The Renovation: Jefferson Avenue

This grand turn-of-the-century property in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn had fallen into disrepair, but a carefully crafted gut renovation gave its array of period details a new lease on life.

 “Beautiful modern fancy redstone to let in the aristocratic Stuyvesant Heights section.”

So read the advertisement for this Jefferson Avenue property shortly after construction was completed in 1891. Designed by the fashionable architectural firm Langston and Dahlander, the upscale home was built in the heart of Stuyvesant Heights—then, as now, one of Brooklyn’s most celebrated neighborhoods. The area was booming at the turn of the century, with over 570 residential buildings constructed to serve some of the city’s most accomplished residents. With this new wave of Romanesque Revival mansions, Gothic Revival churches, and stately brownstones, the neighborhood soon became known for its architectural diversity and cultural prowess.

One of the first residents to rent Jefferson was Florence Griswold, the eminent head of a fire insurance company, and his wife Eliza. Their neighbors on this tree-lined block included New York celebrities of the age, such as Standard Oil Vice President Frank Stockton, John Bolton—who founded the venerable Bolton’s pharmacy chain—and paint manufacturer Benjamin Moore. The property has since changed hands many times, and with new owners came new layers of paint, inevitably burying its historic character under a century of sometimes haphazard renovations and paint jobs.

In July of 2013 Dixon purchased the historic property, just as the neighborhood was in the throes of yet another revival. Jefferson Avenue has always been one of the area’s premier blocks, but some of the homes had lost a bit of their sheen over the years. Dixon wanted to restore Jefferson to its original grandeur. The building, however, was in need of significant repair. The façade was crumbling, the mantelpieces deteriorating, and the lovely stained glass slowly but surely losing its shine. With 3,800 square feet of space to restore, the team set out to cautiously preserve every inch of historic detail. So they came up with a plan: while the building needed to be gut renovated, every prewar detail that could be saved, would be saved. Select items, like mantelpieces and railings, would be put aside, authentically restored, then placed back into the building.

Some of the renovations were as major as moving entire rooms. The kitchen, previously located in the cellar, as was the custom in the 19th century, had to be brought upstairs to the second floor. There, the Dixon team reconstructed the home’s original bay windows, which had fallen into disrepair. They added state-of-the-art kitchen appliances and a cozy breakfast nook, and built a door leading out to the newly-constructed back deck. Now, light pours through the rear-facing windows, giving the brand new kitchen the energy and dynamism it had lost to heavy cellar walls.

The team also labored to restore all of the home’s original craftsman woodwork. Mantles were stripped with a heat gun, then sanded down to their very nooks and crannies. Year after year of heavy paint had drained these mantles of shine, but through a meticulous re-staining process, Dixon was able to restore them to their original ornamental glory.

Hallways too needed substantial, yet controlled, rehabilitation. Banners, spindles, newel posts and paneling all had to be redone from scratch. The team then connected the hallway to a brand new roof deck, where today’s residents can enjoy 360-degree views of the surrounding neighborhood, and enjoy iconic views of the newly opened World Trade Center and surrounding Manhattan skyline.

The rowhouses here are known for their elaborate details, but years of repainting and re-sanding had cost this home some of its finishes. Dixon reworked what remained of the original details, then added new, historically-appropriate materials to items that had begun to collapse. A front door was custom-made to complement the property’s original architecture. Stained glass, prominently featured on the parlor floor, was refinished, while several new glass pieces, designed to match the home’s historic aesthetic, were added.

Upstairs, the master bathroom was outfitted with a full suite of luxurious 21st-century amenities, including an Air Bath, Carrera marble tiled floors, a quartz countertop vanity and a private water closet, as well as radiant heated floors. Everything down to the fully modernized toilets and sinks were carefully selected to reflect the property’s original aesthetic.

From the master bedroom to the enormous high-ceilinged living room, the team worked to restore all the original hardwood floors throughout the property; the white oak, red oak, and hardwood plank floors all redone with a painstakingly stained natural finish.

From top to bottom, Dixon strived to restore original period details, but also fit the property for a modern lifestyle. The 5-bedroom, 5.5-bathroom home now includes a fully landscaped backyard, surrounded by illustrious cedar wood fencing.

The cellar, which previously housed the kitchen, now supports a fully functional rec room.

Now, over a hundred years after its first renters moved in, this Stuyvesant Heights gem can accurately be called a “beautiful modern fancy redstone” once again.

View the floor plans for Jefferson Street

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