January 23, 2009
This should be subtitled To Divide or Not to Divide. The room that will be our master bedroom and nursery is very spacious and brightly lit by four large windows. Since Day One we adored the space and the bird's-eye maple woodwork that defined it: the mirrored mantelpiece and the two dramatic, wide door frames (one now shrunken, and one for the built-in cabinetry). It would be an incredible master bedroom…more than enough room for a big bed, a chaise by the window, a mirrored vanity table, even a large desk.
It's been a big dilemma for us and Mike Streaman, who has been adamantly trying to convince us to keep the room open.
He even offered to build a triple bunk bed for the boys in the other bedroom (just kidding). We certainly were tempted to consider other options and, up until a few days ago, were dreaming up a plan for sliding panels on tracks instead of a real wall. Unfortunately, the reality right now is that our baby needs a separate bedroom and the only sound-proof option is to divide our ideal master bedroom into two rooms.
Our five-year plan is to take over the top floor of the house, giving our kids enough time to enjoy the extra space and their own rooms, if they want, before they start leaving the nest to go to college―boo hoo! So, at that time when we are able to spread out on three whole floors, the thought is that we will restore our room to its original glory and remove the wall. We feel very fortunate that these large brownstone houses offer so much flexibility for growing families.
I don't have a photo of the divided room yet since Mike is postponing the dreaded event as long as possible, maybe in the hope that we will still come to our senses and preserve the whole room (also, the new floor needs to be laid down first). We would love to hear of any creative solutions out there!
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Hi Karen and Kevin,
The prospect of dividing up that front room certainly presents you with a dilemma. On the other hand, any changes made now can be undone later. When you re-integrate the top floor, you might want to consider that a number of Brooklyn brownstone owners have dedicated it to the kids, creating an open space for play and homework in the middle of the floor -- lit by an overhead skylight -- with 2-3 bedrooms off (sometimes reconfigured to be smaller than the rooms in the original floorplan). Meanwhile the house looks wonderful and I wish you all the best with the renovation. Btw, I'm one of the organizers of the biennial Prospect Heights House Tour so perhaps we can entice you to participate this fall! I will try to drop by the brochure from our 2007 tour with my contact information this weekend.
Welcome to the neighborhood,
Karen & Kevin:
Dividing the Master Bedroom does seem like a shame, but if that is what’s right for your family situation you need to do what you need to do. However, knowing now that you want to eventually remove the wall and open up the space again provides you with a great advantage, because the wall can be designed and built to be later disassembled instead of demolished. With proper planning and construction, you can minimize the damage to the space, and save time and money when the wall is removed. I’m sure TOH has it under control, but here are a few things I would suggest:
1. You mentioned that the finished floor needs to go down before the wall is built. That is key, because it will save a lot of work later trying to patch and match the floor. Hopefully the wall will be parallel to the finished floorboards, not perpendicular. That way, when the wall is removed, any discoloration in the floor will be less obvious if it runs with the floorboards instead of running across the floorboards.
2. Instead of placing the lower plate (2x4) for the wall directly on the finished floor, I would put down builders’ felt or paper and maybe a piece of polyurethane, just to keep the plate from being in contact with the floor. Your carpenter might also consider raising the plate off the floor using spacers.
3. When the floor is being finished, have a loose floorboard finished at the same time (or, if this is a prefinished floor, save an extra floorboard). Use this spare floorboard to cut plugs from. Instead of attaching the wall’s bottom plate directly through the finished floor, first drill 1/2 inch holes through the finished floor. When the wall is removed, use the plugs to fill the holes; they will already match your floor and won’t need finishing.
4. Use either double-headed nails or screws to assemble the wall. This will make the wall a lot easier to take apart without causing damage to the room. Again, the idea is disassembly instead of demolition.
5. Definitely use spacers between the wall’s top plate and the ceiling to minimize the wall’s impact on the ceiling. Regardless, the ceiling will need to be patched and repainted when the wall is removed, but using screws will minimize the damage to the ceiling.
6. All the electrical wiring within the wall should be tied into receptacles placed on the adjoining walls as close to the corners as possible. This way, when the wall is removed, the wiring can be removed easily without disrupting the electrical work in the rest of the room. Make sure no wires run from the wall into either the ceiling or floor.
7. Finally, I wouldn’t attach any crown molding to the ceiling along this wall, as it will cause damage to the ceiling which would be difficult to patch smoothly.
All these things will definitely take a little more time and effort than simply building the wall as any other wall. However, when it comes time to take the wall down, you will be happy that you put in the extra time and effort up front.
All the best,
Thank you for taking the time to give us such detailed and helpful tips for our temporary wall. We will definitely follow up on your points.
Hope you'll be able to watch the work happening on the shows!
Karen and Kevin
Its definitely a tough choice but it sounds like you've made the right one. (We had a similar choice in the reverse - we decided to leave a small room instead of blowing it out to make a larger master bedroom) Are you certain that it wasn't originally closed off? Big bedrooms aren't a trademark of the Victorians. It might have originally be quartered off like most of the houses of this style. Not that it matters but it might make you feel better to know you're bringing the house closer to the original set up.
We have a turn of the last century row house with a master bedroom that looks very much like yours. Ours was always a large room, and we kept it that way. It makes an amazing bedroom.
I grew up in this house and I think you guys are doing a great job. It makes me sad to think of all of the memories that are in this house but it makes me happy that a wonderful family is renovating it. Good luck and enjoy living in this wonderful house!!!
We lived in this house for 24 years! We had a duplex apartment. We had the entire top floor and the front half of second floor. The front portion of this photograph was our dining and living room area. We have now moved to Virginia and wondered if we would ever see the inside of the house ever again. By chance, my wife was channel surfing and found the show and we were all so surprised. There are many wonderful and glorious memories in that house. I wish the best to you and your family and may you have the joy, happiness, and love that we had in that old house.
The post above mine from Rachahd is my oldest daughter. We raised 3 children in this house.
We have a very similar room in our brownstone and we have a small room above the stairs that is our son's room. I suspect in your house it was two rooms originally as well, as you have another radiator near the sole window. Our house has had very minimal changes in the layout over the years, but it was built a little later than yours, around 1913. You are welcome to come take a look if you want, we are about 15 minutes away, if that would help you make your decision!
I live in the twin to this house. The houses are part of a five-house terrace. Karen and Kevin's is no. 2, and I live in no. 4. The master bedroom was always one large room. In our house, you can tell this by the decorative moulding on the ceiling and the herring-bone parquet flooring that we still have. I'm glad you're considering dividing the room in such a way that it can be undone. I'm jealous that you still have the built-ins in the dressing rooms. Ours was removed when it was a rooming house. We still had the marble vanity tops in the basement, however, and used them in our master bath.
Great to hear from our former neighbor, Chris.
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