Prewar in NYC: The Dream & the Design

When I dream of our possible future in Brooklyn, my dreams have a very specific aesthetic. Our home is a classic prewar brownstone, chock full of original details. The ceilings are high and the floorboards are wide. Light streams in through huge and plentiful windows. (Every room has a southern exposure, of course.) And our decor is an eclectic mix of mid-century lines, vintage accents and bold textiles.

You know – kind of like this.

The living room of Mike D's eclectic Brooklyn townhouse as featured in the New York Times
(Mike D’s Cobble Hill townhome via The New York Times)

I’m no fool. I know the hefty price tag a prewar brownstone commands, and I’m well aware that we’re more likely to end up in a dark, dank basement apartment. But that doesn’t mean a girl can’t dream.

Prewar, generally speaking, refers to apartment buildings built before World War II. If we’re being specific, anything built before World War I is pre-prewar, and buildings from before the Spanish-American war in 1898 are pre-pre-prewar. But when you take an overarching look at the architecture of New York living spaces from the 1850s to the 1940s, most of them share a few key characteristics.

The ornate, hand-carved moldings …

Kerri Russell 1860s Brooklyn townhome via Elle Decor
(Kerri Russell’s 1860s Brooklyn townhome via Elle Decor)

Bedroom in Hilary Robertson Brooklyn townhome
(Hilary Robertson’s Fort Greene townhome via The New York Times)

The sky-high ceilings …

Brooklyn Heights townhouse from Rum magazine via Dintelo
(A Brooklyn Heights townhome from RUM magazine, via Dintelo)

Michelle James 1890s Brooklyn brownstone via Remodelista
(Michelle James’ 1890s Brooklyn brownstone via Remodelista)

Manhattan brownstone by Jan Eleni Interiors
(A Manhattan brownstone by Jan Eleni Interiors)

Lena Corwin and Josh Dreier Fort Greene Italianate brownstone via Remodelista
(Lena Corwin and Josh Dreier’s late-1800s Fort Greene brownstone via Remodelista)

The massive windows …

Cobble Hill townhouse by Blair Harris Interior Design
(A Cobble Hill townhouse by Blair Harris Interior Design)

Hilary Robertson Brooklyn townhome
(Hilary Robertson‘s Brooklyn townhome again)

Christina and Simon Anderson 1890s Park Slope Victorian via The New York Times
(Christina and Simon Anderson’s 1890s Park Slope Victorian via The New York Times)

A marble mantelpiece with an arched antique mirror over it is basically my dream.

Ali Cayne Greenwich Village townhouse via Domino
(Ali Cayne’s Greenwich Village townhouse via Domino)

Throw in a crystal chandelier, and I’m in heaven.

Ali Cayne Greenwich Village townhouse with chandelier via Domino
(Ali Cayne’s townhouse via Domino again)

19th-century Park Slope brownstone by Roman and Williams via 6sqft
(19th-century Park Slope townhouse by Roman and Williams / photo via 6sqft)

In the absence of a massive mirror, a single piece of large-scale art can work, too.

Francesa Connolly 1890s Brooklyn brownstone via Elle Decor
(Remodelista‘s Francesca Connolly’s 1890s Brooklyn brownstone via Elle Decor)

Elspeth Benoit and David Bevan 1870s Cobble Hill townhouse
(Elspeth Benoit and David Bevan’s 1870s Cobble Hill townhouse via The New York Times

And don’t forget those solid wood floors.

Mike D Cobble Hill townhouse via The New York TImes
(Mike D’s townhouse again)

Fine. I’ll settle for parquet.

Boerum Hill apartment via Airbnb
(Daniel Kanter‘s 1890 Boerum Hill apartment – you can stay in this one!)

Brooklyn Heights townhouse dining room from Rum magazine via Dintelo
(Brooklyn Heights townhouse via Dintelo again)

Photo overload, I know. I’m sorry. I just can’t get enough. If you can’t either, you should check out my prewar Pinterest board.

So, what do you think? I’m betting you wouldn’t kick one of these brownstones out of bed, either. Anyone want to lend me a few million dollars?

  • Kimberly

    The Boerum Hill apt is Daniel Kanter’s of Manhattan Nest!!! He is now renovating 2 homes in Kingston, but his apt reno is amazing. First home design blog I ever read!

    • Ah, cool! Thank you for IDing it and for introducing me to a new blog! Updating the post now. 🙂

  • I think they are amazing and love that each one has been updated with a great modern flair. Fun post!!