Brooklyn Brownstone House Tour

My friend Lena Corwin, a textile designer, illustrator and author of the book Made by Hand, recently moved to San Francisco. Before moving, she had lived in a Brooklyn brownstone with her husband, Josh, and their young son, Eli. Before they said goodbye, Brian W. Ferry took a few beautiful photos of her home for Remodelista, which I’d love to show here, along with a conversation I had with Lena about motherhood, moving and all things home…

On enjoying San Francisco: One of the first things we noticed after moving to San Francisco is how quiet the city is compared to NYC. People rarely honk their car horns! Life here feels very peaceful. We are two blocks from Golden Gate Park and the weather is always mild here, so it’s been wonderful to walk through lush foliage every morning—in January!

On missing friends in Brooklyn: I miss our friends there so much. It hits me every few days and I burst into sobs. I lived in New York City for 16 years so almost all of my adult friendships were made there. It was so hard to say goodbye, even though we’ll visit often. I also miss the intense energy of New York. I was so used to the fast pace, so it’s been a little hard getting accustomed to the mellow California lifestyle.

On bedroom artwork: Josh found the large print (above the mantle) on the street out with someone’s trash one night, and he thought I’d like it. I did—and it turned out to be a valuable print! The small painting in the last photo is by Bella Foster. She’s one of my favorite artists, so Josh got me a small painting for my 35th birthday.

On hanging out in the master bedroom: Growing up, we all hung out in our parents’ bedroom, so that’s how we do it now, too. Sometimes friends came over and sat on our bed. It wasn’t a private space. And The pillow corner was a comfy spot to play with Eli.

Credits: Eli loved the English Arnold Circus stool from More & Co. The pillows are by designer friends—Muny, Enhabiten, and Mociun, and the rug is from Flying Carpet.

On creating good indoor air quality: When I got pregnant, I started reading about toxins and how indoor quality can be really bad. I’m not die-hard about this, but I try to only buy things made of natural fibers—cotton, linen and wood mostly. I love 100% cotton rugs (like those from Dash & Albert) since pile rugs are usually made with a chemical-filled glue backing. I’m really sensitive to chemicals and I quickly smell toxins in a product, so I won’t buy something if it gives off that “new” smell. I also use houseplants to improve indoor air quality.

On living with friends: When we first bought this multi-family brownstone, I had a vision of living with friends; I thought ahead to when we’d have kids and how it would be so nice to all eat dinner together. That ended up being even more amazing than I had pictured. It can be so lonely when you have a child, and Josh went back to work way earlier than I did, so having friends built in upstairs was so wonderful. We rented out the two apartments above us. I loved the company; I’d love to have that again in the future. I’m a mix of introverted and extroverted. I always thought I was introverted, but now that I have a child, I crave being around people.

On a typical evening at home: After Eli was asleep, Josh and I would cook dinner together, or we’d have our friends in the house down for dinner and wine. Occasionally we brought the baby monitor up to our friends’ upstairs, and Josh and I would go to a restaurant in the neighborhood.

On relaxed gatherings: My mom is amazing at entertaining friends and family—both on a whim and for big planned events. She makes the most delicious food but always keeps things easy so she can enjoy her company instead of trying to be perfect. Her entertaining style has rubbed off on me and I try to keep things simple, too…but not simple like opening a bag of chips, but instead simple like a bowl of tangerines and carrot sticks sprinkled with lemon juice and sea salt!

Credits: The banister is painted with Benjamin Moore’s Black Beauty.

On creating a comfy kid’s room: I love having pillows on the floor. And it’s so nice to have a washable rug in a child’s room. We got a great cotton rug from Pottery Barn, and I’ve taken it to the laundromat like five times. We also have tons of baskets and bins, so it’s really easy to clean up.

On three-year-old Eli’s favorite books: Lyle, Lyle Crocodile by Bernard Waber, and Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein.

On hearing your child: Eli’s bedroom was on a different floor and on the other end of the house, so I was surprised to learn that the mothering instinct is so strong I could hear him wake in the night from far away. I didn’t need the monitor!

On hanging out in the nursery: We hung out in Eli’s room a lot because it’s big and there’s a couch in there. Our friends upstairs would often come down between 6:30 and 7:30 when we were winding him down, and we’d all sit in there, tumbling around, watching him be goofy.

Credits: The wooden fish mobile is by Flensted and the dachshund bookends are from Jonathan Adler. The crib is from Ikea.

On choosing paint colors: I think of myself as being good with color, but in my previous apartment I kept trying pops of color and never liked them. So I realized I liked neutral walls, and the pops of colors would come from the linens. I liked our living room; it felt cozy.

On favorite home stores: Montauk Sofa for investing in a really beautiful, well-made couch. Ikea and The Company Store for affordable bedding. Jen Garrido paintings on paper for affordable artwork (I just bought two pieces from my very talented friend!) Nova Natural for toys.

On the branch wallpaper: Right when we moved in we got the branch wallpaper, and I never got sick of it! That seems like a rarity!

On breakfast rituals: My husband Josh almost always does bedtime, and I do mornings—he is not a morning person and I get really tired in the evenings, so it works well for us. I love our morning routine. Eli helps me make coffee and we listen to the radio while eating oatmeal. I mix a lot into it, like a heaping scoop of plain yogurt, fresh fruit, raisins, finely chopped spinach (he doesn’t notice!), chopped nuts, liquid vitamin D and maple syrup.

On family dinners: Eli likes anything on a bun, so for dinner I often make quinoa burgers, salmon burgers, turkey burgers, etc! Josh and I sometimes have our burgers on a bed of greens instead of the bread.

Credits: Ikea cabinets and pink rug, and framed print by Clare Nereim.

On living in a historic home: The Italianate house, which was built in the 1800s, was so beautiful. I don’t think I’ll ever live in a house like that again. I love thinking about the first family who lived there. It was built without electricity and sewers—they probably had chamber pots and outhouses! I remember playing in bed the last night before we moved and looking up at that ceiling and thinking, we were so lucky to live in such a historic place.

Thank you so much, Lena! Here is her website, book and instagram, if you’d like to learn more about her. xoxo

P.S. A teeny San Francisco apartment, and a gorgeous NYC apartment.

(Photos by Brian W. Ferry; find more on his blog, The Blue Hour and on Remodelista, which ran them originally in December)

  1. Love the space and the beautiful design features. And where did you get the gorgeous ‘Hanimals’ picture?

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  3. WOW!!!
    What a lovely house!

    I enjoy your photos and can’t stand to pin it on my board in pinterest.

    Hope I can buy a house someday and decorate it like with cute stuff. Hehe :)


  4. Wow! Beautiful Tips forArea Rugs lovers – thank you for sharing! I like the blue tones on the living room. Blue gives a clean feeling

  5. i love brian ferry’s work so much! his taste in music is just as fabulous as his photography skills.

  6. <3!

  7. Gorgeous home!!! It’s so nice and lots of space, which I love!

  8. I guess, that if I had lived in such a beautiful house, I would have moved heaven & hell so as not to move out of it! Ever! :D

    Except for that bathroom door, it’s far too narrow!

  9. What a perfect house!

    Becks xo

  10. Wow – this is a beautiful brownstone. Reminds me of the years I spent in Brooklyn, and then also moved to San Fran where we had our first child. By any chance is this 823 Carroll Street in Carroll Gardens. The Entry looks strikingly exactly like my husband’s old duplex!

  11. This is absolutely beautiful. The lighting is magnificent! Love those little Brooklyn gems!

  12. Beautiful home, I’m inspired.

  13. What an adorable house! I have never been inside a Brownstone before but it is such an iconic home style. They are just so storybook to me!

  14. Dying of love for that house!

  15. Dying of love for that house!

  16. I have followed Lena’s work for so long now, and I love everything she does. Thank you for such a great interview. Good luck, Lena!

  17. I have followed Lena’s work for so long now, and I love everything she does. Thank you for such a great interview. Good luck, Lena!

  18. I have followed Lena’s work for so long now, and I love everything she does. Thank you for such a great interview. Good luck, Lena!

  19. What a dream place to live! Very well done – glad to hear you are enjoying San Francisco. :)

    Allison @

  20. Ah why did they move!? Friends living in the apartment in the same house? Sounds so good!

  21. What a gorgeous home!

    So true about rugs in kids’ rooms. I bought what I thought at the time was a gorgeous pink rug from RH baby &child – but that thing sheds like a big wooly monster and who knows what crazy particles are clogging our lungs.

    And I’m surprised about the mothering instinct. I don’t think I could have my kid on another floor, much less without a monitor. First timer paranoia I guess?

    Great post!


  22. Having lived in a newer condo, older house, and new construction rowhouse, I will not go back to the old home. It looks great in pictures, but it’s a lot of work.My advice to the house hunters- go for new!

  23. jm says...

    Love this apartment tour! keep them coming!

  24. As a Californian, and 50% San Franciscan, and a former New Yorker, I just want to say – it’s beautiful here and many people have children.

    Try the playground at Dolores Park:) It’s brilliant.

  25. I loved reading through her thoughts on her home and routine with her family. Also, what a brilliant idea to have your friends living above you (something my friends and I only dream of, as we live states away)! The pictures are lovely. I know the feeling of moving–something I’ve done a lot in my life–but it is wonderful to have people so sweet in your life to make the move difficult.

  26. Beautiful house and great tips and thoughts! I really love the pillow corner :)

  27. Beautiful house and great tips and thoughts! I really love the pillow corner :)

  28. Gorgeous! Love the idea of a sofa in the kid’s room!

  29. Your friend sounds so lovely. The light in that house is to die for, and I’m so in love with the idea of a more communal living environment. It sounds like such a great way to live, particularly in a city like New York, that can often feel a little isolating.

  30. I would have such a hard time leaving a beautiful home like that! I live in an early craftsman right now and there is something so lovely about living in a space with such history behind it. Thank you for sharing!

  31. Wow, this home is GORGEOUS, loved reading what she had to say too, she sounds lovely :)

  32. scout and rice, yes, i agree, her mixed feeling about moving are so real and honest, and everyone experiences them! i even felt that way moving neighborhoods in manhattan, i can’t imagine moving across the country. definitely an adjustment period!

  33. Such an inspiring story and a beautiful house!

  34. Oh I’m so happy to see this! I have been following Lena’s website for years and I’d read of her mixed emotions about moving.
    Beautiful home. :)

  35. Wonderful home and love all the tips. Thank you both for sharing with us!

  36. this is what i love about cup of jo. i suspected that this might be a rerun of the content posted on remodelista with brian’s pictures, but no! your post got to the heart and soul of lena’s home in a way that remodelista’s great decor-oriented post didn’t. thank, joanna!

  37. Wow, her BK home was dreamy.
    Do you know what neighborhood she moved to in SF? I may be (reluctantly) doing some moving research… (Also, random, but she’s actually a friend of an old family friend – but we never met. Small world.)

    Thanks for another interesting post :)

  38. What a beautiful home! So peaceful and serene. Will you share where you bought your bed? I’d love to know.

  39. Loved reading this, there was some super cute stuff in there

  40. Are the woodwork and walls in the entry painted the same color white? I love the look of it and am trying to figure out my “white scheme” for my new house! Thanks for sharing!

  41. This was such a fun read. Lena’s style is fabulous. Simple and cozy at the same time. Thanks for sharing!

  42. this house is a dream come true. so beautiful!

  43. Gorgeous place! And I almost got teary about it! So fascinating how a home can bring up so many emotions! Wonderful post, Joanna!

  44. Such a cute family. It seems like this would be a wonderful place to grow up.

  45. I love that little nook with the toys! How nice to see that all you need is a cool rug, great pillows and a basket of swag to make an area cozy and functional for the kiddos.

  46. Fun. I have her book of maps, actually.

  47. This is honestly my dream post-love everything about it.

    Manda from Eat Cake

  48. beautiful and so sentimental. almost made me teary.

  49. Oh I loved that space, I’ve been keeping pictures of Lena’s apartment in my computer for years from different home tours… it’s house porn!
    I’m curious to see what her SF home will look like.
    It was great to read about her home habits, thanks!