How to renovate a classic Brooklyn Heights loft

The focal point of the space is a custom-built staircase with wood accents. 


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This is the story of a renovation, but it’s also a story about love. Specifically, how a Brooklyn couple fell in love—first with each other, then with a classic Brooklyn Heights loft. 

Brian and Cynthia needed a home that was flexible and could accommodate a fluctuating flow of traffic from their blended family. They wanted to create a space to gather as a family; one that offered convenience to everyone, with private and public spaces to suit their lifestyle. 

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Standard: The quality of the finish is acceptable with attention to detail but reliant on big-box store sourced cabinetry, MDF etc. 

Mid Range: The quality of the finish is good (grade A) with attention to detail but reliant on big-box store sourced cabinetry, MDF etc.

High Range: The quality of finish is high (grade AA) and customized with fine finishes and materials being used that can last years, if not a lifetime.

Upscale: The quality of finish is the highest possible (grade AAA) and labor-intensive, with every surface bespoke, new, and beautifully finished.

Low: Simple design, no layout or structural changes, elevator in building.

Medium: Average design, moving of some systems and/or structural changes, no elevator in the building.

High: Complex design, complicated engineering, lots of logistics (e.g. boom lifts, suspended scaffolds, etc.), dangerous working conditions.

Small: Changes to surfaces only (e.g. painting, tiling).

Medium: Small + Changes to the finishes themselves (e.g. removing plaster, replacing flooring etc).

Large: Small + Medium + Changes to the building's infrastructure (e.g. replacing all systems, walls, floor joists etc).

A landmarked building

Brian and Cynthia’s loft is in a historic, landmarked building in Brooklyn Heights. It once served as a schoolhouse, but was converted to a residential co-op building in the 1970s. 

One of the most unique—and surprising—things about Brian and Cynthia’s loft is that it has a legal mezzanine. 

“The previous tenants had taken care of doing a good renovation and loft conversion,” said Anna Karp, co-founder and COO of Bolster. “However, it was tailored for a young family with young kids.” 

Brian and Cynthia knew immediately that they'd have to make several key changes. First, the layout wasn't practical, and there wasn't enough closet space.

“Another big consideration was how sound would travel, because in open lofts you can sometimes end up hearing everything, everywhere,” added Anna. “Because of their blended family, the homeowners wanted to adapt the mezzanine area to account for sound from things like conversations and video games.”  

The home was renovated to accomodate family members of all ages.


The master bedroom was optimized for more efficient closet space. 


Challenges of renovating a loft

All renovations pose challenges, but lofts are unique in that there are often issues with the legality of the mezzanine area. 

“Mezzanines always raise red flags,” said Bolster architect Agustin Ayuso.

“Every once in awhile, you encounter one that’s installed or enlarged without proper approvals. This is sensitive, because mezzanines count as zoning floor area.” 

“Not only do you have to get proper approvals from New York City, but since it involves taking floor area from potential development of the building, apartment owners are not allowed to use up remaining zoning floor area that’s undeveloped without approval from the Department of Buildings,” he adds. 

In this case, though, it was a happy ending. 

“It was very satisfying to dig up records of the building and find that the mezzanine had been approved by the Department of Buildings, and that the drawings were found on the record,” said Agustin. “We could move on instead of having to go through the process of legalizing the mezzanine construction.” 

“We avoided a permit nightmare,” adds Anna. “We were winning from the start!” 

Other common challenges of lofts—and of this particular renovation—include distinction between public and private spaces and typical steps that come with living in a co-op building, such as engineering review. 

The loft's kitchen had good bones and remained largely untouched, save for a new coat of paint on the cabinets. 


The homeowner, a designer with impeccable taste, chose custom tile for all of the bathrooms. 


The end result

The end result was a beautiful, airy loft: “The classic Brooklyn Heights loft that everyone desires,” says Anna. 

The focal point of the loft is a custom staircase with wood accents. 

“The staircase was a big change,” says Anna. “It really draws the eye, but the old one was very antiquated. Cynthia wanted something clean, but not cold—hence the timber detail that gives it a cozy feeling.” 

The living area flows seamlessly into the kitchen, which was left largely untouched.  As the homeowners and Bolster progressed through the project, they discovered that there were a lot of features in the kitchen that they wanted to retain. It didn’t make sense to alter the kitchen significantly, since it had good bones. 

Therefore, a decision was made to paint the cabinets, which was a low-cost solution that still gave the kitchen a look and feel that matched the rest of the renovated loft. 

Finally, the layout was modified to better accommodate Brian and Cynthia's family, and fit seamlessly with their new life together.

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