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The Anti-White-Box Development: A World’s Apart Brooklyn Townhouse Reinvention

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The Anti-White-Box Development: A World’s Apart Brooklyn Townhouse Reinvention

April 24, 2020

There are no junk drawers here. No closets waiting to be edited either. That’s because this Greenwood Heights, Brooklyn, townhouse is one of a cluster of four 1920s structures that a group of developer friends hired Fabr Studio to redesign. It was a wise choice: Fabr is in our own Julie Carlson’s words “Brooklyn’s most inventive, economy-minded, under-the-radar architecture firm”: see their headquarters in A Tree Grows in East Williamsburg.

Each of the unassuming two-story houses was given an additional two floors and an entirely new look, no two exactly alike. (Scroll to the end to see the new mansard-roofed exteriors plus a Before photo.) To keep costs down, the designers worked within a defined materials palette of original brick set off by concrete and pale pine.”The finances dictated that we needed to have a certain amount of repeated elements throughout, and we couldn’t be too precious about flooring or windows or finishes,” they explain.

Once renovated, one of the units was furnished by Hollister and Porter Hovey, sisters who happen to be the most talented real estate stagers we know. We got our first glimpse of the project, known as Fifth & Green, while it was still in progress when the Hoveys shared their Insider Tips for Residential Staging with Style and Affordability. The resulting model house has an enchanting, world’s apart, modern-rustic look: the Three Bears’ 21st century urban digs. It’s exactly where we’d like to be holed up right now, and happens to have several thoughtfully designed work-from-home spaces. Others noticed, too—all four houses have sold—but these images are filled with design ideas for the taking.

Photography by Jen Trausch, unless noted, courtesy of FABR Studio + Workshop.

Ground Floor

the hoveys describe fabr&#8\2\17;s approach as &#8\2\20;anti white box, 9
Above: The Hoveys describe Fabr’s approach as “anti-white box, Scandinavia-meets-Adirondack cabin.” (They themselves looked to the Rivertown Lodge in Hudson, New York, for styling inspiration.)

The front door opens to a combination dining/living room and kitchen. The houses are situated in twin pairings, two in front, two behind, and share a 10-foot wide alleyway, which is where the entries are located. Photograph by Hovey Design.

architect bretaigne (bret) walliser, who runs fabr with her husband, thom dalma 10
Above: Architect Bretaigne (Bret) Walliser, who runs Fabr with her husband, Thom Dalmas, and their partner, Eli Fernald, filled us in on their approach to the project: “We preserved the brick shell of the buildings—it was important to us to retain some aspects of the original construction for continuity. Once we gutted the interiors, we built a poured-in-place concrete frame inside to support the new construction. You can see this new concrete exposed in parts of the kitchen and living spaces. So, in a sense, the building retains its old shell but has a new internal armature.”

This floor and the next are approximately 500 square feet. The exposed ceiling rafters here are original. Photograph by Hovey Design.

the custom kitchen has a clean lined farmhouse look. the island is quarter sawn 11
Above: The custom kitchen has a clean-lined farmhouse look. The island is quarter-sawn white oak with a bluestone top from a quarry in Pennsylvania. The range and hood are by Smeg.

Note the new windows with frosted lower halfs. “The original windows on the front of the building were standard 3-by-5-foot openings,” says Bret. “One of the first design responses we made was to play with the original front openings in response to the new interior layouts. So instead of every room having identical-sized, double-hung windows, we made some openings larger for full-height windows, we turned some into open-air balconies, and we frosted some windows to create privacy from busy Fifth Avenue.”

the house is located next to historic, sprawling green wood cemetery, hence the 12
Above: The house is located next to historic, sprawling Green-Wood Cemetery, hence the bucolic views. The glass door opens to a side porch with a galvanized metal trellis.

The faucet is the Kohler Purist (find more options in 10 Easy Pieces: Modern Deick-Mount Kitchen Faucets Under $500).

the bespoke cabinets were custom crafted by olde mill kitchens of pennsyvlania, 13
Above: The bespoke cabinets were custom crafted by Olde Mill Kitchens of Pennsyvlania, and are painted Benjamin Moore Forest Green.  

“The doors are partial-inset on a face frame, and the drawers and doors have a gently radiused edge,” says Bret. “They have a 1920’s feel that we felt was in keeping with the spirit of the original houses. Also, like many kitchens of the era, the components ramble a bit and the stove floats freely.”

the hoveys take delight in the details, down to the real looking fake produce a 14
Above: The Hoveys take delight in the details, down to the real-looking fake produce and plants (see their sourcing recommendations here). The Mexican red clay teapot is from Minna. Photograph by Hovey Design.
the fridge is concealed behind custom paneling. 15
Above: The fridge is concealed behind custom paneling.

The sections of white painted walls are in Benjamin Moore White Dove, one of our Architects’ Favorite White Paint Picks. “We try to limit the amount of paint in our projects, and instead to rely on masonry or wood and natural pigments, which give a more dimensional texture,” Bret tells us. “We love using earthen or lime plasters and cement mixes; they catch the light and bounce it around. The colored concrete walls are custom mixed in a smooth cement stucco.”

Second Floor

the main living room is situated here, plus a home office/guest room and balcon 16
Above: The main living room is situated here, plus a home office/guest room and balcony. The sofa is one of the Hovey sisters’ vintage  pieces—a favorite affordable furniture source is Live Auctioneers. The two abstract paintings are by Hollister Hovey: she makes art specifically for their stagings; see more of her work at Hovey Design.
thanks to the new tall windows and balconies, the rooms have an indoor outdoor  17
Above: Thanks to the new tall windows and balconies, the rooms have an indoor-outdoor feel.
the guest bed is ikea&#8\2\17;s espevar frame cloaked in tensira striped be 18
Above: The guest bed is Ikea’s Espevar frame cloaked in Tensira striped bedrolls; see 7 Favorites: Soft, Stylish Throwbeds for sourcing. The white ramie pillows covers are the $7.99 Vigdis from Ikea.

The textured walls are Diamond Finishing Plaster on gypsum wallboard. Photograph by Hovey Design.

a glass wall on the office end of the room overlooks the open air balcony with  19
Above: A glass wall on the office end of the room overlooks the open-air balcony with exposed brick and cedar planters.
the pine stair railings match the custom pine frames on the kolbe windows, and  20
Above: The pine stair railings match the custom pine frames on the Kolbe windows, and the tongue-and-groove paneling on the ceiling. The stair wall is hand-troweled plaster with concrete pigment.

The floors here and on the ground floor are quarter-sawn white oak finished in Bona matte clear coat. The beech armchair is a Hay design.

Third Floor

&#8\2\20;new york city code required that we set back the building after re 21
Above: “New York City code required that we set back the building after reaching a certain height,” explains Bret of the two new floors.”With the mansard roof we were able to maximize the usable footprint of the space.” The carpets are vintage Moroccan. Photograph by Hovey Design.
above a tucked under the eaves bedroom with arne jacobsen table lamps, an ikea  22
Above A tucked-under-the-eaves bedroom with Arne Jacobsen Table Lamps, an Ikea bed frame, and L.L. Bean camp blanket. Photograph by Hovey Design.
the room&#8\2\17;s five sided dormer windows overlook green wood cemetery.  23
Above: The room’s five-sided dormer windows overlook Green-Wood Cemetery. “The dormers allow for a bit more head height in the pitched walls,” says Bret.
a roman brick wall adds another texture. note the simple porcelain ceiling ligh 24
Above: A Roman brick wall adds another texture. Note the simple porcelain ceiling light with frosted globe bulb, a classic—and very economical—element that the designers employed in just about every room of the house.
a glimpse of the baby&#8\2\17;s room: the rabbit is by hansa and the throw  25
Above: A glimpse of the baby’s room: the rabbit is by Hansa and the throw blanket is by Hawkins New York.
&#8\2\20;the trim and casing throughout is pine with custom designed profil 26
Above: “The trim and casing throughout is pine with custom-designed profiles,” says Bret. “They were routed on site by our talented carpentry team.”

Attic

the master bedroom is situated in the 300 square foot aerie. the windowpane bla 27
Above: The master bedroom is situated in the 300-square-foot aerie. The windowpane blanket is from L.L. Bean.
the white pine paneled closet wall includes a tidy work niche. 28
Above: The white pine-paneled closet wall includes a tidy work niche.
a small desk with a small view. 29
Above: A small desk with a small view.
a partition of rough edged red oak sections off the stair while allowing light  30
Above: A partition of rough-edged red oak sections off the stair while allowing light to travel through. The glass door leads to the master bath.

Intrigued by the cutout door pulls? See Remodeling 101.

the wc has a custom barn door: &#8\2\20;we wanted the entire wall (with clo 31
Above: The WC has a custom barn door: “We wanted the entire wall (with closets and study niche) to be white pine, so we hand made the door with diagonal bracing on the back. A lot of barn construction is extremely practical and logical within a limited budget, so it was helpful here,” says Bret.

Exterior, After and Before

the buildings have their original brick, now faced with fiber cement hardieplan 32
Above: The buildings have their original brick, now faced with fiber-cement HardiePlank siding. The new top floors have standing-seam metal mansards with wood-clad “vertical extensions.”
the structures—the two white houses, shown here, and the two behind them—ar 33
Above: The structures—the two white houses, shown here, and the two behind them—are part of an enclave of two-story brick houses that date from the 1920s. Bret says they were purchased by a “a loose group of investors with whom we’ve worked on three projects.”

Follow the team @fabr.studio and @hoveydesign.

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