recently designed the renovation of a house in an area of Brooklyn known as
Prospect Park South, designated a Historic District by the New York
City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) in 1979. This area was first developed by Dean Alvord who
acquired the land in 1899. Alvord wanted
to create a rural park within the city’s street and block system. To achieve
this, he hired John Aitkin a Scottish landscape gardener who planted trees at
the building line instead of the curb line to make the streets look wider.
separated the sidewalks from the streets by using a landscaped eight-foot strip;
prohibited fences and allowed hedges only behind the building line to screen
the backyard. The houses were placed in the middle of the landscaped lot to
stress the “house in the garden” quality of the development. They were built
for people who worked in the city but wished to live in the country.
The houses of
Prospect Park South exhibit a wide stylistic variety. Having said this, there
are enough houses with clapboard and shingle facades making the use of these
materials a unifying feature. Most houses employ some interpretation of a
typical Colonial Revival style; they tend to use projecting bays, oriels, deep
eaves, brackets, stained glass and Palladian window motifs.
architect of Prospect Park South was John Petit who also designed our client’s
house, in 1901. Here’s a quote from the LPC’s designation report:
Petit was undoubtedly familiar with the architectural publications of his time,
particularly with Architecture and Building, a magazine that published articles
on Prospect Park South, as well as a number of separate designs by Petit. In his designs Petit incorporated stylistic
details found in published architectural drawings and photographs. Although he borrowed many stylistic ideas
from these sources, all of his best works show a sophisticated design sense
that is lacking in the works of less skilled revival architects.”
picture above illustrates slenderized pilasters holding up a full entablature
over a projecting entrance bay. The leaded glass windows seem to be original to
|Brackets support the perimeter beams at the porch|
Working under the
scrutiny of the LPC, our idea was to transform the house with all the modern
conveniences of double glazed windows, water saving plumbing fixtures, energy
saving light fixtures, and a 21 st century kitchen in an elegant way
that harmonizes with Petit’s original design. At the end of the day one would
look at our design and think that this was Petit’s design. We measured all the
interior walls and features of every room on every floor and all the exterior
elevations as accurately as possible. The information gained was used as a
basis for the design details of the house renovation on the interior as well
The existing kitchen is very dark since it only gets north light from two small windows. It's existing eat-in area ended up in a left over space between the kitchen and the dining room and is dark and cavernous.
requested a new eat-in-kitchen oriented towards the back garden and an enclosed
back porch that would restore the original connection between the back garden
(“house in the garden” idea) and the dining room.
The new plan layout centers
the kitchen around an island that can also accommodate seating for a quick
snack; a built-in banquette comfortably sits 6 persons in the new breakfast
nook. The cooking area of the kitchen is
on the north half and has its own small salad sink. The dishwashing area is on
the south half and has a big sink and dishwasher. The dining room opens to the
enclosed porch which in turn opens to the back terraced steps into the
backyard. The new kitchen will connect with the existing dining room, not only
through the existing door but also, via a new pass-through centered on the two
existing dining room doors.
the “pass-through” doors open the dining room to the kitchen for ease of
serving and for a visual connection when opened.
new stove is centered on the island and in-between the two existing windows.
The window casings dovetail into the wood trim system above.
new refrigerator is paired with the kitchen entrance from the front of the
house. Both are centered on the island
which will have a beautiful hanging double light fixture combined with a pot
rack to visually unify the room. Note the wood trim system at the top of the
cabinets, windows, and doors which also serves to unify the room.
double pass-through doors will open unto the dining room for ease of serving
dishes as well as collecting them directly into the dishwashing area.
breakfast banquette faces the back garden and is bathed in abundant east light
which is perfect for a breakfast area.
New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) reviews the design
changes to all the façades before approving any project. So, a “case” must be
carefully constructed around precedent in addition to the Owner’s needs. We
were extremely lucky in that the clients found a historic photo showing the
original back of the house. This pointed in the direction of a “post and lintel”
system which is how we designed the new porch and kitchen windows facing the
new window systems infill in-between this post and lintel system thereby
unifying the back façade and making it more cohesive. They will bring a lot
more light from the east, which is optimal for breakfast rooms.
owners dislike the LPC because they find their requirements too onerous. Yet,
LPC’s involvement helps to keep the property values up by keeping the design
integrity of the original neighborhood.
renovating a house in a historic district there are 5 principles to keep in
possible to upgrade your house to 21st century standards while
keeping the look of the original design.
things first (part A) - Do not let a favorite design image clipped from a
magazine or a website get in the way of an organized plan with a well thought
out circulation pattern.
things first (part B) – The most expensive rooms to renovate are the kitchen
and the bathrooms so it is very important to plan them well and get them right.
the architecture and the interior moldings of the original house point the way
to what the “look” should be. The result
will be a harmonious design.
for old photos of the house or historic precedents in the neighborhood to
support your argument with the historic governing agency.