It’s tricky to completely transform a Neo-Federalist-style Brooklyn town house. Due to landmark regulations, the façade must remain relatively untouched. The loophole? The back of the buildings, where architects more or less have free rein to put a modern spin on these historic structures. For CWB Architects, this meant the opportunity to bring in loads of light with the addition of glass walls and curved windows that brighten up the house for a young family of four. Brooklyn–based design firm Jesse Parris-Lamb perfectly complemented the modernized structure through color, pattern, custom furnishings, and a range of antiques. The final result? A delicate balance of new and old that goes onto characterize the home.
This is beautifully exemplified in the dining area, tucked into the back corner of the house on the ground floor. Originally a long, dimly-lit space, CWB transformed the area into a lofty nook connected to the outdoors by adding a wrap-around window which now peers into the lush greenery of the garden. “The window was inspired by the observation windows found on 20th-century passenger trains,” Christopher Devine of CWB shares. “[It’s] a subtle nod to the era in which the house was built, and helps create a seamless transition between the dining room and the adjacent garden.”
Jesse Parris-Lamb went one step further to bring the al fresco charm indoors, adding handwoven custom silk wallpaper adorned with a series of wildflowers. “It feels a little more casual this way, a little more youthful and playful,” firm cofounder Amanda Jesse says. “Plus it sits nicely with the wild backyard.” To soften the modern feel of the banquette and play off the wallpaper, the design duo crafted a custom organically-shaped table made in two parts. “The clients entertain a lot. We were concerned about that poor person sitting in the back left corner needing to pee,” Whitney Parris-Lamb adds. “This way, they can have a long table when needed without trapping anyone or separate the tables for an intimate dinner with their family of four.”
A quaint bar area in an orange-y red connects the dining area to the kitchen. It was a bold color choice for the clients, but added a splash of fun to the subdued and more sophisticated neighboring cabinets and countertops next door. Across from the kitchen island, a fireplace is enlivened with a blue-and-white checkered tiling along the mantelpiece.
Across the hall, a cozy living area is crafted in a warming array of earth tones. The clients wanted to make sure there would be plenty of seating options for their family and friends. Due to the unfortunate timing of peak lockdown, Jesse and Parris-Lamb ended up drawing and meticulously studying each furniture item to ensure it would fit with the space, rather than their regular site visits. To keep an element of the traditional row house-style feel of the home, a host of vintage pieces create an elegant ensemble of wood brightened with a myriad of reupholstered textures and colors. Another mantelpiece is playfully adorned in a set of custom tiles—this time, an emerald green subway style from Farrow and Ball.
A carved wood banister with original moldings leads up to the second landing, where a large Josef Frank shelf lined with photos, books, and knickknacks sets the familial tone. Then there’s the family room: “It’s a place for board games, TV, and family time,” Jesse says.
When it came to the interiors, the family mainly wanted Scandinavian midcentury pieces. But given that it’s a town house in Brooklyn, they didn’t want the space to feel too European modern. “This pushed us to balance their own tendencies with some more contemporary or unexpected pieces,” Parris-Lamb says. This meant sourcing local, drawing on upstate makers and those out west to add a bit more of an American feel. Carrying onto the primary bedroom, fabric linings, warm tones, and another custom-tiled mantelpiece create the perfect cozy retreat at the top of the house.
It’s at the back where another of the architects’ curved alcove window addition brings in a flood light. It’s quite the contrast to the rooms in the front of the house—such as the family area—where moldings and traditional french door windows set the tone of the Neo-Federalist style structure. The dichotomy seems to mirror the interior design—a dialogue between traditional and contemporary, American and European, drawing an eclectic harmony that one may say couldn’t be better for a quaint residential street of Brooklyn.