"We bought this place, like, five years ago, pretty much at the top of the market," John Linnell confesses of the three-bedroom, two-bathroom attached house in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, he shares with his wife, Karen, and son, Henry.
Linnell, 52, is half of veteran alt-pop duo They Might Be Giants. He's also a longtime Brooklyn resident. He and his family lived a neighborhood away in Park Slope for 10 years prior to buying the two-story, 1,500-square-foot house.
"We were thinking about buying a place the whole time, but we had this great rent-stabilized scene right on the park," Linnell explains. "It was when [Henry, now 12] was at a great age for having a park right across the street. Everything about it was so nice that we just hesitated forever, and when we finally decided to go for it, that's when the market just shot up."
Being priced out of the Slope, they widened their search and fell in love with this residential enclave on the southwest side of the park, made up largely of single-family attached homes from the 1930s.
"This place is only about 10 blocks from where we were, and still close to the park," Linnell says.
He and his wife bought it in largely turnkey condition but made a few renovations. They removed a wall dividing the living and dining room to create a fluid, loft-like space that stretches the entire length of the house, and extended the ceilings throughout to a full 9 feet.
"There was this whole thing where people dropped their ceilings in the '50s for some reason," Linnell says. But in the case of the living/dining room, the floor "slopes from the front to the back. The guys who renovated thought it would look really weird if the ceiling was level and the floor was slanting, so they kind of compromised a little bit. It dips down, but not as much as the floor."
The house, which had been renovated by the previous owners, also has a lush back garden that blocks the noise from the nearby Prospect Expressway and exudes a European sensibility.
"They were two middle-aged gay guys who just had more vision than we had," Linnell says of the former owners. "I know they spent years and years working on [the garden]. They imported a lot of the tiles from Italy. As far as I know, they constructed the koi pond and put the Spanish tiles on top of the detached garage."
But Linnell and his wife have also made a few of their own additions. She has recently taken to gardening and put many potted plants outside, while he reigns over the Weber grill that sits in a corner on the far end of the property.
"The one thing that's a bit of a pain is there's a lot of animals," Linnell says. "There's a lot of raccoons and possums breeding in the back alley behind the property. The raccoons will actually come and knock these plants into the water. There are cats as well, and they're all trying to eat the fish."
These surprisingly rural-like problems seem to be a result of the house's location, on a small sliver of land between Prospect Park and Green-Wood Cemetery. "It's like the wilderness," Linnell jokes, adding, "there are parrots living in the cemetery, breeding like crazy. You'll see them come up here sometimes."
When's he not defending his yard from nature's pesky invaders, Linnell writes songs in his walkout basement, which can be accessed from both the house and garden.
"I think the neighbors are used to the sounds of me singing or screaming down here," Linnell says of his un-soundproofed studio.
For the past two years, he's been banging out tracks (along with bandmate John Flansburgh) for a new album, "Join Us," which was just released by Idlewild/Rounder Records. It marks They Might Be Giants' return to adult music; their last such album was "The Else" in 2007, and they'd been doing kids' albums off and on for the last decade. To celebrate, TMBG are playing a free show on the Williamsburg waterfront on July 29.
But Linnell isn't the only one in his family with musical talent. "My son takes his piano lessons down here [in the studio], and my wife plays the Scottish fiddle," he says.
Linnell is also a collector of rare instruments. "I bought this Marxophone in Petaluma, Calif., in a wonderful guitar shop there," he says. "It's not a very well-known instrument, but it's used on the Doors song 'Whiskey Bar.' It's like this 100-year-old instrument that used to be sold door-to-door. It has a sound like a hammered dulcimer."
Linnell, a self-described amateur history buff, spends spare moments filling in a makeshift timeline he's constructed (with little more than tape, construction paper and an assortment of markers) that stretches across the main wall of his living/dining space.
"I know it's kind of geeky, but I thought it would be cool to have the entire history of the universe running across the wall," he says.
John Linnell's favorite things
* The back garden with the koi pond
* The darkroom in the basement
* His music room
* His camera collection
* A painting of Ronald Reagan in a kimono