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Dwell Home Tours

Willow Residence

Brooklyn, NY

City Modern Brooklyn Home Tour
Sunday, October 07, 2012

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This townhouse, located on a small tree lined street, was a complete renovation. Opening up the back of the house allowed for a living room with a wall of 16’ high windows that perform double duty as they bring light into the home and form an extended living area in the enclosed garden. (It would seem the owner’s cats aren’t aware of a difference as they are often locked outside after wandering between the two!) The garden overhaul was eco-conscious, making use of on-site materials and leaving three quarters of the site permeable by using a combination of pea gravel and planted areas. A second floor library open to the floor below takes advantage of the light from the living room windows, creating one of several serene escapes sprinkled throughout the home. Perhaps the most impressive place to sneak away to for a moment of solitude is the third floor exterior garden courtyard. Surrounded by the master bedroom, a dressing room, and two offices the courtyard is landscaped so well one could easily find themselves transported far from the streets of Brooklyn. To top it all off a green roof offering the comforts of a countryside environment juxtaposed with a spectacular skyline view.

Notes from the Architect:
The renovation required the demolition of all but the front façade and the upper portion of the rear façade, leaving an open three-story box with an abundance of possibilities.

The clients were asked to write a wish list—leaving all practical considerations aside. This helped define the qualities that might have been otherwise difficult to articulate.

Through this process we found that they favored juxtapositions, all of which we were able to incorporate: spaces that were modern, but warm; open but defined; public yet intimate; grand yet inviting; elegant but simple. It also became clear that a relationship with the outdoors was an important feature—the house has three distinct gardens.

In order to combine the practical with the conceptual, we organized the service spaces (kitchen, stair, baths, laundry, and storage) into an eight-foot zone along the right exterior wall. This allowed us a great deal of freedom to design the remaining space, both in terms of plan and section.

On the ground floor is the entrance and an open-plan kitchen/dining room. The walls and ceiling are paneled in warm birch plywood—in contrast with the exposed brick and remnants of the original wood beams. This space opens up onto a double-height living room with a sixteen-foot high steel and glass window wall looking into the first of three gardens. On the second floor is a library that overlooks the living room, visually connecting the first and second floors. Beyond the library there is a media room and two children’s bedrooms. The central portion of the third floor is composed of an exterior courtyard that is defined by steel and glass window walls on three sides. The master bedroom, dressing room, and two small offices all look into the courtyard, which opens up to the sky. On top of the house is a green roof.
-Robert Kahn, Robert Kahn Architects PC

About the Architect

Thumb Robert Kahn
Robert Kahn Architect, PC

Robert Kahn Architect, PC, is a boutique architectural firm located in New York City, selectively working on projects that engage our personal interest and thus generate meaningful impact for our clients.

Kahn received is M.Arch from Yale University, is a fellow of the American Academy in Rome, and has received numerous awards from the American Institute of Architects (AIA). He was honored with the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Washington University School of Architecture and the Glassman Prize for Design Excellence from Yale University.

The firm has been fortunate to attract many clients from the creative arts, including Haverford College, the Classic Stage Company, Lincoln Center Theaters, and Greene Street Films; actors Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates, Daniel Day-Lewis & Rebecca Miller, and Mary-Louise Parker; playwright David Mamet; film directors Wes Anderson and Nicholas Hytner; artist Frank Stella; and musician Adam Duritz.

Kahn’s work has been widely published. He has taught design at Columbia University, Ohio State University, and Yale University, where he held a Davenport Chair Professorship. He was selected by Richard Meier as one of thirty-six international architectural firms to design a home for “Houses at Sagaponack” in Sagaponack, New York.


About the Landscape Architect:

Susannah Drake, ASLA, AIA, dland Studio

Susannah C. Drake is the Principal of llc, an award winning multidisciplinary design firm that includes landscape architects, urban designers, sculptors, scientists and architects. ’s recent public projects include "A New Urban Ground" designed in collaboration with Architectural Research Office for the Museum of Modern Art’s Rising Currents Exhibit, the Gowanus Canal Sponge Park, a public open space system designed to absorb and remediate urban storm water, the Brooklyn Bridge Pop-up Park, a temporary waterfront open space that attracted almost two hundred thousand visitors over six weeks of operation in 2008, the Raising Malawi Academy for Girls in Lilongwe Africa, and the security for the New York City Police Department headquarters in lower Manhattan. is a State and City certified WBE.

Susannah received a Bachelors of Arts Degree from Dartmouth College and MArch and MLA degrees from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. She is the recipient of grants from the Graham Foundation, The James Marston Fitch Foundation and the New York State Council on the Arts for research on campus landscapes and large scale urban infrastructure projects. Susannah is the trustee and Past-President of the New York ASLA, is on the board of the Van Alen Institute, serves on the campus design advisory board at Dartmouth College, and is a former director of the Fine Arts Federation and member of the Directors Council of New Yorkers for Parks. In addition to her professional practice, she is an adjunct professor of design at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and at City College of New York.

She is a registered landscape architect and a registered architect.

Design: Robert Kahn Architect PC (Robert Kahn, Principal in Charge; Tommy Lee White, Project Architect)
General Contractor: Urban Builder Group, Ltd
Structural Engineer: Robert Silman Associates
Courtyard & Green Roof Design: Goode Green
Courtyard: dlandstudio
Landscape Construction and Masonary: Jeff Hewitt, Williamsburg Garden Company

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