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A Treehouse and Lush Gardens Grow in Brownstone Brooklyn

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Brooks-Church used reclaimed materials in the treehouse he spent two months building last summer. All of the treehouse's wood came from a water tower at 42nd Street and Broadway, and the glass came from an advertising agency that was ditching it.
Brooks-Church used reclaimed materials in the treehouse he spent two months building last summer. All of the treehouse's wood came from a water tower at 42nd Street and Broadway, and the glass came from an advertising agency that was ditching it.

Welcome to House Calls, a new 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.]

Gennaro Brooks-Church purchased his Carroll Gardens townhouse in 2008, as he says, amidst the first wave of gentrification that these days courses through the neighborhood. "I was the dumb guy who bought the most expensive house on the block," Brooks-Church recalls of his buy, which was immediately followed by the crash and recession. As a result, Brooks-Church was left with limited resources: his two hands, an acute interest in natural building, and a respect for his surroundings that would mediate the townhouse's renovation.

Seven years ago Brooks-Church launched his green building company, Eco Brooklyn, and now uses his home as a showhouse. As he should; he's transformed both the interior and exterior of his house into a utopia of reclaimed materials: 99 percent (or roughly thereabouts) of his building materials come from "dumpsters" or are reclaimed from groups that recycle construction and demolition matter. A similar percentage of the home's furniture comes from Craigslist.

The outdoor space of Brooks-Church's home is reclaimed in a different kind of way. While all building materials are salvaged, Brooks-Church's yard isn't governed by popular aesthetics. He builds and plants what he wants, then lets things run their course.

Brooks-Church's ongoing reclamation of outdoor space involves creating disarming, unusual structures. An astute few may remember him as the guy who built a two-story treehouse in his backyard. Brooks-Church has also built out a koi pond and a natural swimming pool, which he describes as a self-sustaining slough that filters through pebbles in its ongoing circulation. It's chemical free, and home to some newts and a garter snake. While those very not Brooklyn creatures might be enough to scare some kids away, his children love to take summer dips.

Brooks-Church said he intentionally crafts things a bit awkwardly. Access to the treehouse—which as of this time he is not renting on Airbnb—is via a log ramp. In his backyard, walking paths aren't flat; rocks rise out of the dirt. Brooks-Church says the unpredictability of the paths helps the backyard feel more like an adventure. It also teaches his children, who are young, to be more coordinated.

The backyard structures and the gardens infront, behind, and on top of his house play to the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, an aesthetic belief that things get more attractive as they age; that attractive things are defined by their imperfection. "It's all going to age, it's going to fall apart," Brooks-Church says of his ever-older home, "Might as well try to make it beautiful."


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