There is no substitute for old materials, original craftsmanship, the shape and symmetry of period architecture, and the intricate way these elements all interact and age together. Indeed, much like an individual, a building's unique patina, and personality is sculpted by age. It is the preservationist's greatest challenge to maintain this personality while bringing the building back to life.
As one of few individually designated Landmark buildings in Brooklyn, the Elkins House was subject to the strictest conservation standards. All original detail that could be salvaged was restored and any element of the facade no longer existing was recreated as true as possible to the original historic look of the house.
Elements of the facade that could be saved included:
Porch columns, porch roof and arched boxes, siding clapboards, attic windows with delicate cusped surrounds, ornamented front cornice and crown molding, molded entrance surround with transom, window casings, molding and interior pocket shutters.
Other elements of the original facade had been removed by previous owners or destroyed over the years. This includes: stoop newel posts, steps, handrails, spindles, cellar lattice, exterior shutters, and front iron fence. It was only possible to recreate these beautiful features through research of NYC Archive tax photos from 1940, the detailed Landmarks Designation Report, and images and architectural documentation of similar historic buildings.
Careful removal of pine subfloor for reuse
Original front porch column discovered behind wood enclosure
Original wood clapboard siding found behind layers of sheathing. Salvaged boards were stripped and reinstalled.
Bead-and-reel moldings detail, stripped and reinstalled
In terms of the interior space, the great tragedy is that the vast majority had been gutted down to the framing by the previous owners. This includes: all plaster walls, trim, doors and windows, fire place mantels, stairs and floors. We managed to preserve roughly 80% of the original floor joists and reuse the majority of the original 170 year-old wood studs, repurposing them as stair treads, ceiling decoration, and handrails. The original 10 foot-long sub floors were also reused.
The beautiful handmade, red clay brick found in some exterior walls was a non-structural element known as "brick nogging". This was common in certain pre-1900 wood frame buildings serving primarily to provide air infiltration, a wind barrier, or possibly a form of insulation and sound proofing. This brick nogging was kept as an historic architectural element in some interior areas of the house.
Within the yard, the enormous original bluestone pavers were reset as walkways and patio surfaces. Stones that made up the old foundation walls were used to build the wall at the rear of the property.
Rocks dug up as part of the excavation are being incorporated into the landscape design.
Our close collaboration with LPC (Landmark Preservation Commission) and North Crown Heights Historic Association ensured that this once magnificent and rare house received its glory once again.
Deteriorated condition of roof rafters and front porch.
The Elkins House suffered decades of neglect and decay due to age, water damage, termite damage, fire and vandalism. When the property came into our hands, the original wood-frame structure had been so severely compromised that it was on the verge of collapse.
A major restructuring endeavor was needed. In short, the entire structural skeleton of the building had to be rebuilt with modern materials while keeping the original wood-frame house still standing. It is among the most complicated and intricate engineering missions in construction.
The first stage was excavation. The entire rear yard, side alleys, and cellar floor were excavated in order to expose and replace the crumbling stone-mortared foundation walls. This was a long, tedious and meticulous process, which included a special shoring system to hold the entire house up on stilts. The temporary stilts allowed for the removal of the foundation, section by section, from the back of the house, and eventually the construction of a new underground concrete foundation and new steel beams to support the building.
To make matters even more complicated, the only means to remove the enormous amount of earth and underground stones from the rear of the building was through the narrow 5 ft alley along the side.
Only the smallest mini-excavator could pass through. It took over two months just to cart away the earth under these limited conditions.
Upon completion of the excavation and pouring of a new foundation, the original wood framing of each floor had to be reinforced with steel joists and columns. It often seemed like a miracle that the house, supported by temporary shoring, managed to evade strong gusts of wind and stay standing while each original wood joist was slowly reconnected to other new structural members.
Perhaps the most fascinating part of this process was the reinforcement of the roof. Many of the rafters were burnt, cut and/or dramatically sagging. The roof had to be lifted in its entirety up off the building while keeping its original structure and shape intact. Old roof rafters were 'sistered' with steel and reset on new beams that were engineered to reconstruct the original shape of the roof as well as incorporate the new side extensions.