Bohemian Splendor in Cobble Hill


ONE OF THE GREAT THINGS ABOUT BLOGGING is making new friends. Lula and I met only a few months ago, when she stumbled upon my blog and contacted me. We soon discovered we are neighbors in two places. She has an adorable cottage a few blocks from mine in Springs (East Hampton), N.Y., as well as a parlor floor she’s owned for 16 years in a classic 1850s Italianate brownstone in Brooklyn, top and below, virtually around the corner from where I lived for two decades (though we had never run into each other).


She lives in a state of Bohemian splendor, presently suspended in mid-renovation. Having peeled off old wallpaper, the walls have a Venetian plaster look but await further plaster and paint. The ceiling has been stabilized in parts where it was falling down. There are nearly intact plaster cornice moldings all the way around, with what Lula calls her ‘Shakespearen troupe’ of faces. A new kitchen is in the cards, and there’s a potential terrace at the back which is just tar paper, no railings, at the moment.


Most of the elaborate plaster cornice is in great shape, above. Other parts, below, not so much.


Lula is grappling with the questions endemic to living on the parlor floor of a brownstone.


  • Where to put the kitchen so it’s functional but unobtrusive? Right now it’s in the middle and will probably remain there for plumbing reasons, but in what configuration?
  • How to create a bedroom with privacy? She’s got a small one in the former hall space at the back, and uses the back parlor as a sort of den/guest room, above — but could it be better used as a master bedroom or dining room (currently in the kitchen area)?
  • And what about those magnificent original wood doors and moldings? Were they painted back in the day (she thinks so) and should they be painted again, or refinished and stained? Should perhaps the doors be left wood and just the moldings painted?


All that remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the place has great cozy charm. With all that original detail, antiques acquired piecemeal over the years, an overstuffed sofa, plants on the window sills, and faded Oriental rugs, it feels much like being back in the Victorian era, for real.


After my first-ever visit to Lula’s apartment, we went and checked out the new Fork & Pencil warehouse on Bergen Street, above, a few-months-old, crammed-full, well-vetted consignment store — a spin-off of the smaller storefront on Court Street — whose proceeds go to non-profit conservation, arts, and other organizations. It’s more Lula’s kind of place than mine, filled with traditional antiques, but more to the point, I don’t need anything at the moment. Browsing there is purely a theoretical exercise for me. I admire, appreciate, and move on. Don’t need anything, thanks!


We had a civilized late lunch nearby at Broken English, the sort of self-conscious industrial chic space one used to expect only in Manhattan. I’m glad it’s come to Brooklyn, because my rigatoni with marinara and basil was scrumptious, and the salad, bread, and olive oil were tops. You can tell the quality of a restaurant by its bread and salad, I once read, and I think that’s on the mark. Broken English is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Ignore the snarky online reviews from amateur critics and give it a try. It’s a welcome addition to the nabe, in my book.

5 thoughts on “Bohemian Splendor in Cobble Hill

  1. Good grief! What a treat to see this. I have no sense of the size of Ms. Lula’s living space. I’m happy that “the ceiling has been stabilized.”

  2. Glad you like, Terry:-) It’s a typical Italianate brownstone of grand proportions. I’m guessing the building is 25′ wide by 45′ or 50′ deep. Lula has the whole parlor floor, minus the front entry hall, something like 1,000 square feet. The ceilings are about 12′ high.

  3. I love this post.

    The peeling plaster is so cinematic! Its the stuff World Of Interiors is made of…I wish there were a way to preserve it in its mid-deterioration.

    I’m always torn when I see a space like this: how does one maintain the so well exhibited sense of persona without it getting all scrubbed up and curated? Nonchalance, “always been” and “perpetually evolving” I find are the hardest design challenges-It takes a lot of effort to be effortless, just like hair products!

    I hope we get to see an “After” post.

    Have you ever stopped into the Muriel Guepin Gallery on Bergen Street across from Broken English? Its a great place to get your post lunch sea legs back. Sometimes I feel like they miss, but most of the time they have pretty solid shows for a neighborhood gallery and price well enough to push the fantasy about art buying art after brunch into the maybe I shoud/will – even for a young designer’s budget.

    They were recently showing Michael Conradt, exceptionally priced considering the works are what I would consider to be a real acquisition in somebody’s collection- both for its craft and social relevance. I am particularly fond of “Its nice to want things”. Hey come to think of it-it reminds me in spirit of Lula’s Apartment- I love when a point goes full circle!

    check him out:


  4. hey Raf, thanks for the thoughtful and unusually lonnnng comment! Lula is torn between leaving the peeling walls (as some have encouraged her to do) and ‘fixing’ them up. If it were my house (and I kinda wish it was), I think I’d go the fix route. I do like to restore things to their original intent/configuration most of the time, and in the mid-19th century, peeling plaster wasn’t fashionable decor. Isn’t that an affectation of our own time? I haven’t been into Muriel Guepin, but now I will go. I have gone into the Invisible Dog a couple of times and admire what they’re trying to do there.

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