An 1826 farmhouse, painted a shade of blue called Nantucket Fog, was restored from top to bottom. More Photos »
The exquisitely renovated and inventively painted Federal-style town house at 104 Willow Street in Brooklyn Heights began its tenure in 1826 as a custom-built farmhouse with trees as its nearest neighbors.
Back then, Brooklyn was a bucolic burg reachable by boat from Manhattan for a cost of around 12 cents, or 5 cents by rowboat, and the farmhouse had an outhouse and stables. Today the house has five full bathrooms, three of which qualify as spa-style, and a chic black marble powder room. Upstairs in the family room, the 21st-century flat-screen television is mounted on a nearly 200-year-old brick wall; the base of the balustrade of the curving staircase is a fish carved from mahogany, and the fan-shaped leaded-glass transom above the front door is original, too.
The exterior is a refreshing Landmarks Preservation Commission-acceptable shade of Benjamin Moore blue, Nantucket Fog; the interiors are bathed in colors reminiscent of tropical fruits. It is poised to re-enter the marketplace for $12 million, which, if met, would set a new town house record for the borough.
After a restoration that involved a new roof, shingles and wiring, as well as updated plumbing, a four-zone HVAC unit and a Bose sound system, the case could be made that a farmhouse built for the long haul is approaching ageless elegance.
“Our idea was to take a period home and, while respecting the integrity of the original details, change the interior aesthetic and bring it up to a level of comfort and beauty and convenience where it met the needs of a contemporary lifestyle,” said Roberta Fisher, who is selling the home with her husband, David Chirls, after having lived there since 2007.
The couple — she is retired from a career in investment banking, and he from finance and marketing — plan to downsize to a new town house in Dumbo. Leaving Brooklyn, where Mr. Chirls has lived for 28 years and raised three children, was not an option. Ms. Fisher jettisoned her Manhattan loft to join him in the Heights in 2006: after an exhaustive search, they found the house on Willow Street — the only one that felt instantly right to them — and commenced an 18-month renovation.
“With two of the kids grown up and out,” she said, “we don’t need such a big house anymore.” They fell in love with 104 Willow for its light, its historical detail, and the fact that, unlike most brownstones, it has the kitchen — now clad in birds-eye maple — on the parlor floor. But their next home will be in “white box form.”
“This has been a labor of love,” she said, “and a joy to live in. Our friends with brownstones all have closet envy.”
The beams in the vaulted ceiling of the top-floor master suite are original, as are the seven working fireplaces of imported Belgian marble and the white oak herringbone floors with mahogany marquetry trim. Yet the home has been reimagined as a luxury family retreat. The shady west-facing backyard is fenced in cedar and granted privacy and perma-green vistas by a bamboo variant that does not shed its leaves in winter. The trees and plantings are illuminated at night and nurtured by an automatic irrigation system, as is the ipe-wood sun deck on the top floor, ablaze with flowering species and a tropical vibe that is a nod to Ms. Fisher’s extensive banking stints in South America.
The town house in its original incarnation was built by Robert Speir, a slightly homesick immigrant from Glasgow, who found Manhattan too urban for his taste and moved his family to Brooklyn in 1820. Six years later he had completed his dream house, and his business of importing Merino sheep (they and their bovine brethren grazed in the backyard, which sloped downhill toward the river) was going gangbusters. Mr. Speir, who died in 1856, built residences at 102 and 106 Willow Street to accommodate his children and grandchildren.
The town house has a two-bedroom one-bath legal accessory apartment on the basement level, with two working fireplaces, that had been used as an in-law apartment before Ms. Fisher and Mr. Chirls arrived. There is a tenant through May 2014; a buyer can continue that arrangement or remove the soundproofing at the top of the basement stairway and reconnect the apartment to the house.
The listing broker is Rhea Cohen of Brown Harris Stevens. Both she and Ms. Fisher said the uniqueness of the property, with building dimensions of 25.5 by 66 feet deep on a 25.6-by-100-foot lot, coupled with the quality of the restoration, had been major factors in determining the $12 million asking price. The present sales record of $11 million was set in Gravesend in 2003 and tied last year by 212 Columbia Heights. The annual real estate taxes are $20,878.