Interiorssneak peeks

First-Time Renovators Create a Dream Brooklyn Townhome

by Grace Bonney

It’s not often that I see a home where I wouldn’t change a little something here and there. Not because anything is wrong with the space, but just because I daydream about living there myself and how I would put my personal touches on it. But then I saw photographer Julia Sherman’s home. I knew Julia had impeccable taste in salads and artwork – her project at PS1 and her blog, Salad for President, combines both – but I had no idea how much her incredible eye extended to home design.

Julia lives in this beautifully restored home, along with her husband Adam Katz and their dog, Lucy, in the Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn. Originally built in the 1890s, Julia and Adam’s home was in dire condition when they found it three years ago. Eager to put down roots somewhere quiet and near a park, the couple ignored friends’ warnings that a gut renovation job wasn’t something they should tackle. Instead they found a space that needed a total overhaul and had serious “haunted” vibes. After working through fallen ceilings, black mold and moldy carpet floors, the couple saw signs of light when crown molding, parquet floors and original Eastlake hardware were revealed. Despite not having any prior renovation experience, Julia and Adam were able to eventually finish their renovation using a mix of local salvage and building material resources. At the end of the day they have a totally custom home (they loved getting to choose every tile, light fixture and paint color) that still retains the original architectural beauty of the home. “The house is ours like no pre-fab home could have been,” Julia says. I couldn’t agree with her more. This is the sort of space that will only continue to grow and improve as the years go on. xo, grace

Photographs by Maxwell Tielman

Julia Sherman's home on Design*Sponge
The Front Door: Julia spent a long time hunting for the right wallpaper for this entry niche. She wanted to find something fun, but that didn't clash too much with the traditional exterior of the brownstone. In the end, this handmade paper by Peter Fasono was the perfect complement to the space - and the couple's black and white dog!
Julia Sherman's home on Design*Sponge
The Stairway: "I love the grand entrance to these townhouses. They just don’t make doors like this anymore," explains Julia. The couple sanded and re-painted the stairs and used black to "up the drama factor."
Julia Sherman's home on Design*Sponge
Julia waited at an auction in Pennsylvania for eight hours to bid on this blown glass pendant light for their entryway. She was really excited when she saw almost the same light in a West Village shop for 8x the price. She got a few more fixtures of the same type on eBay after finding this one.
Julia Sherman's home on Design*Sponge
The Living Room: Julia describes her living room as, "the place where where Adam and I project movies, always aware that the entire neighborhood can see what we are watching." Adam found the bucket chairs (Ward Bennet Designs for Herman Miller) on the street on the Upper East Side when he was in college.
Julia Sherman's home on Design*Sponge
The living room's hanging planter is one of Julia's favorite finds from the Elephant’s Trunk flea market in CT. The print on the wall is by her favorite artist/nun/political activist, Sister Corita Kent. When it was sent to Julia from the Corita Foundation, Adam accidentally tossed it out with the trash. It was soaked in the rain, and it spent a month with an art conservator being repaired.
Julia Sherman's home on Design*Sponge
Most homes in Julia and Adam's neighborhood have the same basic fireplace and moldings, but they each have a unique medallion on the mantel. One, of course, is a crest, another a dove and fruit combo, and the other is a Superwoman face (Julia's favorite).
Julia Sherman's home on Design*Sponge
The Kitchen: The kitchen needed to be the most accommodating space in the house, since Julia is always cooking and entertaining. The home's kitchen island is so big, you can’t capture the whole thing in one photo, Julia calls it, "the life raft that everyone clings to."
Julia Sherman's home on Design*Sponge
Julia and Adam turned a room that was not originally used as a kitchen, into one. They had to be creative with storage but Julia loves having the pots at arm's length, so the hanging pot rack is a huge convenience for her.
Julia Sherman's home on Design*Sponge
This arched wall section in the kitchen was crumbling when Julia and Adam first bought their home, so she saw this as a great place for some accent color. After falling in love with an intricate Moroccan star pattern mosaic that was "hideously expensive," she opted to have the pattern translated into custom painted cement tile. Now this is the most complimented detail in the house.
Julia Sherman's home on Design*Sponge
A detail of the painted cement tile arch and marble countertops in the kitchen.
Julia Sherman's home on Design*Sponge
Open shelving was a must for Julia and Adam. She can usually be found climbing the cabinets on her library ladder, reaching for three things at once. Julia admitted that she "[goes] to a super secret Amish yard sale in rural Pennsylvania every year, and stock[s] up on these blue ball jars for all my pantry staples. "
Julia Sherman's home on Design*Sponge
Details from the kitchen's fireplace mantel.
Julia Sherman's home on Design*Sponge
Julia is always propagating plants to share with friends. "It is one of those simple things in life that feels like a miracle to me. I love this purple vine-y plant, 'Wandering Jew.' "
Julia Sherman's home on Design*Sponge
This is Lucy, the couple's "pound puppy." The (empty) fireplace is her chosen home.
Julia Sherman's home on Design*Sponge
The Master Bathroom: Both Julia and Adam love the look of penny tile with dark grout. "It takes a really cheap and basic material and makes it feel intentional," she explained. Julia spent a lot of time sourcing vintage bathroom accessories, so the sink, toothbrush holder, shelf and sconces all have their own long histories and stories.
Julia Sherman's home on Design*Sponge
Adam found these blue enamel medals in an abandoned factory in Providence, RI when he was in college. They assumed they were the imperfect cast-offs from a military medal manufacturer and carried them around with them for years, to Los Angeles and back, always planning to use them to tile a bathroom. They love the way they look in this bathroom.
Julia Sherman's home on Design*Sponge
Julia found these sconces on a trip to Los Angeles at a salvage shop in Pasadena. She loves the deco-style ribbing and thought the circular shape would complement the penny tile.
Julia Sherman's home on Design*Sponge
This niche in the shower was built to fit a large bottle of Dr. Bronner’s soap, exactly. Adam only uses one shower product, so it was important that it have its due place.
Julia Sherman's home on Design*Sponge
Original Eastlake doorknobs that were found in-tact during the home renovation.
Julia Sherman's home on Design*Sponge
The Bedroom: The couple loves mismatched patterns and textiles. Julia collects them when they travel, so they always have at least 3 blankets on their bed at a time. The orange/yellow blanket was bought in a Hmong village in the Northern-most part of Vietnam, at a tribal market in the town of Bac Ha. In the Hmong style, it features elaborate cross-stitching. The rug is a Moroccan shag rug given to the couple as a wedding present.
Julia Sherman's home on Design*Sponge
Julia found their mid-century style bed at Build It Green, a local salvage yard where the couple bought most of the materials they used in the home renovation. The bed was in perfect condition and came from a movie set. Julia bought it based off a photo on their website without seeing it in person.
Julia Sherman's Home on Design*Sponge
The couple's mid-century dresser.
Julia Sherman's Home on Design*Sponge
The bedroom mantel.
Julia Sherman's Home on Design*Sponge
The Office/Bedroom: Julia bought the tiles for this room before they had drawings done or any idea plan at all for the layout of the room. The Standard hotel was selling their leftovers on Craigslist and Julia pounced, not caring that she was "essentially working backwards." The Murphy bed came from an old man in Gramercy (via Craiglist). It is a 1960s Italian piece, and when you pull it down, the shelving stays level. Julia and Adam like to display extremely fragile objects on those shelves, just because they can.
Julia Sherman's Home on Design*Sponge
These Mexican hammocks were acquired in the dead of winter, so Julia stored/displayed them on the wall. They never made it outside when the weather warmed up and Julia liked how they looked so much as wall-hangings.
Julia Sherman's Home on Design*Sponge
Julia explained that their backyard was, "a bamboo forest when we bought the place. I pulled every last piece of bamboo, trucked in the soil, spread the gravel and planted everything you see here (there are large raised beds not pictured). I grow mostly salad, greens and herbs in the garden, with some flowers scattered in there. We grill out on the deck almost every night in the summer. I even grill when I am eating dinner alone." The pavers under the deck were salvaged pieces of marble mantels and old slate steps that Julia found. She stripped the layers and layers of paint off each one.
Julia Sherman's Home on Design*Sponge
The backyard.
Julia Sherman's Home on Design*Sponge
The couple's favorite backyard breakfast nook.
Julia Sherman's Home on Design*Sponge

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  • Most amazing kitchen ever!!! I am absolutely in love. It’s not even really my style, but I would adopt this style in a second if I could live here. It’s high end, yet unpretentious. Well designed with an organic feel that is so inviting. My jaw is on the ground!

  • I am honestly at a loss for words with this home. (That’s not common)
    It just seems very special and I mean that in the very best way.
    I think my jaw literally dropped when I saw the eastlake door knobs and then there is the front entrance, kitchen, master bath etc.
    If your home could talk after this renovation it would be radiating joy as it said thanks.

  • This home is a visual dream. All of the different tiles and patterns are wonderful. A friend of mine just introduced me to Sister Corita Kent the other day! The piece in the living room is incredible.

  • i am so sorry to ask the tacky New Yorkervquestion but would you kindly share the budget for this project? We are thinking of buying a house in bed stay and doing a gut renovation but we are so fearful of spiraling costs – would love some ballpark figures to see if we should do it or keep saving. Huge thanks.

  • This house is perfect! I love everything about it…the tiles, the paint, the furniture, the textiles, the wallpaper, the art, not to mention the fabulous original details. My favorite house tour ever.

  • Pardon my gaucheness, but I would like to echo NAZPARV’s request. We are also in the planning stages of a similar renovation in Park Slope, and I am completely in love with Julie’s results! Just some ballpark figures would be so endlessly helpful.

  • Wow, this is GORGEOUS!!! I’m curious to know why they hung the boots (timbs) from the chandelier in the living room… it is such a NYC outer borough thing, but it obviously stands out in this type of setting! (To me they’ve always meant illicit activity nearby…!)

  • So so beautiful! Lucy’s bed takes the cake. The accent colours and patterns are so on point.

  • Such beautiful details and smart, hard work to make it their own! I also love how they mixed old, new, antique, thrift, and finds in cohesive way.

  • This house is PERFECT. I know I’m too old but I wish they would adopt me (I went to the same college as Adam!). I’d love to know which white paints they used throughout. I recently moved and am in the process of painting the walls in my house. It’s so nice to see a big, open house still in the process of being filled, which is how mine feels at the moment.

  • Very beautiful. Just FYI, this house is an Italianate and most likely built in the 1860s or 1870s. The Eastlake knobs probably came later.

  • This house is GORGEOUS. Congratulations on creating such a beautiful home. It must be a dream having such a big beautiful space in Brooklyn. If you don’t mind sharing secrets, I’d love to know more about your custom painted tile and how you guys went about getting that done. Thanks so much!

  • The bedframe is just fantastic. Can the homeowners/D*S let us know where that came from, and what the ‘style’ of that piece is? (Eg. if I wanted to find a similar looking one, what furniture style does it hail from? Mission-style?)

  • Beautiful space! I also live in Clinton Hill and love the architecture around here. And you’ve renovated and decorated beautifully. Kudos!

  • Saw this again on Apartment Therapy and had to comment. So lovely. Where did they find that pot rack?

  • This is perfection. I totale get what you’re saying Grace. Hard to think it was once moldy and rotten!

  • Those doorknobs and backplates are the very ones that were on my 1884 home in Lafayette Square, St. Louis. If any one knows where I can find the larger ( 1/4″ long version of these plates, please contact me. Thanks! thearchitective@aol.com

  • Anyone know roughly how much those cement tiles (used in the kitchen arch) cost, per square foot? I have a design in mind that I was thinking about just stencil-painting onto my kitchen, but it’s a small enough area that I might splurge if it’s not prohibitively expensive.