Clean and Crisp
An edited design for a centuries-old house
The living room, located on one side of the center hall, opens onto a side porch; a new working fireplace and a large antique mirror handed down from Winnie’s family form a focal point at one end of the room; the chaise longue from Mark’s mother’s home is an original Eastlake design; the sofa is a classic 1960s piece updated with suede upholstery; painting, Lisa di Stefano.
Winnie and Mark Brown lived in their current house for a decade before undertaking a major renovation of the property. Winnie had lived in several other houses on the wide Uptown street before marrying Mark. Together the couple raised a blended family of five children in the stucco center hall cottage, which sat atop a hill. By the time they decided to begin the renovation they’d been considering, they knew the house, and what they wanted inside and out – literally.
They hired architect William Sonner, a friend with whom Winnie had worked before, and spent several years refining the plans.
A pair of windows, built-in cabinetry and bookshelves by Steve Bowie, and the center placement of the Dutch Colonial desk give the library order and symmetry.
The couple were attuned to maintaining the charm and historic character of the 1920s era home and its neighborhood setting. Therefore, a main goal, according to Mark, was “to not have a raised basement house, but rather a traditional two-story house.”
“We wanted to stay true to the integrity of the architecture while at the same time making it modern and functional – and also looking at possibly selling it down the road,” Winnie said. “We wanted a fresh and well-edited floorplan. My mother used to say, take one piece of jewelry off before you leave the house.”
The redesigned façade of the house took its cues from the center front door, the pair of windows, and the bay window – now elevated to the second story; original artisan crafted ironwork by Christian Van Campen and Kate Betts.
The redesign called for elevating the house four feet and eliminating the basement. It also required building a new first floor and turning the original first floor into a reconfigured second floor, complete with a master wing, three additional bedrooms (each with a private bath), a laundry room, and a beverage/snack “hospitality center” – all of which doubled the square footage of the house. Though now empty nesters, the couple wanted plenty of room and privacy for visiting children and guests.
Outside, the remodel removed the existing brick veneer from the façade, kept the original copper-topped bay window and added a copper awning over the second-story doors.
Winnie and Mark Brown at home.
Twelve-foot ceilings, French doors and classic materials - including French gray oak floors and original artisan-crafted iron railings – ground the house with a timeless appeal. New finishes and an open, entertaining-friendly floor plan that party guests have described as having “no dead ends” are unmistakably present day.
Linear flooring, the absence of thresh-holds and wide casement openings create an uninterrupted flow that works well for large numbers of people. The couple has comfortably hosted parties for 200.
“It’s a great house for entertaining,” Mark said. “Winnie and I are the more the merrier type people. If we’re going to have 10 people over, we’d just as soon have 20. This house works really well with any group and any amount.”
The kitchen designed in collaboration with Singer Kitchens features cabinets painted a custom color called Egret, Thermador appliances and Caesarstone counters and backsplash; the antique French iron chandelier came from an estate sale.
The entire house is zoned for air conditioning/heat, lighting and electrical, which means that unused portions can be closed off so that it also works well for small numbers.
“We can live in as much or as little as we want,” Winnie said. Winnie collaborated with Construction Project Manager Ruth Thompson of DWC Construction on choices of such things as cabinets, hardware and lighting. The Browns also worked with Greg McGavran of Vision Wood, iron artists Christian Van Campen and Kate Betts of S&H Metalworks, color expert Louis Aubert and Singer Kitchens.
The new foyer has herringbone floors of French gray oak and a dramatic pair of gilded chandeliers; the wall color throughout the house is Cloud Cover by Benjamin Moore and the door is painted a velvety charcoal gloss by Fine Paints of Europe; the antique French garden bench found at auction years ago was repurposed for indoors and is painted the same Mop Black by Benjamin Moore as the outdoor iron railings.
Serendipity and the couples’ own love of design factored into the project as well. Though they initially planned to use the original wood floors on the second floor, matching them for repairs proved difficult and they decided to install new floors throughout. In what Winnie calls a “happy accident”, the one material that was immediately available was the French gray oak flooring she had originally dreamed of using.
An elegant freestanding soaker tub resides next to the glass and marble shower in the master bath; floors, counters, shower walls, all Carrara marble.
While Winnie was set on an open, high-end kitchen (she loves to cook) and screened porch (“I’m Southern and think everyone needs a screened porch,” she said), Mark designed the brickwork for the front walk, patio and porches, which include Australian bricks from one of the house’s original fireplaces.
The Browns’ children especially favor the design of the upstairs baths which have subway tiles and retro hexagonal dot tile floors like those in the trendy Ace Hotel, while the couple prefer the light-filled kitchen and den area where they spend much of their free time. Yet Winnie believes the best part of the renewed residence is the way it works for family and friends and still feels like home.
“It’s still very much the house we bought together,” she said. “It still says ‘home’ when the kids come home. It’s just a lot cleaner.”.
The den at the rear of the house is open to the kitchen and overlooks the back yard; French doors flood the room with light and slipcovered seating keeps the room clean and airy; the dog portraits are by Winnie’s sister, Laure Williamson.