O'Neill Rose Architects Breathes New Life Into a Brooklyn Heights Brownstone
Joyce King Thomas and Michael Thomas’s Brooklyn Heights duplex served the couple and their two sons well for 25 years, but when the last of their adult children moved out, in 2013, the newly empty-nested pair took a fresh look at their beloved home. “We certainly would never consider leaving,” says King Thomas, an advertising executive. “We live on one of the most magical blocks in New York City.” Determined to make the most of what they had, the Thomases decided that unifying the parlor floor and garden level into a more cohesive whole would be their top priority, since “we never really looked at them as one piece before.”
Not that attempts hadn’t been made to fine-tune their living quarters during two previous renovations. But these had left the 2,000-square-foot duplex with “too many ideas happening at once,” explains Michael Thomas, a freelance art director. Also begging for a refresh: a staircase cobbled together from a mishmash of materials, and a small galley kitchen.
To maximize the dwelling’s potential, the homeowners enlisted Faith Rose and Devin O’Neill of O’Neill Rose Architects, a Brooklyn-based company whose aesthetic King Thomas had admired after discovering them online. “I liked that their projects were modern, but not cold, and also clean, but with a surprising element,” she says. Upon seeing the residence, the firm’s principals concurred that the “previous renovations had created a collage-like feeling,” recalls O’Neill, noting in particular an awkward entryway that often caused visitors to bump into the staircase. “We wanted the space to feel gracious and calm, and also provide a place to hang your hat—literally.”
Rose and O’Neill started by gutting the parlor floor to take advantage of the corner unit’s views and natural light. They moved the entry door, creating space for an intimate sitting room off the foyer, and designed a more modern staircase with an armature of painted steel. Now airy and loft-like, the parlor floor also contains an open kitchen and dining area, anchored by a black walnut dining table that can accommodate family dinners and large parties. A freestanding island painted in two custom shades of blue dominates the newly streamlined kitchen, which is framed by custom cerused white oak cabinets providing voluminous storage. (“The old kitchen made the rest of the floor seem uncomfortable and cramped,” says Rose.) The master bedroom lies just beyond the kitchen and dining area, accessed via a violet-painted hallway that can be closed off. “It separates our bedroom from the rest of the floor,” says King Thomas, “making it feel like a capsule.”
Downstairs, Michael Thomas’s office, the living room, and the sons’ bedrooms make up the bulk of the garden level. To amplify the verdant urban oasis outside, the architects added an oversize steel-frame window with a built-in retractable screen, as well as a wide bluestone windowsill that matches the patio’s pavers and can accommodate oversize lounge pillows. “The connection between the interior and the exterior helps expand the space,” explains O’Neill.
Now that their duplex has been pared down and polished, it looks like the third time was definitely the charm for the Thomases and their renovation efforts. But the experience was gratifying for their architects, too. “It’s fun to work with an existing home and see what you can build into it,” O’Neill says. “It can take on a whole new life.”
A version of this article appeared in the March 2017 issue of NYC&G (New York Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: Dreamy Duplex.