The Insider: Williamsburg Townhouse Gut Restores Architectural Integrity

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To say a renovation “revealed layers of history” usually means something good. In the case of a 16-foot-wide 19th century Williamsburg row house that had been in the same family for generations, it was not. The layers revealed during a renovation by Chelsea-based Hatchet Design Build for new homeowners included faux wood paneling, dropped ceilings over the dreaded ‘popcorn’ plaster, a palimpsest of wallpapers, and a “pizza parlor-looking faux brick floor,” as architect Matt Ransom, the company’s design director, put it. There wasn’t much worth saving except the original staircase, which required extensive shoring up, and a baby-blue bathroom sink.

The overall structure was only “sound-ish,” Ransom said, and the kitchen and baths were fairly useless and in the wrong places. Perhaps worst of all, in lieu of the three-across window pattern that characterizes most vintage Brooklyn row houses, a single “picture window” had been installed on each of the house’s three levels, the top two of which became an owners’ duplex. (There’s a rental unit below.)

“For all intents and purposes, it was a full gut renovation,” Ransom said. In putting things to rights, he and his clients took a modest approach. “We wanted to avoid making a facsimile of an august old Park Slope townhouse, a Brooklyn fever dream. It came down to salvaging pieces of roughly the same era and milieu.”

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