M.R.S. Inc. modernizes 1870s Brooklyn brownstone

Project pays homage to history, but also brings home up to date

November 18, 2011
M.R.S. used black exterior frames on the new Andersen windows to match the facad

M.R.S. used black exterior frames on the new Andersen windows to match the facade of the neighboring brownstones.

Michael Streaman of Brooklyn-based M.R.S., Inc. had worked with designer Carole Freehauf in 2009 on PBS’s “This Old House” Brooklyn Project. When she contacted him about doing updates on this historic Brooklyn brownstone, he was told the owners just wanted their kitchen and five-and-one-half bathrooms redone.

The 1870’s four-and-one-half story 4,590 square foot home on East 66th Street is one of 12 attached homes in Jones Woods Gardens, an Upper East Side development that surrounds a sunken garden. Originally built as rentals, the homes’ front stoops and top cornices were removed about 1920.

A full renovation

The original budget and six to seven month construction schedule exploded as soon as demolition began.

“Once we went in and demoed, it was construction creep,” Streaman says. “We actually renovated the entire four-and-one-half stories of the home. Every area of the home was touched.”

This included new electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems to meet current code as well as replacing all the windows in the front and back. They also put in cat 5 and RJ 6 cabling for computers, television and a state of the art sound system.

“Trying to contain the scope of the project was a real challenge,” Streaman notes. “Any wall or floor that was opened for renovation revealed another area requiring structural repair.”

For example, every joist in the center core where the existing bathrooms were had to be replaced or sistered due to water damage or because previous plumbers had cut them away to run piping, damaging their structural integrity.

No need to follow historic rules

Despite their age, these homes lacked New York City Landmark or other historic designations. This saved M.R.S. time because it was not necessary to obtain special historic permits or approvals.

Nonetheless, the company did an authentic restoration. Streaman and the owners particularly wanted to make sure the front façade was redone in a way that maintained a visual unity with the other 11 homes and met the concerns of the Jones Woods Gardens homeowners association.

The 11 new double-hung Andersen A Series windows in the front façade were done in black exterior frames, 9 over 9 on the parlor floor and 6 over 6 on the remaining windows. This was consistent with the other homes. French doors on the parlor and first floors on the rear of the building were replaced with new, energy efficient versions. All of these windows and doors have white pre-finished interiors.

The new main entrance door, which is mahogany on the exterior and walnut on the inside, is visually similar on the outside to the other homes’ doors. It was topped with a leaded glass fan with half moon transom provided by Andersen. The original door knocker and mail slot were reused. Inside the house White Chapel polished brass non-lacquered hardware was installed because of its quality and its ability to gain a patina with time.

The old cellar access hoisting bracket, which once helped deliver coal and remove ash, remains in place although it is not needed for the new hydronic heating system. Radiant flooring was installed in the ground floor, parlor floor and all bathrooms, while the upper floors use pre-existing radiators. Each room is individually piped with its own thermostat so occupants can control the temperature as desired. Quarter-sawn white oak flooring and a white oak and walnut parquet were used throughout.

“We removed all wall AC sleeves from the front and the back and resurfaced the front and rear walls,” says Streaman. “On all floors, the core which contained the bathrooms was gutted to accommodate all new plumbing and chases for the electrical and plumbing coming up out of the cellar.”

When it was necessary to cut into the brick common walls shared with the adjacent homes, such as in the stairwell where new lighting was installed, the plaster was replaced, .

The home’s three bedrooms now have new baseboard moldings, crown molding, doors and casings and floors. An arts and crafts room boasts custom cabinetry. The five and one-half bathrooms were given new plumbing and fixtures, stone mosaic floors and stone tile walls with glass accents. New cabinets and appliances were installed in the kitchen.

Emerging from the building’s center is a top half floor used as an office. A roof area in front gives access to the main roof and the rear roof area now has a composite paver deck and plantings.

A few things did not need renovation. “We left intact pretty much the library on the parlor floor and a lot of the plaster and molding in the living room that overlooks the garden,” Streaman recalls.

Constant change

The owner and the designer both wanted changes from the original plan throughout the project. Even when the job was almost finished, the change requests continued.

“We were in the middle of plastering the walls at the eleventh hour when the owner came in and saw the carriage of the stairs moving when someone walked up,” Streaman says. “Then he decided to change all the stairs.”

Some changes were Streaman’s idea. “I suggested we install a wine cellar, clean up the basement and tile the floor there,” he says. They eventually put in a 6- by 15-foot wine cooler that holds about 2,000 bottles.

When the job was finished, it had taken 14 months and cost several multiples of the client’s original planned budget. Despite this, the owners are delighted with the results.

Known for historic work

Most of M.R.S., Inc.’s work involves renovations of brownstone homes in Brooklyn. Several jobs have been in historic neighborhoods either on historically preserved blocks or on blocks calendared to become historic.

This historic home renovation project has already led to other work within the Jones Woods Gardens development. Streaman attributes this to the care and superior craftsmanship maintained throughout the restoration as well as the consideration shown by M.R.S. for the neighboring homeowners during construction.

A small project at the home three doors down that involved replacing fascia has been completed. Streaman’s crew was working on this second job when a man and his real estate agent came to look at one of the other homes. They stopped by to observe the construction work and Streaman offered to show him their potential neighbor’s big completed project. After taking a tour, the man bought the neighboring house and immediately hired M.R.S. to renovate it. This gut rehab job, similar to the project described here, is now underway.


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