Bell End sits squarely at the heart of Clinton Hill, one of Brooklyn’s prime landmark neighborhoods, on Waverly Avenue. Once a narrow mews of carriage houses servicing the mansions along Clinton and Washington Avenues, the street has undergone several transformations over the course of more than a century. When we encountered the building at 440, all traces of its functional past had disappeared. The battered shell was operating as a garage; two rusty roll-up doors stood where the grand semi-circular entrance once was. No windows, no floors. It was a crumbling box of crumbling bricks.
Over the course of two years, working alongside New York City’s Landmark Commission, we brought the building back. Minor accommodations to non-horse based life were undertaken – addition of a human door and four windows. But the major facets of it having been a stable and carriage house were restored to their original condition – the monolithic oak doors for carriages, the hayloft window, six high windows in the side wall for the ghosts of horses’ heads. Almost nothing that remained was sacrificed. The original bricks, no longer in a condition to function effectively on the exterior, were repurposed to the interior. Colossal roof-beams, damaged from decades of leakage, were milled into slabs and used to fashion a 13-foot table, the emblematic heart of the house. Joisted post-and-beam ceilings were constructed on-site to match the functional aspect of their antecedents. Floors were embedded with radiant heat and finished with poured concrete on the ground-level, sustainable white pine elsewhere.
The broad sweep of the downstairs was maintained by creating a single, open, horse-shoe shaped room with a broad ‘floating’ staircase at the centre. The kitchen and dining area occupy one side, the living room (with its two huge leather couches) the other. A full bathroom is tucked behind the kitchen. A similar plan was maintained upstairs; one side of the house given over to a master-suite, incorporating the hayloft window and a dedicated bathroom with claw-foot tub and separate shower. The other side houses two spacious bedrooms, sharing a full bathroom. Three bedrooms, three bathrooms. There are built in closets throughout. A large skylight was inserted into the roof, flooding the common areas of the house with light.
The restoration of Bell End – in conjunction with an adjacent 1850’s Italianate mansion and a second carriage house – earned the developers a Building Brooklyn Award upon its completion in 2010.
Bell End is a unique home on a beautiful, tree-lined block. In keeping with its principles of restoration, the process of furnishing emphasized the salvaging of previously-used materials, repurposing their function for this new environment. A monolithic coffee table and built-in bedroom desks used wood from the lanes of an old bowling alley in Queens. Shelves were constructed from apple crates. Pots and pans hang from old meat hooks in front of signage from a 1950’s hardware store in the Catskills. Bell End has its own eponymous bell, salvaged from a disused Methodist chapel. The piano is from a music conservatory in Poughkeepsie. The Turkish rugs are heavily-worn, refurbished and over-dyed.
But if the aesthetics are repurposed, the systems are unashamedly new: radiant-floor heat, air-conditioning, luxury bathrooms, gourmet kitchen. There are ample built-in closets and storage. The basement houses a washer-dryer. Towels are Turkish cotton, bedding from Muji. The house has dedicated high-speed wireless internet, bluetooth Parrot-by-Starck speaker system and a flat-screen AppleTV in the master-suite. Bell End is a one-of-a-kind home and has been featured in New York Magazine, Korean Elle and some odd Chinese TV channel in which Selwyn makes an utter arse of himself.