Architectural Transformation Achieved with Approval of NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission

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31-33 Middagh. Photos courtesy of James Koster.

This week, shrouds of scaffolding are falling away from one of the oldest homes in Brooklyn to reveal a stunning restoration unlike most achieved in the city’s famously preserved landmark districts.

The new façade on 31 Middagh St. — a wood-framed, clapboard-fronted townhouse in the oldest corner of Brooklyn Heights — is the result of five months of meticulous work, designed and led by architect James Koster.

The restoration illustrates that it is possible for homeowners to achieve significant architectural changes, even in areas under the careful watch of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, which approved the restoration in a late 2013 public hearing.

Describing the Landmarks review process, Koster said, “The commissioners are concerned with the preservation of historic fabric where it exists, but when a building has been substantially altered, like this one, we have an opportunity to present the commissioners with a degree of conjecture about proportions and details.”

All the historical features of the façade had been lost long ago. With help from a handful of grainy photographs, Koster relied on his in-depth knowledge of classical architecture and the Federal Style to craft details for the re-creation of the Greek Revival door surround and window trims.

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A historical photo of 31 Middagh.

The original double house at 31-33 Middagh St. was built as a freestanding structure before 1820. It had five windows across the second and third floors, with the center windows straddling the lot line that now divides the “twin” homes. This condition posed a design challenge, as replacement windows were a priority for the owners, but, Koster recalled, “the Landmarks commissioners were especially concerned that the window proportion and spacing should recall the twin relationship of the structures.”

Koster maintained the slender proportion of the two windows adjacent to 33 Middagh St. to satisfy the Commission’s concern.

Contemplating the completed restoration, Koster said, “That was clearly the right call.”

He also brought on Excel Builders and Renovators, who have patiently reconstructed the façade with precision and craftsmanship. As the twin houses have a single, continuous clapboard front, Excel faced the challenge of replacing the clapboards at 31 Middagh without disturbing the almost new clapboards on the neighboring house in a way that preserved the seamless appearance.

Koster said, “Stitching the two houses back together required an abundance of skill and diplomacy, but the results speak for themselves.”

The reinstallation of the Landmarks Preservation Commission plaque is slated for mid-February. That plaque (originally placed c. 1967) reads, “31-33 Middagh Street; Double frame Federal House; circa 1820; listed as a paint store and a men’s hairdressing parlor in the 1847/48 City Directory.”


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