Cobble Hill ‘Before’ Tour

IMG_0988JULIA AND JOHN MACK have plenty to do to convert the 19th century Cobble Hill brownstone they bought recently for just under $2 million into the kind of home they want for their family of four. But before they do anything, they have a lot to un-do.

The building has little in the way of original detail; the fireplace mantels are long gone. As we tour the building from bottom to top, you’ll see that it has some…er… unusual features. The most bizarre, a rarity in brownstone Brooklyn, is a large swimming pool occupying the far reaches of the L-shaped lot (how it got to be L-shaped is a matter of speculation, possibly involving an unpaid long-ago debt).


Julia is a Brooklyn-based interior designer, one of whose finished projects will be the subject of “The Insider,” my new interiors column for, next Thursday, Sept. 22. I’ve covered Julia’s work before, in magazines and online (go here to see the Cobble Hill house they owned previously). The family is living in temporary rented quarters until April, at which point they’re moving into this house. Time is of the essence, but Julia is indomitable, full of ideas and energy, and undaunted by the task ahead.

We’re entering on the ground floor, below, to see the future rental apartment first. Not so bad — to my mind, practically rentable as-is. (Well, something must be done about the dowdy flowered wallpaper.) The biggest job here involves closing off the apartment from the rear hall so the homeowners can access the basement.


Soon it’ll be a perfectly nice apartment.


The Victorian gingerbread trim is fake and doesn’t go with the ceramic tiles, but it’s lively.


We’ve now gone up a flight. The hallway on the parlor floor, below, is classic and intact. Julia has dramatic ideas for wallpaper.


Let’s enter the parlor. Will it be breathtaking? Will it be grand? Unfortunately not. The original long, elegant windows have been shortened. The tongue-in-groove flooring is meh.


Now turn around… Ugh. The parlor floor has been divided into three rooms with awkward partitions. This mirrored closet wall is, of course, going into a dumpster ASAP.


The windowless middle room shall remain unshown. The back room, below, with its linoleum floor, is simply claustrophobic.


As for the bathroom, below, it’s not Julia’s taste, to put it mildly (she can hardly bear to look). It’s gotta go.


Onward to the second floor. Turn around and look back at the entry — nice arched window over the front door.


On the second floor, below, Julia’s two teenagers will have bedrooms, common space, and a bath.


Here the windows are the length they were intended to be, with original shutters to prove it.


One flight more, and we’re on top floor, which will become a master bedroom and family room, with a new bath. Below, fab forest wallpaper in the existing front room (part of me has always wanted something just like that).


The long view to the rear of the house…


and toward the front.


The kitchen, below, has no place in a master suite.


Finally, a glimpse of the backyard, where improvements are sure to be forthcoming.


I can’t wait to see what Julia does with the place, and hope she’ll invite us in for another tour as things unfold.

5 thoughts on “Cobble Hill ‘Before’ Tour

  1. Well, the text here is quite funny. A sense of humor is valuable when facing the “before.” But it’s these photos and this condition that make renovations come to life by comparison. Looking forward to seeing another of Julia’s projects on the Insider next week. Her last house was lovely.

  2. I’m staying tuned! I am looking forward to the ‘after’ – and the in-betweens! I have seen Julia’s work and I’m sure it will be amazing.

  3. Such bravery! Love these “before” photos — as long as I know there’s a better “after” coming.

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