A 19th-century house, owners interested in passive house design and an architectural firm came together with a resulting blend of original elements married to modern innovations in a big-city row house.

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The outside of a 19th century Harlem house

MESH Architectures led the design for this original Brownstone building in New York City. While the façade looks like others in the Harlem area, it’s been restored bottom to top. Walls and roofing are air sealed and insulated with ample blown-in cellulose insulation for energy efficiency.

Related: The United States’ first Passive Plus House generates nearly all the energy it needs

A home theatre set-up with a large window and red décor all around

Inside, the cellar was converted into a home gym and media area. The main floor houses the kitchen and dining room that open into the back patio space. One floor up, the parlor level features the living room and library. The master bedroom and home office/guest room are located on the third floor, with four bedrooms on the fourth floor. 

A living room with a long sofa in front of a fireplace and windows in the far distance

Each level was modernized with innovative HVAC systems that constantly filter air to provide fresh air for the residents. The systems are ultra energy-efficient, leaving behind a minimal environmental footprint. 

A kitchen area with a granite island and white cabinets

Although brought up to date in terms of passive design standards, the team put significant effort into retaining elements of the original 1800s era home. The process involved repairing the extensive original woodwork around the windows, doors, stairs and fireplaces, while updating the home at the same time. 

A dining room area with white shelves and cupboards and a wooden table with three chairs in front of it

The hybrid interior design is seen throughout the space with fixtures that are a blend of new and historical. While the kitchen was completely remodeled for the modern era, some doors were recycled by relocating them in order to salvage them. 

A bed room with three rectangle windows against the wall and a blue chair in the corner

“This house is an integration of old and new. It is airy and clean, and it responds directly to the needs of a modern urban family,” said MESH Principal Eric Liftin. “We emphasized the social space of the kitchen/dining room/yard, while making a special effort to preserve the historical elements of the house. The house is full of recent building science technology, yet it feels like a serene, historic Harlem row house. We were happy to learn that the clients had already learned about passive house construction before we met them.”

Although a row house by design, the retrofitting of energy-efficient technology stands as an example of what’s possible for home renovations in the name of zero-emission futures for both existing and new architecture. 

+ MESH Architectures 

Photography by Frank Oudeman