Tour a Striking New York Home That’s Not Your Typical Brooklyn Town House

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The constraints of a Brooklyn town house renovation might, at first glance, seem rigid and…

The constraints of a Brooklyn town house renovation might, at first glance, seem rigid and prescriptive—stacked floors, each long and narrow, bound by four exterior walls, the front one often landmarked. Inside, the primary challenge is universal: how to best bring light into that interior core. But as the architecture firm Leroy Street Studio was recently reminded, the idiosyncrasies of this classic building type can be as varied and compelling as its inhabitants.

Six years ago, the Leroy Street team was approached by Jeanne and Dennis Masel, a creative and philanthropic couple who had recently purchased a historic home in Park Slope. Originally designed by architect Fred W. Eisenla, the 1910 property hews to the British Regency style, with bowed windows, a limestone façade, a central entrance, and a street-level stoop. This was not, in other words, your typical brownstone.

Nor were the Masels your typical clients. In describing their vision for the home, Dennis, a free-spirited entrepreneur, musician, and film producer, is quick to invoke rock ‘n’ roll and fun as guiding principles. Jeanne, the founder of Art for Change, brought her own yen for whimsy and adventure, not to mention a dynamic trove of contemporary works. “Our architectural ambition had to match her commitment to art,” says Leroy Street partner Shawn Watts. “The house was already beautiful on the street but it didn’t have the spatial complexity that the clients needed for their collection.”

So he made a bold pitch: Why not completely reimagine the rear half of the house, replacing three levels with two so as to yield high ceilings and ample wall space? Whereas the lower half of that pair now contains the kitchen, dining area, and sunken family room, the upper comprises the formal living room and library. “That was our big move,” Watts explains of the staggered floor plates, noting that “by making this surgical intervention we then had to reunite the front and back.”

To do so they created a sculptural but functional staircase, with fluid curves that shift to reveal a skylight only upon ascent. Its glow, however, is felt throughout the house, fulfilling the elusive promise of a bright core. Sun, all the while, bathes the family room and library thanks to sliding window walls. “It feels like you are in the garden,” says Watts. Those blurred indoor/outdoor lines continue to the primary suite, which has a terrace of its own, as well as to the penthouse addition, which can open up to fresh air on two sides.

Art, of course, remains the focus. The mud room, accessible via a street-facing side entrance, was designed specifically for a circular work by Takashi Murakami. Framed by an archway, it now pops against magenta walls—a hue echoed in the Tracey Emin neon piece at the base of the staircase. Elsewhere are works by past collaborators with Art For Change, which partners with nonprofits to raise funds through the sale of prints. Those include the dining area’s paintings by Danielle Orchard and Hyegyeong G. Choi, and the primary bath’s site-specific mosaic by Summer Wheat. “We talked a lot about having the unexpected around each corner,” Dennis reflects of the overall mix, which remains in flux as the couple rotates pieces in and out of storage.

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