For a Brooklyn Heights Townhouse, a Divine Reinvention

When Steven Holley found his 1834 Greek Revival townhouse in Brooklyn Heights, it almost seemed like divine intervention.

“It was owned by the Roman Catholic Church for nearly a hundred years, and the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor had been living there since 1969,” said Mr. Holly, 63, a partner at the law firm Sullivan & Cowwell.

Beaten, stripped of many period details and cut into a varn of small rooms, the townhouse was ready for a complete overhaul – exactly the kind of project he wanted.

“I went to see a place with my friend Sharon on Saturday morning, when the nuns went back to Rome,” he said. “There was a Dreamcatcher on a door and a rock carved with the word ‘Hope’ on it, and she said, ‘Oh my God, the hopes and dreams of the nuns are still here.”

Pursuing his dream of an immaculate townhouse, Mr. Holley signed a contract to buy the property for about $ 5.5 million in March 2015, then waited for approval from the Holy See in the Vatican before closing the property in July .

There was only one provision in the deed which gave him pause. “It says that the house cannot be used for abortion, euthanasia or paying or to promote indecent exposure,” he said.

As a lawyer, he was wary of such an unusual add-on. “I didn’t want to sign it, but then someone said to me, ‘Well, what difference does it make?” “He said.” And, of course, what judge in Brooklyn is ever going to enforce such a crazy provision? “

Credit …Tom Sibley for The New York Times

He proceeded with the purchase and hired Deborah Burke PartnersThe architecture firm that designed its beach house in Quogue, NY to help the house restore its former glory while updating the interior to reflect 21st-century life.

The project represents a significant departure from Mr. Holley’s previous primary home, a 4,000-square-foot scaffold near Union Square that was renovated in the 1990s by Hanrahan Meyers Architects, in a style so spare and open – with glass only between rooms – that was featured in the 1999 exhibition “The Un-Private House” at the Museum of Modern Art.

In Brooklyn Heights, Mr. Holly looked forward to living in a quiet neighborhood, and in a home with a soft touch and historical details. Deborah Burke Partners developed a plan to restore the red-brick building, which is in the historic district, to its original design on the exterior, creating a small addition to the roof, which is set back from the front. , Therefore it cannot be seen from the road. Inside, the architect aimed to unload everything for the studs and joyists, including removing the old ladder to start afresh.

“With these townhouses, one feels a little reverence,” said Arthi Krishnamurthy, the principal partner of the project. “But in this case, due to the pre-renovated state of the house, and it was cut into small rooms, we felt at liberty to rethink it from first principles, and perhaps make it more like its original self . This is not to say that we have exhibited a historical replica that may have been there. We developed an architectural language, rooted in the Greek Revival style, but real crisp and contemporary. “

Details include muscle crown molding, wall paneling, window and door coverings, and built-in shutters, with simple, sharp-edged profiles that line a fine line between traditional and modern. A new staircase with a sinuous black railing slides through the four stories of the house. The fireplace mantels are adorned with thick monumental slabs of Grigio Carnico Marble, and the walls are coated in cool shades of gray, tan and blue.

On the roof, the architects created two exterior spaces – a roof immediately den and a deck high one-story – with views of Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty.

Yet there was an obstacle that threatened to derail the project: even after resolving the complexities of purchasing property from the Roman Catholic Church, Mr. Holly was not fully prepared to work with the New York City building department .

“The upper floor became a mini war,” he said, when the department questioned whether the existing attic bedrooms were habitable spaces that could be renovated. The disagreement delayed construction by about a year, he said, but his design team eventually prevailed after combing through microfikes to find house plans in the early 20th century, including attic for habitable space. As shown.

Construction finally began in February 2017, and the 4,900-square-foot re-arranged townhouse was completed in June 2019 at a cost of approximately $ 750 per square foot.

Through all of this, Mr. Holly, who has long been interested in art, architecture and design, has rediscovered the smallest details, ranging from kitchen cabinets to shades of color.

“I really thought about being an architect and went to architecture school for a semester, but really I wasn’t sure if I wanted to spend my life on plumbing details,” he said. “I am a very active customer.”

Ms. Krishnamurthy said that joining hands yielded better results. “It’s a combined vision,” he said. “I think that art, architecture and furnishings all come together with sympathy.” And the song Townhouse sings is no longer inspired by a hymn.

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