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How an Artist Transformed a Historic Brooklyn House Into a Quirky Sanctuary

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Welcome to House Calls, a recurring feature in which Curbed tours New Yorkers' lovely, offbeat, or otherwise awesome homes. Think your space should be featured next? Drop us a line.

[All photos by Max Touhey]

When artist Melanie Kozol walked into this former carriage house in Clinton Hill more than 20 years ago, it was love at first sight. The Romanesque Revival building was constructed in the late 1800s, but had since been gut-renovated and transformed into a unique two-family home by Stephen Balser, founder of the Brooklyn-based firm Art in Construction. When she spotted a "for sale" sign posted out front, her broker told her, "That house is complicated." But she wanted to tour it anyway. "I looked at the space, did not say anything to my broker, went straight home, and told my husband that I had found our house," Kozol says. "It felt absolute."

At the time, Kozol has just given birth to her second child, so the family was on the lookout for more space. She also wanted a home where she could incorporate her studio. "I loved Clinton Hill, and it was relatively cheap in those days," she says. What she found would fit the bill: the large, three-story carriage house had been reimagined as an open loft. Kozol said this was an "experimental house" for previous owner Balser, who built it out as a showcase for his business. Art in Construction specializes in plaster wall design, and this building was outfitted with an artisanal plaster known as stucco veneziano. "The color is embedded in the plaster," says Kozol. "And Stephen wanted a buyer who would understand the house."

Since then, Kozol and her family have not made major changes to Balser's vision, except in converting it from a two-family to a single-family. (However, the building still maintains its configuration of essentially being split down the middle into two distinct areas.) After her sons moved out, Kozol and her husband decided to start renting out the front portion of the house through VRBO.

A narrow entry hallway doesn't hint at the 20-foot-tall "great room" it leads to.

The main room off the entryway, which Kozol started using as her studio after her sons moved out, is the showpiece of the home. It's outfitted with the creamy stucco veneziano as well as Kozol's paintings. (Check out more of her artwork here.) Because the plaster is delicate, paintings were hung from a special rail system. "We don't hammer into the walls," Kozol notes.

One of Kozol's sons, Milo Carney, is also an artist, and his work is hung throughout the house. The fortune cookie work hanging from the open staircase is his.

The tapestry depicts images of lobsters and comes from Bali. Much of the home's decor was picked up in the family's travels around the world.

The detailed ceiling is also the work of Stephen Balser/Art in Construction. That's a Noguchi light hanging in the middle.

Kozol's husband, J. Scott Carney, is a master sommelier and the Dean of Wine Studies at the International Culinary Center. He has previously owned restaurants in Brooklyn and some of the house decor comes from those spaces. Those are hand-blown demijohns in the window, typically used to store liquids.

Kozol says one of her favorite places in the house is the living room, which overlooks the garden and is one of her favorite places to work. "One of the things I love about the house is that I never feel that I have to leave to go outside," she says. "With all the windows, light and high ceilings I feel like the outdoors is part of my environment."

A look out into the garden, which was landscaped by Kozol. The leafy archway was built for her son, who recently got married in the home.

There's another small outdoor space off the kitchen, one floor below. The family uses that area for barbecuing. The tree above is a Tibetan Weeping Juniper that Kozol bought from the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens.

"These are our prison toilets," says Kozol—they were added as part of the original renovation and can be found in all the bathrooms. (And yes, they do get cold, especially in the wintertime.) This bathroom is separated by a sliding pocket door, and features artwork from her kids.

The staircase that leads down to the kitchen, one floor below the studio space.

Although that arch was built out by Art in Construction (and also features the custom plasterwork), the rest of the brick arches are original to the home and distinguish the entire kitchen space.

Artwork by Kozol's son, Milo, in the sitting room at the foot of the staircase. Kozol remembers when her children ran toy trucks through this area as kids. "This house has always been in flex for our family," she says. "It's adaptive and we've used it in different ways."

While Kozol immediately fell in love with the house, her husband had one major concern: he was too tall to fit through the low arches into the kitchen without ducking. They put bells on the arches to warn people to duck. She says her husband is used to the ducking by now, and there have been no major head injuries.

Those are hand-turned wooden stools by the furniture designer Chris Lehrecke, who once had a studio space near Kozol.

The dining room table is also by Lehrecke. The lighting throughout the space is fluorescent, fiberglass panels that Kozol covered with rice paper.

There's a cozy living room at the end of this floor, which leads out into the second outdoor space. The sofa is by Florence Knoll, while the framed artwork above is also by Kozol's son.

From the main floor/studio space, an open staircase leads to two more floors. The second floor is a narrow office, with desks that look down onto the studio space.

These stairs lead from the office to the master bedroom. The bookcases were built out by Kozol and her family.

A look at the master bedroom from above. The painting above the bed is by Kozol. And yes, there are no walls separating the bedroom from the master bath (which also has prison toilets).

A skylight above the staircase brings light into the bedroom.

Kozol believes the clawfoot tub was brought from a lower level of the house into the bedroom during that original renovation. Another unique feature, which you also see on the main floor, are the vertical radiators, which Kozol believes are Swiss. "They make a relaxing, tinkling water sound when they're turned on," she says.

Finally, a view of the facade, which Kozol says they repointed and cleaned upon purchasing the house. Despite her sons now living elsewhere, she has no plans to leave. "For me, this house is a real oasis," she says. "I'm always happy coming home."

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