BOOK REVIEW: Restoring a House in the City

Restoring a House_Jacket_ Large Hi-resOLD TOWNHOUSES usually come with big ‘buts,’ points out Ingrid Abramovitch in the intro to her new book, Restoring a House in the City: A Comprehensive Owner’s Guide to Renovating Town Houses, Brownstones and Row Houses With Great Style (Artisan). They may have “charmingly anachronistic grace notes, from imposing classical entrances to parlors straight out of Edith Wharton novels,” she writes. But less charmingly, they also tend to have roof leaks, slanty floors, and ominous cracks in the wall.

Never mind. IMO, as readers of this blog know, those are mere annoyances, no contest at all compared to the many pluses of living in a house built in the 19th century, when houses really were built. This book offers abundant proof that antique houses are worth the effort.


Parlor, Fort Greene

It features 21 exceptional dwellings, from a Boston Brahmin to a double-wide brownstone in Troy, N.Y., a Greek Revival in Charleston, and a San Francisco Edwardian that survived the 1906 earthquake. The projects closest to my heart, of course, are those in Brooklyn, well-represented with six envy-inducing houses.


Fireplace wall, Fort Greene

Some are restored, some extensively remodeled. Some are furnished with antiques, others done up in a modern mix. There’s nothing cookie-cutter about any of them. A couple are a bit over-the-top for my taste: too much clutter, too much color. But most ooze warmth and livability.

It’s no surprise that the book’s interiors are impeccably styled and photographed. The author, a resident of Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, is a veteran design journalist and a former editor at House & Garden and Martha Stewart Living.


Parlor, Park Slope

Luscious as it is, Restoring a House is not just a look book. Along with the inspiration, there’s a hearty dose of practical information on such topics as wood floors, brickwork and ornamental plaster. How can an old-house lover resist?


Entry hall, Brooklyn Heights

All photos from RESTORING A HOUSE IN THE CITY by Ingrid Abramovitch (Artisan).
Copyright 2009. Brian Park photographer.

About cara

I blog for fun at, and write about architecture, interiors, gardens and travel for many national magazines and websites. My recently published posts and articles can be found here:
This entry was posted in ANTIQUES & COLLECTING, BROOKLYN, BROWNSTONE DECORATING, HISTORIC PRESERVATION, INTERIOR DESIGN, MANHATTAN, OLD-HOUSE MAKEOVERS, PHILADELPHIA and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to BOOK REVIEW: Restoring a House in the City

  1. em says:

    I was so excited to see your review of Restoring a House in the City this morning because I just bought it and, after a few days of eager anticipation, received it yesterday. It did not disappoint! I drooled over every gorgeous photo and helpful hint until far too late last night (my tots are up at 6)! The book is fuel for fantasy. I also enjoyed each owner’s individual story- and the fact that the author uses the term “restoring” to mean that the houses are once again being used as beloved homes after often extensive and respectful work, as opposed to just being returned to their original state (which would have been prohibitive in many cases). I am even more inspired to find an old beauty of my own to restore for my little family.

  2. gatos4 says:


  3. Astor C says:

    Those are some beautiful interiors. Love the way they mix quiet moderne into the 19th c settings…

  4. cara says:

    Yes, it’s definitely drool-worthy – and thanks, Em, for pointing out that the back stories are interesting as well. No surprise that most of the homes are owned by designers or arty people of one sort or another.

  5. Wow, that gold mirror is amazing. I want it!!!

  6. Anonymous says:

    I have to order this book!

  7. delftblue says:

    that’s my friend Kathryn’s front door!

  8. cara says:

    Yep, that’s designer Kathryn Scott’s front door on the cover of the book. Her Brooklyn Heights townhouse is featured inside in its fabulous entirety.

  9. Cara, thank you for this wonderful review of my new book. To all those who have commented, thank you so much for your enthusiasm and support! I’m doing lots of appearances in November and would love to meet you. Check out my website for updates, or become a fan on Facebook: (NB Mrs. Limestone, I recently posted your Halloween décor on the fanpage!)

  10. mk says:

    After reading the reviews on this site I searched in two bookstores before I found this wonderful book and I haven’t put it down since I bought it. I wish more people would treasure these houses as single family homes and not cut them up into condos. The photos are just beautiful. Thanks for including DC. Love you Ingrid.

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