Transforming NYC Townhouses with Modern Interior Design

With rich charm and ample square footage, New York City's historic townhouses offer a opportunistic canvas for blending heritage with modern design.

April 30, 2024


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Transforming NYC Townhouses with Modern Interior Design

Unlock the charm of New York City's cherished townhouses by understanding how to make the most of their unique canvas via blended, thoughtful design.

Table of Contents

With their spatial significance and historic charm, townhouses stand as some of the most coveted slices of real estate in New York City. Amidst compact apartments and restrictive co-ops, these historic residences offer a unique opportunity for modern transformation amidst significant square footage. With so much potential when infusing contemporary elegance into these coveted spaces, keen homeowners aim to enhance the historical heritage of their property by integrating contemporary elements via interior design. By blending the past and future of your townhome with choice design decisions, the inherent beauty of these architectural treasures is unlocked. 

[#Charming]The Charm of NYC Townhouses[#Charming]

There’s a reason townhouses in NYC rarely hit the market. With many holding history dating back centuries, these exclusive homes each come with a sense of elegance and unique backstory worth adding to. Let’s explore why. 

Historical and Architectural Significance

Dating back to the 1800s, townhomes in NYC reflect the evolution of the city, with many embodying distinct design styles and details that endure through the ages. 


Brownstones are synonymous with NYC townhouses, characterized by their distinctive brown sandstone facades, similar to the one you see above from our full gut renovation of a Bed-Stuy brownstone. On the interior, ornate moldings, high ceilings, and grand staircases exemplify timeless elegance.

Federal Style

Federal-style townhouses feature graceful proportions and refined detail inspired by early American architecture, with interiors boasting intricate plasterwork, elegant mantels, and symmetrical layouts.

Italianate Design

Italianate-style townhouses are elaborate from the exterior to the interior, showcasing intricate woodwork, marble fireplaces, and expansive windows that tend to lend a sense of sophistication and elegance.

Canvas for Modern Interior Transformations

The typical townhouse (or row house) layout, with its expansive structure and versatile floor plan, offers endless possibilities for contemporary design updates. 

Versatility of Layout

The multi-level design and interconnected rooms provide versatility for modern living scenarios, with added space to accommodate niche needs like a formal home office or family-oriented spaces. 

Preservation vs. Restoration

With historical townhomes, homeowners are posed with the opportunity to not only update their property with modern amenities and design, but also revitalize the pre-war nuances of their space for a fully-restored yet contemporary living quarters. 

Upstairs walkway from our Manhattan townhouse renovation at 529 East 87th. View the full renovation before and after.

[#Space]Navigating Space and Layout Challenges[#Space]

Very rarely is a NYC townhouse configured exactly the way homeowners would prefer, especially with our current lean towards free-flowing floor plans. Because of the following challenges, those looking to renovate a townhouse often insist upon layout changes. Thankfully, we’ve added some solutions that have helped our clients solve the configuration conundrum. 

Typical Challenges In NYC Townhouse Layouts 

To address challenges effectively and enhance the livability of NYC townhouses, tailor design solutions to their unique architectural constraints. Here are some common issues we're faced with when renovating townhomes in New York City that should be considered:

Narrow and Elongated Floor Plans

The hallmark of many NYC townhouses is their narrow and elongated floor plans, a legacy of the city's architectural history. While these layouts contribute to their charm, they often pose challenges in creating functional living spaces without feeling cramped or disjointed.

Limited Natural Light

Situated in close proximity to neighboring buildings, NYC townhouses frequently contend with limited access to natural light. Without the right lighting, the lack of sunshine can leave rooms dim and gloomy even during daylight.

Multi-Level Living

The multi-level nature of townhouse living, while adding architectural interest, can also disrupt the flow of space. Each floor presents its own distinct challenges, from circulation issues to the segmentation of living areas, requiring careful consideration to achieve consistent design and flow throughout the home.

Innovative Solutions To Townhouse Challenges 

For every challenge, there's a solution. Below are ways to work within the challenges presented when renovating NYC townhouses:

Open Floor Plans

Embracing open floor plans can be a transformative solution for maximizing space and light in NYC townhouses. By removing walls and partitions, designers can create seamless transitions between rooms, allowing natural light to beam into the interior and extend a sense of spaciousness.

Additional Options For Natural Light

Addressing the challenge of limited natural light often requires creative solutions, such as adding skylights (like you see above the stairwell in our Brownstone gut renovation in Carroll Gardens) or restructuring windows to capture sunlight from multiple angles. Additionally, the strategic placement of reflective surfaces, such as mirrors and glass partitions, can help bounce light around interiors, brightening even the darkest corners.

Multi-Functional Furniture

In compact living spaces, the strategic use of multi-functional furniture is essential for maximizing utility without sacrificing style. From Murphy beds that fold into walls like this one from our UWS renovation to built-in benches with hidden storage like the one we built in our Carnegie Hill renovation, these versatile pieces help optimize space while maintaining a clutter-free environment.

[#New]Blending The Old With The New[#New]

When considering NYC townhouse design, striking the delicate balance between preserving historical charm and embracing modern functionality is an art form in itself. By carefully restoring key historical elements while tastefully integrating contemporary updates, the historical highlights of your home can come full-circle. 

Identifying and Preserving Historical Elements

Some areas in your NYC townhouse are fine to overhaul completely, but there are certain historic elements that make up the home's character and should ideally be preserved or restored in order to uphold both the home's heritage and your property value.

  • Original Hardwood Floors: One of the most cherished features of NYC townhouses is their original hardwood floors, which often bear the wear and tear of decades or even centuries of history. To preserve these treasures, designers may opt for refinishing rather than replacing them, allowing their natural beauty to shine through while ensuring durability for years to come.
  • Stained Glass Windows: Stained glass windows add a touch of elegance and character to townhouse interiors, casting colorful patterns of light that dance across the room. Careful restoration and repair can breathe new life into these intricate works of art, preserving their historical significance while enhancing the overall ambiance.
  • Ornate Plasterwork: Ornate plasterwork, whether in the form of ceiling medallions, cornices, or decorative moldings, is a hallmark of traditional townhouse architecture. Designers can highlight these exquisite and often Italianate details through meticulous restoration, ensuring they remain focal points of your townhome’s interior design.
Bottom floor back patio entrance from our brownstone renovation in Bed-Stuy. View the full renovation before and after.

[#Pros]Partnering with Design Professionals[#Pros]

Renovating a NYC townhouse to ensure a seamless blend of modern design and historical charm requires more than just a strong design plan. A process that involved requires assistance from an expert, oftentimes one who can handle the renovation from start to finish. Enter design-build, where renovations are streamlined from start to finish. 

An All-Inclusive Approach To Townhouse Renovations

While a traditional design-bid contractor typically won’t handle much more than building the plans you’ve gotten drafted and approved, design-build firms handle your townhouse renovation from conception to completion. These full-service contractors deliver interior design, architectural services and construction management all under the same roof, while handling approvals and permits on your behalf. With a design-build firm, your NYC townhouse renovation immediately takes on a comprehensive approach, combining structural knowledge, historical sensitivity, and contemporary design strategy. 

Designers Within The Design-Build Process

As part of a larger design-build team, like the one we have at Gallery KBNY, interior designers are integrated into the renovation process from start to finish. This seamless collaboration ensures all aspects of your renovation, from design planning to final punch list review, are aligned to achieve your vision and goals. By working closely with architects, project managers, and other specialists, our designers optimize space, functionality, and aesthetics, resulting in a cohesive and successful townhouse renovation. 

Hiring A Design-Build Firm Vs An Architect

While design-build firms excel in efficiency, defined budgets, and time-sensitive renovations, architects bring valuable expertise in extreme design customization, sustainability, and complex project management, making them ideal for clients with jobs along the lines of a vertical combination of two townhouses. For a more detailed comparison, read The Pros And Cons Of Design-build Vs. Architectural Firms

Our Success Stories | Townhouse Renovations In New York City

Manhattan Townhouse Renovation | 529 East 87th

Our clients resided in the first two floors of a Manhattan townhouse, which had been converted into condos with access to a patio. While the space was well-maintained, it lacked the desired aesthetic of our clients. Our objective was to infuse character and modern elements to brighten the home. The renovation encompassed a full kitchen overhaul, new flooring installation, bathroom and powder room retiling and fixture updates, wall painting, staircase renovation, door and closet remodeling, and installation of new lighting fixtures throughout. View the full renovation before and after. 

Gut Renovation Of Landmarked NYC Townhome | Hudson Square

Gallery KBNY was commissioned to fully renovate a historic townhome in Hudson Square, originally constructed in 1826. The extensive project encompassed a comprehensive overhaul of the owner's unit, featuring renovations to the kitchen, master ensuite bathroom, additional bathroom with a walk-in steam shower, and a powder room. Other upgrades included flooring, electrical and plumbing updates, HVAC installation, fireplace restoration, and integration of a smart home system, all while preserving the landmarked status with approved windows. This commitment to historical preservation and innovative design revitalizes architectural treasures, ensuring their legacy for future generations to cherish. View the full renovation before and after. 

Explore More & Get Started

If you're considering a renovation project for your NYC townhouse and looking to incorporate sensibilities, we invite you to view our portfolio of NYC renovation before and afters, learn more about Gallery, or contact us today. Whether you're seeking inspiration or ready to embark on your renovation journey, scheduling a consultation with our design team is the first step toward transforming your home into a modern urban oasis. 

Considering a townhouse renovation in New York City? View our portfolio of NYC townhouse and brownstone renovation before and afters, learn more about Gallery, or contact us today. We are an award-winning design-build firm in New York City with a full-service approach to renovations in Manhattan and Brooklyn that includes everything from interior design and architecture services to filing permits and construction management. We’re experts in pre-war apartment renovations, apartment combinations, room creations, full gut renovations and all that falls in between. Let us bring your dream home to life.

Chief Revenue Officer

Alex Ushyarov

Alex Ushyarov is the Chief Revenue Officer of Gallery KBNY, a full service design-build firm specializing in the design and interior renovation of apartments, townhomes, and lofts in NYC. Recognizing the importance of differentiation in a competitive industry, Alex has developed a clear and compelling brand identity for the company. Through meticulous market analysis and a deep understanding of customer needs, he has honed the firm's unique value proposition, highlighting its ability to deliver innovative, sustainable, and high-quality design-build solutions.




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