Aspects of Brooklyn’s Best-Selling Brownstones

Brooklyn's historic brownstones are selling for millions. What are the architectural details that turned these time-worn properties into best-sellers?
Carlton Ave. in Brooklyn, NY Photo by JDH Rosewater/Flickr

Carlton Ave. in Brooklyn, NY
Photo by JDH Rosewater/Flickr

When thinking of New York’s architectural culture, people usually picture the 20 stories of the Plaza Hotel or the New York Public Library’s marble lions and iconic Rose Main Reading Room. However, as a bigger and more residential borough, Brooklyn is where to look for design features that have emerged from hundreds of years of rich and storied history. With Jewish roots in Williamsburg, “Brooklyn’s Chinatown” in Sunset Park and as one of the largest communities of West Indians outside of the Caribbean, Brooklyn’s diverse cultural lineage is part of what makes its architecture unique.

Today, to many people, Brooklyn connotes bike-riding hipsters, coffee shops and artists’ lofts. In some pockets of the borough, this culture is alive and well. The renewed interest in the place once shrugged off as the home of “bridge-and-tunnel people” now boasts some of the most expensive real estate in the city. For those looking to bring Brooklyn’s unique visual appeal to their own space, look no further than the brownstone. A typical brownstone rowhouse is three- or four-stories tall, with the main floor above street level and reached by a stoop. Inside these grand, once single-family homes are architectural gems from days gone by that now are fetching millions.

To give a multifamily community the feel of a historic Brooklyn brownstone, consider these details:

  • Exposed brick wall in a kitchen Photo: We Are Social/Flickr

    Exposed brick wall in a kitchen
    Photo: We Are Social/Flickr

    Exposed Brick: Easily one of the most prevalent searches on apartment websites, exposed brick traditionally means that some of the original brickwork from the row home has been left exposed as a design feature. However, you don’t need an 18th-century foundation to create the same urban feel. A brick accent wall can add texture, interest and the big-city feel that renters want.

  • Brushed nickel ceiling Photo: Talissa Decor/Flickr

    Brushed nickel ceiling
    Photo: Talissa Decor/Flickr

    Tin Ceilings: Tin ceilings have a very New York origin story. Per the New York Times, they originated when shopkeepers used them to disguise cracked plaster ceilings in the late 1860s. They gained popularity, and can be found in many a 19th-century brownstone. Today, they can lend vintage charm to an otherwise unutilized surface. Most modern metal ceilings are made of steel, and they can be painted or left gray. While they may have changed in material, metal ceilings still serve as an affordable way to cover ceiling blemishes or add visual interest.

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    A Brooklyn fireplace built in 1892 Photo: MLS/Flickr

    Fireplaces or mantels: Most apartment listing websites selling vintage property in Brooklyn tout fireplaces as a prized amenity, especially if they are the grand and stately 1900s-era variety. Whether they’re functional or not (and as you can imagine, many of them are not), a fireplace gives a space an old-world appeal whether it’s original, restored or just built to look vintage. Fireplaces serve as a visual focal point and increases the perceived value of the space.

  • Rooftop in Manhattan Photo: Alex Proimos/Flickr

    Rooftop in Manhattan
    Photo: Alex Proimos/Flickr

    Roof deck: A more modern Brooklyn phenomenon, the roof deck took off as a way to offer open-air space in tight quarters. A roof deck can be applied most anywhere, and can be a low-maintenance asset that gives a nod to city living.

Be it a property in Kansas or Canarsie, the characteristics seen in Brooklyn’s historic architecture can be applied for a brownstone-inspired feel.