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.

Brownstone Restoration – Who to Hire?

Soon after I moved into my house, a neighbor down the block had his brownstone façade restored.  I passed by the house everyday on my way to work and kept an eye on the process.  The façade turned out beautifully and I made a mental note of the contractor.  Between then and now, 3 other neighbors on my block have used the same contractor to restore their facades. So when it came time for me to hire a brownstone restoration contractor, I knew I wanted to work with them too. 

Brownstone façade restoration is seasonal work, so I was lucky that the contractor’s spring schedule was not yet booked up.  I specifically requested the same mason who worked on the house down the block since a lot of the façade details are the same.  While demolition can happen at any time, the curing process for the slurry and scratch coat needs to occur during warm weather. 

The whole brownstone project should take about 3-4 months. Below is a rough outline of the steps:

  1. Scaffold goes up
  2. Demo takes about a week to a week and a half
  3. Slurry, scratch coat and curing takes about 25 days
  4. Final coat takes about 20 days
  5. Wait 8-9 days before power washing

My house is not in a landmarked district, so I did not have to get Landmarks approval for my brownstone facade project. However, houses that are within a landmarked district will need to get approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission for the windows, doors and brownstone color before work can start.

Brownstone Restoration – How it Started

Follow BHA project manager Anita Lin’s journey as she restores the brownstone facade of her Park Slope townhouse.

Brooklyn brownstone facade

When I bought my house 9 years ago, I anticipated that I would eventually replace the brownstone façade one day in the future, but didn’t think that it would be any time soon.  From a distance, the brownstone looked pretty good, but upon closer inspection, you could see the outlines of large areas that were patched by previous owners. The patches had a pinkish tint that did not match the rest of the original brownstone color. While the patchiness didn’t look very good, it seemed like just an aesthetic issue that I could live with.  While some of the brownstone details were chipped or flaking off, I didn’t think there any larger structural issues that needed to be addressed. 

This brownstone façade restoration project became real when I came home on a rainy afternoon to find that a chunk of brownstone from the second floor window sill above had broken off.  Brooklyn builders of the late 1800s liked to use brownstone because the quarries were close by and it was an easy material to carve. However, they quickly learned that brownstone was a poor building material that did not hold up well over time. Because brownstone is layered and porous, it is greatly impacted by the effects of the freezing and thawing cycle. Brooklyn, with its wet winters and wide temperature fluctuations is not hospitable to brownstone as a building material. Once water enters into the crevices of the brownstone through joints and cracks, the water expands when it freezes.  The pressure of this expansion pushing out destroys the structural integrity of the stone from within. The deterioration from within is hard to detect from the outside, so I was completely taken by surprise when a part of my window sill fell off.  It makes sense that the window sill turned out to be the weak spot because of its exposed horizontal surface. The chuck of brownstone that broke off fell exactly on the spot where a mailman would stand to deposit mail into the mailbox hanging on the gate.   For me, repairing the brownstone became a safety issue and was no longer just an aesthetic issue.

Please Excuse Our Dust… (hidden powder edition)

Forget before-and-afters; these are Durings. It’s a super-quick peek at the long, dusty part. Let us peel back the sheetrock and show you how the sausage gets made.

Very discreet. Very cute. Very good use of space. An under-stair powder room, anyone?

Please Excuse Our Dust… (brave contractors only)

Forget before-and-afters; these are Durings. It’s a super-quick peek at the long, dusty part. Let us peel back the sheetrock and show you how the sausage gets made.

Never doubt it: contractors are braver than the rest of us.

Watch your step out there.

Please Excuse Our Dust… (tidy pipes, tidy mind)

Forget before-and-afters; these are Durings. It’s a super-quick peek at the long, dusty part. Let us peel back the sheetrock and show you how the sausage gets made.

Behold: a very good sign in a renovation. It’s a safe bet that if it’s this tidy in the basement, it’s this tidy inside the walls.

Marie Kondo would approve.

Please Excuse Our Dust… (original woodwork edition)

Forget before-and-afters; these are Durings. It’s a super-quick peek at the long, dusty part. Let us peel back the sheetrock and show you how the sausage gets made.

Today we’re shooting the finished result of this beauty. Can’t wait to reveal her in all her restored glory.

Wait until you see the kitchen.

Ta Daaa! Colorful in Cobble Hill

We have a new project up on the site, full of color and pattern. This already-renovated brick town home didn’t need a major overhaul, but the new owners did need some clever storage, cheerful patterns, and a brighter palette.

Check out the photos, and ponder: would you rather have that amazing Josef Frank wallpaper in the entry, or the whimsical balloon wallpaper on the nursery ceiling?

Both? Yeah, us too.

Please Excuse Our Dust… (double-height demo)

Forget before-and-afters; these are Durings. It’s a super-quick peek at the long, dusty part. Let us peel back the sheetrock and show you how the sausage gets made.

Need a little bit of light? I think we’ve got you covered.

Ta Daaaa! New project reveal

Carroll Gardens Brownstone Kitchen
Blue is the new white, if you ask us.

Check out our newest finished project, the Carroll Gardens Landmarked Brownstone. This lovely home manages to feel quiet and serene, even with a generous application of unusual colors and bold, quirky details. Do you love an arched doorway as much as we do? Go take a peek!

Please Excuse Our Dust… (chimney ghost edition)

Forget before-and-afters; these are Durings. It’s a super-quick peek at the long, dusty part. Let us peel back the sheetrock and show you how the sausage gets made.

All this arctic wind has us thinking about fireplaces. Lots and lots of fireplaces.

Ever wonder what it looks like behind the mantle?

Ghost chimney!