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A divine reinvention for a Brooklyn Heights townhouse

When Steven Holley found his Greek Rebirth townhouse in Brooklyn Heights in 1834, it almost seemed like divine intervention.

“It had been owned by the Roman Catholic Church for about a hundred years and had been used by the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor since 1969,” said Holley, 63, an associate at Sullivan & Cromwell law firm.

The townhouse had been demolished, stripped of many details from the time, and cut into a tangle of tiny rooms. It was ready for a complete renovation – exactly the kind of project he wanted.

“I went with my friend Sharon to see the place on a Saturday morning after the nuns returned to Rome,” he said. “There was a dream catcher on a door and a rock with the word ‘Hope’ on it and she said, ‘Oh my god, the nuns’ hopes and dreams are still here.'”

Mr. Holley was pursuing his own dream of a pristine townhouse and signed a contract to purchase the property in March 2015 for approximately $ 5.5 million. He then waited for approval from the Holy See in the Vatican before closing the property in July.

There was only one determination, in fact, that made him pause. “It is said that the house cannot be used to conduct or promote abortion, euthanasia, or paid pornography,” he said.

As a lawyer, he was wary of such an unusual add-on. “I didn’t want to sign that, but then someone said to me, ‘Well, what difference does it make?'” He said. “And of course, what judge in Brooklyn will ever enforce such a crazy provision?”

Recognition…Tom Sibley for the New York Times

He went on with the purchase and hired Deborah Berke Partners, the architectural firm that designed his Quogue, NY beach house, to restore the house to its former glory while updating the interiors for 21st century life to reflect.

The project was a significant departure from Mr. Holley’s former main residence, a 4,000-square-foot loft near Union Square that had been renovated in such an economical and open style by Hanrahan Meyers Architects in the 1990s – with only glass walls between the Evacuate – that it was shown in “The Un-Private House”, an exhibition from 1999 at the Museum of Modern Art.

In Brooklyn Heights, Mr. Holley looked forward to living in a quieter area and a house with gentler details and historical details. Deborah Berke Partners came up with a plan to restore the red brick building, which is located in a historic neighborhood, to its original design on the outside, while adding a small annex on the roof that is set back from the facade so that this is not the case can be seen from the street. Inside, the architects wanted to strip everything but the studs and beams, including removing the old stairs to start over.

“These townhouses make you feel a little awesome,” said Arthi Krishnamoorthy, the project’s lead partner. “In this case, however, due to the pre-renovated condition of the house and the division into small rooms, we were free to reconsider it according to the first principles and perhaps even make it more like its original self. That doesn’t mean we made a historicist replica of what could have been there. We have developed an architectural language that is rooted in the style of the Greek Revival, but has a really clear and contemporary interpretation. “

The details include muscular moldings, wall paneling, window and door panels, and built-in shutters, all with simple, sharp-edged profiles that draw a fine line between tradition and modernity. A new staircase with a winding black handrail leads through the four floors of the house. Fireplace surrounds are adorned with thick monumental slabs of Grigio Carnico marble, and the walls are painted in soothing tones of gray, brown, and blue.

On the roof, the architects created two outdoor areas – a terrace right next to the cave and a deck one floor higher – with a view of Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty.

However, there was one obstacle that threatened to derail the project: even after Mr Holley had mastered the complexities of buying real estate from the Roman Catholic Church, he was not fully prepared to deal with the New York Department of Buildings.

“The upstairs became a mini war,” he said when the department asked if the existing attic bedrooms were habitable spaces that could be renovated. The disagreement delayed construction for about a year, he said, but his design team finally prevailed after combing microfiche to find plans for the early 20th-century house that showed the attic as a habitable space.

Construction finally began in February 2017, and the newly remodeled 4,900 square feet townhouse was completed in June 2019 and cost around $ 750 per square foot.

Throughout all of this, Mr. Holley, who has long been interested in art, architecture and design, enjoyed the smallest details, from the kitchen cabinets to the colors.

“I actually thought about becoming an architect and went to architecture school for a semester, but wasn’t sure I wanted to spend my life installing details,” he said. “I am a very active customer.”

Ms. Krishnamoorthy said that hands-on participation leads to better results. “This is a combined vision,” she said. “I think the art, the architecture, and the furnishings all come together symphonically.” And the song the townhouse sings no longer seems to be inspired by a hymnal.

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