Harlem Brownstone Renovation

by | Last updated Jun 7, 2024 | Brownstones & Townhouses, Landmarks

Harlem has many brownstones, typically built in the late 1800s and some in the early 1900s. These residences are attached townhouses with facades made from brownish sandstone, which is where the name brownstone comes from. 

These brownstones were built over a hundred years ago. Due to their age, brownstones in New York may need extensive restoration work, often a complete gut renovation.

I am Jorge Fontan, an architect in New York and owner of Fontan Architecture, a New York City-based architecture firm. At our office, we work on various project types, including brownstone renovations. In this post, I will review a brownstone we gut-renovated in Harlem and discuss some of the details and thoughts that went into the project. 


Brownstone Renovation in Harlem

This four-story Harlem brownstone was originally built by architect Alfred H. Taylor in 1897. It is located within a Landmark District where there are many other historic brownstones and townhouses. These homes were originally used as single-family houses.

In this case, the brownstone was converted to Single Room Occupancy in the 1940s. It was common in those days to convert Brownstones and Townhouses into SRO Rooming Houses. When our Client purchased this brownstone, it was still officially an SRO.

The Client wanted to renovate the house fully, which was needed, and build an addition on the roof. We came in as the architects before they closed on the property to help get the job started.


Permits and Approvals, DOB & LPC

This house is in the Mount Morris Park Historic District Extension. This brownstone is a Renaissance Revival-style building. It is considered a contributing building to the Landmark District. Due to its Landmark Status, all work on it had to be approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC).

Aside from LPC, all renovations like this are filed with the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB). Because this brownstone was converted to an SRO in the 1940s, converting it back to a home would require a new Certificate of Occupancy. We have another post on SRO to Single Family Conversions if you want to learn more about the subject.


Fully Renovated Brownstone Video Walkthrough

Below is a video in which I walk you through this brownstone and discuss various elements of the renovation.


Assessing the Existing Conditions of a Brownstone

One of the first steps in renovating a historic Brownstone is assessing the existing conditions. Some parts of the house were in such poor condition that we could not save them, but others were worth keeping.

In the photo below, you can see the original staircase and wood banisters. The wood paneling and mirror are also original. We took great care to protect these during the renovation process. The stairs needed some repairs, but we were able to restore and refinish all this original woodwork.

Restored Stair and Banister in a Brownstone

Restored Stair and Banister in a Brownstone


Window Replacement

The Windows were in terrible shape, so we needed to replace them. Since this was work on the front facade of a landmark building, we worked with LPC to ensure the windows met their requirements.

Landmark Brownstone with New Replacement Windows

Landmark Brownstone with New Replacement Windows


New Kitchen

The original house had a tiny kitchen. We took almost half of the parlor floor for the kitchen. Some people prefer to put it on the garden level; this is a personal choice. Either way, a 5,000-square-foot brownstone should have a large kitchen.

Brownstone Kitchen Redesign

Brownstone Kitchen Redesign


The next photo is the opposite side of the kitchen, with more storage and countertops.

New Kitchen in a Manhattan Townhouse

New Kitchen in a Manhattan Townhouse (Harlem)


Primary Bathroom

If you are renovating a 5,000-square-foot brownstone, you should make a sizeable primary bathroom. I will never understand why people have large houses and small bathrooms. You will notice a bit more extra space in the bathroom than in the adjoining rooms.

Brownstone Primary Bathroom Design

Brownstone Primary Bathroom Design


Roof Deck

If you have brownstone, you might as well take advantage of the roof. We added a roof deck to this house, which is a great addition and a perfect way to maximize the use of the roof.

Brownstone Roof Deck

Brownstone Roof Deck


Brownstone Renovation

Brownstone renovations are a lot of work. With proper planning and attention to detail, you can turn a rundown brownstone into a great home.



Thank You for Reading Our Blog Post on this Brownstone Renovation in Harlem, NYC. 

I hope this was helpful. If you want to speak with an architect about a potential project, you can contact us at Fontan Architecture directly. If you are looking for an architect to work on a Brownstone or other type of project, please see our Brownstone Renovation Architectural Services.


Contact Fontan Architecture

Jorge Fontan

Jorge Fontan

This post was written by Jorge Fontan AIA a Registered Architect and owner of New York City architecture firm Fontan Architecture. Jorge Fontan has earned 3 degrees in the study of architecture including two degrees from the City University of New York and a Masters Degree in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University. Jorge has a background in construction and has been practicing architecture for 20 years where he has designed renovations and new developments of various building types.