Award-winning architect Rafi Elbaz of Saho NYC unveiled his latest masterpiece in a Brooklyn townhouse where form follows function. Elbaz’s abiding respect for the home’s heritage, his experience as a college professor at Pratt and Columbia, and an appreciation for the lively neighborhood setting combined to make this restoration a highly personal one.
In fact, Elbaz’s approach to the project was guided by his own deep-rooted philosophy of preserving a home’s original character. “Historical integrity is very important to me; I didn’t want to tear the townhouse down or do a gut renovation. The moment I walked in, I saw the magic,” he said. “I tell my students it’s like being a doctor. You take a vow for your patients – you don’t tear them down, you fix them up. It’s like a social contract.”
Elbaz was never tempted to stray from his ambitious restoration plan, even during the most challenging days. “We put most of the work into the main floor parlor to salvage the moldings, the mantles and the pier mirror as well as the floor and window casings. We salvaged them and found craftspeople to fix and replicate the original details. The plaster ceiling moldings alone took two to three months to repair with guys on scaffolding,” he said.
With a strong background in urban revitalization mainly focused on Manhattan, Elbaz enjoyed the familyfriendly vibe he discovered in Brooklyn. “I used to do a lot of loft conversions in Tribeca and Soho, but now I am more involved in Brooklyn and this townhouse really shows Brooklyn at its best. It’s a one-family home with a basement rental apartment which is also very pretty. It’s a little bit of an Old-World apartment and allows families to live altogether in one home.
“This familial atmosphere also lends an inclusive note to the neighborhood,” he added. “Bedford-Stuyvesant is a very diversified neighborhood and we see lots of families moving here. There are good schools and you can enjoy city life yet feel like you are in the suburbs with a yard and kids running around and setting up lemonade stands. You’d never see that in Manhattan. Bed-Stuy is the new chic right now; there are coffee shops, boutiques, vinyl record stores and craft businesses. There’s a very strong sense of community here.”
Now that the townhome is complete, Elbaz described the design aesthetic as “New meets old in a very sensible way.” After putting his heart and soul into this intensive restoration, his personal connection to the home is evident. “All of my projects are like my kids; they are a labor of love and that is always the case.”
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