Tips for Renovating a Brownstone in NYC

by | Aug 12, 2023 | Renovations, Restoration, Townhouses / Brownstones

Brownstones in New York can need a lot of work to renovate them. There are many things to consider and countless options on what you can do when remodeling your Brownstone.

I am Jorge Fontan, an architect in New York and owner of Fontan Architecture, a Manhattan-based architecture firm. In this post, I will review a few tips for renovating a Brownstone in NYC. 


Open The Parlor Floor

The parlor floor is the main floor of a Brownstone. It is the first space you see when you enter the house after walking up the front stoop. If you remove the walls on this floor and open them up, you will have a much more grand space and dramatic entrance into the home. 

An open plan on the parlor floor will make the home feel larger. In real estate, they call this a “Great Room.” You can have an open kitchen in the back, as in the Brownstone below. We fully gut renovated this Brownstone and removed walls to open the parlor floor. It left an open space that the owners were looking for. 

Brownstone Open Parlor Floor

Brownstone Open Parlor Floor


Make a Large Kitchen With an Island

Brownstones are a unique type of home. The size may vary from home to home, but one thing is consistent: you should have room for a large kitchen. Having a small kitchen in a large house does not make sense to me. Kitchen size will always be one of the subjects I want to discuss early on in a home design.

In the picture below, you can see a kitchen with a large island in a five thousand square foot Brownstone we gut renovated. If you have a five thousand square foot Brownstone you should have a big kitchen.

Large Kitchen with Island in a Brownstone

Large Kitchen with Island in a Brownstone


Make a Large Primary Bathroom

I am constantly shocked at how small the bathrooms are in some Brownstones in NYC. When you have a 5,000-square-foot home, you should have a large primary bathroom. You can make the bathroom spacious enough to install a freestanding tub and a separate walk-in shower. You should also have plenty of room for a double sink or two separate sinks. Some people also like having a bathroom toilet compartment with a door.

In NYC, brownstones are a luxury home and should be designed as such. A spacious bathroom with a freestanding tub is a nice touch to make it feel luxurious and contextual to the rest of the house.

In the photo below, you can see a bathroom in a Brownstone we gut-renovated. It has a freestanding tub with some wood paneling with a wall niche. Off to the side is the toilet compartment with a pocket door. So one person can use the toilet in privacy while the other uses the rest of the bathroom.

Large Master Bathroom in a Brownstone

Large Master Bathroom in a Brownstone


Herringbone or Chevron Floors

An easy way to elevate your Brownstone interiors is with a Herringbone or Chevron floor. These floors are installed at a ninety-degree angle and have a nice look that compliments a historic home. There is a lot to be said for personal taste on this one, but another alternative would be to use wide plank floors in a straight run going from front to back of the house.

Herringbone Floor

Herringbone Floor


Add a Vented Hood

If you are gut renovating a Brownstone or Townhouse, consider putting in a vented hood. Some hoods are recirculating, which means they filter air that is recirculated within the kitchen. A Vented hood is exhausted to the outside. This type of hood is a much better option. I strongly recommend a vented hood for a Brownstone kitchen.

Vented Hood in a Brownstone

Vented Hood in a Brownstone


Restore Original Interior Details

Brownstones in New York are over one hundred years old. They are usually filled with all sorts of original details. Some people love these details some do not. This will come down to personal taste. I recommend looking at these closely and deciding what you may or may not want to keep.

A few examples of interior details to consider keeping could be:

  • Doors and Casements
  • Fire Places
  • Hardware
  • Mirrors
  • Stairs and Banisters
  • Plaster Crown Molding
  • Wainscotting / Wall Paneling
  • Wood Molding and Baseboards


The condition of these details will affect the decision-making process. Restoring them can be a big job, especially if you want a pristine look. Some people like an older, worn look.

If these old details aren’t for you, then don’t worry. You can modernize the home.

Original Banisters in a Brownstone

Original Banisters in a Brownstone


Add a Roof Deck

Outdoor space is quite limited when living in New York, so you can take advantage of the entire house and build a roof deck. The deck can provide an extra outdoor area with a view. 

Adding a roof deck is one great way to expand your home and integrate more exterior space. Below is a picture of a roof deck on a landmark Brownstone we renovated. If you want to see more about roof decks, we have another post on Adding a Roof Deck to a Townhouse in NYC

Adding a Roof Deck to a Townhouse in NYC

New Roof Deck on a Manhattan Brownstone


Exterior Restoration

The exterior condition of a Brownstone will vary. Some of them are in great shape some are not. Even if the Brownstone is Landmarked, you can still change the windows on the front façade if needed and restore the Brownstone itself.

The stone on the façade of a Brownstone is made from a soft sandstone with a Brown color, sometimes reddish. This stone can deteriorate over time, and restoration may be necessary to get the Brownstone into shape.

Landmark Brownstone with New Replacement Windows

Landmark Brownstone with New Replacement Windows


Add or Enlarge Rear Windows

If a Brownstone is Landmarked or in a Landmark district, there will be restrictions on the front façade. However, the rear façade will have much more leeway with what you can do. You can enlarge window openings on the rear façade or even add new ones if you like. Adding or enlarging windows will allow you to bring much more natural light into your home.

I am not going into much detail in this post on windows, but we have another post on windows in Landmark Townhouses and Brownstone if you want to read more: Landmark Brownstone Window Replacement in NYC.

New Window on Townhouse Rear Façade

New Window on Townhouse Rear Façade


Renovating Your Brownstone

Make sure to work with trustworthy professionals who really know what they are doing. Brownstone renovations are a big job but are well worth the effort when done right. 


Thank You for Reading Our Blog Post on NYC Brownstone Renovations.

I hope this was helpful. Contact us at Fontan Architecture directly if you want to speak with an architect about a potential project.


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.