For architect Zachary Lewis, the renovation of a three-story brownstone in Park Slope was a family project. For one, he was collaborating with his dad, Richard Lewis, as part of their architecture firm, Richard H. Lewis Architecture. On another level, Richard imagines the now rental building could one day be used by Zachary and his brother as their home.
And so it began that Zachary started looking for properties that he could renovate — a long term investment for the family. Zachary settled on an over 100-year-old house located in the Park Slope Historic District Extension just about a year ago, and his family was on board as well.
"We were looking for townhouses anywhere in Brooklyn," Zachary told Curbed. "I happened to see it on StreetEasy, and the price was right."
That wasn't the only thing going for the house. Built in 1902, the three-story house had a spotless record — no complaints, no DOB violations, nothing. The last owner of the building had owned the property since the 1970s, and the building had only exchanged hands a couple of times before that, according to Zachary. The former owner was looking to sell, and by the time Zachary came upon the property, the tenants in the building had already cleared out (the owner decided not to renew their leases since she wanted to sell), and that made it all the easier for Zachary and his team.
The townhouse was always designed to have three separate units, so when they decided to renovate, they wanted to keep it that way, and create a three-unit rental building. Being in a historic district made the process slightly challenging — getting the requisite permits and approvals, but once that was taken care of, it was mostly smooth sailing, Zachary said.
"This was both a typical and atypical project for us," he said. "We do a lot of townhouse renovations in New York City but it's mostly multi-family homes being converted into single family homes. It was atypical in the sense that we were our own clients."
And so the team set about making some changes. They changed the orientation of some of the rooms in the apartments like the kitchen, and moved them to the center in all the units, some of the interior walls were demolished, all the bathrooms were remodeled, and the second and third floors got additional bathrooms as well. On the ground floor, the team turned a window into a door to provide access to the backyard.
But many elements of the original building were kept intact. The entry vestibule was virtually untouched as was the stairway. Some of the moldings and crown were also maintained.
The renovation allowed Zachary and his team to really get to the roots of the building, revealing originals knobs, tube wiring, plumbing work, and several layers of ceilings or as Zachary describes it as "seeing history through the floors."
Renovation work wrapped up in February, and by March the building had its first tenant — Zachary's brother. Another tenant followed suit in April, and the most recent tenant moved in just a couple of weeks ago meaning the building is now fully occupied.
"The most fun part was brining it back out of its decrepitude," Zachary said. "It was a diamond in the rough. It was exciting and thrilling to see the transformation — to maintain the brownstone charm while also appealing to a modern tenant."
- All the Renovation Week Coverage [Curbed]