In Williamsburg, a Childproof Home in the Trees


On a recent sunny morning, John and Allison Rapaport surveyed the fresh foliage of spring from their third-floor home office. The room projects out from their townhouse in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, like a periscope lens — but a very large one, with an angled wall of glass nearly 14 feet high. So it’s not surprising they feel connected to nature.

“In winter we see the snow, and in the fall the leaves change,” said Ms. Rapaport, 36, the chief executive of Every Mother, a fitness company. “Every season brings something new.”

“We see our local birds up here,” added Mr. Rapaport, 37, a partner at an investment firm.

It wasn’t always like that. Much has changed since the Rapaports bought the property in 2013, for about $1.6 million. Back then, the townhouse, which dates to the early 20th century, was a squat two-family, two-story home of about 2,000 square feet with a wooden frame, vinyl siding and small windows.

“We were a little naïve, because we hadn’t done it before,” Mr. Rapaport said. But their general sense was that they could get more space, and more inspiring design, if they were willing to do the work.

The wall of glass looks out over the street, through tree branches. “In winter, we see the snow, and in the fall, the leaves change,” Ms. Rapaport said. “Every season brings something new.”CreditDevon Banks

A friend introduced the couple to PRO, a studio run by the married architects Miriam Peterson and Nathan Rich, and they hit it off. “We had a couple initial consultations, and they were coming up with some really amazing, out-of-the-box stuff,” Ms. Rapaport said.

Together, the Rapaports and their architects looked at numerous properties in the neighborhood before choosing the one they did for its location, backyard and allowable buildable space.

Then PRO devised a plan to strip the existing building down to its wood framing and rebuild it, adding an extension at the back and a steel structure on stilt-like columns above to support an additional story.

“It’s basically this steel table that sits over the top” of the original building, Mr. Rich said. “That steel allowed us to make those massive openings — a big, glass wall at the front and a big skylight at the top — which bring all this natural light into the building, which is totally atypical for these types of houses.”

If the Rapaports were nervous about such an ambitious project, they didn’t show it. “They just said, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s make this what we really want,’” Ms. Peterson recalled.



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