When Rob Schlederer and his wife, Amelia Sandell, stumbled upon a historic Brooklyn townhouse in Carroll Gardens, it had seen better days. Originally a bread factory in the late 1800s, it had been turned into a multifamily home—but one that had lost all of its charm along the way. The home had a slant due to old age, and the interior was composed of several dark rooms with low ceilings. But this didn't deter the couple from seeing a diamond in the rough.
Unlike traditional townhouses, the 3100-square-foot building stood on a street corner with huge potential for tons of natural light to stream in. To transform this historic Brooklyn property into a veritable gem and maximize its potential, the couple turned to Christine Stucker and James Veal, co-founders of the firm Stewart-Schafer. "The old owners had it set up as a two-family home, with a two-bedroom triplex, an unused basement, and a one-bedroom rental on the top floor," explains Veal. "We converted it to two family duplexes, utilizing the first floor and basement as a two bedroom duplex rental."
See the transformation for yourself—this home is exactly what renovation dreams are made of.
"The owners really wanted to optimize the value in the building and transform their home into something modern and current," explains Stucker. "The home is in a prime location in Brooklyn, and we sought the opportunity to create something very special and maximize the value." Aesthetically, the designers sought to create a clean and modern space with traditional elements and an understated elegance.
In terms of function, the client requested a two-family building with two duplexes. "Our job was to design around these parameters and optimize the space’s functionality," adds Veal. "Our goal was to make the space feel open, inviting, large and light. We accomplished this with the center staircase and a 30-foot-high window up the building."
The kitchen, at the heart of the home, is completely custom and features an island that turns into a dining table. "We also designed a custom three-story picture window that runs up the side of the house and is framed internally with a custom steel and wood staircase," explains Veal. "In the kitchen, we used Calacatta Borghini marble on the countertops, backsplash, and for a custom sink."
Everything in the home is made for easy open-plan entertaining. "The owners, Rob and Amelia, spend a great deal of time entertaining, so we wanted to create spaces that were warm and inviting," adds Stucker. "We built a large custom pivot door off the kitchen that leads to an outdoor patio, providing easily accessible indoor-outdoor entertaining."
"One of our goals was to bring natural light into the house and maximize the use of space, as the rooms had been dark and closed off prior to our renovation," explains Veal. "To amplify space throughout the home, we designed a beautiful floating center staircase clad in oak." The staircase takes up minimal space while providing beautiful views of the outdoors.
"The home has wonderful views of the city and Brooklyn, which we really wanted to utilize in our design," he adds. "The split of the building is completely in line with the custom floating staircase, providing the homeowners with unbelievable views at every level."
In the living room, the vibe is modern industrial with steel beams and painted brick. "We warmed up the space with a Mohair sectional sofa with clean lines, and a custom sheepskin-and metal-chair that we designed ourselves," explains Stucker. "Throughout the house, we used walnut for the custom millwork and the kitchen island that turns into a dining table. On the floors, we used a medium tone oak from DuChateau."
Keeping the materials consistent throughout was important to the designers, who used a mix of walnut, blackened steel, white lacquered surfaces, marble, brass, and painted concrete tiles in various areas of the home. "Once we started demo-ing, we realized there were six layers of flooring, so we knew we had to change that immediately. The previous owner had owned a flooring company, and instead of resolving beam issues, just kept laying new floor."
The project was a complete gut renovation. "The only original thing left is literally the brick façade," explains Stucker. "Prior to our renovation, there was a definite lean, none of the windows were aligned, and the doorways were at an angle throughout the house, which at the time was configured as a lower duplex for the owners with a rental unit above."
Now, the renovated space includes a duplex rental unit on the ground floor and garden level, and the owner’s unit on the top two levels with an additional roof deck. "While working on this project, we sought to break the status quo of Brooklyn brownstone design. We wanted to showcase how brownstones can transform with a modern minimalist Scandinavian feel mixed with slight vintage American undertones."
In the master bathroom, the space is divided into two—with a hallway leading to the master bedroom. "The entire area can be closed off for complete privacy," explains Veal.
The designers wanted to create a spacious and light-filled room with an inviting sense of warmth. The designers chose a neutral color palette to keep in line with the theme of the house. "We really like to keep the color scheme clean and simple and let the accents come from the stone, fixtures, wood or tiles we use," adds Stucker. "We then add depth and texture though furniture, accessories, and art."
"We have a very eclectic style," says Veal. "We try to combine a variety of genres together to create spaces that feel clean and modern yet worldly. We have a lot of Scandinavian undertones, however our love for luxe materials and textures brings balance to our designs. We like to use the term 'understated elegance.' We create uncomplicated spaces that feel elevated and luxurious without being to stuffy."
This style translates into every inch of the house, including the master bathroom, where patterned cement tiles are juxtaposed with a midcentury vanity and modern sconces and fixtures.
Honoring the integrity of the building was the biggest challenge of the project," explains Veal, who used a bright and airy layout with floor-to-ceiling windows and custom millwork to achieve the right feel. "The building was in worse condition than we all had anticipated, and we had to build an internal steel structure to hold the exterior walls in place."
Though, like most renovations of historic buildings, the process posed many challenges, the result, in the end, is entirely worth the effort. "We love how each room flows together and how the design exudes modernity and timelessness," says Stucker. After a complete transformation, this timeless home has been brought into the present for future generations to enjoy.