A kitchen forms the heart of a historic carriage house in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn renovated by Coburn Architecture.
Jen Renzi -- Interior Design, 7/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
" I was completely stunned," says designer Joseph Smith of Coburn Architecture, recounting his first visit to the Brooklyn carriage house pictured. "The building is completely unexpected from the street." The 19th-century brick structure opens off a cobblestone courtyard, hidden behind an unassuming three-story building where the clients lived while restoring the historic property bit by bit. Once the shell was stabilized, they enlisted Coburn Architecture to make it habitable. "The program was pretty clearly expressed from the outset," says principal Brendan Coburn, who collaborated with Smith. "They needed two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a kitchen that would be the central feature of the house—as well as serene and multi-functional."
Smith describes the ground floor layout as a series of "small articulated spaces" organized around a central kitchen. "We tried to maintain as much of the historic structure as we could," Coburn explains, to resonate with the industrial character of both the building (once used as a bottling works) and the neighborhood. Simple, elemental light fixtures and stainless-steel details predominate.
A new radiant slab of concrete was poured on top of the existing slab and stained with a rust-colored, acid-based stain. Although the architects covered and insulated the brick walls to keep heating costs down, one section remains exposed. Most importantly, Smith and Coburn preserved the existing dialogue between the building and the adjacent courtyard, installing an enormous, 9-ft.-by-9-ft. tri-fold door that opens the front wall of the kitchen to the outdoors. Creating openness within the interior was also important. A small pass-through in back of the kitchen, for instance, filters natural light into the master bedroom behind. In lieu of a solid wall between the kitchen and the stairway, the designers built a system of open and closed maple cabinetry. The units provide ample storage, freeing the remaining walls for narrow shelving that encourages orderliness.
Although the overall design is pared-down, strokes of bold color and rich woods inject a sense of warmth. The back wall is painted cornflower blue—a complementary backdrop to the owners' collection of stainless-steel kitchen trinkets. Countertops are a lively green laminate over Baltic birch plywood. The primary piece of furniture is a subtly bowed, 4-ft.-by-10-ft. solid walnut table with a brushed-aluminum expansion joint. Although the table was the last piece of the kitchen to be brought in, its arrival, says Smith, "changed the chemistry of the room completely."
At the rear of the room, tucked under the staircase, is the main bathroom, lined in marine-blue mosaic tile with green grout. Since the room was windowless, "we made it like a grotto—textural and dark," explains Smith. There is no separation between the shower and the bathroom proper—"it's like walking into a room full of water," Coburn describes. Stainless-steel details such as open shelves, medicine cabinets, and towel bars continue the materials palette established in the kitchen.
While creating a contemporary and usable interior within the historic shell, the design is less an intervention, concludes Coburn, than a deferential "response to the building type."