Falling in love, like finding your dream home, rarely happens overnight. It requires tenacity, a solid checklist, and near-perfect timing. So was the case for Barry Bordelon and Jordan Slocum — the DIY-loving couple behind The Brownstone Boys.
"We took a risk and purchased a place together after having only dated for one-and-a-half years," the couple admit, rather frankly.
"We met on a dating site and had our first date in one of our mutually favorite bars, right here in Brooklyn. We were both looking for someone to spend a life with and we immediately found that we were on the same page on almost everything — our love of travel, music, food, Brooklyn — and of course, we shared this dream of creating a home here."
Passion — for both each other and the prospect of restoring a tired, towering Bedford-Stuyvesant brownstone back to its pre-war glory — is still the glue that binds. Bordelon had done it all before, in a roundabout way. In 2011, he purchased his first apartment, flipped it, made a tidy profit and moved on to the next. Multiple properties, a sound portfolio, a smart broker, and the wherewithal to know when to take a risk, led Bordelon to "the one" — in every conceivable sense.
"We both searched for about seven months, seeing some places that were huge DIY projects," Slocum explains. "Oddly, this place was not listed correctly so it didn’t turn up in any of our searches. When we discovered this listing, we both fell in love. Barry originally saw the space solo and called me immediately — he told me that he'd found "the one." When we walked in to the space, we saw the original crown molding, the beautiful shutters, all covered in paint, and the original architectural detailing. We knew this was the property to fight for and we knew we had to make sure we could call it home."
Armed with a beer budget and champagne taste, the duo relied on Pinterest boards and a keen design eye when it came to their interior restoration. In October of 2018, with the ink barely dry on the deed, Bordelon and Slocum set to work on rebuilding their dream home. They reinstated original fixtures, buffed and shined dusty ceiling medallions, dreamed up skylights, and restored corners that had long been forgotten. They stripped back haphazard layers of thick paint — decades worth — revealing the unmistakably beautiful bones of a 130-year-old brownstone, steeped in history and characteristic of this buzzing and bustling borough.
"The space was originally five bedrooms," the duo explain, when asked what condition their rough diamond was in upon first meeting."There was a bathroom on the main parlor floor, and a smaller bathroom upstairs. Basically, they put a bedroom everywhere they could find a spot. We wanted to restore the parlor level exclusively for the living space. We tore out the new walls the previous owners had built, and opened up one of the original bearing walls to create a large, open kitchen."
With a revamped floor-plan, the old brownstone now measures up. Free-flowing and ultimately livable, the kitchen and living space feel modern and revived, complete with a dedicated dining space and anchored by a large grey sectional, sourced via Joybird.
"We left most of the original walls in tact, to retain the layout and preserve original features like plaster moldings. Upstairs, we built three decent size bedrooms — one with a large skylight — and put in a brand new bathroom on the top floor where one didn’t exist, we're really proud of it. We gave it a vintage look and feel so that it would blend seamlessly with the rest of the house. Finally, we created a master bathroom where the previous bathroom was, on the top floor."
Open the raw, mahogany door on one of the leafiest streets in Bed-Stuy, and you'll understand what makes Bordelon and Slocum's home a little bit special. Light streams from overhead, bouncing off mid-century furniture and DIY canvases the couple recovered out of storage. In the kitchen, herringbone tiles by Fireclay, pendant lights the couple created themselves, sourcing parts from Antique Lamp Supply, a HanStone Quartz marble kitchen island, and industrial-chic counter stools found on Craigslist, speak to Bordelon and Slocum's low-key aesthetic. The duo share their multi-story, 1,600-square-foot home with their 86-pound silver Labrador, Zuko — "He's just in heaven," they smile.
With no room in the budget for an interior designer, the couple thought outside the box, enlisting the help of friends and industry pros Liz Lipkin and Kelly DeMarco, seeking advice throughout the lengthy and often challenging restoration.
"We were able to pick their brains throughout the process," Bordelon begins. "They were both amazing and incredibly helpful. Renovating in New York City is expensive. Everything from city approval, to architects, debris removal, labor, and logistics — all of this costs more than most other places. Jordan spent solid months researching every detail in a brownstone renovation, and was calculating sums three times larger than the budget we knew we had. I had laid everything out on an excel spreadsheet and did several walk-throughs with many different contractors, to get different bids. We had ranges all over the place and were able to refine our scope of work. Every single time we needed to take something off the list that we were going to repair we just thought, “oh, well, I guess it will have character?” One example was our staircase — it's original, so is the bannister. Solid, safe, and beautiful but it leans to one side and is very squeaky."
"It’s an expensive thing to fix because it requires someone who really knows what they are doing — someone who is able to disable the bannister and put it all back together. We decided the slight lean and squeaky steps showed its 130-year-old character, a tribute to all of the people who have schlepped up and down those stairs."
Creaks and all, Bordelon and Slocum negotiated their way through the mammoth project, stretching where possible, unpinning where necessary. "We were fortunate enough to find George at Elite Tech Renovations, a contractor who was willing to work within our construction budget of $225,000," Bordelon adds. "After finishes, our total spend was around $275,000. We were very careful with our choices and managed to recreate expensive, inspiring looks with budget-friendly materials. We were also able to put our social following and blog presence to good use, utilizing vendor promotion and highlighting different products."
With the fog of renovation lifted, Bordelon and Slocum now work full-time on their successful home renovation blog, The Brownstone Boys, sharing what they've learned over the past two years with a highly engaged and interactive audience. What began as a side hustle to document their DIY progress, has since evolved into a full-time gig.
"We were about to close on the place and had so many questions that we had difficulty finding the answers to," Slocum explains. "I turned to Barry and said “let’s document this." We knew others were in the same position, having so many questions about renovation, New York City building codes, and contractors. That was actually our very first post on The Brownstone Boys."
Answers began trickling in, thick and fast, as the duo grew in popularity. Their Instagram account amassed a steady following of 13.4k followers, and offered ample opportunity to connect with fellow DIYers and reach out to home decor brands. They relied on their social community to help pick paint colors, pendant lights, the coffee table, and carpet. They polled different vendors and narrowed in on hardware. Their home, in essence, was designed by committee. When they decided to strip back the original mahogany double-doors, they documented it; opening up their space and baring it all during the process.
There were good days and trying days, #transformationtuesdays, and bitterly cold, New York winters. There were moments when both wondered "what exactly have we signed up for?," sweetened by small wins.
"A home built in 1890 will always be a work in progress," Bordelon optimistically admits. "There’s something so rewarding about a renovation, let alone a historical home, so we almost turned it into a game. "We got this, what’s next?" type thing. There were definitely moments where we cracked and almost gave up. Acting as our own designers meant we needed to spend hours making design decisions and sourcing finishes. It was like putting together a 1,600-square-foot puzzle. It was helpful to have each other and, fortunately, we were almost always on the same page when it came to design."
Among their favorite details is the original woodwork, ornately carved and now beautifully bare throughout their Bed-Stuy residence. Decades worth of paint literally chipped away.
Head upstairs and you'll find the master bedroom, centered by an Allswell mattress, leather headboard and Sferra bedding. A ballpoint blue accent wall — the couple opt for Clare Paint — ties the room together, blond oak floors layered with a repurposed World Market rug. It becomes apparent that for Bordelon and Slocum, creating a space that is both design-forward and attainable is everything. This is home, after all, it should feel lived in, genuine, earthy and honest — much like couple who live here. In the swings of change, in a borough that cannot deny its rapid gentrification, preserving that little bit of history — both inside and out — is always front of mind.
"Our home is located in the heart of Bed-Stuy and the Brooklyn vibe is very much alive and well on our street," Bordelon and Slocum explain. "All of the streets in our neighborhood are typically brownstone-lined with stoops, decorated with trees. It was important for us to make sure we maintained all of the features that we could, so our place has that vibe. Our street is very active and we experienced our first block party shortly after we moved in —we’re still talking about it. We had a live drumline!"
The neighborhood's eclectic history has a way of trickling indoors, something Bordelon and Slocum have worked hard to showcase and preserve. In the guest bath, the couple opt for a hex floret tile on the floors — sourced via Brooklyn Tile & Design — a classic subway on the walls, and a pine green bathroom door with gold detailing — the shade of choice is Isle of Pines by Sherwin-Williams. With a clawfoot, cast iron Kingston Brass tub serving as welcome respite from the wear and tear of a city like New York, there's an old-school charm to Bordelon and Slocum's aesthetic, the kind of space you'd half-expect to hear the "ding" of a typewriter, if you listened hard enough.
"Throughout the house, we tried to work with what was already existing, restoring original features back to life rather than creating something totally new," the duo explain. "We’re really happy about that because we wanted to retain the historical integrity of our home as much as we could. The guest bath is something we created from scratch. It was previously a small bedroom, so we even needed to add plumbing. Since it was something new, we designed it with with a vintage look and feel so that didn’t look like something we just added. Most people are surprised to hear it was once a bedroom."
"The wood contrasts so nicely with the tile," Slocum continues. "We also had fun with our DIY project, refurbishing the door. We found a reclaimed door, cut a piece for glass for the insert, and found the perfect chicken wire glass from Olde Good Glass. To finish, we used a custom stencil, replicating an old WC room decal, sourced from The House Number Lab."
In the guest bedroom, the couple enlisted the help of friend and muralist, Lauren Kaelin to decorate the walls with hand-painted harvest vegetables. A skylight, situated directly above the Etsy bed, ensures the space is always baking in sunshine, cozy and ultimately welcoming, for friends and family passing through. Thoughtful finishing touches, like the repurposed step-ladder doubling as a nightstand and vintage accent pieces, give the bedroom added character.
It goes without saying that undergoing a total gut renovation isn't too dissimilar from getting a tattoo on your forehead — you need to be fully committed, to both the outcome and whomever you're in the thick of it with. For Bordelon and Slocum, meeting in the middle, and respecting the way one another work was paramount. Taking a moment, ditching the spreadsheets, and escaping the sawdust — if only for a minute — also comes highly recommended, should you ever find yourself knee-deep in a major renovation.
"We definitely learned how to communicate," Bordelon explains. "Jordan quickly wanted details, a timeline, and “how we work” bullet-pointed, very early on. I argued that it wasn’t really possible, that we needed to trust the professionals that we'd hired. We met in the middle and decided to do weekly check-ins, to make sure everything was staying on schedule. It helped that we stayed in the garden apartment during the reno process. We were away from the actual construction, but close enough to check in on progress. We were excited to document everything — so we wanted to be as involved as possible, while not micromanaging the renovation. Also, we booked our annual trip in the middle of construction — it helped being in Barbados to escape everything, even just for a long weekend."