PROBLEM: You like Midcentury Modern furniture and bright colors. But the dining room in your old house has its original walnut panels. It is formal and dark, and your husband does not want to paint it.
Solution: Punch out part of the wall, add casual stools and let your bright modern kitchen shine through into the dining room.
The Prospect Park neighborhood in Brooklyn is rich with 19th-century brownstones and homeowners who love Victoriana and period detail. Laurie Lieberman, 56, an architect, is not one of them.
What appealed to her about the 1910 town house she shares with her husband and college-age children was not the preserved leaded windows on either side of the foyer or the building’s history (previous owners include former Gov. Hugh L. Carey and the writer Pete Hamill). Ms. Lieberman liked the spaciousness of the rooms, which were much wider than those of classic brownstones, and the light, which she knew would only increase when she got rid of the dark colors the previous owners had painted the walls.
Ms. Lieberman and her husband, Dr. Edward Telzak, an infectious-disease specialist, both like Midcentury Modern furnishings. Two teal Saarinen chairs in the foyer offer an unexpected burst of modern style and color when you enter the house. There’s a Piero Lissoni sofa in the living room, and Fritz Hansen tray tables.
The furniture in the 18-foot-by-19-foot master bathroom is by Greta Grossman and was collected by Ms. Lieberman over the years. (The two side tables she bought on eBay for $700; recently, she said, she saw one on 1stdibs, for $1,600.)
She had not been happy with the narrow galley kitchen, which was 22 feet long and 7 feet wide when the family bought the house 13 years ago, or with what she calls the “overly grand” paneled dining room adjacent to it.
All the kitchen appliances were crowded on one side, along with an unused stairway to the basement rental apartment. The counter space on the opposite wall was narrow. The counter itself had a busy, dark pattern that resembled leopard skin, chosen by the previous owner because it was forgiving of food-prep mess.
And when she was preparing a meal in the kitchen, Ms. Lieberman felt cut off from family and guests in the dark-paneled dining room. She would have liked to paint the paneling white, but her husband objected.
Last year, they finally arrived at their solution. Ms. Lieberman opened and pushed out an 11-foot section of the wall separating the two rooms. The open space, which has a wide counter, was fitted with pocket doors that can be closed for formal dinners. Pushing back a section of the wall also gave the kitchen more counter space, as did demolishing the unused stairway.
Her goal, Ms. Lieberman said, was to create a contemporary look that wasn’t completely incongruous with the period paneling. While she used Marmara white marble for her counters (a soft stone she would probably not choose for a client, she said, because it can easily scratch), she chose medium-toned wood cabinets and blue-green glass tiles to complement the dark wood paneling.
All the cabinets are custom-made, and their glass doors flip open; Ms. Lieberman likes the easy access of open shelving, but not the way it collects dust. The cabinetry, a job that included matching old panels with new in the dining room, was done by W. R. Woodworking and Finishing in Brooklyn, and the total cost of the kitchen renovation, including appliances, was between $85,000 and $90,000.
Ms. Lieberman acknowledges that the cabinetmaker and the contractor gave her special rates because she had recommended them in her work as an architect over the years. (The cabinetmaker, for example, charged $15,000 for the cabinets, the pocket doors and refitting the panels; his usual rate would have been three times that.) Someone without those connections, Ms. Lieberman said, would have probably paid about $140,000.
The makeover isn’t quite complete. Ms. Lieberman would like to replace the blond wood Heywood-Wakefield dining table and chairs. But with children still in college, a new dining room set will have to wait a few years.
By JOYCE WADLER