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Green Among the Brownstones: A Renovated, Historic Brooklyn Home

Elegant and thoughtful from the ground up, this rehabbed New York building moves into the future by reclaiming the past.

| May/June 2011

  • The building’s thick walls allow for built-in nooks such as this filing station and shelf. The flat lime casein paint is nontoxic and adheres to the principles of baubiologie.
    Photo By Stephen Ang
  • The home’s exterior retains its architectural history, while green lime casein paint offers a unique, natural appearance.
    Photo By Stephen Ang
  • The outdoor garden features sculptures made of stacked rocks found on the property. A gravel path invites exploring and allows rainwater to seep into the ground.
    Photo By Stephen Ang
  • Jörn plays the trumpet in a music alcove tucked under the stairs.
    Photo By Stephen Ang
  • Minimalist décor highlights the dining area’s reclaimed brick and stained-wood wallboard.
    Photo By Stephen Ang
  • Kat and Jörn love the entry’s original wood door and arch.
    Photo By Stephen Ang
  • Jörn harvests herbs in his Brooklyn home’s lush backyard garden.
    Photo By Stephen Ang
  • Kat says the backyard is her favorite “room,” where she can paint, relax with friends and enjoy a nature oasis in the middle of the city.
    Photo By Stephen Ang
  • Jörn and Kat installed a climbing wall that extends from the lower level through the living room. Cushions provide mobile seating that can be removed if additional floor space is needed.
    Photo By Stephen Ang
  • Kat and Jörn wanted to retain the building’s original architectural details such as this built-in window ledge with 1800s shutters and a radiator.
    Photo By Stephen Ang
  • Jörn restored the home’s original marble fireplaces.
    Photo By Stephen Ang

A boarded-up, 135-year-old brick brownstone that had been sitting vacant for years in a Brooklyn neighborhood wasn’t an easy place to envision a healthy home. But where others saw blight, architect Jörn Schröder saw opportunity. Using baubiologie, a system of design that considers the interaction between buildings and inhabitants, Jörn transformed the dilapidated eyesore into one of Brooklyn’s first sustainably remodeled, solar-equipped brownstones. In doing so, he also created a charming home for himself, his partner, Kat Roberston, and for renters looking for a healthy place to live.   

A City-Wide Search 

Though Jörn had built many homes from the ground up in his 14 years as an architect, he’d never tried an urban renovation. Interested in revamping an existing structure, he embarked on a two-year hunt for the perfect urban property. He discovered it in a rundown Brooklyn brownstone—far from perfect by most standards—that he purchased from New York City’s Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program in 2003. The building had a checkered past. Built as a single-family home in 1875, the structure was later converted to a multifamily dwelling and eventually abandoned. Kat and Jörn’s neighbors say the building served as a haven for drug dealers and squatters before the city took over. Jörn was determined to restore the building to its historic beauty, and to add something of value to its neighborhood.

After finally locating the ideal building for his project, Jörn had to wait another agonizing six months to receive a building permit before he could begin tearing into the remodel. Meanwhile, the deteriorating black tar roof was letting rain seep in and destroy most of the original wood floors. “The condition of the roof was terrible,” Jörn says. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, the longer I wait, the worse it’s getting and the more it’s rotting.’”

The water leaks had caused the home’s carrying wall to settle and the floor to sag. Jörn had several problems to remedy—fast. “The No. 1 priority was to replace the roof. It had a 2 1/2-inch-thick layer of tar and black paint,” he says.

Healthy Inside 

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