Halloween may be over, but Park Slope stoops are still sporting plenty of synthetic cobwebs and collapsing jack-o’-lanterns, so I feel a post on the subject isn’t too far off base. One night last week, Charlie and I were taking one last walk through the brownstone before heading home for the evening and I noticed the light casting a ghoulish glow over the garden floor. I snapped a few photos and then failed to post them in a timely fashion, of course. But, if you’re looking for the setting of your next horror film, I think I may have found it.
It’s been a busy couple of weeks, with quick trips to New Orleans, Tulsa, and Houston. Much progress and many visits to Home Depot were made in between, but I’ve been significantly remiss in chronicling any of our brownstone renovation adventures. In an attempt to make up for lost time, I’m offering a two-for-one deal in this post: electricity and plumbing! Now I have you hooked, right? If further enticement is needed to keep reading, let me preface this by explaining how challenging it is to adequately outfit a home more than 120 years old with modern amenities while still respecting the building’s original layout and structural integrity. But trust me, we’re trying! Or rather, Charlie is trying and I am learning. Every day, I learn new terms and techniques and somehow the pieces are all slowly coming together in my head. So, without further ado, I give you a random assortment of photos and descriptive words that I hope will give you a sense of how we are progressing.
Let’s suffice it to say that I’ve never given much thought to the pipes that carry our “waste” out of the house. To me, such necessary functions were attributed to magic and were dependent upon gravity and deep, deep, underground holes. Now you have a better understanding of my extensive knowledge of plumbing.
Well, there’s a bit more to it than that I’ve quickly learned. But, the very symmetrical nature of this brownstone beauty has offered a very brilliant bathroom solution. Since the building will eventually morph into either two or three separate apartments, it was crucial to have a bathroom on at least three of the four floors. Charlie is the best problem solver I know and has managed to run one waste line (read: giant black pipe. Not magic, as originally assumed) down the length of the building and all the bathrooms will be aligned down the center of the house. How is that for waste management?
And, in an effort to make as few holes as possible in those ancient plaster walls, most of the electrical wiring has been neatly coiled next to the plumbing. Which, I suppose, is it’s own kind of modern magic, really.
Although it’s hard to tell, this will eventually be a third floor bathroom someday soon. Currently, though, you can see through to the second floor. (I promise, no original hard wood was destroyed in the making of this bathroom. It started off as ancient, unattractive tile.)
Just one of many unavoidable holes that I promise will be patched.
The top floor ceiling also had to be replaced as some of the beams were beginning to collapse and needed a bit of bolstering. And, if you need one more bonus photo for making it this far, here’s one of all the insulation Charlie managed to cram up there. This baby brown is airtight. I’m hoping we make it to January without turning on the heat.
Feast your eyes on this cast iron beauty and tell me how much you’d enjoy cooking a big meal for a large brownstone family. I suggested to Charlie that we keep things simple in the kitchen and, instead of investing in some fancy stainless thing, we just cook on this instead. He was less than amused.
All kidding aside, this is one of the most impressive stoves I’ve ever seen.
If you can get a good look at the writing across the top, it says National Stove Works New York. Cursory internet searches have not revealed much of anything about the stove’s origins. But I’m determined to know more. Anyone out there have any insight into enormous cast iron stoves from the late 1800’s? in the photo below, you’ll see that there is date of 1873 listed above the burners.
My mind is already spinning all kinds of crazy stories and I can practically picture the women who perspired over this stove in layers of crinoline (what else could they be wearing?) cooking hearty suppers for a full house. And I don’t think my daydreams are too far off from reality. Charlie searched through the Brooklyn Daily Eagle’s online newspaper archives and found an ancient clipping for this very same house in the early 1900’s advertising for a full-time cook. Not just any cook. A Protestant cook. Apparently those owners could only consume food cooked with the same religious views. You are what you eat, as they say.
Late last week, we had the gas meters installed (one of the less interesting aspects of home renovations so I’ll spare you the details). When the gas guy walked through the garden floor, his jaw dropped when he saw the stove. This thing catches everyone’s attention. It’s even more impressive in person.
One of the more daunting tasks is to figure out how to incorporate such a stove into our home. Because I’m fairly positive it will take an army to move it. At least we’ll always a conversational piece close at hand.
When I moved to this borough about 4 years ago, I’ll admit that I didn’t know very much about it. I knew that most of my family landed here after leaving Ireland about three generations ago. And that some areas were notoriously not that desirable while other areas very much were. I also knew that very good pizza was easy to come by.
But I did not know anything about brownstones. Fortunately, Charlie has turned out to be a wealth of information in that department and has spent the last couple of years patiently imparting his real estate wisdom and knowledge of historical preservation on me. Two weeks ago, he became the very proud owner of one such regal brownstone and, if you’re interested, I’d like to share what one of these baby browns looks like on the inside after many layers of paint and years of carpets (I hear the ’70s calling) and decades of renters. And, if you want to stick around long enough (read: a few months), I’d also like to share what one of these buildings can look like after a painstaking and meticulous renovation.
He’s unlocking the door and ready for the cleanup. This beast of a brownstone has four floors in total. The door Charlie is unlocking here leads to the garden floor and then there are three floors towering above.One of seven marble fireplaces in the building. The one pictured here is on the back parlor floor. Each floor has two large rooms on either end and, if you can imagine, a fireplace in each room. I can’t even fathom a time when a building of this size was heated using fireplaces. If this photo makes your eyes burn, it might be because of the exceptionally pepto bismol pink walls. Also note the salvaged molding on the floor. This will be incorporated back into the building at a later date.I’m still working to figure out what year this sink might be from. But, it should be noted that this room is also currently home to a similarly old and beautiful white stove as well as a hulking, jaw-dropping cast iron stove that reaches almost to the ceiling. This cast iron behemoth is most definitely one of the oldest things in the building (aside from the building itself) and we are determined to find out its origins. Pictures of these will come next time. (Am I building the suspense for Brownstone Part II? Is it working yet?)The original grand staircase just waiting to be restored and returned to its original glory.The pepto pink paint meets its match with a good dousing of paint stripper.
Take a good look at the intact ceiling up there. Perfection.
if you’ve scrolled this far, I’m going to guess that you most likely are leaving with no true sense of the building’s layout. And, well, let’s be honest here. That’s because I really have not done this building any sort of justice. This is more a hodge podge of photos that I hope to expand upon and, eventually, I plan to give you a better picture of this little corner of Brownstone Brooklyn.