It takes vision (and guts) to see a 15-foot-wide, 98-foot-long garage filled with old car parts as having the potential to be a beautiful home, but that’s the history behind this Brooklyn property, featured in our November catalog. The story begins with two architects on a date, which is probably how all great buildings begin. “We walked down this one particular block and felt it suited us,” says Kit. “We loved its mix of building types and scale.”
When the time came for them to purchase a home together – after their wedding and co-founding of Manifold Architecture Studio – they remembered the unique vibe to the block where they went for that walk. “We happened to see a listing for a kosher bakery, and it turned out to be on that block,” she says. “We took a tour of the bakery but it was too big of a project for us, so the broker suggested that we see the property across the street. He heard the owner wanted to sell.”
Kit and her husband Philipp knocked on the door of what was then just a brick shell with broken windows and piles of fenders, wheels and other junk inside. “It didn’t even work as a garage,” says Philipp. “The tow truck didn’t fit through the door.”
Through the debris, the design duo saw the potential in the raw open space, 14-foot-high ceilings, large windows and massive skylights. On the downside, they knew there would be significant challenges in transforming a property from commercial to residential, especially one that needed heat, insulation and plumbing. The choice to go for it turned out to be easy. They knew that this 1938 structure, originally on record as a “feather warehouse,” was home.
The new homeowners designed three possible models for the structure, choosing the one that kept the open feeling while also bringing definition to the distinct living areas. This plan included adding a second story as well as removing part of the first floor to create a glass-walled courtyard that brings in light and air from what used to be a skylight. Few owners would’ve been brave enough to do this, but it truly makes the space. Smaller changes include replacing the poured concrete floor with plywood oak panels and whitewashing the brick walls.
When asked about their inspirations, Kit and Philipp say that they are both fans of Lina Bo Bardi’s work, but when it comes to their own space, they see it as a “living organism” that’s shaped more by how they live than by external influences. Within this open space, there are very few doors, with even the closets exposed to the living areas, and before their daughter was born there were no railings on the staircase. “That was a bit scary,” admits Philipp.
As for the future, a green roof is planned off the master bedroom, and they’ve already reinforced the structure to allow for another floor, should they ever wish to expand. When asked what they would alter, they say the heat is the only thing that doesn’t completely satisfy them. What they love most is the lighting. “How it changes, moves and accentuates the spaces is really special,” says Philipp.
Kit and Philipp moved into their new home during Hurricane Sandy, adding to the list of challenges they’ve beautifully endured as architects, homeowners and, perhaps most importantly, as husband and wife.