GRT Architects was asked to renovate a four story townhouse in the Prospect Lefferts Gardens Historical District. Tis twelve-block residential neighborhood was Landmarked in 1979 and the appearance of buildings within were ofen governed by covenants set in place by the Lefferts family that controlled heights, setbacks and façade materials. Te earliest buildings in the area show the influence of then popular H.H. Richardson in the classic Romanesque styles, but the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition brought Neo-Classical Beaux Arts to the fore.

Project Name: Prospect Lefferts Townhouse
Architect: GRT Architects– Rus Mehta, Tal Schori, Andrew Barkhouse, Sharif Anous
Area GSF: 100sf
General Contractor: Black Square Builders
Project Photography: Nicole Franzen
Prop styling: Jill Galarneau
February 22, 2019
Midwood Street, Brooklyn, NY

Prospect Lefferts Townhouse BY GRT Architects - Sheet1Te townhouse in question was designed in 1898 by Architect William M. Miller who used an eclectic mix of Romanesque and Neo Renaissance motifs. Te building meets the ground with a rusticated base in Indiana limestone which is also used on the parlor level to create three identical Romanesque arches. Above, limestone is used for lintels and keystones but is primarily composed of an elegant Roman-proportion brick. Windows are unique on every level, showing semicircular transoms at the parlor, a single large projecting bay supported by limestone colonettes on the second level, and asymmetrical single-hung openings with limestone spandrels at the top.
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Te building is topped by a bracketed and festooned cornice. At some point a two-story addition was built in the rear, and in 1940, the ground floor was turned into a doctor’s office. Both modifications conspired against a way of living in the home that suited our clients’ needs. GRT was therefore hired to reconsider not just the aesthetics but the organization of the building.

Prospect Lefferts Townhouse BY GRT Architects - Sheet2When working on historical buildings we begin by establishing an attitude of new to old. As landmarked buildings require a literal approach to facade preservation, we set a gradient from invisible improvements facing the street to obviously new elements towards the rear. To blend the two we created framed views through the building on every level. Detailed consideration was given to the way in which portals are marked.

Starting at the exterior, all of the building’s unique windows were replaced with insulated replicas, custom-made to be visually indistinguishable from the originals. At the front of the building we used a lighter touch, leaving many stained wood elements such as door casings and wall cladding in place. Views from the preserved living room to the entirely redesigned kitchen and dining room are framed with a newly enlarged opening trimmed on all sides in unlaquered brass. Te wide plate brass threshold on the floor echoes the thick decorative borders on the parquet floors which were lef untouched. Te dining room is a transitional space between the old and new — in this space we simplified the material palate, painting all decorative woodwork matte white to emphasize its geometry over its materiality. Previously the kitchen was located in a modest, rear addition, separated from the dining room by a narrow door. As the kitchen sits in dialog with unrestored portions of the 19th century interior we sought to avoid an ‘over-renovated’ appearance. To us this meant GREENPOINT AVE.

Prospect Lefferts Townhouse BY GRT Architects - Sheet3

keeping storage and appliances from view, limiting hard surfaces, and celebrating unusual material combinations such as brass plate and linoleum on the island, and stainless steel with plywood and laminate cabinets. To foreground the untouched decorative parquet, we designed an island that touches down lightly on the floor. We look at each project as an opportunity to make something, actually by hand, and did so with the custom triangular brass pulls. Tese were prototyped in our shop by brake-forming different alloys of brass to find the right form and color. Tey were then affordably mass-produced by a local metal shop.

Prospect Lefferts Townhouse BY GRT Architects - Sheet5White space was preserved in the kitchen by creating a pantry in the addition. Here the language of kitchen cabinets is extended and also conceals a refrigerator. A custom spiral stair in perforated and plate steel was added to connect the parlor floor to the garden below and provide convenient access to a new powder room, something most townhouses lack. We secured approval from the Landmarks Preservation Committee to enlarge several openings at the rear, and did so using simple picture windows that clearly identify themselves as modifications rather than restoration.

Prospect Lefferts Townhouse BY GRT Architects - Sheet6Similar themes play out on upper levels where the master bedroom was connected to an office through a thick portal that also serves as a walk-thru closet.

Again we sought to explore materiality by lightly staining closet doors green, continuing a chromatic theme in a different register and highlighting the grain of the wood doors. Tis exploration continues in the recladding of a damaged fireplace in hand-glazed green tile and the petrol blue-green cement tile in the master bathroom, also selected to compliment a unique enameled bathtub that was preserved. All bathrooms were renovated reusing their existing layout to preserve their stamped tin ceilings and balance cost. Tis highly choreographed play between new and old, contemporary and historical, led to a result that celebrates both and satisfies the demands of our modern clients.

GRT Architects

GRT Architects founding partners Tal Schori and Rustam Mehta met in third grade and proceeded, unintentionally, to attend the same university and architecture school.  After working at different firms for seven years they decided to do the right thing and start a business together in 2014.

Tal and Rustam are architects who studied history before design and find truth more interesting than fiction.
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They look for what makes each project unique and craft a response they aim to be as surprising as it is appropriate.

GRT Architects is an evolving young practice that has been awarded for its work on historic buildings, renovated numerous domestic and hospitality space, designed a line a three dimensional concrete tiles, collaborated with several artists and teaches a seminar at Columbia University.


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