Two Musicians Renovated Their Home to Fit a Baby Grand Piano
Sarah Elizabeth Charles, Jarrett Cherner and the Piano at Home.
Photo: Ty Cole
Last fall, singer Sarah Elizabeth Charles and pianist Jarrett cherner released his album Your, a project they had worked on for over four years. “Our first album together as a duet recording, we finished part of it here” during the lockout, Cherner says. They had the room to work in at their Fort Greene apartment, which they had renovated into a personal and creative space that just happened to be perfect for their pandemic needs.
When they originally looked at it, Charles wasn’t entirely convinced it would work. Since 2015, they had lived together in Crown Heights, in Cherner’s room rental. They needed a music room that could accommodate Cherner’s 1975 Mason & Hamlin grand piano. So they went shopping.
It took a minute. “I spent a lot of time biking in Brooklyn on Saturdays and Sundays,” Charles says. “It wasn’t Jarrett’s favorite thing,” she laughs. “I have probably seen more than 50 apartments.”
One of the things Charles enjoyed about the hunt was seeing how other people approached the renovations. “We saw one where someone put tiles on one side of the tub, and I noticed that if we had an apartment with a tub, I really wanted to do it.
The apartment that ultimately caught Cherner’s attention didn’t immediately sign up as a winner with Charles. It was a walk-up built in the late 1980s, with eight-foot ceilings and oddly mismatched floors. But it was a well-located three bedroom that they could afford, and Cherner had a vision: why not combine two of the bedrooms into a studio?
They enlisted the architect Sarah Jacoby do the renovation. The plan, according to Jacoby, was quite simple: “change the finishes (floor and ceiling), resize the bathroom, open the kitchen, but then the biggest thing was that he needed to bring in his grand piano, which was a challenge. “
In fact, the building was made of concrete, Jacoby said, which meant “suddenly we had to put a steel beam for reinforcement”. Bringing in the piano was a whole different set of problems to be solved. “We hired professional movers to bring the piano up three flights of stairs,” says Cherner. “All M&H pianos have a ‘voltage resonator’ underneath, which adds to the weight. I think the piano weighs around 800 pounds.
Needless to say, they also soundproofed the wall so as not to disturb their neighbors.
The music room today after knocking down a wall and combining two rooms. The wooden mask comes from Zimbabwe. “We played a music festival in Harare together in 2018,” Cherner says. The Miro print Blue II is MoMA.
Photo: Ty Cole
Getting rid of the “popcorn” caps was a big improvement. “I think that’s one of the biggest aesthetic details of the apartment,” Cherner says. Also: “There were three different types of flooring in the apartment. So we removed them all and installed a new wood floor. “
The opening of Jacoby’s kitchen also made a huge difference. But the lightening of the new floors and counters gave new life to the apartment. A contractor wanted to lower the ceiling so he could install overhead lights, but they found a contractor who had done some work in the building and knew that the concrete slabs were hollow, so Cherner was able to drill small holes in them and pass son. to highlight flat LED light.
And they learned a lot about how renovation works in the city. “It was fascinating to realize that the quotes we got for the same job, the highest were six times the lowest, for the same job,” Cherner says. The architect’s recommendation came from her cousin, who had worked with her before, and a close friend of hers, who had gone to school with her at Harvard, which made them feel comfortable. Needing the steel beam was a bit “disappointing,” he says. “This added considerable delay and expense for a civil engineer to draw up plans to place an I-beam on the ceiling to support the cement slabs that make up the ceiling.”
He added: “I’ll say I think I took on the project part-time as well, and so a lot of that cost we ended up saving, you could say I burned that off being the head of project for seven months. I was really practical, I ordered all the supplies, I went to the apartment almost every day.
“With Jarrett running the project,” Charles says, “a lot of blood and sweat and tears went into it all, but he’s kind of our baby in a way.