Brownstoner has been doing a running series on the green indoor and outdoor spaces featured in the book Brooklyn Modern, an envy-oriented coffee-table book profiling the living spaces of people with much cooler apartments than you or I. People, that is, who actually have really nice coffee tables on which to put fancy books like Brooklyn Modern. Or, in the case of the people in the book, really excellently tasteful reclaimed-wood coffee tables situated in very nicely lit apartments. People, in short, like Susan Boyle and Benton Brown.
Their penthouse, in a Crown Heights loft building they turned into a LEED Silver, green-design showcase, is the subject of Brownstoner’s fourth and final installment. Photos by Yoko Inoue – both in the book and at Brownstoner (image here via the same)– take the viewer on a tour of the couple’s salvage- and vintage-intensive interiors and quasi-lush vegetated roof. So, to paraphrase Owen Wilson’s Dignan in Bottle Rocket, “how did a jerk like (Bob, in the movie) get such a nice kitchen?”
It’s a longish story, but well documented and a testament to the incredible hustle of the couple currently using said nice kitchen. (Also, Boyle and Benton don’t seem like jerks, and in retrospect Bob’s only real fault was being skeptical of Dignan’s stupid bookstore robbery plan) Back in the summer of 2004, when (isolated pockets of) America had John Kerry fever, real estate was invincible and Crown Heights was roughly as desolate and crappy as it is today, Boyle and Benton put the finishing touches on their two and a half-year, ground-up renovation of a 14,000 square-foot derelict brewery. The penthouse in Brooklyn Modern sits atop one of a passel of Crown Heights buildings the couple had bought on the cheap several years earlier. The loft building in which Boyle and Denton live was the crown jewel of those buildings, and the couple took a building that had been inhabited by pigeons for 20 years and installed pretty much every sustainable trick in the book, from radiant heating to a rainwater boiler to solar panels to EnergyStar appliances (which are essentially the only new fixtures in the building’s apartments)
As profiled at Grist by Amanda Griscom back in 2004, Boyle and Benton come across as both very directed developers and (in Boyle’s case) expert navigators of the green building paperwork morass. The latter expertise helped their building earn not only that LEED Silver certification, but also Keyspan’s “Green Cinderella” grant. (A great photo of Boyle, Benton, Marty Markowitz and like six anonymous people in suits is here) “The couple has proven that anyone can be a pioneer in sustainable building,” Griscom wrote. “Anyone, that is, with a basic knowledge of construction, a fearless relationship to blow torches, a penchant for grant writing, super-human patience with Building Department code and green-construction manuals — oh yes, and a network of private investors.”