Brownstone Restoration – Scaffolding is Down

After living behind scaffolding for 8 months, the scaffolding was dismantled this week. We can finally see sunlight into the front rooms of the house.

Next up are door installation and ironwork.

Brownstone Restoration – Cornice Painting

The cornice was previously painted brown but we painted it black to match our neighbors’ cornices. Now that the cornice painting is done, the scaffolding can be removed.

Brownstone Restoration – Acid Wash

After the application of the finish coat was completed, we had to wait a minimum of 9 days for the surface to dry. Once the finish coat was fully dried, the facade was power washed with a diluted acid solution. The purpose of the power wash was to remove the thin outer layer of the pigmented cement in order to reveal the aggregate and give the surface more depth and texture. Without the power wash, the brownstone finish would have had a flat, painted look. It’s hard to tell from the photos, but after the power wash, the surface gained a sparkliness that made it look more like natural stone.

The window installers will also come back to calk around the windows to seal up the gap between the window frame and the brownstone finish coat.

Brownstone Restoration – Finish Coat


After a few weeks of waiting, the masons came back last week to work on the finish coat. Contractors typically provide a few color samples for you to review, but I knew what color I wanted and didn’t get a sample. Since my contractor had restored a few brownstones on my block, I selected a color based on reviewing my neighbors’ finished projects. It was easier to select a color when it’s on a whole facade rather than on a small sample patch. 

Brownstone Restoration – New Windows

The new Marvin windows were installed on the 2nd floor and the garden level last week. Timing and coordination was critical since the windows had to be installed within a specific time frame which is after the scratch coat is completed and before the finish coat is applied. We were lucky that the window order was placed early enough so that the fabrication was not affected by the pandemic. These windows typically have a lead time of approximately 8 weeks. The windows had already been delivered to the window dealer in Brooklyn prior to the shutdown. A team of 4 installed the 5 new windows in just one day.

Below are a few before and after photos of the master bedroom windows.



Below is a photo of the exterior side of an upper sash. The exterior is clad in aluminum which is more durable than painted wood. The interior of the window is painted wood. I selected a stock black color for the exterior cladding, but Marvin offers some other color options as well. For the interior, I selected a stock factory painted white, but you can order the windows to be factory primed and then site painted match your exact trim color.

And here is the inside view of the sash.

Traditionally, the divided lites in a window sash would be comprised of smaller individual panes of glass held together by mullions. For energy efficiency, these windows have simulated divided lites that replicate the look of real divided lites. Simulated divided lite bars are adhered to the exterior on both sides of the double pane glass. Spacer bars are inserted on the inside in between the glass panes to make the faux mullions look solid.

The windows at the garden level are plain double hung windows and don’t have divided lites. The iron security bars were cut off so that the windows could be installed from the outside. The bars will be reinstalled later. Since the windows were installed from the outside, the pocket shutters on the inside were not damaged.

Spray foam insulation was added around the perimeter of the windows.

Brownstone Restoration – Scratchcoat complete

The masons finished applying the scratch coat earlier this week and the facade will be left alone to cure for about 4 weeks. During this down time, the new windows will be installed and the metal work can begin. Someone came by to scrape off the old paint on the cornice as well.

Below are photos of what the facade and stoop look like right now.

The metal security bars at the garden windows (below) were cut off in preparation for the window installation.

Brownstone Restoration – Woodshop Visit

I visited the shop today to check on the status of the doors. The carpenters were able to work some during the the pause, so there was a lot of progress.

Custom wood doors
custom wood entry doors

Besides the double doors, the door jamb and transom will be replaced as well. I considered keeping the existing jamb and transom, but they were not in great shape and covered in layers and layers of paint.

I originally intended to paint the doors black, but decided to stain them instead. I figured I could always paint the doors in the future if I change my mind, but that it would be harder to strip the paint to stain the wood. Below are the stain colors I was considering (I decided to go with the one circled in red).

Brownstone Restoration – Work Resumes


After almost 3 months of pause due to Covid-19 restrictions, the masons came back to work on June 8th. With Phase 1 reopening, non-essential construction was finally allowed to resume in New York City. We had been living behind scaffolding and plastic sheets covering the windows this whole time, so we were very happy to have the work start up again.

Prior to the work stoppage, the masons had applied the scratch coat to the top floor and were halfway done with the parlor level. On Monday, the they picked up where they left off in March and are now working on the parlor level and basement level scratch coat.

The masons estimate that they have about 2 and a half weeks worth of work left on the scratch coat. After that, they will leave for about one month while the scratch coat cures.

Brownstone Restoration – Door Update


The woodworker sent me some progress photos of the doors and jambs at his shop. Typically, the lead time could be up to 8 to 10 weeks for custom doors, but the woodworker happened to have an opening in his schedule when I called. He was still in the shop drawing review process for another big job so he had guys available to work on the job right away. I’m hoping that the doors will be ready 6 weeks after I signed him on. I have to coordinate with the masons to see when the scratch coat will done so that these doors can be installed.

Brownstone Restoration – Scratch Coat


In the last week, the masons have started to apply the scratch coat. After they chipped off about 1 1/2″ of the damaged brownstone, they built the surface back up by applying layers of the scratch coat. Before they applied the scratch coat, they first applied a slurry coat as bonding agent. The scratch coat is composed of portland cement, lime, sand and water that was mixed on site. In order for the scratch coat to harden properly, it needs to cure for at least 21 days with temperatures above 40°. The masons started applying the scratch coat from the top down. Each scratch layer is scored for better adhesion.

Brownstone Restoration – More Demolition

The dumpster arrived today. This is messy work, so I’m grateful that my contractor is doing his best to clean up the work site at the end of each day.

During demolition, the outer layers of the damaged brownstone is removed with jackhammers until they reach the inner layers of undamaged stone.

Brownstone Facade Restoration - demo

Brownstone Restoration – Demo Starts

The demolition started today.  There are 3 masons assigned to the job and they will be making a lot of noise for the next few days.  I have a hose bibb and an outlet at the front of the house, which is great because I won’t have to string a power cord out the window.  The contractor wanted a second outlet though since the jack hammers take up a lot of power.  We strung a power cord through the cellar hatch to get to a second outlet.

Brownstone Restoration – Scaffolding is up

The scaffolding was installed today.  The contractor will return later to add more protection at the sides of the netting and cover the windows and doors with plastic.

Brownstone Restoration – Door Replacement

Parlor Entry Doors:
The double doors were drafty and not in good shape so I decided to replace them along with the wood door jambs.  The jambs had layers and layers of paint, so I couldn’t tell the condition of the wood underneath. I figured the wood jambs would probably get destroyed during the brownstone demo, so it made sense to replace them.  I considered ordering semi-custom new 2-panel doors from door companies such as Upstate Doors and Lemiux but decided to get custom doors to replicate my neighbor’s doors. I hired a local Brooklyn woodworker to build the doors after visiting houses with his doors in the neighborhood. Like the windows, I have to coordinate the delivery to make sure that the windows are ready during the scratch coat curing period. The doors will be 2-1/4” thick Mahogany. I am still deciding between staining or painting the doors.

Garden Entry Door:
To offset the splurge of getting custom parlor entry doors, I decided to get a factory painted black fiberglass door from Provia for the garden entry.  The panel options are limited, but I was able to find a simple 2 panel layout with an upper glass lite that will work well. 

Understoop Door:
I will get a basic flat, no panel factory painted black fiberglass door to replace the rotted wood door. There isn’t any ventilation under the door, so the fiberglass door will be good for moisture resistance. The fiberglass doors only have a 3 week lead time, so I don’t have to order them right away.

Brownstone Restoration – Window Replacement

Parlor windows:
When I renovated the interior of my house 9 years ago, I only replaced the two parlor windows with replicas of the original design. The previous owners had kept the original single pane windows because they didn’t want to replace them with aluminum windows as they did in the rest of the house. The original windows were too drafty and not in good shape so we replaced them with custom Marvin windows that had insulated glass.  You can see the portion of the window sill that fell off in the picture below.

2nd floor windows:
I kept the 3 aluminum windows on the 2nd floor during the previous renovation, but decided that I should take this opportunity to replace them with replicas of the original design for the upper windows.  My next door neighbor still has their original windows, so I was able to copy them. The best to install new windows is during the time when the scratch coat is curing and before the finish coat of brownstone is applied.  The lead time for custom Marvin windows is about 8 weeks, so I need to order these as soon as possible so that the windows don’t delay the brownstone timeline. The window vendor measured the existing openings and prepared shop drawings shown below.

I double checked the dimension of the parlor windows to make sure that the details of the 2nd floor windows would match the details of the parlor windows.

Garden floor windows:
The garden windows are single pane originals and have been painted shut, so I have never been able to open them.  In order to replace these windows, the window installer said that the bars would have to be removed.  The bars are going to be cut out anyway for the brownstone renovation, so it makes sense to take this opportunity to replace windows too.  We will replace them with Marvin aluminum clad windows. The exterior aluminum cladding is good for durability and the inside wood frame will be painted and the glass will be insulated.  After the windows are installed, the bars will be re-installed. These windows will not have divided lites like in the upper windows.

Brownstone Restoration – Scope Creep

Once I knew that I was going to redo the brownstone, the inevitable scope creep happened.  If I was going to replace the brownstone, it made sense to paint the cornice, repair and paint the iron work, replace windows and replace doors all at the same time.  The rear extension at my house also needed some masonry repair work.

The brownstone contractor included the cornice painting and iron work in his scope, but I’ll have to coordinate the windows and doors with someone else.