Inspection Day, April 1998

In January 1999, I said goodbye to my downtown Manhattan loft and moved into an old row house in Brooklyn, NY. I was about to embark on a complete house renovation, mostly using my own two hands and construction knowledge I’d learned from years of apartment and loft rehabs.

While I got the house at a terrific price, it took almost a year to close the deal. Sellers were dying, powers of attorney were dying, people were falling off roofs and my mortgage commitment was days away from expiring. It was a fitting prologue to the story.

I liked the style of the house but the initial attraction was the attached garage for my bikes (my 1997 Triumph T595 pictured). Almost every house on the street, except this one, was well cared for. The neighborhood was quiet and there was a pretty park at the end of the block, not that I would have time to actually visit it over the next few years.

The house had great bones but suffered from decades of neglect. I questioned whether or not I had bitten off more than I could chew. This wouldn’t be a rip-and-replace for one thing. In my youth, I had worked on gut rehabs, which were essentially new construction. My prior home was a 5000 square foot former paper bag factory space on lower Broadway that I’d converted into a residential loft. I had also designed and built a couple of commercial recording studios. I had some basic cabinet and furniture making experience. But I wasn’t really sure what to do with an old house, except what I saw on TV.

My intent was to return the house to some of its former glory and not cop out with a typical drywall-and-clamshell moulding rehab. The original house, as I later learned from seeing my neighbors’ homes, contained a trove of woodworking treasures: two pairs of oak pocket doors, a carved oak mantle seat, oak crown mouldings, hardwood gingerbread detailing, five panel oak doors, and such. Mine were long gone. The irony is that they were probably traded off to fly by night handymen in exchange for the crummy work I was about to undo. What few attractive details remained in the house lay under layers of cheap latex paint.

I guess that’s as good a segue as any to introduce the projects pages, which are reachable in the menu at the top of this page.  Moving forward…

2003: Four years later

It doesn’t look like a lot has changed but:

  • The garage roof was rebuilt.
  • New brick and limestone surround.
  • New garage door and door surround.
  • Garage brick was refaced.
  • New Champion replacement windows.
  • New wrought iron french doors at entryway and deck (tough to see in this shot).
  • Three weeks of stripping and pressure washing the stoop to bring back the old brownstone.

2006: Seven years later

These updates were done since July 2005:

  • New mahogany garage door and surround (built in my shop). The opening was widened to seven feet to accommodate the motorcycles and my car. (“Supersize” to see the surround carving).
  • New brick stoop and railings. Jim Lally of Galway Bay Contracting did this excellent work, as well as my neighbor’s matching stoop.
  • No more window air conditioners. I installed Fujitsu split unit AC.
  • New dogs! Of course, Jack and Augie each have their own web sites.

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    Welcome to Brooklyn Row House

    This blog is about the challenges of renovating an old (1903) Brooklyn, New York row house.

    My last major renovation project was the master bedroom, most of which is about finish carpentry. You’ll find other completed home improvement projects in the Projects submenu at the top of this page.

    I’m not a professional builder and don’t pretend to be. I’m just an experienced amateur raised in a family of committed DIYers. I try to closely follow local and national building codes but don’t mistake anything on this site to be professional or even accurate advice! Your mileage may and definitely will vary.

    This is the third iteration of BrooklynRowHouse.com, from scratch-built to Drupal and now Wordpress. I hope you enjoy your time here.