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The New York Times

Remaking a ‘Developer Special’ in Brooklyn

By: Tim Mckeough
Published: 1/16/2018Source: The New York Times

Featuring Randy Baruh


When Mike Farah was a research analyst at Merrill Lynch in 2007, he had the good fortune of working for a managing director who moved to Denver and left behind a handsome red brick townhouse on the edge of Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.

“He offered to have us live in his brownstone for a while and gave us a sweetheart deal,” said Mr. Farah, now 36, who moved in with his soon-to-be wife, Laura, also 36. “That’s when we really got to know the neighborhood. And we loved it.”

In the years that followed, as Mr. Farah got into hedge funds and Ms. Farah pursued a career in finance and recruiting, they rented in the West Village of Manhattan before deciding that Carroll Gardens was the neighborhood where they wanted to put down roots.

They returned to Brooklyn in 2013, moved into a rental with their first child, Monroe, now 5, and about a year later began looking for a townhouse to buy as they were expecting their second child, Lewis, who is now 2.

“We were pretty picky about location,” Mr. Farah said. “We wanted to be in the core of the neighborhood, even though so much of the inventory is on the periphery.”

And they weren’t keen on the idea of renovating. “At first, I was completely opposed to any project,” said Ms. Farah, who is now a full-time mother. “I wanted something that was move-in ready.”

Such a home, they soon learned, was nearly impossible to find. As weeks turned into months, their agent, Randy Baruh at the Corcoran Group, suggested they talk to the Brooklyn architect Frederick Tang about buying a townhouse that was less than perfect and updating it to suit their tastes. “Fred gave us assurances that he would be the one managing the process from start to finish,” Ms. Farah said.

Knowing that his clients didn’t want a multiyear project, Mr. Tang cautioned them about buying a house cut up into multiple apartments or anything too rundown. It took nearly a year, but the Farahs’ agent eventually showed them what appeared to be the ideal compromise: a relatively soulless four-story townhouse built in 2012.

With a nod from Mr. Tang, the couple bought it for $4.2 million in January 2016, even though there were aspects they didn’t like. For one, despite offering about 4,000 square feet of space, the house had only a dinky ground-floor living room, with all three floors above occupied entirely by bedrooms and bathrooms.

“My other issue was that I got used to seeing these prewar, beautifully detailed homes,” Mr. Farah said. “This place was very sterile. It really lacked character.”

As Mr. Tang put it, “It was kind of a developer special.” But he saw the generic finishes as a blank slate for creating gracious living spaces with warm materials and colors.

After hiring Home Evolution Construction as the contractor, they began work on it that September, creating a new family room on the second floor where there had been a master suite, replacing double-hung windows with steel-and-glass French doors and Juliette balconies, and adding custom walnut desks and shelves. Then they created a new master suite on the top floor.

On the ground floor, they removed half of the existing kitchen, installed new cabinets with walnut pulls and counters, and replaced aluminum patio doors with a wall of steel-framed windows and doors.

In the living and dining area, they treated the fireplace surround with Venetian plaster, installed a ceramic tile hearth and added pieces by local designers, including a large-scale wall hanging by Macro Macramé and leather-wrapped chandeliers by Pelle.

Downstairs, Mr. Tang designed a playroom with an egg-shaped nook under the stairs lined in white oak slats and filled with boulder-shaped pillows. “We had visions of the kids reading books in there,” Ms. Farah said. “Right now, they treat it more like a hamster wheel.”

The work was completed in roughly four months, for a total of about $300,000.

With that project behind them, Mr. Farah is now at work on his next. In November, he resigned from the hedge fund he helped found to start on a new venture: a neighborhood business focused on Lebanese food, inspired by his mother’s store and catering business in McLean, Va.

“I’m food obsessed. I’ll run anywhere in the city to get a great meal, and it’s always been a dream of mine to ultimately do something in that arena,” he said, noting that he had already tapped Mr. Tang to design whatever retail space may come.

“We very much love living here,” he added. “And if we have a chance to be a part of the small business community here, it would be a dream.”


Copyright © 2018 The New York Times Company. Reprinted with Permission. The New York Times.

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