BROWNSTONE VOYEUR: Small and Stylish in Carroll Gardens

BROWNSTONE VOYEUR is a joint project of casaCARA and Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn. Look for it every Thursday on both sites.

ROBERT FARRELL, an architect and interior designer, has lived since the mid-1990s in a 600 square foot rental on the ground floor of a Carroll Gardens row house, with lumpy plaster walls and a tiny, tubless bathroom.


He stays mainly for the garden, a fifty-foot swath of lawn at the end of which he has constructed a romantic outdoor pavilion draped with nylon parachute cloth.


A corrugated plastic roof and waterproof parachute fabric make the garden room usable eight months a year.

Essentially a 15’x40’ rectangle, the apartment is bisected by a wood-and-glass room divider. The entry is into the kitchen/dining room; a home office is squeezed into one corner. The only other room is what Robert calls the “living bedroom library guest room den.”

To give the space more definition, he hung two sets of double curtains on either side of the existing divider, on rods five feet apart – linen on the outside, sheer underneath. “It softens the space and provides a choice of opaque or filtered light,” Robert says. “It also creates depth and drama: ‘What’s behind the curtain?” (Clothing, as a matter of fact.)


A sense of order prevails, thanks to a clear, linear furniture plan.

Liberal use of the same gray-green neutral paint on walls, carpeting and the drapery divider gives the apartment a cohesive feel. White accents like the mid-century Ant chairs and the glass light fixture in the dining room stand out. Strong doses of red in pillows, art, and glassware punch up the scheme.

Accessories include tribal weavings, baskets, and Danish modern glass. Each piece is carefully chosen and deliberately placed. “In a small apartment, you can’t have things scattered around,” Robert says. “Find the perfect place for each thing.”


The armoire and a pair of carved wood armchairs were found in a flea market.


A geometric kilim under the dining table is the only large area of pattern in the apartment. A glass table  opens up the space.


A precise arrangement of framed Op Art, historical prints, and patterned pillows brightens the area around the bed.

Tomorrow! BROWNSTONE VOYEUR: Stylish 2-Room Living in Carroll Gardens


A Host of Brooklyn Daffodils

THE SCENE last week in my friend Nancy’s Boerum Hill backyard…

This is what comes of twenty years of throwing bulbs into the ground and letting them do their thing: April abundance!

Lots of daffs, leucojum (they look like tall lilies of the valley), and a glossy, large-leaved yellow flowering thing we don’t remember the name of. Anyone?




To come: blue-purple wood hyacinths and a wonderful tree peony, which blooms reliably in mid-May.

Stone Street Secret

I KNOW it’s hard to believe, but I do occasionally leave Brooklyn for that little island across the river.


One of my favorite places for lunch is closed-to-traffic Stone Street in the Financial District, where about a dozen restaurants put tables out on the cobblestones in warm weather.

Deep within the canyon of massive buildings and hard to find (I invariably get lost), the small scale of Stone Street — an intact row of Federal and Greek Revival townhouses, built soon after the Great Fire of 1835 destroyed most of the area — gives it the quality of a well-kept secret. A marvel of architectural survival in the face of unrelenting commercial pressure, the street still retains the curve it had in the mid-17th century, when it was first paved.

Stone Street is a madhouse from noon to 2, so come late, and don’t expect food to be much more than adequate. I like Smorgas Chef, a Scandinavian chain; there are also pubs like Brouwers, Ulysses, and the Stone Street Tavern, and decent pizza at Adrienne’s.

Remember Stone Street (it’s also lively at night) when you have out-of-town visitors; I also like to surprise native New Yorkers who even don’t know it exists.


GARDEN VOYEUR: Meadow with a View


FIVE STORIES above Pacific Street, there’s a colorful meadow designed by Cynthia Gillis for the rooftop of the Boerum Hill townhouse she shares with her husband, architect John Gillis. “A roof deck is a kind of meadow,” she says, “because it’s open and expansive, and you are looking across a distance to the sky” — and, in this case, the buildings of downtown Brooklyn.


Since a roof is windy and exposed, and soil in containers is limited, Gillis chooses drought-tolerant plants to begin with, and uses drip irrigation, with hoses running to each individual container, as well as polymer crystals in each pot to retain water and help prevent flooding in heavy rains.


In keeping with the ‘meadow’ concept, Gillis rarely uses annuals. Among the perennials in wooden containers and pots made of resin or fiberglass (lightweight and frost-resistant, they look just like terracotta):

  • calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ (feather reed grass)
  • purple salvia
  • verbena bonariensis (a tender, self-seeding perennial)
  • achillea ‘Paprika’
  • coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’


A wind-tolerant Japanese black pine frames the view and provides screening (there’s a small ‘contemplation bench’ behind it).


You can see more pictures of Gillis’s work on her website, including the park-like garden behind this townhouse, shared with the building next door.