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.

Old Doors and Windows, Cheap


I’M UPSTATE THIS WEEKEND and made it my business to check out the architectural salvage warehouse operated by the Historic Albany Foundation.

My plan is to replace the screens on my porch with glass to create a year-round sun room, much like my friends Fran and Bob did at their house in Columbia County, N.Y., below.


Bob got the windows at the Historic Albany Foundation — actually they’re mostly French doors — and in just one day, with the help of a carpenter, transformed their screened porch to a glassed-in conservatory.


Arriving late on a rainy Friday, with just half an hour to go before closing, I didn’t have time to root through thousands of square feet of panel doors, multi-paned windows, moldings, sinks and tubs, hardware, mantels, lighting fixtures, etc., but I didn’t see enough of any one kind of window to make the matched set of seven I need.


Still, it’s a great place to know about, and everything is amazingly cheap (old panel doors in good condition for $40, for example).


Albany is not an unpleasant city in which to spend some time. It has a good art museum, a few streets lined with 19th century row houses that rival Brooklyn Heights for beauty, and on Lark, several of the kind of cozy, locally-owned coffee shops that East Hampton ought to have but doesn’t.


Photos by Zoë Greenberg


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