In Williamsburg, a Childproof Home in the Trees

On a recent sunny morning, John and Allison Rapaport surveyed the fresh foliage of spring from their third-floor home office. The room projects out from their townhouse in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, like a periscope lens — but a very large one, with an angled wall of glass nearly 14 feet high. So it’s not surprising they feel connected to nature.

“In winter we see the snow, and in the fall the leaves change,” said Ms. Rapaport, 36, the chief executive of Every Mother, a fitness company. “Every season brings something new.”

“We see our local birds up here,” added Mr. Rapaport, 37, a partner at an investment firm.

John and Allison Rapaport hired the architecture firm Peterson Rich Office, or PRO, to transform a two-story, two-family house in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, into a light and airy three-story home. The third-floor home office has an angled glass wall nearly 14 feet high.CreditStefano Ukmar for The New York Times

It wasn’t always like that. Much has changed since the Rapaports bought the property in 2013, for about $1.6 million. Back then, the townhouse, which dates to the early 20th century, was a squat two-family, two-story home of about 2,000 square feet with a wooden frame, vinyl siding and small windows.

But after a radical transformation and addition by the Brooklyn-based architecture firm Peterson Rich Office, or PRO, it is now a three-story, light-filled structure of brick, copper and glass, about twice the size of the original.

When the Rapaports began looking for a home to buy after marrying in 2012, they weren’t anticipating a construction project. They simply wanted a place to call their own, where they could start a family. (They now have two daughters, Victoria, 5, and Elena, 1.)

After considering renovated apartments and developer units near their rental apartment in Williamsburg, however, they were underwhelmed. Before long, they began wondering whether it would be better to buy a fixer-upper.

“Once we got it in our heads that we could renovate someplace ourselves, and have it how we wanted it, that became the focus,” Ms. Rapaport said.

“We were a little naïve, because we hadn’t done it before,” Mr. Rapaport said. But their general sense was that they could get more space, and more inspiring design, if they were willing to do the work.


The wall of glass looks out over the street, through tree branches. “In winter, we see the snow, and in the fall, the leaves change,” Ms. Rapaport said. “Every season brings something new.”CreditDevon Banks

A friend introduced the couple to PRO, a studio run by the married architects Miriam Peterson and Nathan Rich, and they hit it off. “We had a couple initial consultations, and they were coming up with some really amazing, out-of-the-box stuff,” Ms. Rapaport said.

Together, the Rapaports and their architects looked at numerous properties in the neighborhood before choosing the one they did for its location, backyard and allowable buildable space.

Then PRO devised a plan to strip the existing building down to its wood framing and rebuild it, adding an extension at the back and a steel structure on stilt-like columns above to support an additional story.

“It’s basically this steel table that sits over the top” of the original building, Mr. Rich said. “That steel allowed us to make those massive openings — a big, glass wall at the front and a big skylight at the top — which bring all this natural light into the building, which is totally atypical for these types of houses.”


The kitchen has custom-made cabinets and an island with a wood top, illuminated by a Vandor linear suspension lamp from Tech Lighting (from $856).CreditNicole Franzen

If the Rapaports were nervous about such an ambitious project, they didn’t show it. “They just said, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s make this what we really want,’” Ms. Peterson recalled.

That attitude, Mr. Rapaport said, stemmed from a desire to create a home they would be happy with for a long time. “We weren’t thinking about this as an interim step,” he said. “We were thinking that this is where we were going to live.”

Now a mahogany front door opens to a parlor floor oriented around a large, open kitchen with a red pine ceiling and black slate floor. The kitchen connects to a dining room at the front of the house and a living room at the back with a door opening to the yard.

An angular staircase rises to an oversized landing on the second floor that serves as an open playroom, where a triangular void creates a visual and aural connection between levels. The second floor has three bedrooms, and the master suite and home office are on the top floor. An additional guest room and a home gym are in the basement.

The design and construction took about two and a half years to complete, at a cost of roughly $2 million. During that time Ms. Rapaport became pregnant and delivered the couple’s first daughter. The family moved into the house in April 2016, though the construction company, Evista Group, still had three more months of work to complete.


On the second-floor landing is an open playroom, with children’s furniture from KidKraft (about $85).CreditNicole Franzen

Since then, the Rapaports have come to appreciate another detail they requested from PRO: for the home to be built with hardwearing, low-maintenance materials. The character-grade, white-oak floors don’t show dents from the toys that are occasionally dropped on them, or scratches made by their large Australian labradoodle, Patton.

“We don’t encourage this, but the kids will ride their scooters around on that floor, so durability was important,” Mr. Rapaport said, noting that three years in, the home still looks new. “So far, so good.”

For weekly email updates on residential real estate news, sign up here. Follow us on Twitter: @nytrealestate.

Published at Tue, 04 Jun 2019 09:01:31 +0000