather than patching the floor. In lieu of the historical moldings, they chose a more streamlined, minimal trim with brass inlays. The pendant lights are by Andrew Neyer. Photo: Nicole Franzen
The dining room before renovation. Photo: Courtesy of GRT Architects
Now the dining room shares the space with the open kitchen on the other side of the room. The original architectural details have been painted a matte white to give a fresh look and emphasize the forms of the fireplace and shelving. The large glass mirror was replaced with a more graceful circular mirror, and the light pendants are by Raco. Photo: Nicole Franzen
The elephant in one of the original bathrooms was this baby-blue tub with its sliding-door component. Photo: Courtesy of GRT Architects
“We went to great lengths to save that tub!” Schori says, although it was relocated to the upstairs master bath, seen here. “There was a moment where [the clients] were going to throw it out, but we talked them off the ledge.” The vanity is custom-designed alongside Watermark brass plumbing fixtures and Cle floor tiles. Photo: Nicole Franzen
A Historic Brooklyn Townhouse With Some Modern Interventions