Brooklyn Heights

Will 15 Willow St. be a record-breaker? Brooklyn Heights house for sale for $14.15 million

Eye On Real Estate

August 17, 2016 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Newly renovated and remodeled 15 Willow St. in Brooklyn Heights is for sale. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
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Such a desirable house.

A 25-foot-wide Greek Revival-style house, built in the early 1830s, located in New York City’s first neighborhood to be landmarked, Brooklyn Heights.

Damian and Britt Zunino found 15 Willow St. when they were hunting for a home to buy in Brooklyn for themselves and their four kids to live in.

They wanted to do a gut rehab of the red-brick house, which nuns had owned for almost three decades. It was just too expensive. So they did the next best thing.

The married couple mustered investors with whom they purchased 15 Willow St. — and turned it into a redevelopment project for their design/build and interiors firm, Studio DB.

“It’s our first time with skin in the game,” Damian Zunino recalled during a recent sit-down at the newly renovated single-family house — which is now up for sale at an asking price of $14.15 million.

Previously, Studio DB did projects for clients rather than spec redevelopment.

Damian Zunino’s father, Tony Zunino, runs development firm Zuberry Associates with business partner Dick Berry. Tony Zunino and Dick Berry invested in the 15 Willow St. project, Damian Zunino said.

“It was definitely more than we could undertake for ourselves financially. But this was such an opportunity to create something really beautiful,” said Britt Zunino, who also shared our visit to 15 Willow St.

“We realized, ‘We can do this ourselves if we have investors.’ We realized it could make a profit for us,” she said.   

They bought it from nuns for $4.81 million

Allow us to backtrack for a moment and introduce you properly to the Zuninos.

Damian Zunino is a Yale-educated architect whose grandfather, the late Bernhard M. Auer, was the publisher of Time.

Britt Zunino is a designer who attended the Fashion Institute of Technology’s interior design program. Her previous career was professional snowboarding.

The couple and their investors bought 15 Willow St. through an LLC for $4.81 million in 2014, city Finance Department records indicate. The sellers were the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor.

The Catholic nuns had purchased the house in 1987, Finance Department records show. At that time, according to the nuns’ website, the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor were leasing the house next door, 23 Middagh St., from the Diocese of Brooklyn for use as their office.  

It took two years to renovate 15 Willow St. and turn it into a 6,000-plus-square-foot home with five bedrooms and a study.

The city Landmarks Preservation Commission’s approval was needed for alterations to the house’s exterior, such as reinstalling glass in window frames that had been bricked up since the 19th Century.

Construction took 16 months.

Marble mantels and a staircase with a skylight

Workers stripped the building down to the shell and constructed new interiors, with new structural steel beams and steel joists.

They got rid of old staircases and built a sweeping central staircase with a skylight overhead.

They added an elevator — the house didn’t have one.

They installed windows with noise-reducing glass because the house is near the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

The interiors are modern with historic touches like a Greek Revival-style black marble mantel on a gas-burning fireplace in a study that’s part of the house’s master-bedroom suite.

Also, the wood-burning fireplace in the living room has an Italianate-style mantel made of white marble with sculpted figures.

Every detail of the remodeling was carefully considered, right down to the choice of flooring. It’s sealed walnut with a natural look, purchased from a client of Studio DB’s, the Hudson Company, whose lumber mill is in the Hudson Valley town of Pine Plains, N.Y.

Another carefully considered detail: The Zuninos hired Emily Thompson as the landscaper. She does the flowers for the White House.

An elevator, a wine cellar and private parking

If 15 Willow St. goes for its $14.15 million asking price, it will break the record for Brooklyn Heights’ priciest house sale.

There are other, more expensive houses on the market — but the highest-ticket transaction to date in the neighborhood is the $12.5 million sale of nearby 70 Willow St., the house where Truman Capote wrote “In Cold Blood.”

Chris Sheller, the Corcoran Group associate real estate broker with the sale listing for 15 Willow St., who was also at our sit-down, believes the big price tag makes sense for a number of reasons:

* The house is on a corner with windows on three sides that fill 15 Willow St. with natural light.

* It’s 25 feet wide, which is unusually wide for a New York City townhouse and highly sought after by purchasers.

* “Everything inside is brand-new — and so well designed and tastefully done,” Sheller said.

* There is a curb cut, with a parking space for one car behind a wall with a motorized carriage door.

* The house has two roof decks — one with a panoramic view of Lower Manhattan, the other with a hot tub. There’s also a balcony off the kitchen and a rear garden.

* Amenities include the elevator, a screening room and a wine cellar that has space to store and refrigerate more than 300 bottles.

“This house may not be for everyone, but it will be the right house for one person,” Sheller said. “I really think someone will walk in here and fall in love.”

P.S. The Zuninos wound up not buying a house for themselves in Brooklyn. They live in Lower Manhattan’s South Street Seaport area.  


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