Before & After: Tour a Renovated One-Hundred-Year-Old Brooklyn Brownstone

By: Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza Before and after, House Tours, Urban living
Photo by Kate Glicksberg

Dan DiClerico has spent nearly twenty years covering home remodeling and design for outlets like Martha Stewart Living, This Old House, and Consumer Reports, where he worked for 10 years prior to his current post as Home Expert & Smart Home Strategist at HomeAdvisor.

Dan bought a one-hundred-year-old Brooklyn brownstone for his family with the plan to put his reno knowledge to the test. He waited several years to take on the gutting project, which even involved an update to the floorplan. Dan lives here with his wife Rebecca and their two children, Alexander and Emmy. The family let us inside for a peek at their fully updated home.

Photos by Kate Glicksberg

What drew you to this home?

We loved our old Brooklyn neighborhood of Clinton Hill, but it didn’t take long to outgrow the two-bedroom apartment we owned there after Alexander was born. Neighboring Bed-Stuy offered the possibility of more space, plus we admired the architecture of its historic district.

They weren’t exactly giving away brownstones, but we did well on the sale of our apartment, and with the promise of additional rental income, we felt like we could make the numbers work. Even still, we probably looked at close to fifty buildings. I never thought we’d get this one, an elegant twenty-wide on a tree-lined block. But the seller was motivated and I think she knew we’d love the place as much as she did. We lucked out, but only after lots of perseverance.     

Photo by Kate Glicksberg

Tell us about the renovation process.

The building’s exterior was well-preserved, and there were many original details inside, including picture moldings and marble fireplace surrounds. But its layout had been pretty badly chopped up over the years. There was even a 1980s-era spiral staircase between the garden and parlor levels.

We decided just to live with it for a couple years before rushing into the renovation. Besides leaving plenty of time for planning, this allowed the home’s equity to build up, which we’d need to tap to help pay for the project.

I’m a capable DIYer, and I’ve worked on a few construction crews, but I never contemplated tackling this project on my own. We needed a team of pros to make the renovation a success.  

What did you hire out?

Our first hire was an architect, Bo Lee, who helped turn our abstract design ideas into actual construction drawings. We then met with close to a dozen contractors before settling on an Italian-born general contractor named Federico DiMattia. Like Bo, he had strong references and credentials, plus Rebecca and I liked the chemistry that quickly developed between us.

Photo by Kate Glicksberg

How did your career in the shelter space and in home renovation inform the home’s new look and feel?

Every job I’ve had informed some aspect of this project. HomeAdvisor helped me understand the value of skilled professionals, as well as the need to build a 20% cushion into the budget. Consumer Reports led me to the best products and materials, like our top-rated Miele appliances and durable quartz countertop from Caesartsone. Martha Stewart Living gave me an appreciation for aesthetics and craftsmanship, from the color scheme to the custom cabinets. And This Old House, where I cut my teeth in the business, gave me the itch to own and care for a historic home in the first place.

Photo by Kate Glicksberg

What’s a favorite detail in your home that guests might overlook?

The wireless ceiling speakers—and that’s by design. We wanted to have music in every room, but not a lot of wires, controls, and floor speakers. Through all my work around smart home technology, I knew to bring in a “technologist,” basically an audio/visual expert who specializes in connected technology. He recommended a WiFi-enabled amplifier that would stream music to discrete in-ceiling speakers. The system allows us to call up our favorite play list or podcast direct from our phones or computer. It’s a minor detail but it brings so much pleasure. And I love when guests ask, “where’s that music coming from?”

Photo by Kate Glicksberg

Greatest indulgence in your home?

Definitely the window-and-glass door system at the back of the kitchen. It added many thousands to the budget, thanks to some unexpected structural work needed to support the opening. But it’s the absolute centerpiece of the home. It floods the kitchen with natural light while providing wonderful views of the outdoors. And when the weather is right, we’ll throw open the folding window and doors and let the home’s living area spill onto the back terrace. It’s magical.      

Photo by Kate Glicksberg

What do you love about your neighborhood?

I think the diversity. It takes many forms, starting with the people. I love that my kids are growing up around every color, creed, and socioeconomic status. Then there’s the variety of architecture, from centuries-old brownstones like ours to gleaming high-rises. And the food! Within a few blocks, I can find amazing udon soup, delicious street food from Trinidad, authentic Mexican, and of course the perfect slice of pepperoni pizza. That’s what life in the city is all about.           

What does home mean to you?

Home should be a sanctuary. For all the richness of New York City, it’s also a noisy, frenetic, stressful place. This house is a much-needed escape, a place to relax and recharge and come together as a family. It’s also a great party house! I really love that versatility. Whether I’m sitting alone with my morning coffee on the terrace, making Friday night dinner with Rebecca and the kids, or entertaining a house full of guests over the holidays, the house works. It truly is a home for all occasions.

Photo by Kate Glicksberg

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