Moving Day


Hallelujah! We are substantially complete with the project and we had movers come this weekend.  We are working on furnishings and window treatments, hanging art and unpacking.  We will settle in a bit and then I will get some professional photographs taken of the space and post them on the website.

In the meantime, here are some pictures of the space before the movers arrived and after the protection was removed and the place was cleaned:


Just waiting for the shower glass to be installed and tub and shower handles to be adjusted.  The ‘stone’ slabs were replaced and reinstalled beautifully.


The built-in walnut dresser with leather strap drawer pulls.

The photo above shows the den area and wet bar.  And lastly, the stairs in the photo below:


I am really happy with how it all came out and can’t wait to furnish / inhabit the space.  Stay tuned for finished and professional photographs!

Thanks for reading the blog.

Minor Setback (!)

Major renovations have many moving parts and, usually, at least one thing goes wrong along the way.  In this case, we have had some problems with the ‘stone’ that is going up on the walls of our bathroom.  If you recall from the ‘What’s it going to look like (inside)’ installment of this blog, we decided to put ¼” thick porcelain slabs on our bath walls that are laser-printed to look like statuary marble.  This approach is about a quarter the price of using real stone and can look pretty convincing if one designs the joints and layout in such a way that the thickness of the faux stone is never revealed.

The porcelain slabs have proven to be somewhat of an unwieldy material, however.  The slabs we ordered are roughly 5’ x 10’ x only ¼” thick and, therefore, need to be handled with kid gloves.  The first shipment arrived broken at our stone fabricator’s shop.  The next shipment also had some cracks and breaks but the stone fabricator didn’t see these until later and was able to, more or less, work around them.

The slabs are beautiful and the laser printing is convincing (to me).  But, it took three guys over 12 hours to install these first three pieces:


Because it took so long, the stone fabricator sent a different team to finish up. This second team was, apparently, the ‘speed’ team- they got the remaining pieces installed in a fraction of the time. The install looked good from a distance:


Under closer inspection, however, the speedy install of the second half of the bathroom was not of the same quality as the first three pieces. In the picture above, one can see that the substrate holding the stone on the right side is built up to nearly 1” thick! The surface of these slabs would also flex when pushed on in certain areas which would probably lead to a crack or failure in not much time. Lastly, the joints between slabs were not as tight and not done with nearly as much care as the other side.

The contractor and I told the stone fabricator that we couldn’t accept this work and that they’d have to remove the slabs that were done too hastily. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to remove this material without breaking it. And if it broke, the stone fabricator would have to order more material. To her credit, she agreed to remove the slabs and redo the work with the higher-quality, slower team.

When we pulled the slabs off the wall, the reason behind the flexing of the slabs on the right was immediately apparent:

The speedy team didn’t bother to rake out the thinset for even coverage throughout the wall. This kind of application might be fine for ¾” thick stone but it was not appropriate for the ¼” thick stone we had. These mounds of thinset are nearly 1” thick and the voids between them account for the flexing hollow parts of the stone.

It is always a problem to work backwards and pulling these slabs off after they were installed is definitely a schedule-killer. We had the plumber lined up to put in all of the shower and tub parts and we could have been done with this bathroom. Now, we need to have the stone fabricator re-order pieces that got broken during removal and come back and re-install. Then, we need to get back on the plumber’s schedule to install the shower and bath parts he could have done last week. Very disappointing. But, one needs to be able to roll with the punches on these projects and it is better to have a slow and correct install then a quick and bad install.

In other, brighter project news, the rear façade is looking nice with the scaffolding gone and the window trims painted:

After this project, we REALLY need to clean up our rear yard and replace our deck handrails.

The stair railings are in:


We will cap the top piece of metal with wood handrails.


My sons’ rooms on the second floor are put back together and painted as well. In front (left), and in back, in the former master bedroom (right):


The lead coated copper front façade is complete. Here is a panoramic, distorted shot:

After this picture was taken, the ladder to the upper roof level and the upper level guard rails were installed:


Lastly, the stone counter and backsplash are in for the wet bar just inside from the deck. This is coming out great:

The painters and electricians are working hard to finish up and, hopefully, we can get the bathroom stone re-installed and the plumber back to finish the project soon. I will keep you posted!

Almost There…

Thanks Julia for the great choices shown in the last post.

This current blog installment is a hodge-podge of pictures showing the progress on the site since last time.  I think the house will be move-in-able by the end of the month if we choose to get in then.   We may, however, wait for the GC to finish all punch-list items.  This is always a good idea if you can do it.  Progress slows down quite a bit when a contractor has to work around your family and your things and they spend a good deal of otherwise productive time protecting your items or cleaning up afterwards.  If they can hand you the keys on a 100% complete project, it will be a smoother process for all involved.  We may be too eager to hold off until then- only time will tell.

To the pictures!

First off- the façade is nearly complete.  Below is a picture of the lead-coated copper, standing seam panels installed at the rear façade of the addition:

This next picture shows the bottom of the panels below the master bathroom window. We have added a ‘cap’ below with an Azek crown (PVC that looks like wood) that we will paint black. This provides a nice transition between the brick façade and the dentil course of bricks with the metal panels above. It would be nice to paint or replace the neighbor’s white rain leader on the right side of the picture as well but that is not part of our property…

I’m pleased to say that the old joist floor treads are in place (see picture below). We will paint the steel black and add a steel handrail with a wood cap to the staircase.

The sheetrocking / priming is also done. The interior fireplace came out really well with a nice recessed shadowline around the fireplace and a blank expanse of sheetrock above to project movies on.

The ‘mud’ is ready for tile and stone in the master bath. An electric radiant mat will be added in the thinset layer just below the tiles. See image below:

The wood flooring has all been installed and looks great:


On the front of the building, most of the lead coated copper paneling has been installed.  They have also begun to lay out the pavers. Although the deck is pitched to the drain in the center, the pavers sit on adjustable pedestals (the black things under the pavers on the right side of the picture below) which are threaded and can be fine-tuned to create a level walking surface above a pitched roof below. Rain and snow melt will find the drain below through the gaps between the pavers.


Next time we should have the bathroom tiled and the walls painted and be ready for furniture.


Post by BHA Interior Designer Julia Conti.

The fun part! When Ben and I discussed what he wanted his new addition to feel like, some of the words we threw around were: light, bright, airy, clean, and functional. I wanted both rooms of the addition (the bedroom and what we’re calling “the den”) to feel cohesive since the door will be open most of the time creating one large space. We started by measuring the space to get exact finish dimensions, and then I got to work on the mood boards. The mood boards act as a general vibe and color scheme. Typically, when I make a mood board that has an image with blue walls, that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll have blue walls – just that blue will make an appearance somewhere in the space.

Below is the mood board for the den. I stuck with mostly neutral colors, different shades of greys, and whites, with some natural wood and a few pops of color with blues and gold/ metallics. The wood planks represent the oak floors in Ben’s new addition. The puppy in the corner is a not so subtle hint for an office dog, plus he matches so nicely with the color palette.

Below is the mood board for the bedroom. I stuck with the same color palette as the den.

Note: All images are used for inspiration purposes only, taken from manufacturer sites.

We want the spaces to be calming with a few fun elements thrown in. After seeing these mood boards Ben gave me the go-ahead to proceed with the next steps. Ben was a little concerned about the space looking too polished and refined which I totally understand. So I focused on it making it feel homey and comfortable and easy to live in, while still being put together and beautiful.

Below are the rooms with the exact pieces that Ben decided to go with. I photoshopped all of the images together to create a furnishing collage board, so that he could get a better idea of what the space will look like.

The den:

Ben was very specific about using this grey Ikea couch because it offers storage under the chaise lounge, as well as when pulled out it becomes a queen sized bed for guests. It was also the perfect size for the den, looks great and not to mention, budget-friendly! To give it a bit of interest we are going to replace the legs that come with the couch with walnut tapered legs from Pretty Pegs. This company makes furniture legs for most Ikea pieces, which add a custom touch. We went with a beautiful walnut coffee table with brass legs from Room and Board, and some poufs for a little texture and extra seating.

The Master Bedroom:

For the Master Bedroom we were working with the beautiful oak floors, and a built in walnut dresser. We had selected the decorative lighting a few months ago – two black swing arm sconces from SchoolHouse Electric, and a linen and walnut semi-flush mount fixture from Tech Lighting. The soft textured rug combined with the simplicity of the furniture creates an overall effect that is calming and light. To anchor the room and provide some pattern we went with a navy roman shade with an interesting print.

Once Ben approved all of the pieces, I created a shopping list with the retail and trade pricing, dimensions and other crucial information for ease of ordering. Below is the shopping list for the bedroom.

To go along with the shopping list, I made a floor plan map that corresponds to the numbers on the shopping list so it will make install a breeze.

I can’t wait to see it all come together!

P.S. – Our Interior Design Department offers this Room by Room service for clients who would like help furnishing their rooms. Check it out here.

Status Update

As plumbing and electrical and mechanical work are ‘roughed-in’ and we are getting ready to close our walls with sheetrock, I thought I would step back for a minute and look at the bigger picture both with schedule and budget.

When we started the project, I estimated about 6 months of construction.  I thought we would start in the second half of May but we ended up starting right around the beginning of June which would put a 6 month project completion around New Year’s.

There are a couple of reasons that we will need to extend about another month until the end of January.  One of these were DOB-permitting changes that caught us flat-footed at the beginning of September.  When we went to renew our permits (they expire whenever a GC needs to renew his insurance) the DOB wouldn’t re-issue them without a new ‘Superintendent of Construction’ license requirement effective 8/31/16.  This cost us about 2 weeks of time as we halted construction rather than work illegally with an expired permit.  Also, both with budget and timeline, I underestimated the amount of destruction and rebuilding that this addition would cause on the existing second floor and I, of all people, should know better by now.

Trying to work around the existing second floor bathrooms and bedrooms without removing them only slowed us down and now I am finding we still have to re-wire and re-plumb the floor as if we had nearly gutted it as well.  I often tell prospective clients that there are very few ways to ‘surgically’ alter only one specific area of a townhouse- i.e. the incision is never scalpel-thin and there is spillover to adjacent areas of the house that will then need work as well.  I know this lesson well but was a little over-optimistic with my house.  Apart from the re-plumbing and re-wiring, my existing shower bodies (purchased and installed 10 years ago) cannot be re-plumbed.  My existing lead shower pan has hairline leaks (possibly caused by the jostling of our current construction) so that and the shower floor tile will need to be replaced.   My exterior range hood exhaust got thrown away accidentally although we intended it for re-use.   I have gotten to dread phone calls from my otherwise totally pleasant contractor as I fear they will be to inform me that something else we hoped to re-use needs to be purchased again.  Renovation is not easy and not for the weak.  I firmly believe the end results are worth it.  An extra month and some extra money now will be less painful and hopefully forgotten when we have been living in our great new space for a year or two.

To the pictures…

The steel stairs have been installed.  These will be painted black and receive a wood and steel handrail (the guardrail in the picture is temporary).  The treads will be made out of the old roof joists we removed.  These sanded down beautifully:

These are old pine and were cut in a time when trees really had a chance to grow before they were harvested.  Figuring the house to be from the mid-1880s, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of this wood came from trees that started growing well before The Declaration of Independence.

The carpenters on site have fitted these to each steel pan and stored them in the cellar for safekeeping, labelled by tread, to install later:

The sleekness of the steel and the warm character of the wood will make for a really nice pairing.

Meanwhile, the electrician and plumber are almost completely done with their rough installations and the HVAC installer is finishing up his.  We should be sheetrocking and closing interior walls shortly.

Below is a picture of the master bathtub with adjacent shower:

We spray-foamed all of the exterior walls as well as roof:

Also, the lead-coated copper standing seam panels have arrived along with the starter pieces, flashings, caps, etc. needed to put it all together:

Our flooring arrived and is quite nice looking:

The rough looking board on the right is the underside of the engineered flooring that won’t be seen.  The board on top is how it’ll all look.

Next time:  Finishes!

Closing Up

We got a roof on the front deck and got the walls closed up with new windows at the rear and sliding doors at the front. We have framed up all of the interior walls and ceilings and even got our fireplaces installed. We are now ready for the plumber, electrician and HVAC sub to start their work.

Closing Up 1

The sliding doors in front are seen above.

Closing Up 2

Here is the front deck with the back of the cornice roofed-over.

Closing Up 3

The picture above shows (part of) the rear windows at the bedroom.

Closing Up 4

The photo above shows the interior framing of the space. The windows for the master bedroom can be seen in the background.

Closing Up 5

The picture above shows the bathroom. We plan to remove the saw before we start using the space for bathing.

Closing Up 6

The interior fireplace is set (see above). We also have begun building in the exterior fireplace (below). The chimney will get stucco and the fireplace surround will be limestone.

Closing Up 7

Next time – plumbing, electrical and / or mechanical work!

Opening Up

A lot has happened since the last installment. We tore off the roof, opening up the house to the elements. It rained hard (as predicted) but not much made it in to the house. We also finished the structural floor framing and added some exterior finishes and a temporary staircase so workers and materials can move more freely.

First the torn off roof:


This image above shows the old roof framing with no roof (immediately) on top of it. This is showing the rear portion of the roof that we needed to wait to replace until after the roof got torn off (see Renovation Blog – It’s On for an explanation of the framing sequence). The wood framing will shortly be replaced with new, level, metal joists.

The image below shows the old wood roof framing (no longer needed) closer to the front of the building where we have already installed level metal joists below for the new floor / front deck framing. The next step is to remove this framing- I’m planning to reuse a lot of it as stair treads for my new staircase to the new level.


The only old wood joists we kept here are the ones holding up the front cornice. These will be built into a wall tying the cornice back to the building and the floor framing structure:


On the exterior, we applied limestone caps to the horizontal and vertical surfaces of the parapet walls. We did a bit of value-engineering / re-evaluation and have decided not to wrap the new party wall or inside of the parapets with the lead-coated copper paneling. Both of these areas will not be highly visible so we decided to stucco both. The front and rear facades will still be the lead-coated copper panels but they will ‘die’ into the limestone caps on both sides rather than wrapping around the corner at the new, extended party wall. I think this will look great. Below is a picture of the limestone caps on the side where we extended the party wall:


The image below shows the stucco getting applied to the inside side of the parapet above the new roof.


The picture below is looking out the front of the building where the guys are framing the pitch to a drain for the new front deck.


Below are a couple of photos of the temporary stair up. The real stair will turn 90 degrees at the top landing so there will be a wall right where the temporary stair currently lands.



Next time: CLOSING UP

The Roof

The addition is now all ‘bulked-out’ and the true size and shape can be seen. We are on the verge of tearing the existing roof and starting to close the building back up.

Roof 1

This first image shows the beginning of the roof framing. The CMU wall has been built up high enough to allow for the roof joists to go in. After they all are installed, the wall will continue to be built up as a parapet wall 42” above the new roof.

The joists are separated by some space and the ones in the foreground of the picture are ‘doubles’- these are set to frame out the skylight above the new staircase.

Roof 2

More joist framing

Roof 3

In the picture above, the parapet wall can be seen built up above the roof. Also, the plywood roof deck has started to get installed.

Roof 4

This image shows most of the plywood roof deck installed from underneath.

Roof 5

Some nailing surface and a front 2×6 curb has been added to the front wall. Notice the coat of stucco on the inside side of the parapet wall above the roof.

Roof 6

This photo is taken from on top of the new plywood roof. A lot of sky!

Roof 7

This photo is looking toward the Manhattan skyline. We can enjoy this view until the time if / when someone builds something taller along 4th Avenue.

The next installment will show the tearing of the roof. As I have written before, we will probably have the worst monsoon in the history of Brooklyn when we decide to do it but we will make it through…

The Wall

Our new rooftop addition will be framed in the same way as the rest of the house – joists spanning from the party wall on one side to the party wall on the other side. One neighbor’s house is one story taller than ours, so the party wall is already built up. On the other side, we need to build up the party wall to the height of our addition.


The way to do this is to remove the caps on the parapet (the portion of the party wall that extends over the roof) and then pour a concrete beam that will lock into the existing parapet / party wall. This will produce a level and secure base to add cement blocks on top. The picture above shows the wooden formwork used to pour the concrete beam.


This picture shows the beam fully poured with the formwork removed.



These pictures show the wall being built up. The cement blocks are tied to the concrete beam and party wall below by using steel rebar and grouting the voids in the cement blocks solid so that they are locked into each other and the beam below.

In the second picture, you can see how we are building around the neighbor’s chimney to retain clearance for any potential flues that they may need to vent through this chimney in the future.

The work on this wall from here on out should go fairly quickly. We are already up to 5 or 6 courses of CMU as of yesterday afternoon.

Next up will be framing the new roof from this wall to the other wall across the house. Once the roof is framed and sheathing and roofing are installed, we will rip off the existing roof of the house and finish the rest of the new floor framing below our new roof. I’m excited to see the ‘shell’ completed – I’ll keep you posted.


We have been proceeding at a good steady clip with the new floor framing.

Here are some photos and descriptions:


The photo above was taken looking up from the existing stairwell. The joist that is running across from the right side is called a ‘trimmer’ and it will dictate where the new staircase can go. This trimmer is towards the rear of the house. The joist that you can see more of is called a ‘header’ and it runs parallel to the staircase. The space left between the header and the party wall on the right is where we can frame our stair.


This picture above was taken from the same spot and it shows the same header running from the upper right corner of the picture into the front trimmer. The trimmer in this case is a triple-beam- it is not only supporting the stair opening but will also be directly under the front wall of our addition. The joists beyond this trimmer are set 2” lower than the trimmer as they will be the framing for our new front deck which we want to pitch toward a drain and generally want lower than our interior floors.


Above is a closer-up photo of the same header / trimmer connection.


These joists in the front room are attached to the brick wall using a ledger. The blocks of wood between the joists show the ends of the embedded bolts used to attach the ledger to the party wall.

It’s on!


Existing roof joists after ceiling demolition


Existing skylight framing and air conditioning duct after ceiling demolition



We started last week! So far the contractor, Jimmy Wessels of American Contractors, has ripped out the ceiling and removed all of the doors and lights for safekeeping. We plan to get the ductwork and existing air conditioning units out tomorrow and begin to frame the new floor structure next week.

New stairs

The task this week is to determine exactly where the stair opening should be framed for the new stairs up to the new top floor. In order to do this, we need to know how many steps will be required up to the new floor. This will be determined by the height from the existing finished floor to the new finished floor above.

We decided to keep our existing ceiling heights more or less the same on our existing top floor- 8’-6” to 8’-8” depending on the room- and know that our new floor framing joists / beams will be 10” tall. We have also decided that we should keep a +/-6” cavity below our joists to allow for ductwork, electrical wiring, some piping and whatever else we need to run in there. If you add a new plywood subfloor and a new finished floor on top of this all, you get almost 10’-4” from our existing finished floor height up to the new finished floor height. This is, reasonably, 16 stair risers with 15 stair treads.

Plan of attack
Note that the following paragraph about framing is pretty technical, so feel free to skip!

With a finished house below, we really, really don’t want to take the existing roof off without being able to cover the house up again quickly. For this reason, we plan to keep the roof on and frame as much of the new floor as we can before we need to remove the roof structure and the roof.

Our desired ceiling height on the existing top level will allow us to frame most of the new floor framing below the existing roof joists until we get about 2/3rd of the way back when the existing roof will get in our way. Our plan of attack is to frame the front of the building first (starting next week) and then frame the new level above and the new upper roof and sheathe it. Then, we can work below the new roof and rip the existing roof and frame the rear 1/3rd of the floor joists. Sound confusing? It is a bit. Hopefully, the section drawing below will help. The red line indicates the existing roof line more or less. The blue circled parts are the joists that will get framed in the order they will get framed – section 1, then 2, then we can rip the roof off, tarp the front area above section 1 and frame section 3.

Plan of Attack

A plan view of the new top level floor framing looks like this with section 1 in front and section 3 in back (section 2 is above this plan):

Framing plan

A word about schedule

Our goal is to be done with the project in +/-6 months. With any major renovation project, unforeseen site conditions can arise that may force changes and may slow progress. This is especially true when adding an addition to a building – weather can become a major factor. I can almost guarantee that we will have the worst hurricane or monsoon Brooklyn has ever seen within a day or two of when we rip off the roof.

But, we can only control what we can control. By filing our project very early with the DOB and getting it approved over a year ago, we were able to select exactly when we wanted to start. We felt too busy to move last summer, so we renewed the permits (which is fairly inexpensive) and waited. I would highly recommend to anyone planning to undertake a future project to get the approvals process started now so you can have approval and permits in hand when you determine to start construction rather than having to wait for the highly unpredictable DOB process to play out. Our projects of similar scope (obtaining a new Certificate of Occupancy) have taken anywhere from 4 months to 13 months to get approved with the average somewhere around 6-7 months.

Some potential issues out of our control that may affect the timeline are:

  • condition of bricks at party wall for pocketing in new joists or building in ledgers
  • issues with neighboring buildings
  • contractor and sub-contractor schedules

Another important factor that I can (theoretically) control is my own decisiveness – I am going to have drawings and decisions to the contractor in as timely a fashion as possible. And, yes, I have gone on record here claiming this but will be the first to let you know if I start to agonize over a light fixture or tile and delay my own project…

Next time – Framing

What’s it going to look like (outside)?

What’s it going to look like (outside)?

Existing and proposed


We are planning to have a cable railing at the lower and upper decks of the building- I very much like the ones at the new Whitney Museum as they are really quite minimal. The lower guard rail will be behind the existing cornice of the building and may not need to extend much above the cornice depending on what height the deck ends up being relative to the cornice.

Cable rail

For the deck surfaces, we are planning on lightweight, light-colored concrete pavers set on leveling pedestals. They will probably look like these that we did on another project:


Windows and doors
The windows and doors will be from JeldWen and be black aluminum on the exterior and wood painted white on the interior.


The siding which will be on the front and back and on the exposed full length of the new addition will be standing-seam lead-coated copper. A few of us from the office went on a field trip to B & B Sheet Metal in Queens where the standing seam panels will be fabricated. Lead-coated copper is a very durable material and has been primarily used for roofs (especially near the ocean) when builders want a 100-year material. The lead coat keeps the copper from getting that green patina that stains nearby surfaces. As much as I love green copper, I also really like the variation in the lead such as the scratches and gouges and other types of marks. We had a very small sample so we wanted to go to the source to make sure that we would like the look for an entire panel.

The field trip was really interesting. B&B is huge. Here is just a portion:
B&B Sheet Metal

And here is an automatic, double-sided brake that we got to see in action:
B&B Sheet Metal

The lead coated copper sheets look like this:
Lead coated copper sheets

B&B is going to fabricate snap-on +/-12” wide ‘standing seam’ panels for us. I asked them if they would send a few sample panels and, hopefully, we will get those in the next few days.

Next time – It’s on!

What’s it going to look like (inside)?

What’s it going to look like (inside)?

I think we will go somewhat ‘clean’, bright and not-too-traditional with this new story. I put most of the material decisions in the hands of Julia Conti, one of the interior designers here at BHA, and she has sold me on several options including black faucets (!) in the bathroom. Without further ado, I will give it to Julia to discuss the materials, room-by-room:

Ben has been a very open minded client. Since he wanted the addition feel a bit different than the rest of the house material-wise, I took the opportunity to go in a different direction. This floor will be clean and bright with a ‘no frills’ vibe.


My inspiration for the master bathroom was this image:

Beautiful veiny statuary marble with black plumbing fixtures look graphic and clean.

Since marble slabs are quite pricey we looked for other ways to achieve this look.

Porcelain marble slabs have the same look as natural marble and are incredibly durable because they have the properties of a porcelain tile. These slabs come as large as 10’ x 3’-4” and are only 3/8” thick, so we’ll be able to get an almost completely seamless look – minimal grout lines. Artistic Tile carries a line called Maxfine (image below), and Laminam by Crossville has a very convincing porcelain slab (image below).

We will be using white caesarstone to create a window jamb surround, counter and window stool that also becomes bath ledge and apron. This caesarstone will protrude enough to cover the edge of the porcelain tile to maintain the illusion that they are slabs of stone and not only 3/8” thick.

I have been dying to use matte black plumbing fixtures and accessories in a bathroom, and I could not picture a better place to use them than on these amazing slabs. Newport Brass has the most beautiful matte black finish – we are using their “East Square” line pictured below.


The bedroom will have a built in walnut dresser with leather pulls. The leather pulls will add an organic and masculine feel to the bedroom. A few of our favorite options and an inspiration image below:

Leather Handles from MadeMeasure in Saddle Tan:

Leather Loop Handles from Superfront in Black Leather/ Steel, and Nude Leather/ Brass:

The flooring will run throughout the addition, except in the bathroom. We have tentatively chosen an engineered oak floor that was just installed on another project. It’s a beautiful light oak with lots of interesting variation in the grain.

Sitting Room

The floors will continue from the bedroom into the living room for a seamless look.
The fireplace in the living room is a direct vent fireplace with a 55” wide opening from European Home.

It’s a very sleek, minimal look and I’d like to continue that look with a simple white sheetrock surround.

Ben wanted the ability to project movies at a really large scale so we will be using a projection screen that pulls down from a slot in the ceiling. The other option would be to just project movies directly on to the wall above the fireplace – it’s basically a projection screen already.

I’m really excited about the look that Ben is going with in this addition, and I can’t wait to see it come together!

Thanks Julia!

We plan to heat and cool the inside of the new story using mini-split, heat-pump A/Cs- one in the living room and one in the bedroom / bathroom. Our current heating system for our house is a one-zone, single-pipe steam boiler and I don’t think it would be advisable to try to get this boiler to heat another story of the house. We are planning to get very good air-sealing and very good insulation in the roof and walls so we might not need a lot of heat on the top floor, but to be extra-careful, we are adding a gas fireplace in the living room. We are also planning on installing an electric radiant heat mat at the master bathroom and putting the A/C grilles low on the walls which will provide more comfortable heat (and perhaps less-effective cooling).

Next time – What’s it going to look like (outside)?

What we plan to do and why

What we plan to do and why

Here are some simple drawings of the planned addition.

Building Section and Floor Plan

The new upper floor will have a master bedroom suite for us with a bathtub in a very large shower and a small walk-in closet. There will also be a small sitting room in front and a roof deck in front of that. Zoning for our house requires us to set the addition back 15’ from the front wall of the building so we are trying to ‘cram the graham’ of two rooms, a bathroom, stairs and closets in a space that measures 20’ x 30’ on the exterior.

My wife and I have been discussing this for some time. When our older son turned 8 last year, we realized, assuming he goes to college, that he will be in the house full-time for only the next 10 years. If we don’t build the addition within 5 years, there might not be that much time where we will actually need the space.

By building this now, our two sons will each have their own room as they get older and begin to need privacy more.

Taking over garden vs. going up

My wife was more in favor of not having a tenant and taking over the garden apartment in our house for our use. We spent some money not so long ago making that garden level into an apartment with a kitchen and it earns more money every year, so I would like to keep renting it. I am also a firm believer that nothing adds value quite as unequivocally as adding more square footage (assuming you know what you are doing and do it well). I was able to get my wife to my side of the argument and it is getting very close to ‘go’ time.
We are planning on moving out to my in-laws for the duration and are slowly packing and preparing now.

Getting ready to go

Getting ready to go

In the next month or so, that is May 2016, my family and I are planning to start building a new story on top of our 3-story Brooklyn Townhouse. This is something my firm has done before. Notably, 3 doors down the block as seen here: South Slope Penthouse Addition

We have our permits and we have our contractor lined up. We are planning to move into my in-laws’ house in Carroll Gardens for the next 6 or so months. If all goes to plan, we will move back into our newly 4-storied house sometime around November or December 2016. I plan to update the progress of our renovation about once a month on this website, so please keep coming back to check it out.

Some considerations when going up

Our house is a brick townhouse- its shared party walls are 2 wythes (rows wide) of bricks at the top of the building. The property lines fall right between the bricks. We had a structural engineer look at the foundations at the party walls below our cellar slab and he determined that our building and walls could take the weight of another story. This is most often the case, in my experience, with masonry buildings. If you have a wood frame house and want to add another story, you will probably have to reinforce the structure to take the additional weight of a new top story (and don’t try any of this at home regardless of your building type without an engineer!).


We specialize in townhouse renovations and additions at my firm and usually bid our projects out competitively to several contractors. In general, most of our projects are near-guts in that we remove all finishes, replace all plumbing and electrical, replace some bad structure and put in all new interior walls and finishes. This scope of work, as of Spring 2016, is running about $300 / sf in New York for labor and materials depending on the size of the building and number of kitchens. Additions, because they require structure, cladding, roofs, doors and windows and have to be ‘tied-in’ to the existing structure are closer to $700 / sf. These are very much BALLPARK numbers but, hopefully, are helpful for your initial planning stages if you are planning some sort of renovation or addition yourself.

We had considered adding a prefabricated addition on top rather than site-building our addition and there are pros and cons to both as I see it.

Herzog Dunnage

The initial idea I had was that the prefab addition could be craned up and dropped (much like air conditioning units) on top of steel dunnage that would span from parapet wall to parapet wall- the photo above shows some typical dunnage ready for a few AC units. Then we would cut a hole in the roof and site-build a stair bulkhead up to the new addition which would actually sit above my existing roof. The main drawback here is that the finished floor height inside this pre-fab unit would be approximately 32” or so above the existing roof once drainage, steel height and bottom framing of the pre-fab unit is factored in. That could be an additional 4-5 steps up to the new addition and could affect zoning height limitations. Also, in my particular case, one neighbor is already 4 stories so it wouldn’t be as straightforward to install parapet to parapet steel dunnage- I’d have to hang a ledger off of the party wall or try to pocket into only about 4” depth of brick.

When considering whether to site build or have a pre-fabricated penthouse dropped onto your building, I would list the following as advantages to each system:

Prefab pros

  • Lower cost
  • Weather is not a factor for construction schedule
  • Arguably better sealed and insulated as they are typical built ‘inside-out’
  • Less destruction to roof / less demolition
  • Possible to remove less asbestos if you have it (we have it, unfortunately).

Site built pros

  • More design flexibility / ability to change as you go
  • Less stairs up to the addition
  • Less overall height if zoning is a limitation
  • More straightforward plan review- some plan examiners might not feel comfortable with pre-fabricated construction or with 2×10 wood joists on typical prefabricated units and the top and bottom plates might need additional fireproofing.

Stay tuned for the next entry, “What we plan to do and why.