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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Long-time Renters Shine as Renovating Homeowners


A co-op refresh including an unplanned kitchen remodel

It was something like the seven-year itch that had Jessica and Alex setting off on their own. Having lived in a Manhattan rental for six years, they received a lease renewal from their landlord for the seventh. Jessica a real-estate development executive, and Alex, who works in finance as a strategist, sat down to discuss their New York City future. They decided to sign the lease but make it their last. 

After a successful search, Jessica and Alex closed on an 800-square-foot co-op in Chelsea and posted their one-bedroom, one-bathroom project on Sweeten, a free renovation platform connecting homeowners with vetted general contractors. They soon found a design-build firm for their overhaul. Read on to learn how this renovation turned a “fine” apartment to fabulous.

sunken living room with hardwood floors

“After” photos by Miao Jiaxin for Sweeten

Guest blog post by homeowner Jessica

We purchased the apartment with intentions to renovate. We both love architecture and design, and we wanted a place that we could make our own. The previous apartment, with its sunny balcony and endless closet space, had given us high standards, and working in real estate, I look at beautiful homes all the time. We wanted a home where we could make our mark and add the elements we craved.

homeowners in their newly renovated living room

We were thrilled when we landed on this one-bedroom apartment, in a 1930s Chelsea co-op. The building had great bones and Art Deco details but the apartment needed work. We’d been following Sweeten, and after closing, when we knew the reno was imminent, we looked to the service for direction. We wanted to create a clean, modern space marrying traditional and contemporary design elements accented with our personal twists. Throughout, we planned to incorporate art and photos from our travels.

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Living in the apartment for about half a year and bringing our Sweeten contractor onboard brought the project into focus. We wanted to rethink the closet layouts and planned to update the living room’s custom built-ins. We were also looking for a lighting solution since the courtyard-facing unit didn’t get much natural light.

Last but certainly not least, we planned to improve the kitchen and the bathroom. Additional cosmetic and electrical updates included new doors and hardware and USB outlets throughout the apartment. Our contractor was patient, listening to our thoughts (lots of them), answering questions and—most of all—assuring us that he could get the job done, within our time constraints and with the level of quality we were hoping for. 

A narrow galley kitchen? Yes. And we love it.

Closets and storage came first. We’d known when we purchased the apartment that we were in for a major storage deficit. With our contractor’s help, we found we could reconfigure the hall and bedroom closets, which backed up to one another. We moved the interior wall, creating a larger bedroom closet with French doors (sliding doors can restrict access). Downsizing the hallway closet felt like a sacrifice, but we outfitted the space for linen-and-shoe storage—useful and enviable extras in NYC.

washer dryer in kitchen

The kitchen was one room where plans changed. It had been renovated and we hadn’t planned on a gut-job. We love to cook and entertain, and didn’t want to forego full-sized appliances, but we wanted more cupboard and counter space. We ultimately did a full rip-and-replace. The cabinets are an off-the-shelf pick that we stacked to the ceiling; it was like putting together a giant puzzle, but was good for our budget and timeline, and gave us a ton of storage. The cabinet above the dishwasher was a last-minute call to increase pantry space. Quartz countertops and a slab backsplash give us a marble look without the maintenance. A narrow galley kitchen? Yes. And we love it.

The old ’70s bathroom remained, and it was a full demo and redo. We replaced the peach and yellow bathroom tile, which appeared to be original to the building, with marble subway tile, placed vertically for some spin. We played with metals, choosing an unexpected iron vanity (the countertop is quartz) and chrome hardware. The floor tiles are porcelain, sleek and durable.

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The rear-facing apartment was pin-drop quiet, but dark. The silence was a luxury to us, having endured roaring sunrise garbage pickups and the revelry of late-night barhoppers. But the long living room, which also comprises the dining area, had just two windows and no built-in light fixtures. We installed recessed LED lighting in this room and it brightened the area so perfectly that we added it in the bedroom, the bath and, finally, the kitchen.

The existing built-in cabinets spanning the windowed wall in the living room provided additional storage and brightened up the room with a fresh coat of white paint. We removed a floating center unit to accommodate a wall-mount TV. 

To finish, our Sweeten contractor detailed with all new doors and hardware and added those USB outlets, which become more useful every day. It was our idea to hang wallpaper in the foyer; the subtle raffia gives the walls texture and depth. We chose materials that would stand the test of time from both an aesthetic and durability standpoint. But it was so helpful to have an expert to guide us. There are a ton of vendors out there and our contractor had relationships with suppliers and experience with almost any material available.

Our advice as first-timers is to do the research and know what you want but keep an open mind! Seeing the work progress day-over-day and week-over-week was amazing, and we’re so thrilled with the outcome! Adding our stamp to this place was fun and fulfilling. What a great feeling!

Thank you, Jessica and Alex, for sharing your story!

BATHROOM RESOURCES: Floor and wall tile: Tiles Unlimited. Shower fixtures: Delta. Sink and vanity: RH.

Galley kitchens are more flexible than you may think. Here are some ways to fold them into the living spaces.

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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Millennial Sisters Buying and Remodeling Their Home


Millennial siblings mix color, pattern, and space planning—with resale in mind

In a stately neighborhood in New York’s Sutton Place, the DeChirico sisters had a goal: to get more space than the one-bedroom they were sharing and a fixer-upper to apply their charming, old-school aesthetic. So when Daria, an executive assistant at a financial recruiting firm, and Deanna, a senior associate in private equity, found a one-bedroom that they could convert into two, in a 1962 building, they jumped at the chance.

To revamp the awkwardly laid out space, the 30-something millennials posted their 700-square-foot project on Sweeten, a free service matching homeowners with vetted general contractors, chose their contractor, and rolled up their pretty floral sleeves.

kitchen renovation

“After” photos by Pixy Interiors for Sweeten

Guest blog post by Sweeten homeowners Daria and Deanna DeChirico

Prior to our new home, we were living in a smaller apartment in Sutton Place in Manhattan that was renovated and converted from a studio to a one bedroom. After five years there, we needed more space but wanted to stay in the neighborhood and ideally find something that required some work. We liked creating a space that is uniquely our own and feels like a home.

grandmillennial sisters

A lot of people are surprised by two young girls, who have a very traditional style, with Chinoiserie influence and a lot of ginger jars! We love bold patterns and color: the only thing painted white is the kitchen ceiling. Our home is filled with antiques we’ve bought and a number of items from our grandmother’s house. [Read more about this “grandma chic” style.]

The original layout had changed into a space that wasn’t well-utilized. The biggest challenge was bringing back the layout to its original form while making tweaks of our own and highlighting the great view. Our main goals were to create a second bedroom, build a large closet for our endless clothes, and have a dining space large enough to fit a table for entertaining. The decor would pull it all together through striking colors, textures, and the cozy feel.

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In the entryway, there was a closet that was a bit of an eyesore. We decided to keep it and make it work in the dining area as a coat/linen closet. We designed the mirrored doors and it became a great way to add extra light and depth to the space.

The size of the master bedroom was cut down to allocate space for a shared 7’x10’ walk-in clothes closet. Storage is super important in a New York apartment so we wanted to make sure we had as much as possible.

kitchen renovation

Spending less on the subway tile also meant we could spend more on the marble basketweave floor tile, which adds a lot of character.

The kitchen stayed simple by choosing white cabinets and a white quartz countertop. We avoided a trendy cabinet style to ensure a classic look for resale but a green, subway tile backsplash, inspired by The Polo Bar, gave a pop of color. All of the fixtures were in a gold finish. The kitchen counter wrapped around into the dining area with extra cabinets and a wine rack added below it. We like the aesthetics of it.

In the bathroom, we went for a standard white subway tile in the shower for resale consideration. It’s inexpensive, easy to maintain, and a classic material that won’t go out of style. Spending less on the subway tile also meant we could spend more on the marble basketweave floor tile, which adds a lot of character.

WATCH VIDEO: The sisters share their reno ideas including how they created their dining room doors.

Initially, we were going to salvage the wood floors. When we realized we couldn’t, we had to quickly choose a new style and decided on a medium finish with narrow planks. Wood is classic, so you really can’t go wrong and we weren’t as concerned with getting it just right.

We managed the project while working full-time jobs. We had an idea of what we wanted but the execution for most of it was in real-time. Fortunately, we work very close to home so we were able to run over at lunchtime and after work to answer questions, make decisions, and check on the overall progress.

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Constant communication with our Sweeten contractor was key! Although we communicated exactly what we wanted, it’s only natural that things get lost in translation. To keep everyone on the same page, we had weekly calls or meetings to make sure everything was getting done right and on time. We would also send checklists of completed tasks and any pending items.

Choosing the right contractor is the biggest question when starting a project. Having a referral or reputable source (like Sweeten!) is always a good idea. You don’t always have the luxury of starting from scratch where every detail is of your own choosing, especially in New York, so we really wanted to capitalize on that.

It’s exciting to finally have a dining room to sit and have meals (another NYC luxury). The wallpaper, chandelier, and doors were a must, since day one. We feel so happy to be settled and comfortable but are also really proud of how our ideas translated into exactly what we envisioned.

Thank you, Deanna and Daria, for sharing your new home with us!

House Beautiful weighed in on the Grandmillenial style in this recent article. 

CEILING PAINT THROUGHOUT: North Star: Benjamin Moore.

KITCHEN RESOURCES: Kitchen cabinets: The RTA Store. Cabinet hardware: Sumner Street. Countertops: MSI Quartz. Backsplash in Novecento Subway Verdin: Merola Tile. Quartz sink: Elkay. Faucet: Delta. Refrigerator: LG. Dishwasher, stove: GE. Whittier natural brass two-light flush-mount lighting: 251 First. Paint in North Star: Benjamin Moore. Williamsburg II Braganza wallpaper, WL8601, from Williamsburg by York: GoingDecor.

BATHROOM RESOURCES: Floor tile in Carrara white basketweave with blue dots: Marble Online. Hardware: Sumner Street. Shower fixtures: Delta. Sink and vanity: Ellenbee. Toilet: American Standard. Aged brass three-light lighting: Quorum International. Vanity mirror: Wayfair. Paint in Palladian Blue: Benjamin Moore. 

LIVING ROOM RESOURCES: Lamp: Overstock. Paint in Old Navy: Benjamin Moore

DINING ROOM RESOURCES: Paint in Palladian Blue: Benjamin Moore.

BEDROOM RESOURCES: Lamps: Home Depot. Paint in Essex Green (dark blue bedroom) and Serenata (light blue bedroom): Benjamin Moore.

WALK-IN CLOSET: Closet system: EasyClosets. Paint in Blush: Sherwin Williams.

WATCH VIDEO:

The perfect layout may be right in front of your eyes. These Sweeten homeowners swapped rooms around for better functionality and flow.

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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For an East Hampton Beach House, A Simple Plan to Remodel


A second home welcomes with an open concept, child-friendly stairs, and new baths

The plan was all about the plan when Alex and Jennifer Figueroa bought this cedar-shingled beach house in East Hampton, Long Island, a little more than a year ago. The parents of two young boys, Alex, a banker, and Jennifer, a speech language pathologist, could see in the 2,500-square-foot home a perfect place for their sons, Hudson, 4, and Easton, 2, to run and play. The couple, both of whom live and work in New York City, would use the ’70s house as a weekend and vacation home, as well as a short-term rental property. 

They wanted to convert the chopped-up first floor to an open-plan living space, gut renovate the kitchen and bathrooms, and make the whole house a family-friendly place to relax. Posting their project on Sweeten, a renovation platform connecting homeowners with vetted general contractors, they quickly found a design/build firm that they wanted to hire. Here’s how they elevated a great shore house to make an ultimate getaway.

open concept kitchen

“After” photos by Lena Yaremenko for Sweeten

Guest blog post by homeowner Alex

We purchased the house and plowed into renovations immediately. With two young kids, we were anxious to get this beach-house dream going. We also knew it would make an excellent Airbnb and wanted to have the house ready to list before summer.

East Hampton family portrait

East Hampton exterior

Photo: Courtesy of homeowner

The house, which was built in 1979, had five bedrooms and two-and-a-half bathrooms. It needed a refresh. We wanted to give it an open, modern beach-house feel, and were looking to reconfigure the first floor to an open-plan concept, which would require not just knocking down a wall but removing essential, load-bearing beams.

We also knew we would need to work on the staircase, which looked dated and was not to code. It had a railing, but was essentially open, and unsafe since a kid could literally duck under it and fall through, or climb over. Since the stairway goes to the top floor, wrapping around to ascend nearly 2.5 stories, it was a definite safety hazard. We knew too, going in, that we’d have to do gut remodels of the kitchen and bathrooms, which had never been renovated.

We started on the first floor. Our Sweeten contractor had warned us that revising the floorplan would be the biggest part of the project, and it was. The kitchen, which was nestled in the house’s center, had a wall that contained a support beam. That essential wall, which separated it from the foyer, was the one we wanted to do away with. It took removing multiple load-bearing beams but that wall came down. From our contractor’s suggestion, we lowered the ceiling a few inches to conceal the perimeter beams making the ceiling entirely flush and with no seams.

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Now, the first floor is completely open and the space that was once three separate rooms—the kitchen, dining room, and den—is one continuous area. The change gives the home a much more open and airy feeling, letting the light filter through.

We felt so pleased with the merging of the rooms into one large space that we reinforced it in other ways. Instead of replacing the dated floor tile that we tore out of the kitchen with the large faux-concrete slabs we had purchased, we decided to do the entire ground floor in the same hardwood flooring. Our contractor urged us to consider this as it would give the downstairs a cohesive look. We’re glad we listened, as it looks sleek and seamless.

The install day for that island was really an exciting milestone. Our open plan now had a center.

The successful reconfiguration of the downstairs led us to the next big task: The staircase remodel. We had a good idea of how we wanted to approach it. Safety was the primary concern, but given that the stairs are a focal point as you enter the home, looks also mattered. We decided on wood-trimmed glass panels placed vertically to create a transparent enclosure, making the staircase safe while staying true to our goal of light and openness.

Before of stairs

East Hampton open concept kitchen

The kitchen came next. We felt excited about this part of the project. We love to cook and entertain, so our design included a large island that could be a gathering spot. We splurged on a wine fridge, quartz countertops, and an integrated refrigerator but otherwise kept the open kitchen fairly simple.

Our Sweeten contractor customized Ikea cabinets with walnut panel doors and adding a panel along the ceiling for a higher end look. We built out the big island with counter seating and a five-zone induction cooktop. The install day for that island was really an exciting milestone. Our open plan now had a center.

With the kitchen under control, we moved on to the bathrooms. We gave each one a different look, with a contrast of black marble and minimal white in the master, ocean-blue cabinetry and hex tile in the guest bath, and a console sink in the first-floor powder room. We’ve realized, now that the bathrooms are in use, that we are thrilled with the large-format porcelain slabs we chose for the master bath shower. The expansive, smooth surfaces with minimal grout lines give the room a clean look and are practical from a cleaning perspective. We love the result.

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Throughout the process, our Sweeten contractor was a reliable asset. He found a solution to every snag and never said no to a request. He was always available to answer questions and we felt at every step that his goal was to make us happy.

For us, the biggest challenge was distance. East Hampton is a two-hour drive from our home in Long Island City, so we had to manage our project from afar. On a lot of weekends we made same-day round-trips to check in on the work and gauge our progress. The payoff came when the finishes went in and months of planning materialized. The space came out exactly as we hoped it would and we are happy with the decisions we made.

All this, thanks to a very good plan.

Thank you, Alex and Jennifer, for sharing your home with us!

WATCH VIDEO:

LIVING SPACE RESOURCES: Wall paint in Bakery Box, #BL-W9: Behr. Fireplace mantle tile in Realta II: Cement Tile Shop. Custom glass doors: Crystalia Glass. Living room built-in cabinetry: custom millwork by Sweeten contractor. 

ENTRANCE/HALLWAY RESOURCES: Rhye wallpaper in hand foil: Custhom. Montara 28 .5” mirror: Serena & Lily.  Console: West Elm.  Closet Dove shelves in brushed chrome finish: California Closets.

STAIRCASE RESOURCES: STUDIOC WOW drop tiles on risers: Crossville Studios

KITCHEN RESOURCES: Cabinets customized by contractor: IKEA. Walnut panels: Semihandmade. Pental quartz countertops and backsplash: Avenza. KitchenAid microwave/oven: Build.com. Refrigerator/ freezer: Fisher & Paykel. KitchenAid wine refrigerator, KitchenAid dishwasher, Samsung induction 5 burner cooktop: Best Buy.  Meurice Chandelier: Jonathan Adler. Carlisle Metal counter stools: Threshold.

 MASTER BATHROOM RESOURCES: 4” Hexagon Fosso marble floor tile: Nemo Tile. Stone Calacatta black smooth porcelain wall tile: Florim. Kallista hardware: Build. GrohFlex Essence dual function thermostatic trim shower fixtures with control module: Grohe.  Crystalia glass shower doors: Custom by contractor.  Mason Apothecary single sink vanity: Pottery Barn.  Infinity rectangular wall mirror: CB2

GUEST BATHROOM RESOURCES: 4” hexagon Griglio Cielo marble floor tiles: Nemo Tile. Stone black smooth porcelain wall tile: Florim. Kallista hardware: Build.com. GrohFlex Essence dual function thermostatic trim shower fixtures with control module: Grohe. 60” Kendall blue bathroom vanity: Houzz. Infinity rectangular wall mirror: CB2.

SECOND FLOOR LANDING RESOURCES: 30-light chandelier: Lumens.

Remodeling in the Hamptons? Read our Hamptons home renovation cost guide to understand your budget.

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 Trinity House Restoration Soars to New Heights


Like a phoenix, this rowhouse rose from the ashes

Trinity rowhouse renovation

“Before and After” photos by Kingston Ko Photography for Sweeten

Today, we’re taking a look at the rebirth of a trinity townhouse in the Bella Vista neighborhood of Center City Philadelphia. The house, built in the style of a trinity, a slim structure that became popular during a population boom in the early 18th century, caught Nel’s eye while she was looking to purchase her first home. Two years later, the house was severely damaged by a fire that ravaged the entire street, resulting in a total gut.

The 1,200-square-foot home has three stories—plus a basement and roof deck with amazing city views—and had to be rebuilt from the studs up. Nel decided to keep the original floor plans intact—the first-floor dining room and kitchen, second-floor living room plus full bath, and third-floor master bedroom and bath—and bring them back to life.

With her renovation plans in mind, she came to Sweeten, a free platform connecting homeowners to vetted general contractors, to restore the house to its former glory and find a new tenant who would love it just as much as she did.

 home renovation Philadelphia

Sweeten: 
What motivated you to purchase this trinity house and what led to the renovation?

Nel: In 2014 I was looking to purchase my first home, and when I saw this house I absolutely fell in love with it. The house is a 100-year-old trinity located in the Bella Vista neighborhood of Center City Philadelphia. I’m not sure if you have seen many trinities, but they are a pretty common home type in Philadelphia where the house is three stories tall and each floor is typically a single room. I met Greg shortly thereafter and the two of us lived in the house up until we got engaged in April 2016. We decided to move out because we were thinking about starting a family and wanted to find a home with a second bedroom.

I was a bit attached to this house and since I work in real estate we decided to try our hand at renting it versus selling it. We found great tenants and everything was going well until the fire last October. The fire destroyed six houses—so basically, the entire block! It was heart-wrenching to watch something I had so many happy memories in be destroyed by fire. But, very fortunately, we have been able to rebuild, which actually has been a funny process because we were able to make some of the upgrades and changes we previously wanted to do when we lived there.

trinity house floor plan

(Above) Example of a trinity floor plan that’s similar in size and layout to Nel’s house

Sweeten: What made you choose the neighborhood back when you were looking to purchase a home?

Nel: The Bella Vista neighborhood is truly one of my favorites in Philadelphia. We have a 100-year-old Italian bakery at the end of our street and so there is always the wonderful smell of something delicious baking in the air. We are also just around the corner from a park with a bocce court, as well as from the 9th Street Italian Market. I love the neighborhood’s vibe and all of the small independent businesses and restaurants that are at our front door.

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Sweeten: What’s your favorite part of the house?

Nel: I think one of my favorite parts, aside from the 360-degree views from the roof deck, is the exposed brick wall. It feels like a piece of history which is really neat.

Sweeten: What it was like working with your general contractor?

Nel: This is actually our second renovation in 12 months, but our first time using Sweeten. I can’t tell you how wonderful our Sweeten contractor has been. He took a very stressful situation and guided us through it with ease, and we couldn’t have been happier with how everything has turned out. Greg and I have actually joked about moving back in!

Sweeten: Now that the house is finished, what are your plans for it?

Nel: We are going to keep it as a rental for now and who knows…maybe someday we will live there again!

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Sweeten: What were the challenges you faced while renovating this trinity house?

Sweeten contractor: It was the amount of work that needed to take place in the small footprint of the house. We needed to add new code-compliant systems to a home that was designed to have a small footprint over 100 years ago! Several homes on the same block that were also damaged in the fire were under construction at the same time, so parking was limited. Material deliveries on the small street were very tough, if not impossible. All of the materials for the roof deck and drywall needed to be loaded in by hand. Also, work on the roof deck was held up due to permits.

Sweeten: What was the damage done by the fire?

Sweeten contractor: The entire home was flooded by the water used to extinguish the rooftop fire. The house was dried out and all damaged organic materials were removed prior to us being hired by a restoration company.

Sweeten: What major work did you and your team tackle during the renovation?

Sweeten contractor: We installed all new electric, some plumbing, a new high-efficiency HVAC, insulation, drywall, and new finishes.

Sweeten: Did you encounter any delays during the process?

Sweeten contractor: Yes, the roof deck had to be designed by a licensed architect—we couldn’t replace what was there under the permit for the interior. The drawings for the roof deck also needed to be completed and reviewed.

Sweeten: The results are simply stunning—all of your hard work has definitely paid off!

Sweeten contractor: Overall, it was a great project, Nel was a wonderful client and we couldn’t have done it without Sweeten making the match. We are very proud of the work we did here and how the home turned out.

Thanks to Nel and her Sweeten general contractor for sharing their story, both the good and the bad, and giving us a look inside this reborn trinity!


TODAY-NEWS


Renovating in Philly? Check out our guide on kitchen renovation costs—and where that money goes.

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



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A Galley Kitchen and Patio Remodel as One Extending Their Living Space


A family reenergizes their galley kitchen—and adds an extension!

light green galley kitchen

“After” photos by Pixy Interiors for Sweeten

Project: Turning a “grungy” and ill-organized kitchen into a sunny space for cooking and dining

Before: In 2001, Laura and Tim bought and moved into their first home—a 1929 brick townhouse in Rego Park, Queens. The single-family home measures 1,360 square feet on two floors, plus a finished basement. Having raised their family there—a 15-year old son and a college-aged daughter—the pair were finally ready to tackle some of the issues that had plagued their charming, but problematic, house. The kitchen was falling apart and had also suffered water damage from a leaking shower upstairs. The space needed new cabinets, flooring, and wall treatments. They had recently purchased new appliances but the rest of the space had gotten “old and grungy,” according to Laura.

homeowner in her newly remodeled kitchen

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They wanted to create a “comfy, modern kitchen that still matched the period feel in the rest of the house, while providing more storage and better flow.” The kitchen also had a drafty door to the patio, which they never used because of its impractical location. An interior designer friend, Suzy Leon of Suzy Leon Design, Ltd., made suggestions, and one thing led to another—taking the homeowners from a kitchen remodel to a full-blown extension project. Laura and Tim posted their project to Sweeten, and chose this Sweeten contractor to perform the work.

After: The old patio became part of the kitchen and dining space, and skylights were added in the new ceiling to bring in more light. The kitchen is now a beautifully organized and cheerful space for the family. Since it remained a galley layout, the homeowners chose simple textures and light colors to contrast a wide-plank dark wood floor with some grain and character. 

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The cabinets have Shaker-style fronts in a minty green, which “matches the feel of the old house but is also clean and modern at the same time.” A tall pantry cabinet opens to reveal a column of drawers for optimal food storage. The white quartz countertop lightens up the space, and an enormous sink means there’ll be enough room for even the largest pots. The oversized undercounter sink has an instant hot faucet, disposal, and stainless steel finish to match the appliances. At one end, a wine fridge provides extra space for beverages next to the refrigerator. 

“The kitchen came out beautifully! We love the new flow, the light, and the extra space.” Laura reports that the extension is a lovely addition to the house where guests naturally gravitate, and the skylights add light and fresh air. Moving the doorway between the dining room and kitchen improved the flow to the basement.

Due to the domino effect often seen in renovations, the basement also had to be brought up to code—with updates to the bathroom and boiler, as well as the removal of an illegal kitchen on that level. They also took the renovation as an opportunity to install mini-split systems in the whole house so that they would no longer have to deal with inefficient window units. The homeowners love their new space, and are also very satisfied about having addressed their long list of broken or less-than-perfect things in the house. 

Thank you, Laura and Tim, for sharing your home!

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Style Finds: Kitchen cabinets: custom. Cabinet paint in #466 Garden Path; interior paint in Chantilly Lace: Benjamin Moore. Schaub and Company Northport hardware in brushed bronze: Build.com. Flooring in Deerfield Beach: PID Floors. Prolific 33” sink: Kohler. Backsplash: 3×12 beveled subway tiles. White quartz slab countertops: Marble Systems. Sliding patio door: Andersen. Solar-powered “Fresh Air” skylights: Velux. Park Harbor Summerlake ceiling light fixture in antique brass: Build.com. Acrylic Tiffany counter stools, Parsons table (custom height): Room & Board.

If you’d like to get in on the DIY action, read what projects you can take on and what to leave to the pros.

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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