Armed with vision and strong nerves, designer Alison Jennison saw past the faded green paint, wood paneling and fiber-ceiling panels (like many people had in elementary school) to realize the full potential of this three-story Brooklyn, New York, townhouse. Her efforts peeled back the decades-old features to reveal hidden charm, to which she applied hip, modern furnishings.
"After" photos by Jessica Glynn.
BEFORE: Despite being in Brooklyn, the original townhouse certainly didn’t look hip. The first-floor living room, shown here, had acid-green walls and commercial acoustic ceiling tiles.
AFTER: Jennison gutted the space and removed interior walls to open up the floor plan and make the 17-foot-wide home feel more spacious. She removed the ceiling tiles and the plaster ceiling above them to expose the original structural beams, which needed only a light sanding and cleaning.
She also replaced all the electrical and plumbing systems, lighting and flooring and added air conditioning.
But not to be outdone in this room is the power of paint. Calm, by Benjamin Moore, on the walls and trim, brightens the space like never before. Contrasting black paint on the interior side of the entry door adds a touch of traditional style.
The brick was a welcome surprise. “We pulled down the existing wall and held our breath, hoping for a brick wall that was in good enough condition to keep,” Jennison said. “We really lucked out.”
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Removing the wall also revealed an old brick firebox. The marble fireplace mantel was originally on the third floor covered in eight layers of paint. Jennison stripped, cleaned and reinstalled it on this floor. “It is one of my favorite things in the house,” she said. Though the fireplace is inoperable, she plans to add a wood-burning cast iron insert later this year.
BEFORE: The entryway was previously dark, narrow and lackluster. A closet-like enclosure wrapped the staircase that leads to the second floor. The wall on the right separated the entry hall from the living area, squeezing the narrow home.
AFTER: Jennison removed the staircase enclosure and took down the wall to open the living area, which flows into the dining and kitchen spaces.
She was unable to salvage the existing wood floors, which had been covered in linoleum. Instead, she added new 8-inch-wide spalted maple wood.
For the dining area, she paired a midcentury table with modernized Windsor chairs.
Jennison reconfigured the kitchen, moving the range to the center of the room in a walnut butcher block-topped island and aligning the sink and refrigerator along one wall. She splurged on some of the kitchen fixtures but saved by outfitting Ikea cabinets with Shaker-style wood doors that she hand-painted bluish black.
She punched through the rear kitchen wall and added a sliding door to bring in natural light and connect the space to a new deck.
While the open shelving lends a contemporary feel, other components in the kitchen lean traditional, such as the soapstone countertops, unlacquered brass hardware and generously sized farmhouse sink. White-glazed brick on the backsplash adds more texture than conventional subway tiles.
A piano from Jennison’s husband’s childhood sits behind the island stools. “While not the most practical location, in a 17-foot-wide house you need to get creative,” Jennison said. “We kept the wonky exposed wall with paint layers behind it, as we loved the story it told.”
Jennison also gutted a powder room that’s tucked behind the kitchen. New cement tile floors, chunky traditional-style fixtures and a striking blue palette make for a simple yet elegant space.
BEFORE: The second-floor staircase was originally painted in what Jennison describes as a “sad brown.” “I would love to fully restore it someday, but our budget meant getting creative,” she said.
AFTER: Gray paint helped give the staircase some life and highlight the details, such as those on the newel post.
The staircase leads to the third floor, which, after a future renovation, will include two additional bedrooms, a bathroom and a playroom for the kids.
BEFORE: Wood paneling and a mottled 1970s carpet defined the previous master bedroom.
AFTER: Fresh paint and wood floors brightened the room, which now serves as a shared bedroom for the kids until the third floor is renovated, and this room becomes an office and a library. “I wanted the kids’ space to feel like an extension of the rest of the house while still being specific to them,” Jennison said. “I like to create spaces that feel like they came together over time.”
A vintage Gladys goose nightlight, colorful Pendleton blanket and French-style armchair bring charm to the room. A woven dream catcher with all the family members’ birthstones hangs above the crib here. Once Jennison’s daughter was able to pull herself up and reach for it, though, Jennison moved the dream catcher to the other side of the room. Also, the goldfish has since been moved into a permanent tank “where he happily lives to this day,” she said.
A print by artist Faile above the fireplace was an artistic collaboration with the New York City Ballet. “I love the image of the strong woman, especially in a room shared by my son,” Jennison said.
In the new master bedroom, malachite-print wallpaper creates a feature wall behind the bed and covers an old coal-burning fireplace that was closed years ago.
The armchair in the corner is an antique; it belonged to Jennison’s grandmother.
The second floor previously didn’t have a bathroom, so the Jennisons transformed a small home office into the new master bathroom. A space-saving pocket door separates it from the bedroom.
A claw-foot tub, traditional-style furnishings and Carrara marble countertops exude classic style, while a wall-mounted towel warmer adds some modern luxury.