A Loving Restoration Revives a 1903 Brownstone After a Devastating Fire
Each ornate molding and every old floorboard of his Brooklyn home was music to singer-songwriter Gordon Chambers' eyes. "It's a 1903 brownstone, and I was attracted to the antiquity of it," Gordon says. "When I moved in 21 years ago, I named the house Love Song because of how I felt."
The turn-of-the-20th-century Brooklyn brownstone is rich with history.
Through the decades, the historical structure was home base as Gordon grew his talents through writing and producing songs for artists including Aretha Franklin, Anita Baker, Whitney Houston, and Beyoncé into a burgeoning solo career.
Then disaster struck. A fire destroyed the tenant apartments above Gordon's living spaces and severely damaged the garden and parlor levels of his home. "There was so much drama and confusion, so much that I had to deal with," he says. "I was in grief."
Gordon hired designer Will DuBose, a longtime friend, to renovate the upper levels but was paralyzed when it came to his own home, which sustained major water damage. "I was in denial. I wanted to preserve what I had," Gordon says. "Finally, I realized that I should hire Will to help me with my space. He has a peaceful and kind spirit, and in addition to his design talents, that was what I needed."
Taking charge of the renovation, DuBose found artisan Kevin Perez to re-create the home's classic plaster moldings. Then DuBose brought in updates in the form of fabrics, furniture, hardware, and soft color. He revived its classic bones and introduced a paint scheme with walls in Benjamin Moore "Almond Bisque" to serve as a backdrop for Gordon's collected pieces, including a painting by abstract artist Danny Simmons in the dining room.
"I wanted to pay homage, give love, to what it had been," DuBose says. "At the same time, I wanted to update it. I see it as a mix of old and new that works for how we live today."
Initially, Gordon—still reeling emotionally from the fire—resisted change.
"Will and I had a big argument about the new floor. Will was insisting that we go with a wider-plank herringbone that was going to be more costly," Gordon says, breaking into a smile. "Actually, Will doesn't argue. He just calmly says, 'I think this will be really nice.' Finally, I gave in. I said, 'God will provide.' And it turns out that the wide-plank floor is stunning. It gives the look of a grand old ballroom. It's more beautiful than I could have imagined."
In the entry, gold records and photos of his musical friends line Gordon's staircase.
DuBose brought in new fixtures to show Gordon's mementos in their best light.
A similar scenario played out with the home's new palette. "I'm Jamaican. I would have gone bold," Gordon says. "But Will chose very peaceful colors—calmer, cleaner colors. I didn't understand that at first. But the colors are a great canvas for my art and photos. There are a thousand beiges, and I never cared—until I realized that the beige Will chose has just the right vibration. It doesn't compete. It's not placing artwork on top of artwork like I would have done with walls in a bolder color or a different sheen."
An RH leather sofa offers a comfortable lounging spot beneath an eclectic art arrangement.
Honoring Gordon's collected pieces—the art, photos, and gold records that survived the fire—was one of the linchpins of DuBose's design plan. "I wanted to take these things that are important to him and showcase them," he says. "Having the opportunity to work with a friend and really manifest who he is in his home was special to me."
Ornate plasterwork sets a classic stage for art and fresh furnishings in the living area, including a sofa by Four Hands and sparkling new lighting from RH.
Speakers keep the music flowing next to an armchair by Minotti.
A painting by Mansell Rivers-Bland crowns the fireplace, next to a skateboard by Jean-Michel Basquiat and above two pieces from Gordon's sculpture collection.
Blue subway tile and glass doors put shimmer in Gordon's kitchen. Photographs by Carrie Mae Weems, Malick Sidibé, and Renee Cox join dining essentials on glass display shelves.
The collected pieces are much more than things, the friends agree. They're signposts of Gordon's journey through life. "This house is like a photo album—everything has a story," Gordon says. "I've had a vivid life, and I like to be reminded of people I've known and places I've been. My home holds a lot of memories, and that gives it a warmth."
The significance of the home's soothing embrace became even more evident as the pandemic immobilized New York. Month after month, Gordon was comfortable—and comforted—at home. "Will had said to me, 'After what you've been through, I want to design you a space that gives you peace.' Now I enjoy two floors of beauty and peace."
Gordon works at his "home office," the piano in a nook off the living area.
That feeling also draws others. When people started to emerge for small gatherings, Gordon's house was the first place they came. "It was a blessing for people, a place of refuge," he says. "That really touched me."
The name Gordon chose for his home has truly proved prophetic. "So much love went into remaking this home, and now I feel that love pouring back," he says. "People can feel the love in this space. It really is my Love Song."