Springtime Fix-ups in Boerum Hill

1 extCHOOSING EXTERIOR PAINT COLORS is even more nerve-wracking than choosing interior paint colors. After all, everyone will see them. And you have to consider context. You don’t (I don’t anyway) want it to clash with the house next door.

I’m doing some spiffing up at my 3-family rental property in Boerum Hill this month. It’s an 1830s Greek Revival with, remarkably — considering all the trials the building has been through in terms of ownership, receivership, and changing neighborhood over almost two centuries — a nice original doorway, left, with fluted pilasters and egg-and-dart molding.

In addition to a new wood vestibule door, below, which replaced a salvaged French door that never closed properly and had cracked panes of glass (and therefore did nothing to exclude noise and dirt), I’m debating colors for a partial re-painting of the building’s facade.


The block is not landmarked, so I could do chartreuse and hot pink if I wanted, but I’ve decided to stick with the same general scheme as before. When we bought the house in 1979, it was dark red. We changed it to the present gray with white trim — probably a bad idea in any urban environment. I’d love to repaint the entire facade, but that will have to wait. Right now I’m just doing the ground level, from the cornice down, and I’ve chosen a medium gray (Benjamin Moore Platinum Gray) for the concrete section, pale gray (Ben Moore Cliffside Gray) for the wood door surround, and dark gray-blue (Ben Moore Hamilton Blue) for the door itself. Classic, conservative, safe. Very safe, as the paint company pairs the three colors on one of their “Color Preview” chips. Why mess?

As long as we’re discussing the ground floor of this building, I have to admit to making a pretty dreadful design mistake there when I was young and ignorant. The building, when we bought it, had a bodega in the ground floor with an ugly aluminum storefront. The c. 1940 NYC tax photo shows a store with an old wood storefront, but that was long gone. Wanting to convert the ground floor store to an apartment, we decided against restoring the old wood storefront (probably for money reasons, but also practical ones — it seemed less secure than concrete). We built a new solid wall with these odd windows, which look much better from inside than out.

1.1 ext

If I had it to do all over again, I would restore the storefront, as I’ve occasionally seen done. It can still be used as an apartment. There’s one I know of in Carroll Gardens, on Hicks Street and Union, and another that springs to mind on Court between Kane and DeGraw.

Meanwhile, I wouldn’t mind doing some planting in large tubs or containers below those awkward windows. The building next door (to the right in the photo), which has an unusual-for-Brooklyn cast-iron decorative front, has an old clawfoot tub in front with evergreens  that persist year after year, despite passersby chucking trash in there and spotty watering.

About cara

I blog (for fun) here at casaCARA, and write (for money) about architecture, interiors, gardens and travel for many national magazines and websites.
This entry was posted in ARCHITECTURE, BROOKLYN, MANAGING RENTAL PROPERTY, OLD-HOUSE MAKEOVERS, REAL ESTATE/INVESTING, RENOVATION and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Springtime Fix-ups in Boerum Hill

  1. Cher@NR says:

    Post the 1940 tax photo please! I would love to see what it looks like!

  2. cara says:

    Sorry, Cher, I don’t have a scanner(or a printer for that matter). Perhaps I’ll do it at a friend’s house over the weekend.

  3. Coppermaven says:

    I like the blue door! Why gray??

  4. Hi Cara, I like BLUES! Also, I think it would be charming with large pots with bushes in them. Nice place.

  5. cara says:

    Blue-gray. Or possibly, if there’s paint left over from last time (because it is a good color), the same blue (Van Courtland Blue, I think).
    I’ve found it’s best if that door doesn’t call attention to itself, because every single time it’s been freshly painted, it’s been graffiti’d immediately.

  6. William Harris says:

    The building next to yours (shown in the photo) was purpose built as the
    public health/hospital/mental health center for the entire boro of Brooklyn.
    Later, I remember walking into it when it operated as the local office of the
    Racing Form, with guys chomping cigars talking on old black phones to the
    tracks. Then, all upper floors vacant and stairs removed–for tax lowering
    purposes. Cara, this was just before your bought your lovely simple Salem
    federal. Nice work.

  7. cara says:

    hi Bill, I don’t remember the betting parlor on that side (there was a numbers parlor in the pizza place on the other side). That Brooklyn Central Dispensary is a distinguished building though; it elevates the whole block.

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