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Total Converts

The Firehouse
A circa-1900, 5,500-­square-foot former fire station in Williamsburg that the Berkshires-dwelling owners, who converted the building into a three-story home in 1996, now rent as a multiuse space.

Why a firehouse?
Jennifer Capala, co-owner: We were living in the East Village and thinking, “Buy a place? Why not?” Back then, The Village Voice was where you looked for real estate. I picked up a copy and saw an ad for “firehouse in Brooklyn.” How could you not look at that?

What state was it in when you first saw it?
A bit of a wreck. I was peeling cobwebs away. I said, “No way. This is just too much of a project.” My husband fell to his knees and said, “There is no way we cannot get this.” He has a great ability to see the potential of a property, and he felt like the large, open spaces were a blank canvas for creating something simple yet dramatic.

What is the history of the space?
It was built as a firehouse in 1900 and later used as a rag business; I guess the city was selling off some of its real estate during the Depression. At one point, the downstairs was rented to a group of jugglers and circus performers, because they loved the high ceilings.

Illustration by Jason Lee  

What were some of the quirks?
When I say I parted cobwebs down in the basement, there were literally sheets of them down there. Plus piles and piles of rags. The building had an old freight elevator, but we got rid of it. At first we thought we might keep it, but once you get into a project like this, you either have money to do really detailed work or you strip it down and keep it open.

Was there a pole?
No pole. Once we began renovating, however, we found the hole where the pole once was. That’s where we put the spiral staircase.

Do people ever mistake this for a working firehouse?
Every once in a while, the doorbell will ring and there’ll be five or six firemen there. They say, “We know this used to be a firehouse—can we just come in and take a look?”

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