Location, Location, Location
Weehawken, New Jersey is situated on the western shore of the Hudson River along the southern end of the New Jersey Palisades directly across from Midtown Manhattan with panoramic views of the NYC skyline. The properties overlooking Manhattan are some of the most desirable in the region with priceless views that cannot be replicated. The neighborhoods of Weehawken atop the cliffs above the Lincoln Tunnel Helix overlooking the NYC skyline are lined with 100-year-old multi-family brownstone residences. These properties have the quaint feel of a tight nit neighborhood with easy access to the action and economy of NYC. There is a challenge for families living in these areas. As their families grow their ability to move to find larger homes or expand existing ones are limited. The local zoning has many restrictions on building height; which makes expansion upward out of the question, and the zero-lot line construction makes additions an impossibility.
On a recent project completed by Inspired Construction we tackled the issue of expansion of a 100-year old brownstone; adjoined by a shared party wall with the neighbor; with the inability to add a story above; or expand outward; with a new approach. Working with the design created by well renowned local architects MVMK Architecture + Design (www.mvmkarchitecture.com) the existing two-story brownstone was expanded into a three-story, not by adding a floor above, but by excavating down and making the previously unhabitable basement into a new floor of living space.
The existing dwelling consisted of a two-story masonry brownstone, with a shared party wall on the eastern property line. The subject property is a two-family property with each unit occupying the first and second floor respectively. The original basement was approximately 6 ft. in height and was utilized for utilities and storage. The project reconfigured the first-floor unit into a two-story unit by adding two bedrooms and a bathroom to the basement space (750 square feet). In order to make that happen, the basement had to be excavated down approximately 30” to create a final living area with a typical 8 ft. ceiling. The process to support the existing structure while lowering its foundation is known as underpinning. This is a tedious methodical process, that is time and labor inducive.
The streets of Weehawken are narrow and lined with cars 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Construction activities and blocking parking are strictly limited by the Township. The process of excavating, removing the dirt, and pouring concrete was a logistical waltz that needed to be handled with precision to keep the project moving while not upsetting the flow of traffic and the order of the neighborhood. Over 90 cubic yards of concrete and fill was removed, in a series of dumpsters. New reinforced concrete foundation sections were poured in a staggered manner until eventually the full foundation had been lowered.
While the basement excavation and underpinning was underway, demolition and modifications to the first floor layout were occurring. The existing floor plan was modified by removing bearing walls and replacing them with a new GluLam structural beam at the rear of the unit to create an open floor plan. Additionally, new large sliding glass doors were installed in the first floor to provide access to the deck and open up the sightlines for the skyline views.
Similarly, on the second-floor modifications to the kitchen area included the removal of the bearing wall between the adjacent room and installation of a new structural beam. The existing windows were replaced with new enlarged windows with window seats to bring in the priceless views.
As a part of the basement expansion in order to safely have Bedrooms located on the lower level a new 13D Residential Fire Sprinkler system and alarm was installed for the full three-story structure to meet code requirements. This system includes a 300-gallon water storage tank, sprinkler heads, and fully integrated smoke/heat/fire alarm system.
Finally, the renovation included bringing in modern touches while maintaining the character of the original home. Subway tile patterns were used in the bathrooms, traditional white and black basket weave in the foyer, along with re-conditioned face brick on the fireplace and kitchen backsplash. The fireplace mantel was constructed by repurposing a section of the original house girder that was removed during the reconstruction process. Finishing touches include high-end Viking appliances, Kohler fixtures, Andersen Sliding Doors, quartz countertops, custom millwork in the entry and powder room, and custom turned oversized newel posts for the staircases.
The challenge was how to maintain the existing building envelope, yet give a family more space to grow. Using innovative design concepts and construction techniques we were able to expand the residence and allow the family to have a home that has been updated for safety, updated for efficiency, updated for their needs, and provide an opportunity for another generation to grow up in a one of kind neighborhood.