For our third installment of Architecture, Brooklyn Style, we spoke with Brooklyn Heights-based residential and commercial architect James Koster, whom we met at the last installment of LTRE. His work ranges from multi-family luxury developments in Telluride, Co. to Heights townhouses.
Tell us what drove you to become an architect.
I have enjoyed drawing and building models ever since I was old enough to hold pencils and glue, and I have always been fascinated by how things are put together — I suppose the fact that my mother taught and practiced architecture was also a help.
How long have you been practicing architecture in Brooklyn and/or NYC?
I had a few summer jobs with architecture firms during graduate school, and I began working in NYC full-time in 1993. I became a licensed architect in 1995 and opened my own firm in 2003.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
Attention to detail is a common thread throughout my work. Whether the project calls for minimalist transitions between glass and tile in a modernist bathroom or the careful recreation of Louis XIV moldings in a paneled library, I always carefully consider the details. Since you’ve seen some of my work, you know that I also like to find opportunities to enrich a space through the use of glowing elements or translucent materials.
Talk about the highs, and lows, of working in Brooklyn.
I absolutely love our neighborhood, and the borough in general. We are fortunate here in NYC that we have access to so many exceptional artisans in every area of fabrication and installation. If there is a challenge to working on our side of the river, it’s that property values are lower while owner expectations and the cost of construction aren’t. We often face and meet the challenge of achieving a rich look for less.
Is there a Brooklyn â€ślookâ€ť?
Most of the building stock is older, and historical details abound. These conditions necessitate an acknowledgement of the historical context, and I think you see that awareness everywhere here — even when the response is in stark contrast to historical surroundings.
What is your work load like compared to 12 months ago?
12 months ago was about finishing up a few large, older projects whereas I’m now busy with more projects that are smaller in size. The phones have been lighting up more, too, so there is plenty of reason for optimism.
When designing a home for a client what are the typical major considerations and desires?
Much of my work is about unravelling awkward layouts and bad finishes. Most clients want new kitchens, larger bathrooms and central air conditioning; removing or creating larger openings in a townhouse central bearing wall is also a common desire. The considerations for these projects include improved electric service, structural engineering and a thoughtful plumbing riser diagram, all of which fall under our normal scope of work.
What is your favorite space in a home to design?
Without question, kitchens and bathrooms are the most complex and therefore most fun spaces to design, but I enjoy any opportunity to integrate function with design: often we see a need to use built-in cabinetry to divide a space or to integrate multiple uses into a small area. The room-divider / closet / home entertainment system / home office cabinet wall is a project I’ve designed many times.
What trends if any do you see in the need for certain types of housing â€“ ie smaller units, family-sized, etc?
The desire to raise children in the City is a nice indicator of the improving health of our borough and NYC in general. Common projects for me include the re-conversion of a four-apartment townhouse into a two-family or the combination of two “smallish” apartments into a large family-sized unit.
How do you mesh preservation and original detail with a need to modernize properties?
I’m not one of these guys who believes that everything new has to look new. I have developed many techniques for the integration of modern systems and contemporary uses into period homes in a way that doesn’t unsettle the traditional appeal. At the same time, a strong contrast with a historical context sometimes represents the best way to show off historic details. I can best answer this “restore or contrast” question after a carefully listening to my client’s aspirations.
Which of your projects is most memorable and why?
Last year, I finished a substantial loft apartment renovation on a top floor in downtown Brooklyn. It features clean, crisp details, exceptional millwork, a backlit onyx wall in the master bathroom and full-height translucent glass doors throughout, but the thing that makes this project so memorable is the clients’ commitment to the design. It is especially rewarding when my clients are as enthusiastic about the work as I am.
Tell us something that most people don’t know about you.
In high school, I restored a 1960 MGA from the frame up creating a concourse-quality show car. I learned a lot about how things are put together, but not many people know what a motor-head I am.
If you had to describe yourself, what style of house describes you best?
Classical – it’s trustworthy, stable and always in style.
Do you like to cook and if so what is your favorite dish?
You know, my wife is such a local legend in this arena that I never developed past the usual bachelor fare, but I do grill a mean cheeseburger.
What is your favorite cocktail and in what room do you like to sip it?
I’d say a mint julep or a Manhattan – depending on the season. When we renovated our apartment, we created a large living room for entertaining, and it’s still my favorite room in our apartment — for any occasion.
What is your favorite Brooklyn restaurant?
So many to choose from, but when we’re trying to build a family consensus, we often find ourselves at the Chip Shop on Atlantic Avenue. Who doesn’t like a plump piece of fried cod with a pint?