We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs.

Light: Michael Anastassiades, Console Table: Dzierlenga F + U, Mirror: Pinch, Door Paint: Graphite by Benjamin Moore.
For hands-on advice from designers and pro DIYers, plus more scrappy before-and-after transformations, subscribe to Reno. Let your in-box do all the hard work—for now.

Making a good first impression is something Sarah Ashcroft knows how to do well. After all, she’s worked in real-estate development for 20 years. “I always pay a lot of attention to what the feeling is as soon as you step in the door,” she says. Her specialty is high-rise residential buildings in Manhattan, but she applied the same kind of thinking to her own 3,000-square-foot brownstone in Park Slope, Brooklyn, which she shares with her two children (ages 11 and 7). “You get that sense of openness right when you walk in, as if the stairs are inviting you into the house,” says Larysa Sendich of Nesta Studio, the designer Ashcroft tasked with leading the full gut renovation. 

The place had been chopped up into eight different residences at one point, so almost nothing was salvageable except for the exterior. Sendich and the architecture firm on the project, Bryan Natinsky Architecture, made a point to keep certain features in their original locations, like the fireplaces (now converted to gas) and the staircase. “It didn’t have a ton of historical details, no crazy crown moldings, so it wasn’t too painful to start from scratch,” says the designer. 

Borrowing from Scandinavian and Japanese design philosophies (Ashcroft happened to travel to both Copenhagen and Tokyo during the pre-COVID remodel), they kept the overall palette neutral and the lines clean, and focused on bringing in natural materials. That way, they can “be with their thoughts, their conversations, their moments,” explains Sendich. “Life can really happen in this house.”

Step Up the Smaller Details

old wood banister
curved steel and wood staircase

While the stairs are totally new, Sendich maintained their original integrity by re-creating the curves around the landings. “The beauty is in the wood,” says Sendich of the new treads and risers that lead from the main parlor up to the second level (the adult space), then on to the kids’ shared floor. The blackened steel balusters, topped with a walnut handrail, pop against the crisp white walls, painted in All White by Farrow & Ball.

To really achieve that “wow” moment, they made the nearby cased opening wider than normal and lined it with white oak (the same material as the chevron floors). The extra attention to trim makes the zen space feel well-thought-out—not boring. “The goal was to build a home that’s special but not precious,” says Ashcroft. 

Channel the Living Room in the Kitchen

Pillows, Oroboro; Pendant Light, Allied Maker.

Ashcroft had a very strong opinion about the kitchen sink placement. “I loved the idea of washing dishes and preparing food while looking out onto the garden,” she says. The rest of the design revolved around focusing on the outdoors. In fear of the space becoming too busy, they went with a pale gray—a Les Couleurs paint color called Gris Casco that skews white but isn’t “bright and blinding,” explains Sendich.

wood island

For some warmth, they custom-designed a freestanding sofa for the breakfast nook and made the island look like a piece of furniture (the wiring for the integrated microwave runs up through the legs). The structure is topped with a veiny slab of Calacatta gold marble (a big splurge), while the rest of the counters are an engineered surface. Marble makes a second appearance on the backsplash, but this time in the form of affordable tiles. “We needed another layer and more movement,” says the designer. 

Determine Your Hero Moment

dated living room with wood floors
white marble fireplace

In the living room, they updated the old mantel to white marble, a score of sorts (they saw the scrap piece peeking out behind a full slab at the stone yard). “Pretty things don’t always have to be expensive,” points out Ashcroft.

Sendich approaches window treatments like any other layer—they’re not the statement piece. By mounting them from ceiling tracks, the fabric blurs into the background, while adding a softness to the walls. “It also elongates the room,” she says. 

Work Out a Family-Friendly Layout

Chair, Gubi; Hardware, 12th Avenue Iron.
Chair, Fair Design NYC; Floor Lamp, Greta Grossman; Photo over TV: Orchid by Noah Kalina.

The second floor is Ashcroft’s haven. In addition to the main bedroom, there’s an office, complete with a Frame TV and a lounge zone. Mimicking the wood-lined cased openings in the entry, the bookshelves have a defined edge (made out of steel). On the desk side of the room, perforated-metal sliding doors hide not-so-pretty office clutter from view. “It’s funny how I literally live on this floor of my house now,” says Ashcroft. The sitting area comes in handy when she works on the weekends or at night. 

Pillows, Minna; Chairs, Hay.

Ashcroft’s kiddos have a workspace setup, as well, except theirs comes with a cozy built-in daybed. “My daughter is an avid reader,” she says. Light naturally streams in through the window, and there are floating shelves on the wall for all her books.

Upholstery, Custom Design Studio; Sconce, School House Electric.

Sendich installed built-in tufted headboards in both the kids’ bedrooms to make them feel cozier and create the illusion that the furniture is integrated into the wall. The decision to designate the top floor as the kids-only zone was an easy one: It was the only way Ashcroft could give them both equal-size rooms (very important to them), and she felt more at ease being between them and the front door when they slept (very important to her). Plus, when they’re teenagers, she’ll be able to hear them sneaking down the stairs.

Our Winter Renovation issue is here! Subscribe now to step inside Leanne Ford’s latest project—her own historic Pennsylvania home. Plus discover our new rules of reno.