Reclaimed barn-wood floors bring a rustic hominess to a remodeled home
Even though more than a decade has passed since Lifetime tapped her as the "next Martha Stewart," there's nothing blasé about Katie Brown. She's still your best friend, not your disapproving mother, although she leaves you in awe of her boundless energy. With her current show, Katie Brown Workshop, and a line of home and garden products for Meijer, Katie has claimed and maintained her niche as a peppier version of the archetypal domestic goddess.
But how did this daughter of the Midwest come to Brooklyn? After a decade in Los Angeles and another in Manhattan, it wasn't predestined. "I always thought we'd never do 718," she recalls, referring to the borough's area code. Instead, she was living in a big loft on Chrystie and Houston streets, in the maelstrom of downtown. "But, I fortuitously dropped an assistant off in Brooklyn one day and thought, 'Wait a minute.' " That was four years ago, when Katie and husband William Corbin's daughter, Prentiss, was barely 2. She's now 6, and Meredith, their younger daughter, is pushing 2 herself.
The new neighborhood, Carroll Gardens, has proved to be the ideal spot for her growing family--and her business, which she runs out of a retail shop and workspace in the nearby Red Hook area--feeding Katie's creativity and her sense of place. "My house is sandwiched between two points of view. On one side is a family that has been there forever--they grow tomatoes for sauce and figs in the backyard. On the other side, there's a young couple with kids who play with ours. They're discovering the neighborhood with us," she says. Their guides include such characters as Vinny, the unofficial mayor of the block, who is also an expert on alternate-side parking, a local obsession.
When Katie and William found the house, its appeal was masked by its scent. "There were so many cats and dogs living here," she remembers. Moreover, the four-story house had been split into four apartments. But Katie immediately felt a connection. "I knew it had the bones," she says. "With every wall we took down, I felt like the house breathed 'thank you.' We had a relationship right off the bat." Although she had renovated places before, she had never embarked on a total gut. "I was intimidated, but for the first time, this was really going to be my family's home, not just mine. It meant a lot to make it comfortable." Because she's a speed demon, the job was finished in an unimaginable four months. "I was on them like a cheap suit," Katie laughs.
She wanted to put her own stamp on it but maintain a conversation with the house. She saved the original tin ceilings and added reclaimed barn-wood floors that ground the elegant space with a rustic hominess. She brought French doors from the Brimfield flea market to connect the music room to the dining room, which shares space with a small entertaining kitchen. (The main kitchen is on the ground floor, but Katie got sick of carting dirty dishes down the stairs, so she installed this satellite.) She created a retreat for her daughters on the top floor and a roomy master suite on the third.
The grand parlor floor, the heart of the house, is divided into three parts. The front is "what we call the pretty room," Katie explains. It is that, thanks to a neutral ground of pillowy white sofas punctuated with chic slipper chairs, handsome wood-and-metal furniture, and Oriental rugs. At the center, the lovely music room has mint-green walls with whimsical line drawings of animals on them. At the back is the dining room.
So what's the best thing about having parlor windows that stretch from the floor almost to your 11-foot ceiling? Light? Proportion? Sure. But the ultimate joy is that Hazel, Katie's stan-dard poodle, can survey the neighborhood street life from her perch inside. And that's what delights this anti-diva most--the whole family is having as much fun living here as she is.
Design: Katie Brown, Katie Brown Workshop, 254 Van Brunt St., Brooklyn, NY 11231; 718/243-9044, katiebrown.com.
Photography: Jonny Valiant
Produced by Susan Tyree Victoria
Many of the living room's new pieces--the sofas, slipper chairs, and mirror--are from Drexel Heritage. The mantel is original to the house.
Curtains from Casa Fiora dress up the tall windows. The chandelier is from Circa Lighting.
Painted in Pratt & Lambert's Chervil, the music room has a poetic charm.
Katie Brown commissioned artist Jess Ryan to draw the menagerie on the walls.
Large-scale pineapples on the entry hall's Studio Printworks wallpaper are almost as tall as 6-year-old Prentiss.
Katie mixed a dining room table she found at the Brimfield flea market with china cabinets from Drexel Heritage. She calls the Pratt & Lambert Vintage Claret walls "fierce, but warm."
"Red Hook still feels like a secret," says Katie Brown. And even though she has a new retail space and workshop in the neighborhood, she wouldn't mind keeping it that way just a little longer. Although IKEA and Fairway Market have moved in, the neighborhood can still be tricky to reach by public transportation--there are buses but no subway--a fact that has kept the waterfront area relatively industrial, with just a smattering of smart new bars, shops, and restaurants.
Katie rides her bike to the storefront, which features a mix of flea-market finds, her books, and her wares for Meijer--candles, bell jars, outdoor lights, and more. Her test kitchen and workshop are in back of the shop; they're a hive of activity, especially when the team starts pre-production for her TV show.
Although it's only 12 city blocks from her Carroll Gardens home, the shop at 254 Van Brunt Street feels like a world away to Katie. "Within six blocks of my house there are so many restaurants, you can't decide where to eat. But in Red Hook, if you need a welder, there are seven places you could go," she says. "You can find people raising live chickens, an ironwork shop, or pick up a fresh lobster for dinner. It's such a weird combination of things."
Katie likes hot colors, which she calls "shocking and delightful." No wonder she painted the outside of her Red Hook shop-and-workroom a cheerful orange and the inside Pratt & Lambert's Scarlett O'Hara.