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.

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.

BROWNSTONE VOYEUR: Prospect Heights Fun House


BROWNSTONE VOYEUR is a joint project of casaCARA and Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn, taking you behind Brooklyn’s intriguing facades to see what’s inside. Look for it every Thursday on both sites.


img_8579REBECCA COLE, a well-known, Manhattan-based garden designer and sometime interior designer, decorated the hell out of this 3-bedroom pre-war apartment on Eastern Parkway, with the blessings of her adventurous clients.

A couple in their 50s with grown kids, this is their empty nest. They moved from Connecticut and settled in Brooklyn to enjoy city life, calling on Rebecca to create a place that would be so much fun to live in they wouldn’t regret leaving their former home.


Among the standout features:

  • Brave, bold color in unusual combos like pink, brown, and chartreuse
  • Hand-stenciling on walls instead of wallpaper
  • The use of garden furniture indoors
  • Thrift shop pieces re-upholstered in serious fabrics
  • Playful light fixtures and accessoriesimg_8583


Rebecca reconfigured the space somewhat, removing a wall between the kitchen and living room (you can see the new steel I-beam) and laid new wood floors. The kitchen is all-new; the piece de resistance is a fuchsia-colored Aga stove. img_8603


She brought the garden indoors with abundant use of leaf and flower images on fabrics, wall art, and ceramic tile. The ceramic tile backsplash, printed with floral images, and the desktop in the chartreuse study, bottom, are from Rebecca’s line for Imagine Tile.





BROWNSTONE VOYEUR: In Prospect-Lefferts, the Unexpected

Brownstone Voyeur is a joint project of casaCARA and Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn. This is the third in a regular Thursday series walking you through brownstones, brick row houses, pre-war apartments, Victorians, carriage houses, lofts, and other Brooklyn abodes to see the colorful, creative, clever, cost-conscious ways people really live in New York City’s hippest borough.

TODAY we’re peeking into the c.1904 bowfront brownstone French-born interior designer 1-exteriorCaroline Beaupere shares with her husband, photographer Matt Arnold, in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens.

They bought the house in 2005, added a new kitchen and two new bathrooms, and brought all the original woodwork (of which there is plenty) back to life by stripping off dozens of coats of old stain.

cbCaroline worked with designer Philippe Starck on the avant garde Hudson Hotel in Manhattan’s West 50s, and has just finished decorating the Presidential suite at the New York Grand Hyatt, but the bulk of her studio’s work is residential.

Her style is eclectic, a bit exotic, and often unexpected, but grounded in the classics. There’s a free flow between modern and traditional. Colors are rich and deep. Accessories tend toward the ethnic. Bold ceiling fixtures dominate each room.

First, the front parlor…262



Then the ‘middle parlor,’ below, with its Arts and Crafts-era mantel and built-in bookcases…


And the dining room, with its fearless red walls and extraordinary coffered ceiling….


Photo: Matt Arnold




Photo: Matt Arnold

Opening the wall between the dining room and new kitchen was one of few ‘modernizing’ alterations to the original architecture.41

The serene master bedroom, above…


Photo: Matt Arnold

The fabulous master bath with a Philippe Starck soaking tub and farmhouse sink set into an old Chinese cabinet…

And Caroline’s office, below



Photo: Matt Arnold


The basement den has exposed ceiling beams and a ’70s vibe (dig that shag rug!)

The adjoining bar and rec room are not for the faint-hearted: a Pop art portrait and over-the-top chandelier hang above the pool table; the walls are deep purple.

At the very bottom, see what the garden will look like just one short month from now.


Photo: Matt Arnold