Before & After / By Carol Wang / August 10, 2017
A Couple Proves Their Historic Townhouse Works for Everyone (Part 3)
In the sleeping quarters, a playroom, an extra washroom, and a couple’s lounge
This week, we’re featuring Part 3 of Nazli and Larry’s gut renovation of a Brooklyn brownstone in Bedford-Stuyvesant. In case you missed it, you can catch up here and here. In this final post of the series, Nazli introduces us to their son’s bedroom and play space, the (oh-so-important) laundry room, and finally, their sunlit top floor, which includes the master bedroom, bath, a lounge, as well as Larry’s office. She also explains the reasoning behind the move and why they chose to make this Brooklyn neighborhood their home. Read on to hear about the instincts that guided her design and layout choices, all of which came together to create an incredible, one-of-a-kind space for their family.
Guest post by Bedford-Stuyvesant homeowner Nazli
Every time I tell the tale of how a room came about, it begins, “This was a big fight over….” I don’t know if this is true of all couples who embark on a renovation project of this scale, but both our architect and contractor said they should charge clients for marriage counseling on top of the rest of their work, so I know we’re not alone. Before getting into the renovation details, I’m going to acknowledge that we are fortunate as New Yorkers to be able to afford and renovate this Brooklyn brownstone. It allowed us access to capital, insurance, and loans not available to most of our neighbors who were in fact systematically denied through redlining. Not to get all political, but this home is in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. While I shake my head wistfully as neighbors tell me they bought their houses for $55,000, I am aware that other people were forced to sell their homes for nothing, because banks wouldn’t give out loans in these types of neighborhoods. So while I’m happy to talk about tile and all the tiffs with my non-design-driven better half, we are grateful for the choices we have been afforded in life, which got us to the point where our fights are about where to put a bathtub. Speaking of which…we didn’t get a bathtub. It’s just one of a million tiny regrets and shoulda-woulda’s that are unavoidable in this process.
Let’s begin with the impetus for the whole move: our little roommate, 3.5-year-old Nacho. As far as roommates go, this one is not so bad. He’s demanding and he struggles to clean up after himself, but man oh man, do we love this guy. We wanted to move into a home to give him a better sense of what it means to grow up in a community: to plant flowers in the tree pits with our neighbors, to attend block association meetings (where he gets to call the meeting to order), to hang on the stoop, meet neighbors and observe street life, and to have the space to run around and be a kid. There is so much I miss about apartment living. I’m a total city brat, but to see Nacho lose it when he hears birds outside or sees a squirrel running around the backyard is pretty darn amazing.
I know our idea of the great outdoors is a joke by suburban standards, but for now, this is as far as I’m willing to take it. I love NYC, and while it’s always a struggle and a hassle to make it here, it’s been my home since I was 18 years old. Larry and I are excited by the prospect of raising a city kid who knows to never run into the street, says hello to EVERYONE he meets and finds the ice cream truck music to be the best song he’s ever heard in his life. His room is bright and simple. Every single day, he tears it all up only to find it magically clean again in the morning.
I like to fill up his room with fun art that I’ve collected over the years. Now, I buy one piece a year for his birthday. I love the fact that he will have 18 pieces of his own art when he’s 18, I hope that it’s the start of a collection, or the very least, a love of art. This is his playroom and it’s separated by sliding doors from a small bedroom where he sleeps. This is where the kids sleep when families come to visit, and it’s where we pass out if we are having a rough night with the little guy. At some point, Nacho may move to the playroom, or we may convert the small bedroom to another guest bedroom or office or a nursery—who knows? Point is, I like the flexibility with the two joined yet separate spaces.
Let’s move to the top floor. I love the master bedroom because it’s a good lesson on what paint can do for a room. We did the entire room over with new moldings and trim, but the dimensions and basic look are very similar to what was here before. We just got rid of that gross color on the walls. This house taught me to go dark, and to appreciate the power of the color black. Our former apartment was a light-filled loft with unfettered views of New York Harbor. Most of the walls were white or light gray, and I didn’t have so much as a picture frame in black.
This Brooklyn brownstone was moodier—and let’s face it, so was I—and seemed to call for darker colors, which may seem odd given how much less light there is, but the black paint doesn’t make the spaces feel dark or small. It makes our stairs feel like a real feature, it keeps the master bath from feeling like a blah condo bathroom, and it brings out the moldings and woodwork in our master bedroom, allowing all of the rooms to look elegant and uncluttered without feeling too stark. I’m a big fan. The colors also looked really different on walls versus woodwork and depending on how the light hit it. I had to choose between 15 different shades of black. To quote Larry, who is somewhat less color obsessed than I: “So wait, you want me to choose between black, black, black, and black? How about black?” Try sending your husband away on a nice vacation when it comes time to make decisions like these.
The master bathroom is…cool. I love the black tile wall and the concrete vanity. The whole bathroom started out with the wall-mounted faucet, and I designed the rest of the bathroom around it. I wanted concrete and wood for the vanity, and our Sweeten architect created great drawings for the concrete guys and carpenter to use. I don’t love the marble on the walls, but that’s because it was supposed to be a super light, white marble, but it’s gray-veined Carrara. The architect did an amazing job with the drawings for the countertop and the vanity and we were super lucky to find our Sweeten woodworker to create the vanity. They were great, and we saved a bit by using a beautiful teak veneer rather than solid teak. We are going to have them design a flat towel rack for the empty wall with the leftover teak veneer, and that should help give the room a more finished look, along with plants, which will really take this space to the next level. As for the shower, we wanted it to be big enough so that we could take family showers on the weekends, which is what happens after you finish a renovation project and learn to love one another again.
Design around who you are and how you behave. I realized that I was often late in the mornings because Larry would take forever. When we realized we had this little bit of extra space in our master bedroom suite, we quickly redesigned the bathroom, giving ourselves a long vanity with a single sink (I’d rather have more counter space), and created this little toilet room with its own sink. Not to gush so much about such a silly thing, but there’s no more passing out at night without washing up, or being late in the morning because my husband has hogged the bathroom! Happy days.
Let’s get to the Real Housewives of Brooklyn—all we ever wanted was a laundry room that wasn’t tucked away in a creepy 200-year-old basement. I made sure it was on the second floor, next to Nacho’s room, which is, of course, the main source of laundry in the house. Linen closet? Check. Slop sink? Check. A closet door without a door knob because we keep forgetting to add it? Check and check. It’s delightful. Others may ooh and ahh over other features of this Brooklyn brownstone, but after the dining room, this might be my favorite room in the house. I think that architecture directs behavior. When the laundry room is conveniently located, everyone does their laundry in a timely manner. It’s less about a love of doing laundry, which I obviously hate doing, and more about having a great appreciation for setting up a space where it can be done efficiently and where towels and sheets can be stored right away after folding.
Larry was so excited to have his own office—formerly a bathroom—and couldn’t be happier with the setup. Everything is within arm’s reach, and there is enough built-in storage for his books and files. When we are running around in the house, he can shut the sliding doors and have his cave, while still allowing light in from the skylights because of the lovely transom windows we built in. Our Sweeten architect did a great job with the layout upstairs to ensure maximum light.
Our lounge is outside of Larry’s office, and it’s our Friday night hangout. At the end of every week, we like to tuck Nacho into bed and crawl on the couch to watch a movie. We’ve never made it past the first 15 minutes without falling asleep. Nevertheless, we love having a space just for us. Larry likes having the doors to his office open and being able to watch a game while he works late into the night. The ability to open his office up to the lounge allows a lot of flexibility in the space, both now and in the future. We love that there’s no door to the lounge; it means stepping into a very open space as soon as you get to the top of the stairs.
Thank you to Nazli, Larry, and Nacho for generously sharing your Brooklyn brownstone—and all the thought, planning, laughter and tears that went into the process. We hope that you’ll enjoy every part of your beautiful home for many years to come!
KID’S ROOM/PLAYSPACE RESOURCES: Black ceiling light fixture: RH Teen. Red lamp: ABC Home and Carpet Warehouse.
MASTER BEDROOM RESOURCES: Ceiling fan: Minka-Aire. Blacktop paint: Benjamin Moore.
MASTER BATH RESOURCES: Tumbled limestone bathroom floor tile: Daltile. Concrete vanity and shower bench: OSO Industries. Custom vanity: Bear Mountain Woodworking. Faucet, sconces, and mirrors: Restoration Hardware. Black Wall Tile: Nemo Stone. Cabinet Fixtures: Colonial Hardware. Shower Fixtures: Grohe.
WATER CLOSET RESOURCES: Grohe faucet: Build.com.
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