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Brownstone Renovation: Manhattan & Brooklyn Edition


Brownstone town homes have been around since the 19th century and are widely known across Brooklyn & Upper Manhattan.

What is Brownstone & Where did it come from?

Brownstone is a soft & close-grained sandstone or freestone (aka a stone that can be cut easily in any direction in a fine uniform texture). When the stone is first cut the color appears to be pink but because of the presence of hematite iron ore the color weathers and changes into an even rich brown. Hematite is a reddish-black mineral consisting of ferric oxide and it is an important ore of iron.

Most of the brownstone that was used in the 19th century was imported from the Portland, CT area on Connecticut River or near Little Falls, New Jersey around the Passaic River. The stone was cut over there, put on a boat going to New York and unloaded by the Hudson or East River where there was stone storage yards.

What is Brownstone Used For?


The material was first used to simply front townhouses which were constructed using cheap bricks. It was considerably less costly than the popular choices such as, limestone, marble, and granite. It was also easy to draw out from large & deep pits. It also lent itself to pretty straightforward carving. The industrial revolution played a massive role in the productivity of cutting brownstone more efficiently. The invention of machinery that was steam-powered made it easier for workers to sculpt and trim brownstone more quickly and cheaply than ever before which made it affordable for middle class residences.

How Did Brownstone Become So Popular?

Brownstone became popular obtaining a reputation as being elegant and stylish because of the post-romantic era effect which brought out a preference for dark materials for buildings. It became the construction stone of choice all over the world, especially in large cities in industrialized nations. Europe also has its fair share of brownstones as does the U.S.

New York is especially connected with brownstone town homes. Brownstones are as prevalent as the city’s yellow cabs and sky high structures.

Nowadays everybody easily recognizes the Upper West Side by the many brownstone sightings it possesses.


Why Renovating Brownstones are Tough and How Muka Interiors Helps

Just like any other renovation that has to do with old homes there is usually going to be a problem with the renovation process. Even with proper planning there can be a minor or major problem. Old homes often have character within them and have a great deal of sentimental value. Brownstone houses were made differently back then which is a good and bad thing. Good thing because it is unique & bad because it is an outdated way of doing things compared to newer and standard renovations. For example, Brownstones have solid plaster walls that you usually do not find in today’s newer buildings and town homes. Plaster is more labor intensive than drywall and the labor alone will run about 3 times higher than drywall installations not to mention plaster is more expensive than drywall. If you are aware of the potential problems that can surface you can help limit the minor and major problems as well as setting a realistic budget and timeline for your remodeling projects because sometimes when renovating brownstones the cost of renovating believe it or not can sometimes pass the cost of the actual home. 

Unsafe Materials Such As Lead and Asbestos

If your house was built around several decades ago (which brownstones were built) then it is likely that there is asbestos in the ductwork, flooring, popcorn ceilings, HVAC, roofing and lead in the paint. If you do not bother with them and leave them undisturbed they will not be harmful to you. However, if the project requires to scrape out or cut these materials, the dust and powder can be extremely hazardous. You can test for lead paint on your own but for anything else it is highly recommended that you call in a professional to detect what else is unsafe. Muka Interiors works inclusively with an arsenal of sub-contractors in this particular case we have ready to go workers who work in abatement companies that specialize in asbestos removal. 

Perpetual Bad Renovation Done

Often times the older a home is the more times it has swapped hands and been sold in the past. The previous owners of the household may have performed renovations that weren’t done right which can be more tedious to fix when you do hire a general contractor that you can trust. Sometimes you won’t even find these problems until mid-way through your renovation process. If you are fortunate to have your home well-maintained and updated correctly over the years you may not run into these problems but you never know what the many previous owners have done so it is better to stay on the safe side of things and set aside a 15-20% contingency for unexpected problems or changes but if you have a good sense of judgement and may think there is more work to be done then you might wanna add more. 

Outdated Plumbing and Electrical

Plumbing and electrical wiring problems are often common in old homes. For example, before the 1960’s, galvanized pipes were incorporated within the house and for the sewer lines as well. The problem with galvanized pipes is that they easily get clogged and corroded overtime. If your project requires plumbing to be done Muka Interiors can provide you with a plumber that will replace your pipes with Copper or PVC. Read more about plumbing here.

Old electrical wiring can be a safety hazard and will need to be brought up to the newest standard for you house to run efficiently. More often than not you may need to upgrade your whole electrical panel. If your power has ever been lost while having your hair dryer on, taking a shower, heating something up in the microwave you will know the true meaning of inconvenience and if it annoys you, you may want to upgrade your panel and buff it up to 200 amps. 

Materials Used To Build Your Home No Longer Are Available 

Brownstone homes were constructed with different building material than todays. Doors were more narrow than the standard size of 36 inches so that it is wheelchair accessible, bathtubs were smaller, even the rooms were smaller. It can be very tricky to find materials that match the aesthetic of your brownstone home. For example, for brownstone renovation you’ll need thin oak flooring & solid wood paneled doors which are completely different from today’s standard and common items used for homebuilding in 2018. You can try shopping at architectural salvage stores to get your hands in on the mix and matching of your brownstone home. 

Always Remember The Rule Of Thumb When You Want To Start Renovating Your Brownstone: “Set aside a 15-20% contingency for unexpected problems or changes.”


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