Before + After: An Outdated Townhouse Becomes a Young Designer's Dream Home
In Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Alison Jennison gives a hundred-year-old home beautiful new life.
I fell in love the minute I walked inside, which I imagine sounds strange if you’ve seen the before photos," says Alison Jennison of her recently renovated Brooklyn home. There's no denying the designer has vision, but one would be forgiven for also thinking she had delusions of grandeur if they happened to be on that fateful house hunt when Jennison stepped inside a dark and dated townhome in the historic neighborhood of Greenpoint. She certainly saw hospital green walls, drop ceilings, and a seeming graveyard of kitchen appliances, but she also sensed the circa-1890 building's potential to be the warm and inviting home for her young family into which it's been transformed.
After seven years of living in industrial loft spaces typical of neighboring Williamsburg, Jennison, her husband Josh, and their two young children were in need of a bigger, family-friendly place of their own. "We decided to start looking, knowing we wanted something to renovate," she says. Luckily, the area just a few blocks north was rife with charmingly scaled row houses, the remnants of its working-class heyday, when boat builders made their homes there in the shadows of great steam ships. The turn-of-the-century property they discovered also showed the markers of another, more recent history: "The family that lived here prior to us was here for over sixty years," explains Jennison. "The old woman who sold it to me raised three children here. I guess my sentimentality made it easy to overlook the linoleum floors and wood-paneled walls."
In the end, the layout and orientation of the home, along with hints of long-hidden original details, sealed the deal. "I wanted to feel the history in the space, and there was just enough left to play with," explains Jennison. The fireplace, now in the living room, for example, was the only original one left in the home and it had to be relocated from the third floor. "At one point there would have been six," says the designer. While still working full time with a former business partner, she spent early mornings and late nights peeling away years of updates, and sometimes literal layers of paint—in the case of the lone fireplace, it was six—to expose rustic wood ceiling beams and worn brick walls. "They were all uncovered with fingers tightly crossed," she says. "For much of the project we'd just wait and see what we found and could work with."
Jennison chose to make the lower level the family's main living space, which, thanks to a new rear wall of glass and the elimination of a cramped corridor housing the staircase, is now light-filled, even airy. Pale floors, white walls, and warm wood tones are the perfect stage for expertly chosen furnishings that span decades and continents. A vintage Afghan kilim grounds the cozy living area, and is complemented by a curvaceous cane chair from Roost, an Avo leather pillow, and a chunky throw knit by Jennison. While the kitchen, whose dark cabinetry, and brass-accented open shelves are without a doubt the great room's showstopper, is also home to an upright piano from her husband's childhood.
Upstairs, a few more walls came down to accommodate a master suite layout inspired by the couple's favorite New York City hotel. "After a night at The Nomad we fell in love with the idea of having the tub in the bedroom," explains the designer. "We ran the same wide plank flooring straight into the bathroom and added a pocket door between the two rooms." The arrangement allows the someone laying on the bed to see the person in the tub. "That was a moment we wanted to recreate." The bath itself isn't without it's own sense of romance. The clawfoot design was custom painted in Farrow & Ball's Off Black and positioned below a statement-making industrial chandelier by Brooklyn-based Workstead.
The cheerful nursery serves as a colorful finishing touch, marrying all of Jennison's favorite elements of the home: a sense of history in the form of an ornate metal hearth, artworks that lend an undeniable Brooklyn cool, and most importantly, a light-hearted message of love—a reminder why she chose to give this old house a new family in the first place.