ISSUE 69  |  Clean Sweep

The Architect Is In: Elizabeth Roberts Adds Value in Brooklyn

April 27, 2013 9:30 AM

BY Christine Chang Hanway

This week Elizabeth Roberts, a Brooklyn-based designer and partner at Ensemble Architecture, D.P.C., takes us through her renovation of the top duplex of a Fort Greene townhouse.  She is available for the next 48 hours to answer any and all questions. Ask away!

Owning an urban townhouse is a dream for many, but not necessarily a reality for most. Does owning half a townhouse make the dream any less desirable? Two young families (old friends from college) enlisted Roberts, a member of the Remodelista Architect/Designer Directory, to set an example and show that by dividing a townhouse into a lower and upper duplex with 1,900 square feet each, less could literally be more.

While Roberts designed the upper duplex, she did not design the lower duplex because its owners commissioned a family member who was an architect in Portland. Sagely, however, the two families did hire Roberts to oversee the construction of the entire building, thus ensuring an overall coherent vision. “The roof deck of the upper duplex was a key ingredient in order to achieve parity with the lower duplex, which got the garden space,” Roberts says.  “Some unexpected challenges included helping the two families figure out which expenses should be split between the two families as common costs.”

Photography by Sean Slattery.

 

Above: The first level of the upper duplex is on the third floor of the townhouse; the kitchen affords a view through the leafy streets of the historic section of Fort Greene in Brooklyn.

Above: Thoughtful details such as hiding the air conditioning in the ceiling of the reading nook support Roberts’ efforts in maintaining a modern and open feel on the living floor of the duplex.

Above: Book storage was a key component in Roberts’ design because one of the owners is a high school English teacher. “The reading nook that separates the dining from the living room is completely wrapped in books,” Roberts says. “And throughout the house, wherever there was some leftover space, we created more book storage.”

Above: “Modern interventions in historic houses need to be very clean and well detailed,” Roberts says, “or else they feel inferior in comparison to the weight of any remaining historic detailing.” In this project, her modern detailing holds its own against the existing fireplace mantles and stairways she retained.

Above: “We spent a lot of time working out a very regular rhythm for the cabinets, and I think that as a result, it looks better than a typical Ikea kitchen,” Roberts says.

Above L: The countertops along the wall are Boos butcher block and the countertop on the island is Carrera Marble. Above R: A small urban terrace sits off the kitchen.

Above: “We chose to paint the spindles and the treads and risers the same color (Benjamin Moore’s Wolf Gray) because it feels modern and clean as well as making the beautiful original mahogany handrail very visible,” Roberts says. “This paint detail also makes the transition to the new, simpler balusters at the new stair which leads to the roof more subtle.”

Above: Roberts conceals a washing machine and clothes dryer in a closet on the stair landing.

Above: Modern detailing in the master bathroom creates a clean and efficient look.

Above: Located on the top level, the interior bathrooms and bedrooms benefit greatly from operable and programmable skylights. “Designing and getting planning approval from the city for the roof deck was the most complex part of the project because the house is located in the historic district of Fort Greene,” Roberts says. 

Above: “Many clients don’t realize that in order to create a roof deck an entirely new structure must be built,” Roberts says. “Townhouse roofs are designed to support snow loads; not people.” The new hatch door to the roof deck is all glass and provides a great deal of light in the stair hall. 

Above: The entry hall is a common space that is shared by both families.

Above: In the entry hall, Roberts started with a field of dark hexagonal tiles and replaced sections with white tiles to create a floral pattern. 

Above: The floor plans of the upper duplex illustrate the architect’s skill in fitting a large amount of program into relatively small space. The two floors have three bedrooms, two private offices, and two bathrooms while still maintaining an open feel on the living level.

Elizabeth Roberts has a way with Brooklyn townhouses: We especially like what she did with her own townhouse (take a tour at House Call:Elizabeth Roberts in Brooklyn).