How a Brooklyn Heights designer transformed a hodgepodge of subdivided co-ops into a singular vision that pays a truer tribute to the building’s past
By matt scanlon • photos by Ellen McDermott
A recent study conducted by The Partnership for New York City revealed that of all the major metropolitan areas in the nation, our fair burg boasts the longest commute times, an average of 48 minutes each way simply to get to work.
If she wasn’t of such an abidingly pleasant disposition, interior designer Kathryn Scott might look upon such information with self-congratulatory glee, as her average commute time is in the…60 second range.
Within the five-floor, 6,000-squarefoot Brooklyn Heights townhouse she shares with her husband and 11-yearold daughter, Scott combines office, two floors of living space, and two rental units. A designer since 1980, Scott first found her way into the building in 1986 when she bought one of three co-op units that were a redevelopment of an existing home occupied by the reverend of a nearby church. Over the years, she wound up purchasing them all, but from the start, there was a tussle between what co-op developers had intended for the space, and her vision.
“The first apartment I moved into wasn’t 100% finished when I purchased it, and I actually stopped them from completing it,” she recalled. “I then started to tear out a lot of what they put in, because it was inconsistent with the details of the house, nor was it elegant, really–taking a historical molding, for example, and putting in a lumberyard molding next to it. Odd choices like that.”
Scott’s idea, both for her original co-op and later the building as a whole, was to embrace the structure’s original design, or at least her best guess at the intentions of the original builders. It was a multi-year process that was, as she described it, an adventure in getting details right.
“One of the things I did was put in architectural salvage in the bathroom, and the developer said to me afterwards, ‘Oh, you’re putting back what we just took out.’ They probably took out a ball and claw foot tub, say, and I put back a porcelain one, but same idea. I wanted the bathroom to feel like it could have been a surviving old room, and the fixtures are all antique…none of them are reproductions.”
Scott went on to describe an interesting difference between the baths of today and yesteryear. “If you go to an older common museum home,” she explained, “the bathrooms are big—not tight and limited the way modern ones became; they are not bathtub-sink-toilet, with barely enough room to turn.” To open the space, the designer took out an existing walk-in closet and added it to the room, along with an elegant arch over the tub.
In conversation, the designer describes an almost spiritual affiliation for recycling and efficient use, and apart from simple, practical applications of that outlook (she uses salvaged and otherwise repurposed items whenever possible), it was evident that Scott was attempting in the home to conjure a recycling of time itself—to find her building’s historical identity, hidden at times in a jumble of puzzle pieces. (In searching the basement, Scott discovered a bucket of early 20th-century doorknobs, for example.)
“Then it was my task to try to find areas in which I could place them,” she said with a laugh.
Evolutions were as small as changing hardware, and as large as swapping double-hung windows with French doors, raising ceilings, changing kitchen cabinetry from plastic laminate to walnut, replacing moldings and hidden doors—even installing wide plank flooring and renovating existing staircases.
“I’m not as interested in keeping up with trends as much as creating a living environment that transcends them,” she said. “I hugely prefer not to be renovating every few years. I like to think of things as being designed to stay that way.”
An analogous feeling of time travel exists when facing the home’s garden. Rear-facing French doors open to a backyard that offers views to the neighboring church, as well as—the designer described—“no sense of any modern life whatsoever. You could be in Europe…could be anywhere, and could easily be in the 18th or 19th centuries. When the weather’s nice, we have the luxury of just opening all the doors.”
As far as furniture selection is concerned, Scott has some favorites—notably the Rose Tarlow living room chair and the nearby sofa from Nancy Corzine—but she also designed a considerable amount of pieces herself. Scott originals include a complementing pair of chairs in the living room (along with dining room chairs), a long wooden and bronze table in the office, and the master bed.
Though she pointed out that no design, including this one, is ever complete, it’s clear that Scott is pleased with the result, which she refers to as “a refuge.”
“Essentially, as our lives change, so do our surroundings,” she offered. “This home is a demonstration of that. I started with two floors, and it became four floors, then five. It’s a demonstration that our lives are in change, and that’s okay…you go with it, develop with it. This place does give me a sense of inner peace, though.”
Interior design change, Scott emphasized, can take place with no more expense than a bit of effort.
“It isn’t—and shouldn’t—always be about investment and renovation and cost,” she offered. “It can be as simple as putting away clutter. When you change your surroundings, you change how you see the world, how you see yourself.”
Kathryn Scott Design Studio
126 Pierrepont St. / 718.935.0425