Mews-ing in Cobble Hill


Cobble Hill Park, Brooklyn

WHAT IS IT ABOUT A MEWS that I (and others) find so irresistible? Nineteenth century brick carriage houses are neither as elegant nor as large as your classic high-stoop brownstones, but in neighborhoods like Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill, they can cost just as much.

I guess you can’t put a price tag on that sense of being hidden away in a place time forgot, where people never stop exclaiming — even after years of residence — how remarkably quiet it is, how hard it is to believe you’re right in the middle of the city.


Verandah Place, looking west

The dictionary definition of a mews is “a street lined by buildings originally used as stables but now often converted into dwellings.” It’s a chiefly British usage, apparently. In this country, use the word ‘mews’ and you’re likely to hear, “Oh, you mean that little alley with the cute brick houses?”



I should know about living in a mews. For twenty years, from the mid-’80s until a few years ago, my family lived on Verandah Place in Cobble Hill, in a house we still own. There are other carriage houses in the neighborhood, but it’s the only mews (Brooklyn Heights has three that I can think of: Love Lane, Hunts Lane, and Grace Court Alley). I remember the original ad that brought us to the “coveted mews block,” and how I knew instantly that yes, I would be happy there. It was an ideal place to raise kids, on a traffic-free lane perfect for skateboarding and ball-playing.

Only a few of the houses were actually stables or carriage houses, with doors wide enough for carriages to enter. DSCN0437A couple still have intact pulleys, used for raising bales into the hayloft. The rest were small working-class dwellings. Ours is one of five built in the 1850s for (legend has it) the daughters of a homeowner on neighboring Warren Street.

There wasn’t always a park across the way. Until the 1950s, there was a church, and Verandah Place was gated. (I’d love to know where the name came from and whether some of the houses had verandahs. I’ve never seen them in a mews, but cast-iron balconies were not unheard-of in the area). The church was torn down, and a supermarket set to go up in its place. The community objected, and Cobble Hill Park was created in the 1960s.

I was reminded of the international appeal of the mews when I saw the one in central London, below, in last month’s New York Times real estate section. The pink house, once a stable, has 2BR and 2 baths and is on the market for the equivalent of $2.4million, more or less what the Cobble Hill mews houses would go for today. Click here to read all about it and see a slide show of the interior. 


Whole House in Cobble Hill Can Be Yours Tomorrow!

KNOW ANYBODY WHO WANTS TO RENT a 5BR, 3 BATH TOWNHOUSE in Cobble Hill? A truly special four-story house, on a coveted park block, with great light, two working fireplaces, a high-end kitchen, wood floors, lots of original detail, and a delightful garden?


That would be mine. It’s been vacant for two whole weeks, and I’m getting nervous.

Sure, I was smug a few months back, sitting pretty with my rental property 100% occupied, crowing about the strength of the rental market. That was when I thought I could, as usual, segue easily from tenant to tenant. That was before this damn recession affected me personally.


I even had the nerve to start a blog subtitled “Old Houses for Fun and Profit.” Well, forget the profit. With the Cobble Hill house unrented, my monthly income is suddenly halved, and there’s no fun in that, either.

I thought I was doing everything possible to rent the place, listing it with several brokers and painting the house top to bottom. But I haven’t tried blogging about it until now.

So: if you are (or know someone who is) a large, solvent family in need of an extraordinary dwelling in a prime Brooklyn neighborhood to the tune of $8,000/month — a lot of money, granted, but it’s also a lot of house — e-mail without delay, and save a hefty broker’s fee.




A few quirky tidbits about the house and its location:

  • The house is pre-Civil War, built in the 1850s.
  • It has more original interior detail than any other on the block (and I’ve been in most of them). That includes 4 marble mantels, parquet floors on the parlor floor, cove moldings on the parlor floor, and the staircase/balusters. The ornate fixture in the front entry hall was once a gas fixture and is original to the house.
  • Legend has it that the house is part of a row of five, all built by one gentleman on Warren Street for his five daughters and their families. These were not carriage houses, though there are several on the block; they were always one-family houses.
  • The house is backwards! (That may be true of the whole row of five.) What is now the front facade of the house was originally the rear facade; that’s why the front is unimpressive.  If you stand in the garden and look up, you see its full size.
  • The house is backwards probably because access was from Warren or Henry Street. There must have been an opening or possibly a road that ran through what is now the back garden in the 19th century.
  • The rear parlor (living room) was originally the front parlor. We opened up the hallway and inserted the columns (which are salvaged porch columns) in the late 1980s, shortly after we bought the house.
  • We also raised the ceilings on the top floor in the two back bedrooms (when we bought the house, those two rooms were an attic you couldn’t stand up in) and added the three arched windows.
  • The kitchen dates from 2000. Cabinetry is custom maple, and the appliances are all status symbols (Viking, Bosch, Sub-Zero, etc.)
  • Cobble Hill Park became a park in the 1950s. Prior to that there was a church there, and Verandah Place was gated. The church was torn down, and a supermarket was set to go up in its place. The community objected, and the park was created. It was renovated in 1989.