When a Family Transforms with Design-Forward Plans


The renovation trifecta creates the perfect home

The search for a new home would be one this couple could renovate to their specifications. When the family of five purchased their 1,800-square-foot home in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, they would live in the space for 10 months. After the approvals came through, their vision for how they’d live in the space was set including an open concept living area and a larger master bathroom. They posted their project on Sweeten, and with the help of their architect Jessica Wetters and Sweeten general contractor, they hit the winning combination—a creative design flow, communication, and flexibility. And their solution to hiding their tv? Brilliant!

dining room

“After” photos by Pixy Interiors for Sweeten

Guest blog post by Sweeten homeowner

When we purchased our apartment, we knew that we were going to renovate it.  As someone who loves design, I saw the potential and welcomed the opportunity to take a space and figure out how to best make it work for our family of five including three boys (and two dogs). I did not, however, anticipate we would be undertaking a full gut renovation—and while we had renovated before, those projects were a much smaller scope.

Before we closed on our apartment, we began working with our architect Jessica Wetters on how to change the layout of the apartment. The plan was to open it up and improve the light and flow. The living spaces would be connected as well as add a bedroom and a half-bathroom. It was clear to our architect that the apartment required a full-gut renovation and that little could be saved. After a few rounds of revising the plans, we arrived at a layout that achieved our objectives.  

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Before we found Sweeten, we began working with a contractor on the budget for the project and costs kept going up. We were at the point where we were cutting parts of the project that were important to us (like millwork) and making compromises we weren’t comfortable with in order to stay within budget. I decided to post our project on Sweeten. It would allow me to add more cost estimates into the mix with their network of general contractors and see if I had unrealistic expectations. 

Sweeten matched us with three contractors, but after interviewing this general contractor, I knew he was the one for our project. Not only did he assure us that he could get us everything we wanted within our budget, but he promised that he would minimize the disruption to our lives and work with our aggressive timeline.   

As soon as we hired him, things moved quickly and once we had all of the necessary approvals, we moved into a rental apartment. Demolition began in February and work was completed over the summer. 

High end kitchen cabinet

The first decision we made was the kitchen. I knew I wanted a Henrybuilt kitchen. I love the functionality and feel of our kitchen. We also planned for a black wall in the living room using huge porcelain tile slabs to camouflage our TV and it turned out even better than I expected. I researched industrial factory doors to connect the living room and bedrooms, but it was over-budget (even the reclaimed factory doors I saw were $7,000+) so I had a door made with a similar look for a small fraction of the cost.

powder room(Above) Newly-built powder room

In addition to opening up the kitchen, foyer, and living room, we enlarged the size of our master bathroom and added closets in unused space in the master bedroom. Throughout the apartment, we replaced the hardwood floors, skim coated the walls, replaced the trim, replaced all of the lighting, and added millwork.

Even though we lived there without a kitchen which wasn’t optimal, there was no question that it would be worth it in the end. 

When I told our Sweeten contractor that our rental ended in June and that we wanted to move back in before the apartment was completed, he worked with us to allow us to do that—despite his strong recommendation that we hold off moving in. Even though we lived there without a kitchen which wasn’t optimal—his crew set up a refrigerator in the middle of the apartment—there was no question that it would be worth it in the end. 

 

When a couple of unexpected structural issues were discovered during demo that required changes to the layout, our contractor immediately contacted our architect and me and proposed solutions that ended up improving the project. Issues that could have induced panic and delays were addressed efficiently and proactively. Our contractor, our architect, and I met at the apartment nearly every week to discuss progress and make decisions to ensure that the project kept moving forward on schedule.  

We are thrilled with the results. We achieved exactly the look and feel we were going for and I firmly believe that the process went as smoothly and efficiently as it did, thanks to our contractor, his crew, and our architect.  

Thank you for sharing your design vision and renovation with us!

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KITCHEN RESOURCES: Cabinets and materials/stain: Henrybuilt. Sink: Signature Hardware. Faucet: KWC. Refrigerator: Sub-Zero. Dishwasher: Miele. Stove, range hood: Wolf. Lighting: Lambert & Fils. Bar stools: Hay.

POWDER ROOM RESOURCES: Floor tile: Artistic Tile. Wall tile: Global Stone Marble. Purist Collection hardware: Kohler. Sink/vanity: Nameeks. Mirror: Rejuvenation. Toilet: Toto. Lighting: Flos.

BATHROOM RESOURCES (vertical tile): Toilet: Toto. Floor tile: The Builder Depot. Bathroom wall tile: Floor & Decor. Shower fixtures & hardware: Trinsic Collection by Delta. Tub: Kohler. Sink & vanity: Wayfair. Shower doors: Alpha Glass. Light fixture: Matteo Lighting. Vanity mirror medicine cabinet: Restoration Hardware.

BATHROOM RESOURCES (walk-in shower): Toilet: Toto.  Floor & wall tiles: Carraratiles.com. Stillness Collection shower fixtures and hardware: Kohler. Shower doors: Alpha Glass. Sink: Nameeks. Light fixture: Sonneman.

LIVING ROOM RESOURCES: Black wall tile: Porcelanosa.

LIVING AREAS RESOURCES: Wooden flooring: Madera. Glass door leading to bedrooms: Upstate Door. Washer/dryer: Electrolux.

BEDROOM RESOURCES: Pendant lighting: Moooi. Sconces: Flos.

To stay or to go during a remodel? Six Sweeten homeowners recount the pros and cons of each.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation with Sweeten.



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A Harlem Kitchen Designed with Nostalgic Notes


Storage and lighting add to the home, sweet home quotient

harlem kitchen renovation, kitchen renovation, Sweeten kitchen renovation

“After” photos by Kate Glicksberg for Sweeten

Project: Refreshing an ineffective Harlem kitchen a family has outgrown

Before: When Andréa and her husband purchased an early 1900s four-story brownstone in Harlem, the plan was to rent the top two apartments and live in the 2-bedroom, 2 ½ bath duplex. For a long time, the place felt “soooo big.” That is, until the couple started their family. Now, with an 11-year-old son, a 9-year-old daughter, cat, Romeo, and her husband’s ever-growing record collection, Andréa said, “It started feeling claustrophobic.” 

Sweeten renovator, Sweeten home renovator

The first space in their Harlem home she wanted to tackle: the kitchen. “It’s where I spend a lot of time,” says Andréa. “It was so cluttered and dim. I didn’t enjoy cooking at all. I remember balancing pans on top of each other while making dinner.”

Storage was clearly an issue. “First of all, the shelves in our cabinets weren’t adjustable—so we couldn’t even store cereal boxes or olive oil or anything taller than about eight inches. So we just had a ton of stuff on the counters or on top of the fridge.”

before and after kitchen, kitchen renovation, Harlem kitchen renovation

Appliances ate into counter space as well. “We had this massive microwave that took up an entire baking station, so we lost workspace there, too.” And then there was the lighting. “We had this one dim light that didn’t even light up the area by the sink. We always felt like we were working in the dark. And our dishwasher was dying.”

The two had an unpleasant experience with a master bath reno 12 years ago (Andréa says the contractor took their money and disappeared). This time, they posted their Harlem kitchen renovation project on Sweeten, a free renovation platform that connects homeowners with vetted contractors, and they were immediately impressed.

“I felt like the Sweeten contractor we chose offered the best price for the job,” she said. “His team is very efficient and punctual. It’s great to have someone show up when they say they will and finish on time!”

After: 

Although the same 450-square-footprint was retained, their Harlem kitchen was expanded a few feet by knocking down a wall and opening up space for a bar/counter and pantry. 

before and after kitchen, white kitchen, kitchen renovation, Harlem kitchen renovation

Besides improving storage and lighting, Andréa knew the look and style she wanted from their kitchen renovation. “I’m from California, and I miss it all the time—the weather, the sky, the ocean. So I picked colors that reminded me of my hometown of Morro Bay and also the Bay area, where I went to college,” she said. “I liked the idea of gray cabinets. My mom recently did her kitchen in all white, and after two years, it was already showing use. It seemed impractical with two kids.”

The gray stock cabinets reminded her of fog around the ocean (“a win-win”). And the paint, kind of a peach color, was like sunsets—“a soothing combination.”  Even the grout color between white subway tiles has a little peach in it. She felt a quartz countertop was a nice balance. 

before and after kitchen, white kitchen, kitchen renovation, Harlem kitchen renovation

Andréa loves tea, and she has some beautiful blue Fortnum and Mason (a brand based in London) tins, which also reinforced the blue accents. “It’s kind of Jamaica-meets-Miami-meets-Cali-meets-London,” she says.

Andréa says that their contractor’s wife, Suzy, also helped make sure everything went smoothly. “Suzy was a godsend,” says Andrea. “We had a pretty firm budget and I felt like she worked very hard to stay in it without pushing for more expensive stuff or using cheap things. It was a very nice middle ground.”

And the result? A huge success. “I love the whole feel of (the new space),” says Andréa. “The colors are really inviting, and the cabinets make it feel bigger, even though it’s basically the same square footage. Of course, the kitchen is so beautiful, now we want to update everything in the house!”

Bonus: “I love my undercabinet lighting,” she says. “It wasn’t originally in the plans. It was an addition during the reno that has made a huge difference. Also—my hidden recycling bins!”

Thank you, Andréa and your family, for sharing your new kitchen with us!

KITCHEN RESOURCES: Nickel Kitchen cabinets: Fabuwood. Sink/Faucet: Ruvati. Dishwasher: Bosch. Lighting: West Elm. Paint: Benjamin Moore.

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Check out Sweeten’s 2020 Kitchen Renovation Costs in NYC guide and start exploring for your future kitchen renovation.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation on Sweeten.



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A Rowhouse Prepares as a Multigenerational Home


Making a whole-family (separate but together) space comfortable for everyone

Respected schools and green space are standard wants for families looking to upgrade from an apartment to a house. However, this Brooklyn couple had an additional need when searching for a single-family home: multigenerational space for an aging parent. Nadia and Stephen’s daughter, Charlotte, was three years old when the pair of management consultants launched their search. They were coming from a comfortable brownstone apartment they’d rented for almost 12 years. But their family was growing in a way that’s becoming more common among “sandwich generation” members and they needed to make space for an important addition to the household: Stephen’s mother. 

Their search for a multigenerational space led them to the South Slope/Greenwood Heights area, where they found this 2,030-square-foot brick rowhouse. Built in 1901, the three-story building needed work, but suited the needs of all four family members. The house was in a good school zone and even had a small backyard for Charlotte and the family dog, Sake, to play. The pair posted the project on Sweeten, a free service that connects renovating homeowners with vetted general contractors. They soon found a general contractor who would create a living space for three generations under one roof. 

kitchen, multigenerational kitchen, kitchen island, construction, home renovation

“After” photos by Pixy Interiors for Sweeten

Guest blog post by Sweeten homeowner Nadia

The truth is we had a long list of desires when it came to buying our first home together. We wanted a house that was true to the time it was built, but clean and crisp and modernized. We bought it knowing that it needed a renovation, and as such lined up our contractor as we were finalizing the purchase. We wanted to start our renovation within a week of the closing and pay both mortgage and rent for no more than eight weeks. 

Because Stephen’s mother was moving in with us, and she is unable to manage stairs, we needed a first-floor space for her. The house was a two-family home, with an upstairs apartment that was separate from the garden-level duplex. We decided to create a single-family house using the parlor level as entertaining space, allowing us to live separately, but together.

portrait, NYC, Brooklyn, construction, home renovation

I have a background in interior design and Stephen has renovation experience, but this was for both of us our first construction project in New York City. Our vision was of a house that would feel contiguous but not too chopped up and not sterile. To that end, we drew lines with a well-curated mix of surfaces, and the outcome is fantastic. 

The house most needed a revamp on the garden and top floors along with proper bedrooms and a full-house fire/CO2 monitoring system. Our plan was to tear out the existing fake-wood flooring on both levels and replace it with hardwood, and save the original floors on the parlor level. We chose a dark-wood flooring with a hand-scraped finish that was not ridiculously expensive. We needed it to hold up to kids, dogs, a walker, and it really has. 

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On the garden level where my mother-in-law has her own apartment, the foyer was updated with full marble slabs on the walls and floor. In the back, the laundry room got a better egress to the backyard. Additionally, it functions as a mudroom with custom cabinetry and a pull-down drying rack where we can hang wet clothes. The bathroom received a simple replacement of fixtures and a coat of paint which changed it completely.

It’s amazing how much the wrap-around pantry holds.

The existing kitchen was L-shaped with very little counter space and a mobile dishwasher. As a big cooking family, we are very heavy users of the kitchen. By shifting the main kitchen to one wall—including a dishwasher, wall oven, and a larger sink—it provided space for an island, a wrap-around pantry, and dining table.

pantry, kitchen pantry, wraparound pantry, kitchen, multigenerational kitchen, construction, home renovation

It’s amazing how much the wrap-around pantry holds. Since it’s the other main kitchen wall, we could only fit 12″-15″ deep cabinets. Instead of upper and lowers, we installed full-height 15″ upper cabinets and are able to store an enormous amount of pantry and serving items. The cabinet finishes are white and acacia and topped with a highly durable quartz surface including a big, walk-around island. 

Heading up to the parlor floor, we removed the stair runner and painted the stair treads, risers, balusters, and spindles in one color. We used the black paint in a flat finish on the stair boards, and a pearl finish on the railings for extra luster.

The bathroom gut reno on the top floor focused on creating a stand-up shower. Stephen and I travel a lot for work and have huge pet peeves. We wanted to turn on the water without getting wet and have a shelf or bench to put a foot upon or sit on. We chose a glass surround with a frameless structure to make the room feel as open as possible. The custom vanity is made of walnut, with four drawers that maximize countertop and storage space. It all fits nicely in a tiny-but-functional 5’ x 8’ bathroom space. 

 

We ended up skim coating almost the entire house, and our Sweeten contractor worked miracles on the original plaster that was uneven and had an unappealing, thick texture. It gave us a lot more understanding of how hard it really is to properly repair plaster so that it looks like new!

The most difficult part of the renovation was the last six weeks, when we were living in the house, still under construction, with a three-year-old. Living in a space being renovated is challenging and exhausting, but our contractor staged the work so we could move in, and the crew became like family! It’s doable if you have fully functioning bathrooms and kitchen. Sweeten assisted throughout, from matching us with a contractor to providing a full bid review, and checking in about issues or concerns.

In the end, we increased the scope of what we wanted to do significantly and our costs grew—but we got it all done in the range of $100 to $150 per square foot. Doing it simultaneously means that now we can enjoy our home and our time together as a multigenerational family.

Thank you, Nadia and Stephen, for sharing your new home with us!

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KITCHEN RESOURCES: Wall paint in OC20 Pale Oak; trim paint in Oxford White 869 in pearl: Benjamin MooreCeiling paint in ProMar 400 Interior Latex: Sherwin Williams. Wooden floors in 5″ pearl finish Baroque White Oak: Vintage Flooring. Cabinets & cabinet hardware: Ikea. Countertops in Calacatta Miel Quartz: Quartz Master. Backsplash in Sicis Vetrite Tela Grey 8×24: Tile Depot NY.  Undermount 24x18x10” sink: Kohler. Faucet in Arctic Stainless: Delta Faucet. French door fridge: LG. 800 Series dishwasher, range & speed oven: Bosch. Lighting track: WAC Lighting.

BATHROOM RESOURCES: Calacatta floor tile; Azuma DG 2×2 shower floor tile; 3×12 wall tile: Tile Depot NY. Hardware, shower fixtures, sink, and vanity: Kohler. Toilet: Toto. Bova 3 vanity light; Aero Pure Low CFM Energy Star ceiling fan; Paloma faucet: Wayfair. Vanity mirror/medicine cabinet; mirror: Ikea. Wall paint in OC20 Pale Oak in matte; trim paint: Oxford White 869 in pearl: Benjamin Moore.  Ceiling paint in ProMar 400 Extra White in matte: Sherwin Williams.

BEDROOM RESOURCES: 52″ Cedarton 5 Blade LED ceiling fan with remote: Wayfair. Wooden floors in 5″ pearl finish Baroque White Oak: Vintage Flooring. Wall paint in OC20 Pale Oak in matte; trim paint in Oxford White 869 in pearl: Benjamin Moore. Ceiling paint in ProMar 400 Extra White in matte: Sherwin Williams.

LAUNDRY AREA RESOURCES: Washer/dryer Combo: LG. Contemporary 2 floor tile in silver: Tile Depot NY. Reider 1-Light LED Flush Mount light: Wayfair.

LIVING ROOM & DINING ROOM RESOURCES: Wall paint in Revere Pewter: Benjamin Moore. Ceiling paint in ProMar 400 Extra White in matte: Sherwin Williams. 

Sweeten founder and CEO weighs in on what to know before renovating a brownstone.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation on Sweeten.



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A Historic Brownstone Bath Remodel Stays True to Its Roots


On-trend? No. On point? Absolutely.

classic bathroom remodel in BrooklynProject: Bring a vintage pink-and-black bathroom into modern-day while keeping it classic.

Before: For Peggy and Jack, renovating the master bath in their circa late-1800s brownstone in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, was an easy decision: they had leaks in the bathroom that couldn’t be ignored anymore. They were nearing the end of their twins’, Cayley and Sam, college careers so they could refocus their financial commitments. The outdated pink-and-black tile and the oddly-placed shower also contributed to the necessary overhaul. They wanted to modernize their Brooklyn bathroom, but not load it with trendy design statements that’d be “out” in a few years. 

renovator portrait

Before bath remodel pink tileTheir brownstone is configured as an owner-occupied triplex and basement rental unit—and they have grand plans for the historic building in the future. “ We have a multigenerational plan for living in our house, so we aren’t concerned about short-term resale maximization,” says Peggy. “We wanted to stay true to the spirit and look of the classic brownstone style, but update the bathroom with a water-efficient toilet and fixtures.” 

After: “The idea was to have this renovation be fine for decades,” says Peggy. “We wanted something classic, electrical and plumbing up to code, and environmentally friendly but that would respect the aesthetic of our centenarian house.” Installing safety compliant features like easy tub access, grab bars, and non-slip flooring was also a priority. 


They posted their project on Sweetena free renovation platform that matches homeowners with licensed general contractors and tracks their projects, and found the right contractor for their Brooklyn bathroom renovation project. 

They originally planned to move the tub under the window, which had been done with their kids’ bathroom a few years ago.  “We like to take baths, and were motivated to expand floor space and have the window view when soaking,” said Peggy. “However, we realized that also meant we couldn’t have grab bars on a  window wall.” 

Their Sweeten contractor referred them to a designer, who then consulted on the space’s layout. The designer suggested leaving the tub in place and moving the toilet to make more space for a larger vanity. Good advice! The end result of the renovation is undeniable: “It’s clean, fresh, serene…and has no leaks!” The couple also used six inches of space behind the shower wall for building in double storage niches.

Bonus: They repurposed their hallway mirror for their bathroom, since it had the vintage feel they wanted. 

Style finds: Vanity: build.com. Hardware: Miele. Bathroom floor tile: Classic Tile. Paint: Benjamin Moore.

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Check out other small bathroom renovations here.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, and scope, helping until project completion. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation.



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An Odd-shaped Kitchen Leads a Co-op Refresh


Smart upgrades for the kitchen and bathroom solve pesky problems

When Ryan, an editor, and Sophie, a paralegal, envisioned their renovation, they knew they needed to address the problems they inherited from the “quick and dirty reno” completed in 2009, the year Ryan bought the apartment. The advantage of waiting years to renovate? “It was abundantly clear how we utilized the kitchen,” says Ryan, adding “I had 10 years to save up because even a modest renovation like this one isn’t cheap in NYC!” In their 750-square foot, prewar one-bedroom on the Upper West Side, the partners agreed that the odd-shaped kitchen needed rearranging to take advantage of every square inch; and the bathroom required rescuing from a “South Florida Grandma aesthetic.”

To tackle the project, they posted on Sweeten, a free renovation platform that matches homeowners with licensed general contractors and tracks their projects, and chose their contractor

kitchen-white-cabinets-bar seating-remodel

Guest blog post by Sweeten homeowner Ryan

Whoever designed the last renovation really did not think things through. In the kitchen, which is an odd trapezoidal space, the priority was maximizing both storage and counter space, and minimizing clutter. For instance, there was a 24-inch soffit between the top of the cabinets and the ceiling that was just empty space. So we knew we’d need cabinets extending to the ceiling.

renovators portrait-new york city

The sink was on a diagonal resulting in a large dead space. And the refrigerator was a huge obstruction at the back of the room and the first thing you see when you enter the foyer. Its positioning made the kitchen seem smaller and it just needed to find a new spot. We weren’t sure if that was possible.

The bathroom was small and dark with very little natural light. The vanity was made of builder-grade particle board that had swollen with moisture, and the medicine cabinet protruded. We were intent on transforming the look and feel of the bathroom—even the toilet was pink! The living room got a refresh with repainted walls, a replastered ceiling, and new sconce lighting.

The contractor’s millworker was about twice the cost of Ikea and Cabinets.com, but still about $5,000 less than the cabinets in the next price tier.

For the kitchen, I paid for a one-hour consult with Clare, a designer at 121 Studio, while still planning everything out. While she was expensive at $450 an hour, the cost was well worth it. The designer suggested moving the refrigerator to the corner and relocating the doorway to accommodate the fit. That might seem obvious in retrospect, but to me, it was a revelation. 

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We went with custom cabinets so everything would look integrated. The odd-shaped kitchen space came with difficult angles, pipes, and protrusions. We went to Ikea to experiment with a layout, but couldn’t get their premade boxes to fit in a satisfactory way. I also tried Cabinets.com, which had more options in terms of box sizes, but I worried the boxes wouldn’t be delivered in time.

The contractor’s millworker was about twice the cost of Ikea and Cabinets.com, but still about $5,000 less than the cabinets in the next price tier. He was able to build boxes that accommodated the kitchen’s unusual dimensions.

The kitchen floor tile came from the designer, during our consult. I asked her specifically what I should get since I was stumped by all the options. She recommended black slate tile: durable, attractive, and cheap. Her basic ethos was “make it look expensive without being expensive.” 

The backsplash, on the other hand, was a splurge. We always wanted scallop tiles. Initially, we envisioned a teal color but we realized it was just too loud. So we went with a scalloped tile in muted but varied gray tones. The countertop was another more expensive finish: Empira White featured veining we really liked that complemented the backsplash.

 

Sophie wanted slab cabinets without any pulls, and I agreed. By then, I was really suffering from decision fatigue and didn’t have the wherewithal to evaluate the merits of different cabinet hardware!

Sophie chose the kitchen to be clean and streamlined, whereas I wanted the bathroom to have quirkier touches. I put together a sort of mood board where we considered a bunch of looks like intricate marble mosaics, but marble stains and needs a lot of upkeep. Plus, our contractor recommended we get large-format tile, due to some peculiarities of the wall.

We ultimately chose 36”x36” glazed porcelain tile that looks like marble at about $4/square foot, which was pretty reasonable, especially since we tiled up to the ceiling. It also worked well on the floor given the bathroom’s size constraints.

The vanity was more of a splurge, but I justified it because I hadn’t seen other vanities quite like it. And it fit. A 25-inch vanity would have been too small, and a 30-inch vanity would have been crammed in. The Goldilocks vanity needed to be between 25 to 30 inches, but powder room vanities sit comfortably within that range. I just had to pay twice what I’d initially budgeted. 

remodeled bathroom-white-porcelain tile

The renovation itself mostly went off without a hitch, from getting board approval to designing it to seeing the project through to completion. Our contractor helped a lot with the paperwork. Between the management company and the board, there were A LOT of forms that I needed to put together. Luckily, the contractor had worked in the building before, which is one of the reasons I hired him. 

The contractor was really good at keeping me in the loop and letting me know what was happening and when. Managing and communicating expectations is a big part of a successful partnership. Have a plan before you hire a contractor, know what you want and why you want it, so you’ll have a better idea of where to compromise with your decisions and where not to.

During the renovation, my downstairs neighbor was particularly helpful. She winters in Florida, and let us stay in her apartment, meaning we didn’t have to find a place to crash. I work from home most days, so I could stay in the building and check out the renovation throughout the day to make sure we were adhering to the plan. Also, I didn’t have to find a place to board my cat, Titus.

Besides the clean look, I love how our new kitchen is all integrated. From a functionality standpoint, I’m very pleased with its usability. It easily accommodates two people working at the same time, has tons of storage space and counter space, yet still seems open.

Thank you, Sophie and Ryan, for sharing our journey with us!

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KITCHEN RESOURCES: Cabinetry: Custom by general contractor. Cabinet hardware: Amerock. Countertops in Empira White: Caesarstone. Backsplash in Ogee Drop: Fireclay Tile. Sink: Kraus. Faucet: Moen. Refrigerator: Bosch. Stove: Bertazzoni. Microwave: Whirlpool. Flooring in Montauk Black Slate: MSI. 

LIVING ROOM RESOURCES: Paint in Sweet Spring: Benjamin Moore. Light sconces: Restoration Hardware. 

BATHROOM RESOURCES: Wall, floor, and shower tile in Antico Ivory: MSI. Vanity and sink: Restoration Hardware. Faucet, shower fixtures, and medicine cabinet: Kohler. Light fixture: Shades of Light. Toilet: Toto. 

Sweeten founder and CEO weighs in on what to know before renovating a brownstone.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation on Sweeten.



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A Renovated Railroad Apartment Makes Sense for a Home Office


Remodeling for when one room leads to the next and the next

dining room

“After” photos by Pixy Interiors for Sweeten

For every homeowner, there are certain household features that just aren’t negotiable: from space layout to square footage and modern features. Some owners are willing to do whatever it takes to make sure their home matches their preferences which was certainly true for Lavanya and Regis, a couple who had to try (and try again) before finding a space that truly felt like home.

They had sold an apartment that she had loved, and proceeded to buy and move into another that they both really disliked. Lavanya, the executive producer for Artifex Productions, a New York City-based production company, decided to give it another try, saying, “We were on the hunt for something like the old place.” 

The renewed search was for a railroad-style layout with distinct spaces that could serve different purposes for home and business activities. When she and her partner Regis, who manages an NYC-based restaurant, and Frankie, their 11-year-old Jack Russell terrier, saw it, they knew it was the one. They snapped up the place, posted their project onto Sweeten, a free renovation platform connecting homeowners with vetted general contractors, and quickly found a contractor with the chops to help them implement their vision for their unusually-shaped home. 

floor plans

The long-skinny layout, which was introduced in New York City in the mid-19th century and is also referred to as a “floor-through,” is known for its small, narrow rooms. However, with some help, it can become the perfect layout for a couple with at least one work-at-homer. Lavanya knew from the first apartment she and her husband had that a long, rambling railroad-style flat could be configured to create a private office for her to work in without feeling like the rest of their home life was overlapping with her space.

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They found their new apartment in South Park Slope, Brooklyn. The two-bedroom condo was 700 square feet and, as is typical, stretched from the front of the prewar building, built around 1910, to its rear. One thing railroad-style apartments are known for is the immodest “bathtub in the kitchen.” Although their new apartment didn’t feature one of those, the overall layout still didn’t fit the couple’s day-to-day needs.

When Lavanya and Regis signed their Sweeten contractor, they understood that they would need a six-month renovation to cover work across multiple rooms. To begin with, the condo was strangely configured: the master bedroom was at the apartment’s back end, far from the bathroom, and next to it was the dining area, which, as the former owners had it arranged, was separated from the living area by the kitchen. To the couple, the apartment’s arrangement felt backward. 

To help the couple, their contractor recommended Jennifer Levy of CAVdesign Interiors to make sense of the space they were working with and create the right flow that would work for them. The team decided to flip the layout so that the area that had been the living room would become their bedroom. The rear bedroom, which was large, would become a living area and office. 

[P]ocket and barn doors…saved a ton of space and made our whole home feel modern and cool.

The kitchen had issues, including old, honey-colored wood cabinets and a layout that was far from its efficient capacity. The floors throughout the apartment were uneven and stained a reddish color which felt outdated. Their goal was to make the main rooms bright and airy by integrating glossy white-painted wood floors, built-in storage, and recessed lighting on dimmers.

Next up for redesign was the bathroom. The tub had been shoved into a corner and closed off by an unattractive partial wall, creating a very narrow and dark opening. The toilet and sink were installed too close together and the bathroom had minimal storage. Ultimately, the duo wanted to reconfigure the room to create a more spacious, spa-like environment. 

soaking tub

Their Sweeten contractor installed solid oak wood floors and painted the planks with a high-performance floor paint. They ran into challenges while updating the lighting when the electricians realized that installing the dimmable lighting would require replacing the wiring to bring it to code. This ended up creating many new holes in the walls, which then needed to be patched and skim coated putting the project behind schedule. One bright consolation was the brand new dimmer switches—one of their favorite features.

The kitchen was a success without many problems to solve. The contractor suggested hiding the refrigerator, freezer, and dishwasher behind panels that matched the cabinetry. The room was spacious enough that their new washer and dryer found their place behind a closet without conflict. The finishing touches included handmade tiles for the backsplash and a custom butcher-block counter.

Lavanya was especially excited about the closets custom-designed for the bedrooms, with sliding shoe racks to accommodate her self-professed “footwear addiction.” That organizational theme continued on many of the interior thresholds with pocket and barn doors; this idea, which their contractor embraced, saved significant space and made their whole home feel modern and stylish.

 

The bathroom redesign was a creative collaboration between Lavanya and Regis who enjoyed both the planning process and end result. They opted for a hand-poured concrete floor and custom cabinets, along with luxurious hand-made tiles for the shower and a deep, cast-iron soaking bathtub (a non-negotiable for the couple.) New shower fixtures, including a rain showerhead, a towel heater, and a dimmable backlit mirror pulled it all together. 

Every step of the way, their Sweeten contractor was fantastic: “Relaxed and professional from the outset, he helped me stay calm, even when delays and surprise expenses came up. The electricians and plumbers were exceptional as well,” said Lavanya. During the renovation, their contractor came up with ideas to keep costs at the right place and also substituted some expensive ideas with affordable ones.

“We love our gleaming floors and the brightness of the rooms, and our beautiful, modern bathroom. It’s like we live in a white palace!” Lavanya shared. 

Thank you, Lavanya and Regis, for sharing your space with us!

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LIVING AREA RESOURCES: Corotech floor paint in Bone, wall paint in China White: Benjamin Moore. Ceiling fan: The Home DepotDimmers: Lutron.

KITCHEN RESOURCES: Ringhult kitchen cabinets: IKEA. Brushed steel cabinet hardware: Sugastune. Craft-Art American Cherry butcher-block countertops: Specialty Kitchens. Foundation Brick Paper Matte backsplash tile: Ann Sacks. Faucet: Grohe. Sink: Kohler. Refrigerator and dishwasher: Blomberg. Range: KitchenAid.

BATHROOM RESOURCES: Savoy Ricepaper wall tiles: Ann Sacks. Soaking tub: Toto. Rainshower and tub faucet fixtures: Hansgrohe. Toilet: Whitehaus. Sink: Toto. Faucet: Grohe. Vanity: Robern. Countertop: Corian. Hardware: Sugastune. Towel heater: Myson. Mirror and lighting: Custom. Shower curtain track: Ocelco Hospital.

Sweeten founder and CEO weighs in on what to know before renovating a brownstone.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation on Sweeten.



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Before & After: Kitchen Edition


A successful kitchen renovation isn’t measured by the number of walls knocked down or the size of a kitchen island. Instead, it’s the thoughtful details and design elements culled over time from Pinterest and the hours of research on materials coming to life that brings the joy for a lifestyle that finally fits you and your family.

Here we look at 11 kitchens renovated by homeowners who came to Sweeten, a free renovation platform that matches homeowners with licensed general contractors and tracks their projects. Some were major transformations removing walls, creating built-ins, and adding new windows, while others proved that smart improvements in space efficiency, updated materials, and renewed layouts gave them the overall refreshes they wanted. 

From outdated to classic gray

After living on Long Island for many years, Rosalind and Lawrence were ready to downsize and return to their beloved former hometown of Brooklyn. They purchased a 100-year-old home in Cypress Hills and slowly started renovating the outdated spaces. After refreshes of two bathrooms, a staircase, and a walk-in closet were complete, they decided to turn their attention to the kitchen.

The main problem besides the yellow walls, dated wooden cabinets, and orange-tiled backsplash, was the lack of storage. Rosalind was forced to store her larger appliances like the slow cooker and mixer in the living room. So, with the help of a Sweeten contractor, the couple reimagined their layout and added a kitchen island that doubles as storage as well as a convenient gathering spot. Rosalind chose gray tones throughout and accented them with interesting geometric shapes.


Same layout, more storage

Shoko and Rob really liked their 900-square-foot apartment in Harlem, New York. The only thing that gnawed at them was the “orange-y cabinetry, shiny black appliances, and brown countertop.” So they decided to take the plunge and redo the small kitchen. 

They did their research and found information from designer Keren Richter on how to make the most of their cook space and turned to Sweeten to execute their vision. In addition to overhauling the look of the kitchen, they wanted to improve the flow and functionality with more storage as their top goal. Their original kitchen didn’t take advantage of the ceiling height so they extended the new upper cabinetry to get as close as possible to the ceiling. In all, they were able to create a minimalist style yet warm space to cook in and entertain.


Dark and dated to contemporary chic

How do you make a house feel more like a loft apartment? First, you open up the layout so that you have an unobstructed sightline across the first floor. For Romuald and his family, this meant tearing down a wall between the kitchen and the main living space. To regain the storage space lost by removing the cabinets on that wall, they decided to do what many do: build an island. 

They also added other design touches to fit into their cooking-centric lives. Their Sweeten contractor suggested they install an “appliance garage” to make their countertop less cluttered. Being avid cooks, Romuald and his wife have a lot of small appliances, including a toaster, coffee maker, and mixer, that would be nicely concealed—but yet easily accessible—by this storage solution. They also put in a pot-filler above the stove and a microwave drawer in the island. 

The warm gray cabinets complement the white quartz countertop and the classic subway tile of the backsplash. For ease of cleaning and added durability, Romuald installed a porcelain floor that mimics the look of real wood.


Island design

Veteran renovators Jennifer and Joe always knew their New Jersey apartment wouldn’t be complete without a kitchen remodel. They, like many homeowners, wanted an open-concept layout in order to see the amazing views of the Manhattan skyline, Statue of Liberty, and George Washington Bridge that their apartment affords. 

They asked their Sweeten contractor to knock down a wall to get better sightlines to the wall of windows in their living room. Unfortunately, the entire wall could not be removed as it was load-bearing. So their contractor took down as much of the wall as possible and utilized the rest of the space to house the refrigerator. 

Jennifer and Joe based the design entirely around the marble waterfall island, which features a deep black base with white veins throughout the countertop. The color palette of the entire kitchen plays off the two tones, with glossy black drawers and all-white upper and lower cabinetry as well as a white quartz countertop. Not one detail was spared, from the under-cabinet lighting to the textured backsplash.


Midcentury Scandi meets Italian modern

“I wanted midcentury Scandi meets 70s Italian modern,” says Brooklyn Sweeten homeowner Melissa of her design preference for her kitchen. The co-op building itself had a midcentury vibe so she wanted to continue it inside. 

First things first, her Sweeten contractor removed walls that were blocking off the kitchen from the living area. Once that was complete, natural sunlight bathed the entire apartment. She carefully selected a mix of different materials (matte concrete floor and counters) as well as warmer accents in her textile and paint choices. A built-in shelf intersects over a new peninsula for additional seating. She didn’t move the plumbing (which is an added cost) or change the location of the appliances. 


From the ’80s to modern industrial

For their one-bedroom co-op in a 19th-century converted warehouse, homeowners Dan and Mike wanted to bring their 1980s kitchen into a new era. While they desired a nod to the industrial roots of the building, they did want the aesthetic to be balanced.

They hired a Sweeten contractor to help redefine the space. To create an open floor plan, a wall was removed as well as the upper cabinets, which were replaced with beautiful open shelves of salvaged Douglas Fir. The base cabinets were updated from laminate to a full set of IKEA cabinets and drawers, customized by Semihandmade. A modern waterfall countertop on the peninsula was used to visually separate the kitchen entry. They also utilized different natural and synthetic wood finishes to maintain a measure of warmth and masculinity.


A dark kitchen sees the (natural) light 

Even after tackling other updates to their colonial-style home, Nydia and Jonathan knew that renovating their Brooklyn kitchen was a top priority. The old version had mismatched appliances, dated cabinets, and not enough counter space. The dark space hardly felt welcoming (or functional) for their family of five. 

They turned to Sweeten to help with the construction process, hiring a trusted contractor from its carefully vetted network. The project involved rethinking the layout to opening up the stairway to the basement, which is accessed via the kitchen. The renovation helped key kitchen elements find new locations: the refrigerator moved out of the main cooking area, the dishwasher now sits directly across from the sink, and the walls surrounding the basement stairs were taken down. By replacing existing cabinets with ceiling-height ones and adding a peninsula, the space was really transformed.


From functional to fabulous

A mutual love of cooking (and of cooking together) ultimately led Marissa and Jeremy to renovate their small kitchen in their Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, co-op. The space was so cramped that it brought about a special house rule: Only one person allowed in the kitchen at a time when cooking in order to keep the peace. 

Twenty-four inches of usable counter space was quintupled through the renovation, while other unique elements were added to suit the couple’s preferences and lifestyle. For example, they went non-traditional for the backsplash, using an antique mirror. They also installed a ventless washer/dryer combo unit and removed the space-invading gas dryer vent. “While a gas dryer dries clothes much faster than a ventless dryer, I wanted the extra counter space more than I wanted clothes dried in 20 minutes,” Marissa said. They capped off the gas vent and went long with the back counter. “I am excited about so many parts of our kitchen that I don’t know if I can pick a favorite!” she said.


A modern vision brought to life through an extension

For Laura and Tim, they decided they needed to do something about their kitchen that was “falling apart”—it had water damage from a leaky shower upstairs, the door to the patio was drafty, the cabinets were dark and “grungy,” and it generally just needed some fixing up.

The couple consulted their friend and designer Suzy Leon of Suzy Leon Design, Ltd. and came up with a plan to gut the existing kitchen but also enclose their back patio. The additional interior square footage would connect and provide a better flow between the kitchen, dining room, and outdoor space. The new enclosure would feature skylights to brighten the space. 

They kept the galley layout but chose a light color palette in the “minty” green shaker cabinets to offset the dark plank wood floors. White quartz countertops were utilized to help make the flow look more open and airy.


Reaching new heights—with less ceiling

With an 18-inch tiny dishwasher, an oven that wasn’t big enough to fit a cookie tray, and a kitchen sitting underneath a loft, a renovation was long overdue for this mom who cooked five nights a week.

One major challenge homeowners Emily and Trey faced was the inability to move the building’s intercom system that was smack in the middle of the kitchen. They hired a Sweeten contractor who came up with a good solution: create an L-shaped peninsula to accommodate the immovable pole—and give them more space and storage at the same time.

In addition to the new peninsula, they were also able to get rid of the loft above, which increased the ceiling height drastically. The result was a well-thought-out new kitchen perfect for the family of four’s busy lifestyle.


First time’s a charm

Jennifer and Jonn couldn’t believe their luck when they found their 2,100-square-foot, three-bedroom duplex in Manhattan’s Upper East Side. It was the perfect location for their family of two kids and a dog. The story goes that the co-op was the result of combining three one-bedroom apartments to create a huge two-level residence with sole access to a sprawling rear garden. Voila! The perfect home…but with one catch: It needed to be renovated. 

The couple had their work cut out for them with this space that hadn’t been updated since the ’70s. They hired a contractor through Sweeten who was able to transform their white laminate kitchen into a light-filled galley kitchen with an eat-in banquette. They used shaker cabinets and five-panel doors while incorporating metals like brass lights and stainless steel appliances for a modern look.

Kitchens are arguably one of the most pivotal spaces in our homes. From giving us a gathering point to break bread together to providing space to tackle assignments and hobbies; every kitchen should deliver the kind of peace of mind (and organizational flow) that homeowners need. 

Inspired to renovate your kitchen? Check out Sweeten’s cost guides here.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation on Sweeten.



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A Bath Refresh: From Leaky to Luxe


A renovator redoes her bath out of necessity and finds the beauty in it

Project: Fix leaky plumbing in a Manhattan co-op and while you’re at it, renovate the entire bath

Before: When commercial photographer, Veronica, moved into her Upper West Side apartment in 2014, she considered it move-in ready.  “All I had to do was paint and tile the kitchen,” she explains. “I hoped to redo the bathroom one day, but it seemed like an overwhelming and big job—and especially expensive in New York City.”

Cut to a few years later. She received a complaint from her neighbors directly below and after investigating, it turned out her tub was leaking into their apartment. “I had a plumber check it out, and he confirmed I’d have to get the tub replaced to fix the leak,” says Veronica. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it), that meant the attached surrounding tile would need to be replaced. “It kind of became a domino effect of redoing everything, but I figured it was a good time to make some upgrades,” she says. 

Veronica was more than happy to get rid of the outdated beige tile and grimy old jet tub and posted her project on Sweeten, a free renovation platform that matches homeowners with licensed general contractors and tracks their projects. “I was really looking forward to designing a bathroom that had a walk-in shower with a glass door,” she says. The light fixture didn’t work and the vanity was small and crammed in next to the shower so it was a no-brainer to replace those as well. 

After: The bathroom was transformed from a basic beige bathroom into a rich, modern space. Through Sweeten, Veronica found the contractor who would renovate her space with her vision in mind. “The bathroom got very little light to begin with so I decided to embrace the cave-like atmosphere and go dark,” Veronica says.

Black bathroom tile

She added matte brass fixtures for warmth as well as marble floor tile for texture. “My favorite thing is the walk-in shower,” says Veronica. “It’s so much easier to clean, it makes the tiny space feel more open, and it gives a modern look and feel.” 

Having a wall-mounted sink without a vanity also opened up the room. Veronica was “glad not to have crammed in an 18-inch vanity that doesn’t hold much anyway and visually disrupts the room.” Initially, the plan was to install a wall-mounted toilet but found out that it was out of the budget and required permits.

black and gold bathroom

Bonus: A cabinet above the bathroom door serves as added storage for towels and other supplies.

Style finds: Metro collection floor and wall tiles in graphite: Nemo. American Standard Decorum 20″ sink: Build.com.  Kohler exposed hardware, #K-9018-BDG p-trap with long tubing outlet; set of two npt angle supplies; Glassware House frameless fixed glass panel, #GW-SFP-35.5-PB; San Souci elongated one-piece toilet: Wayfair. Mirror: Pottery Barn. Dewdrop Globe vanity light: Shades of Light. Paint in Day’s End: Benjamin Moore. Cabinet above door: Ikea.

Thank you, Veronica, for sharing your new bathroom with us!

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Check out another stunning renovation born out of a water leak.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, and scope, helping until project completion. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation on Sweeten.



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A 1920s Renovated Attic in Pelham Showcases a New Topper


A remodel of the top-floor gives a family everything on their wishlist

Kusum and Dave understood that renovating their 1920s attic would be challenging. They planned to add a new bathroom—in a crawlspace—located on the top-floor of their Westchester, New York home that held all the bedrooms. After several non-starts with multiple architects and having trouble finding contractors to execute the job, they posted their project on Sweeten, a free renovation platform that matches homeowners with licensed general contractors and tracks their projects.

They found a partner in the Sweeten contractor they chose—guiding them through a complete overhaul of the third-floor attic (it had started with just a new bathroom), newly-required sprinklers by town ordinance, and more knowledge of hip-and-valley rafters than Kusum ever wanted to know. Read on about the ups-and-downs of an old-home attic remodel that ended on the upside. 

“After” photos by Michael Hnatov Photography for Sweeten

My husband, Dave, an information security professional, and I, an ICU physician, moved to New York after I had just finished a clinical fellowship at Yale. We dragged our two young kids to a 1920s two-family house, originally a boarding house, which we gave an initial surge of renovations. 

Fast forward five years later, my daughter was in her last year of elementary school, and we were really struggling with only one bathroom in the upper unit where we spent most of our time. (We had originally lost a half-bath after finding out about leaking sewage on the building inspection). Dave and I knew the time had come to renovate the third floor—a quirky, converted attic space of approximately 700 square feet, which contained our three main bedrooms.

Pelham attic remodel

Informed by local recommendations, we contacted four architects and a few major general contractors.  Unfortunately, communication was disjointed, estimates were wildly different, and we kept hitting dead-ends. I was also weary of having contractors’ preference for discussing things with my husband, instead of me, the project’s decision-maker. This whole project was turning into a major headache, and we were discouraged. 

Enter Sweeten. A fellow MOP (Mom of Pelham) and Sweeten’s CMO, Randi MacColl, had posted one of Sweeten’s recent projects on Facebook, and I messaged her with my saga. We were stressed we hadn’t found an architect and then a contractor to execute the plans.

Randi’s patience with my vent was amazing, and her solution was even better. Sweeten’s team literally addressed every frustration we had been facing with this third-floor renovation project. They immediately walked me through setting up a profile to be matched with vetted contractors and supported the entire “dating” process to bring life to our vision of the space. 

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That vision was complicated. Space was tight. Storage was minimal. The designated space for the bathroom was a crawlspace but would envelop Dave’s closet to maximize the square footage for a full bath. We also had always dreamed of having a master bath in our bedroom. We requested contractors through Sweeten for just the bath project. In our minds, however, we hoped for so much more—new floors, built-ins, millwork, etc. My husband’s wish list included dealing with a perpetual leak (despite two roofers’ attempts to fix), insulating cold spots, reinforcing weak floorboards, and new windows. And little did I know that he was thinking about exposing the dry-walled chimney. 

They also had to work with an angled ceiling and what was behind it. Fortunately, our Sweeten contractor was all over this.

We met with a very manageable list of contractor/architect pairs and got bids. In the end, we chose our Sweeten contractor because of their enthusiasm, experience, innovation, and forthrightness in what they knew and did not know. The project quickly evolved from a single bathroom addition to a full-scale third-floor overhaul, inside and out, with a reworked floor plan to accommodate two new doorways. Our contractor suggested some innovative built-ins in the master bedroom and the stairwell to maximize our floor space. Storage for all our clutter led us one step closer to tranquility!  

Attic bedrooms

Hiccups and crises along the way were numerous (as with any renovation to an old house), but both Sweeten and our contractor supported us through each stressor with patience and transparency. A big uncertainty was whether we could fit a bathroom with adequate height clearance that was compliant with building codes. They also had to work with an angled ceiling and what was behind it.

Fortunately, our Sweeten contractor was all over this. A huge skylight helped to create the appearance of height in the space. We installed a custom medicine cabinet with a sloped recessed cabinet, a sink console with an expertly trimmed corner, and sconces from the U.K. to accommodate the hip wall. (I now know more about hip and valley rafters than certain diseases.)

We faced another problem with sprinklers, which were required for any third-floor living space renovation. Cost estimates ranged from the manageable to the exorbitant. Our start date was pushed two months late, but our contractors put together a timeline for completion that seemed doable considering we were still living in the space. 

During the renovation, we moved to the first-floor apartment for six weeks, after which Dave and the kids left for the summer. Adding to the chaos, I was working in the ICU for a lot of the renovation period. Thank goodness for a wonderfully dependable contractor and Sweeten for doing check-ins when I did not have the bandwidth to deal with anything non-clinical.

 

Now, the third floor has turned into a coveted space for our family. There is so much light! With the floors redone, light painting, recessed lighting, and new windows, the entire floor is welcoming and relaxing. My son’s elevated bed allows for plenty of storage bins underneath to organize his toys and a reading nook. My daughter has the perfect tween transition room, including a desk, privacy, and a creative space. We got a zen master bedroom and an entrance to our “own” bath. 

As I stated earlier, the project started with a much more limited scope, but because of code regulations requiring the sprinkler system and the decision to splurge of a significant amount of millwork, we went over budget. That being said, we as the homeowners made that decision, and were able to do so without pressure because of our Sweeten contractor’s transparency and strong communication. Both Dave and I were able to get all of the items on our wish list!   

Reflecting on the project—as it’s been over a year now since we started the search for someone to do the third floor—I offer the following recommendations to other homeowners: a) set very clear expectations of each person’s roles, timelines, and constraints; b) establish a mutually agreed upon vehicle/format of communication and a minimum frequency of contact—endless email threads are the worst; c) hire your own cleaning team, as your standards of cleanliness (especially with young kids) may be much more stringent than the contractors; and d) personality match between the contractor and the homeowner is super important to make a project successful and enjoyable. 

This essentially makes this major renovation project #6 for us as a family. To be honest, I think we have at least 2 more to go (just don’t tell Dave). We’ll just call Sweeten.

Thank you, Kusum and Dave, for sharing your attic renovation with us!

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BATHROOM RESOURCES: Retrospect Ceramic sink console: American Standard. Niche tiles in Oceanside Sanctuary and Summer Storm; one-inch white glazed hexagonal floor tiles; 3×6 white subway wall tiles; sky blue penny rounds shower floor tile: Westchester Tile & Marble.  Purist hardware & bathroom accessories in chrome, Awaken Hydrorail shower fixtures in chrome, Veil toilet: Kohler. Magnifying mirror: Simple Human. Astro-0274 Tube Wall Light: Ideas4lighting.com. Shower glass doors, medicine cabinet, built-in wall cabinet: Custom by general contractor. Paint in Silver Cloud: Benjamin Moore. 

MASTER BEDROOM RESOURCES: Paint in Gray Owl, paint in Sea Haze on backs of bookcases/millwork: Benjamin Moore. Bedside sconces: Rejuvenation. Brayden Studio Dailey 3-light semi-flush mount: Wayfair. Built-in cabinetry: Custom by general contractor.

KID’S BEDROOM RESOURCES: Paint in Harbor Haze: Benjamin Moore. Livex Lighting Claremont drum lighting fixture: Build.com.

CLOSET RESOURCES: Paint in White Wisp: Benjamin Moore.

LIVING AREAS RESOURCES: Cantilever shelf & HVAC door: Custom by general contractor. Early American floor stain: Minwax. Paint in White Cream: Benjamin Moore. Trim (all spaces) in Chantilly Lace: Benjamin Moore. 

Here’s how to remodel an old house for maximum efficiency, flow, and modern living.

Sweeten founder and CEO weighs in on what to know before renovating a brownstone.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation on Sweeten.



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A Studio Loft and Balcony Check All the Boxes


A renovation gives a design-obsessed owner the ultimate pad

For a lot of singles in New York City, a 500-square-foot Greenwich Village studio with both a lofted bedroom and an outdoor balcony would sound like a pie-in-the-sky find. But new homeowner Carly Schulte had a higher vision for this downtown co-op—she knew when she saw it that she could improve on it. She snapped up the apartment and posted her project with Sweeten, a free service that matches renovators with vetted general contractors. Here’s how Carly literally raised the lofty studio’s roof, with a Sweeten general contractor, making it a party-friendly place that feels larger than it really is.

Greenwich Village Studio loft

“After” photos by Pixy Interiors for Sweeten

Guest blog post by Sweeten homeowner Carly

I was lucky in the apartment hunt. I’d only been to a handful of showings, but when I saw this place, I knew I wanted to make an offer. I have a soft spot for lofts, and the balcony made it a must-have. I’d been planning—and saving—to buy an apartment for years, and it was a good thing I waited. The sellers were motivated. I put in a bid and pulled off the purchase.

I’d envisioned an overhaul that included renovating the kitchen and bathroom, modernizing the loft and stairs, and adding a giant wall-to-wall built-in of shelves and closets in the living room, but it was once I was there that I clarified my goals. I realized I wanted to expand the kitchen, since I love to cook; I needed a larger kitchen peninsula that would serve as both a work and eating surface. 

Although I left things like cabinet dimensions and stair specs to the professionals, I selected all the flooring, cabinets, [and other finishes].

It dawned on me, too, that I wanted to raise the ceiling. One of the apartment’s previous owners had actually dropped it by at least five feet, wasting space and blocking light. In my mind, high ceilings are pretty much universally beloved and will definitely add value when I ultimately go to sell the apartment. I saw that by reclaiming the height, I could enclose the sleeping loft, allowing it to feel private but still be bright. I designed the windowed loft wall by looking through Instagram and showing the drawings to my Sweeten contractor. He found a way to make the enclosure with sliding glass panels that transmit both air and light.

I knew when I hired my contractor that I wanted to work this way, doing my own design work, and I was happy to find a contractor who would work with me. To say I was hands-on would be an understatement. Although I left cabinet and stair specs to the professionals, I handled most of the materials including the cabinets, tile, and appliances, as well as the layouts for each room (which was surprisingly time-consuming).

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When it came to aesthetics, I stayed neutral, particularly in more permanent elements like flooring and cabinetry. But I have a huge interest in texture, and I was excited about mixing flat, modern, cool elements, such as the steel staircase and black cabinetry [a great way to create depth], with warmer ones, like the wood-grain floors and golden-brown leather and upholstery. 

To achieve the look I wanted, we had to do the work. It was a challenge, with bumps. The worst came early, when we demolished the kitchen and found asbestos. Remediation cost about $6,000 and added three months to the timeline. I would strongly recommend asbestos testing during the diligence phase to any potential buyer. Had I tested up-front and knocked some of the abatement costs off of the purchase price, I would have saved money.

From start to finish, excluding the asbestos work, my renovation spanned five months. I moved out for several weeks when the contractor knocked down walls and raised the ceiling. For much of it, though, I was there. I had no kitchen for six months and lived out of suitcases and boxes. Luckily, my bedroom remained mostly untouched, so once the enclosure was finished, I spent my home time up there. I don’t regret slumming it. The money I saved on short-term housing enabled me to buy the gas stove of my dreams!

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I heavily underestimated how long the approval process would take. The time it took just to obtain the co-op board’s approval for my plan was nearly six months. Staying in my rental apartment in hopes of a fast renovation was a big mistake. If I had it to do again, I would move in right after closing, live in my new space, and use that rent money for something meaningful. Hindsight is 20/20!

People have asked how I lived through the project. I think I blocked some of it out, but I do remember leaning on the Sweeten team after a few long construction delays made me feel frustrated and uncertain. They offered me a sounding board and helped me adjust my expectations, and as a first-time renovator struggling to parse out the delays, their guidance was immensely helpful. When needed, Sweeten contacted my contractor and helped to keep things moving smoothly.

Despite the difficulties, I love the way the place turned out. The raised ceiling, now about 16 feet high, changed the entire feel of the place. The library ladder, a functional addition facilitating access to the high cupboards, added a fun touch, and the loft enclosure made the bedroom feel cozy and intimate. My new kitchen has made cooking every meal a pleasure, and even the bathroom is beautiful, which is rare to say about a bathroom. There was stress and sweat, sure. But designing the space was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever worked on.

Thank you, Carly, for sharing your home with us!

LIVING SPACE RESOURCES: Paint in Pure White (walls) and Decorators White (baseboards): Benjamin Moore. European oak wood flooring: Sourced through contractor. Holmes plug-in wall sconce: Schoolhouse. Carbon steel hook ladder and rail: Specialty Doors Inc. Cabinet built-ins: Custom by contractor. Built-ins painted in Black Iron: Benjamin Moore. Custom staircase: Paragon Stairs.

KITCHEN RESOURCES: Kitchen cabinets: Custom by contractor. Cabinets painted in Black Iron: Benjamin Moore.  Edgecliff natural brass cabinet hardware: Schoolhouse. 24” handmade stainless-steel sink: Kraus. Trinsic single-handle pulldown faucet in champagne bronze: Delta. 18” 800 Series dishwasher in stainless steel: Bosch. French door refrigerator in stainless steel (Model #KRFF300ESS): KitchenAid. 36” gas range (Model # GR366): Wolf. Sonneman 24” Linear Pendant Light: houzz.com.

BATHROOM RESOURCES: Paint in Pure White: Benjamin Moore. Shower fixtures: DeltaGodmorgon vanity; Odensvik sink: IKEA. AQUADOM Royale 48” mirror/medicine cabinet: houzz.com. Toilet: Existing.

BEDROOM RESOURCES: Paint in Black Beauty: Benjamin Moore. Menlo Glass Globe wall sconces: Target.

Here’s a guideline on how long a one-bedroom apartment renovation takes. Set your calendar!

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation on Sweeten.



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