A Brooklyn Brownstone Renovation “Flips” for the Better


Living space and rental come together in this Brooklyn brownstone renovation

brownstone renovation, Brooklyn

“After” photos by Kate Glicksberg for Sweeten

  • Homeowners: Bellamy, an executive at The GAP, and Zak, a senior environmental scientist, posted their project on Sweeten
  • Where: Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, New York
  • Primary renovation: Three stories of a 2,400-square-foot Brooklyn brownstone
  • Notable: Swapping the positions of their renovated garden rental and owners’ duplex
  • Result: Better functionality for the two-family building
  • Sweeten general contractor
  • Sweeten’s role: Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner.

Guest post by Sweeten homeowner Bellamy

Finding their circa 1900 Brooklyn brownstone home

After a grueling year-long search, countless open houses, and one house lost in a bidding war, we found our home. Remarkably, it had everything we wanted: it was a two-family home in the heart of “brownstone” Brooklyn, with original hardwood floors. Most of the houses in the neighborhood were built circa 1900. Many we viewed did not stand the test of time, but this home had been in the same family for years and did not show the usual wear-and-tear of a 100-year-old home. We were lucky, but it did need a major facelift.

Slider

 

I was thankful to stumble upon Sweeten early in my renovation research for our brownstone in Brooklyn. While I had owned a home before, this was our first time doing a serious renovation that would require more than our DIY skills could handle.

The layout of the house and our budget did not afford us a ton of options, so the renovation was straightforward. We focused on structural changes to change the flow and use of the house. Thankfully, when we moved in, we were able to live in the garden floor apartment while we renovated the upper two floors where we would eventually live.

Salvaging and repurposing

We removed the original entry doors as you come into the entry foyer, but left the structural wall intact. This allowed the area to feel more open as you continue into the living area; it also gave back more livable space to work with. However, I loved the original details of the doors and wanted to find another use for them. Luckily, they just fit the ceiling clearance on the second floor and they found new life as the guest room headboard.

In the living room and through to the kitchen, we tore down two walls and exposed a long expanse of brick wall. The former owner had repointed the brick in the front room with black mortar, which was a real eyesore. When we exposed the whole length of the house, we were left with two walls that didn’t match. Limited by our budget, we repointed the half that was previously covered and experimented with painting techniques to blend the two together.

Slider

 

An overhaul for the kitchen

I wanted the kitchen to be the focus of the home. There were three main obstacles: adding a door for backyard access, the ceiling height, and a non-negotiable double oven. I initially wanted to enlarge the back window above the sink to make it a focal point and let in more natural light. Not far along into the process, I had to abandon that idea since we were concerned with what the enlarged opening would do to the structural integrity of the home, given its age. It was also a huge expense so we chose to use those dollars elsewhere.

In the end, we actually made the window above the sink slightly smaller to allow for a proper backsplash. We replaced the second window with a door and added a small landing and stairs for easy backyard access.

The next question was how to vent the hood with 11-foot-high ceilings and open shelving left nowhere to hide. Ultimately, the ducting was kept exposed and vented directly through the wall outside. I love the industrial element it adds to the newly renovated space.

Lastly, where to fit the double oven? At first, I was concerned I would be giving up valuable pantry space, but the layout worked out perfectly and there was room for everything we wanted, even the custom built-in beverage taps. We are home-brewing enthusiasts and wanted a unique feature in our kitchen to showcase that.

WATCH: How Bellamy and Zak find their Sweeten contractor

Splurging and saving

The first-floor bath was an easy update. The layout was already functional, so we kept it as-is with a direct replacement—aka rip-and-replace—of all the fixtures. We were able to salvage the original door and reuse the existing tub. We later put our DIY skills to the test and added fun wallpaper and wainscoting.

My favorite splurge on the top floor was a heated bathroom floor—worth every penny in the winter.

The top floor previously served as a separate apartment complete with its own kitchen. We wanted to have a master bedroom, master closet, master bathroom, guest bedroom, and laundry room. The tricky part was figuring out where to put everything. The pre-existing kitchen allowed us to easily add laundry without a huge expense. Once that was decided, everything else fell into place.

The master bedroom closet is a dream spot that had been a small room that our contractor converted. My favorite splurge on the top floor was a heated bathroom floor—worth every penny in the winter.

Throughout the house, we did some major upgrades that elevate the whole space: we put up fresh drywall throughout the second floor, refinished the original floors in a dark walnut color, and replaced all the windows in the house.

Slider

 

Managing the renovation budget and process

While I would not necessarily recommend living in a renovation (so much dust), it did allow us to check on the progress and be more involved in day-to-day decisions such as outlet locations and doorknob height. We optimistically thought the renovation would take three months, but we did add on some significant projects that stretched the timeline. Overall, the project took about five months to complete the top two floors with some minor updates in the garden apartment.

The budget was our major obstacle, but our Sweeten contractor was great at working with us to determine where we could splurge and where we could save. Once our contractor realized we were quite handy, we were able to figure out what we could do ourselves versus what we should leave to the professionals. For example, we chose to take on all the painting, which was a huge undertaking. I’m talking all ceilings, all walls, all trim, and multiple coats! I don’t think we understood what a huge task it was—and that in certain spaces, the contractor was unable to move forward until we completed painting. I’m glad we did it, but it was a grueling several months and I’m pretty sure I gave myself carpal tunnel.

Switching the brownstone layout

The biggest change in terms of the function of the home was separating the garden floor apartment from the upper two floors. In dividing the two, we were able to gain a coat closet in the apartment and additional storage space for us before the basement level. The ground floor is now available as its own standalone rental unit, while we live on the two floors above. Now that the house is done, I am so thankful we splurged on what we wanted—replacing the windows, skim-coating, and repointing the brick; those are some of my favorite things in the house.

Thanks to Bellamy and Zak for sharing your beautiful and unique Brooklyn brownstone renovation story with us! Here’s how they renovated their new garden rental space on a budget.

SHOPPING GUIDE

FOYER RESOURCES: Merola floor tile: Home Depot.

LIVING ROOM RESOURCES: Vega brushed brass blush-mount lamp: CB2.

GROUND FLOOR BATH RESOURCES: Merola hex black floor tile: Home Depot. Jeffrey Court Fresh White wall tile: Home Depot. Devine Color Speckled Dot peel-and-stick wallpaper: Target. Delta Foundations shower fixtures: Home Depot. ENSEN faucet: IKEA. Black towel bar hardware: CB2. The Copper Factory doorknob: Overstock.com. Godmorgon/Odensvik vanity and sink: IKEA. Framed fog-free wall mirror: Home Depot. Hinkley Lighting vanity light from Ainsley Collection, 56552PN: Build.com.

KITCHEN RESOURCES: Merola floor tile, FRC8TWED: Home Depot. Kitchen cabinets: Custom. Omnia cabinet knobs, 9153/18.3: Build.com. Drawer pulls: Custom. Quartz countertops, 1141: Caesarstone. Jeffrey Court Fresh White backsplash tile, 96012: Home Depot. Olde London apron-front farmhouse fireclay sink, OL33SG: Home Depot. Kenmore refrigerator, 70423: Sears. Bosch dishwasher, SHVM78W53N: Sears. Whirlpool self-cleaning double electric wall oven, WOD51EC0AS: Lowe’s. Kenmore slide-in gas cooktop, 34913: Sears.

MASTER BATH RESOURCES: Carrara marble hex mosaic floor tile, C33XH: MarbleOnline.com. Jeffrey Court Fresh White wall tile, 96012: Home Depot. Jeffrey Court Retro Octagon White Dot shower floor tile, 96025: Home Depot. Towel bar and toilet paper holder: CB2. Delta Porter shower fixtures, 142984C-BN-A: Home Depot. Godmorgon/Odensvik sink and vanity, 291.852.39: IKEA. Vanity cabinet fronts: Semihandmade. Hinkley Lighting vanity light from Ainsley Collection, 56552PN: Build.com. Home Decorators Collection framed fog-free wall mirror, 81160: Home Depot.

PAINT RESOURCES: Trim paint in Totally Black, HDC-MD-04: Behr. Wall paint in Pure White, PPU18-06: Behr.

See the downstairs rental results from Bellamy and Zek’s Brooklyn brownstone renovation story!

Remodel the brownstone of your dreams with help from our guide on purchasing and renovating a townhouse.

Refer your renovating friends to Sweeten and you’ll both receive a $250 Visa gift card when they sign a contract with a Sweeten general contractor.

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.



Source link

A Williamsburg Studio Goes Boutique-Hotel Chic


Brooklyn’s White Arrow gives a tall, narrow space stunner status. Just look up.

Williamsburg loft

Photos courtesy of White Arrow

  • Designing partners Keren and Thomas Richter of Brooklyn’s White Arrow posted their project on Sweeten on behalf of client Jared S.
  • Where: South Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York
  • Primary renovation: Top-to-bottom upgrades took the existing finishes in a grayed-out-modern, 668-square-foot studio from stark to a luxe-chic state of relaxed
  • Notable: The remodel brought needed storage and stretch-out room to the narrow condo.
  • Result: A home towering with sleek touches and rich tones, and offering space for everything
  • Sweeten general contractor
  • Sweeten’s role: Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner.
double height loft ceilings

It’s hard to say anything but yes to the job next door. “This project, right around the corner from our home and office, was the most convenient project we’ve done,” said Keren Richter, principal designer and founder, with husband and partner Thomas Richter, of White Arrow. But that wasn’t the only aspect of the condo, part of a historic 19th-century building conversion in South Williamsburg, that drew them to the remodel. The lofted duplex, with its 19-foot ceilings and armspan-width, was unique in its shipping-tube configuration. And then there was the owner. Jared had stayed all over and sought to bring an alluring boutique-hotel vibe to the place.

“I’d been bouncing around between cities for a while—Amsterdam, San Francisco, back to New York City,” Jared said. “I wanted a place to call home, that would really be a sanctuary. I spoke with the design team about the aesthetics of spaces I loved, like SoHo Farmhouse, the Bowery Hotel, the Maritime in Chelsea, Brooklyn’s Wythe Hotel, the Freehold, the Clover Club, and the Walter.” The White Arrow duo was reeled in.

Slider

 

“We agreed we wanted to give the home the trappings of a sophisticated urban hotel,” Keren said. “It needed to be great for entertaining, hosting guests, relaxing and working,” which Jared, a digital agency founder, had been doing from home for years. The apartment, despite its high ceilings, was extremely narrow, with a ground-floor kitchen and living room that pushed the boundaries of its small footprint.

“Our goal was to make the home feel spacious and accentuate the positive,” Keren said. The walls, she explained, were a “disjointed arrangement of extrusions and unflattering angles,” including an inset stretch of exposed antique brick and a boxed-in, underutilized loft-bedroom platform. “We streamlined everything, reconsidering odd bumps as opportunities for storage and display,” she added.

“Every square foot had to be well utilized,” Jared said. He wanted to add nooks and niches to put his things, and make the place truly feel like his own.

We streamlined everything, reconsidering odd bumps as opportunities for storage and display

The designers and their client also agreed that, instead of demolishing the place, they would elevate the existing finishes and fixtures. “We set out to minimize the rustic details the developer had selected during the conversion, and bring the home to a quiet level of cohesiveness with a new color palette,” Keren said.

Following White Arrow’s plan, their Sweeten general contractor streamlined the place’s odd juts and angles, and adding custom integrated display shelving in the kitchen as well as the home office-niche. Workers refinished the white-oak flooring with a more neutral, beige color tone and painted the dark exposed brick. “I knew I wanted lighter floors for a more Scandinavian aesthetic, but was wary of bleaching them,” Jared recalls. He trusted the team and has no regrets. Similarly, whitewashing the brick felt risky when the designers suggested it—but it “totally opened the room,” Jared said.

painted green cabinets

“Our client took some creative leaps,” Keren recalled. Repainting the gray kitchen cabinetry in a vivid green was a biggie. “The color is a total showstopper, and we are so glad he was game!” Keren remarked. Their Sweeten contractor retiled the kitchen backsplash with marble penny tile and changed all door hardware and plumbing fittings in the kitchen, as well as the two bathrooms, which got new grout and caulk, toilets, vanities, medicine cabinets, and fixtures.

Throughout the place, the contractors added new lighting locations and dimmer switches and swapped in new fixtures. “We added dramatic chandeliers and sconces that draw the eye up to take in the dramatic, high ceilings,” Keren said. “Living finishes” such as an unlacquered brass kitchen faucet, bring warmth and texture. A home-media specialist integrated a sound system and a wall-mounted TV.

It was with the furnishings that the designers really connected with the hotel aesthetic they strove for. “We chose distinctive, contemporary pieces in rich materials and jewel tones,” Keren said. Both Keren and Thomas were excited to shop and showcase an unusual mix of international designers, including Muller Van Severin, Gio Ponti, Atelier Areti, Harto, Maison Sarah Lavoine, Slash Objects, and Trnk. “We sought out furnishings that would do ‘double duty’ to maximize small spaces,” Keren said—sophisticated sofa beds, the secretary desk that Jared describes as “an ingenious space-saver.”

Slider

 

“Every piece,” Keren said, “is of the right proportion and scale,” including the king-size bed that Jared considered a must-have in the loft bedroom. The designers searched endlessly to find the furniture pieces that would allow every room to feel both luxurious and functional. To mellow the mood of the bedroom, Keren said, they added “a floor-to-ceiling, emerald-green velvet drapery to hide the formerly visible ensuite bath.”

The project had a fast turnaround, thanks to Sweeten’s vetting and follow-up during the project, Keren said. “The contractor was easy to work with and accommodating as the scope grew.”

As for the owner—Jared has been pleased to have his own digs to hunker down in during uncertain times. “The designs are super smart and well executed,” he says. “The living-room nook is discrete and conducive to relaxation. I am really happy.”

Thank you, Keren and Thomas of White Arrow, and Jared, for sharing the results of an inspired collaboration!

SHOPPING GUIDE

KITCHEN: Wood flooring and matte white-washed finish stain from Bona Traffic: Bona. Kitchen cabinets: Existing cabinets  refinished with oil paint in custom emerald green: Fine Paints of Europe. Cabinet hardware: House of Antique Hardware. Countertops: Caesarstone. Bianco Carrara 1” penny rounds backsplash: Builder Depot. Sink: Existing. Unlacquered brass faucet: Studio Ore.

LIVING ROOM: Aura paint in Cloud White: Benjamin Moore. Blue-velvet sofa: Clad Home. Leather chair: Trnk. Side table: Slash Objects. Ceiling light fixture: Atelier Areti. Coffee table: Sonder Living. Rug by The Rug Company: Farrow and Ball. Desk: HARTÔ. Borge Mogensen desk chair reissue: Fredericia. Sconce: Muller van Severin for Valeire Objects. Sound system: Sonos.

DINING AREA: Table: &Tradition. Borge Mogensen desk chair reissue: Fredericia.

BEDROOM: Vintage Harvey Probber Danish Mid-Century modern walnut headboard: 1stDibs. Lamp: Maison Sarah Lavoine. Dresser: Vintage. Sconces: Cedar & Moss. Nightstand: West Elm.

ADUs or accessory dwelling units can transform into home offices, living space for family or as a rental, or a retreat.

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.



Source link

A Williamsburg Studio Goes Boutique-Hotel Chic


Brooklyn’s White Arrow gives a tall, narrow space stunner status. Just look up.

Williamsburg loft

Photos courtesy of White Arrow

  • Designing partners Keren and Thomas Richter of Brooklyn’s White Arrow posted their project on Sweeten on behalf of client Jared S.
  • Where: South Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York
  • Primary renovation: Top-to-bottom upgrades took the existing finishes in a grayed-out-modern, 668-square-foot studio from stark to a luxe-chic state of relaxed
  • Notable: The remodel brought needed storage and stretch-out room to the narrow condo.
  • Result: A home towering with sleek touches and rich tones, and offering space for everything
  • Sweeten general contractor
  • Sweeten’s role: Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner.
double height loft ceilings

It’s hard to say anything but yes to the job next door. “This project, right around the corner from our home and office, was the most convenient project we’ve done,” said Keren Richter, principal designer and founder, with husband and partner Thomas Richter, of White Arrow. But that wasn’t the only aspect of the condo, part of a historic 19th-century building conversion in South Williamsburg, that drew them to the remodel. The lofted duplex, with its 19-foot ceilings and armspan-width, was unique in its shipping-tube configuration. And then there was the owner. Jared had stayed all over and sought to bring an alluring boutique-hotel vibe to the place.

“I’d been bouncing around between cities for a while—Amsterdam, San Francisco, back to New York City,” Jared said. “I wanted a place to call home, that would really be a sanctuary. I spoke with the design team about the aesthetics of spaces I loved, like SoHo Farmhouse, the Bowery Hotel, the Maritime in Chelsea, Brooklyn’s Wythe Hotel, the Freehold, the Clover Club, and the Walter.” The White Arrow duo was reeled in.

Slider

 

“We agreed we wanted to give the home the trappings of a sophisticated urban hotel,” Keren said. “It needed to be great for entertaining, hosting guests, relaxing and working,” which Jared, a digital agency founder, had been doing from home for years. The apartment, despite its high ceilings, was extremely narrow, with a ground-floor kitchen and living room that pushed the boundaries of its small footprint.

“Our goal was to make the home feel spacious and accentuate the positive,” Keren said. The walls, she explained, were a “disjointed arrangement of extrusions and unflattering angles,” including an inset stretch of exposed antique brick and a boxed-in, underutilized loft-bedroom platform. “We streamlined everything, reconsidering odd bumps as opportunities for storage and display,” she added.

“Every square foot had to be well utilized,” Jared said. He wanted to add nooks and niches to put his things, and make the place truly feel like his own.

We streamlined everything, reconsidering odd bumps as opportunities for storage and display

The designers and their client also agreed that, instead of demolishing the place, they would elevate the existing finishes and fixtures. “We set out to minimize the rustic details the developer had selected during the conversion, and bring the home to a quiet level of cohesiveness with a new color palette,” Keren said.

Following White Arrow’s plan, their Sweeten general contractor streamlined the place’s odd juts and angles, and adding custom integrated display shelving in the kitchen as well as the home office-niche. Workers refinished the white-oak flooring with a more neutral, beige color tone and painted the dark exposed brick. “I knew I wanted lighter floors for a more Scandinavian aesthetic, but was wary of bleaching them,” Jared recalls. He trusted the team and has no regrets. Similarly, whitewashing the brick felt risky when the designers suggested it—but it “totally opened the room,” Jared said.

painted green cabinets

“Our client took some creative leaps,” Keren recalled. Repainting the gray kitchen cabinetry in a vivid green was a biggie. “The color is a total showstopper, and we are so glad he was game!” Keren remarked. Their Sweeten contractor retiled the kitchen backsplash with marble penny tile and changed all door hardware and plumbing fittings in the kitchen, as well as the two bathrooms, which got new grout and caulk, toilets, vanities, medicine cabinets, and fixtures.

Throughout the place, the contractors added new lighting locations and dimmer switches and swapped in new fixtures. “We added dramatic chandeliers and sconces that draw the eye up to take in the dramatic, high ceilings,” Keren said. “Living finishes” such as an unlacquered brass kitchen faucet, bring warmth and texture. A home-media specialist integrated a sound system and a wall-mounted TV.

It was with the furnishings that the designers really connected with the hotel aesthetic they strove for. “We chose distinctive, contemporary pieces in rich materials and jewel tones,” Keren said. Both Keren and Thomas were excited to shop and showcase an unusual mix of international designers, including Muller Van Severin, Gio Ponti, Atelier Areti, Harto, Maison Sarah Lavoine, Slash Objects, and Trnk. “We sought out furnishings that would do ‘double duty’ to maximize small spaces,” Keren said—sophisticated sofa beds, the secretary desk that Jared describes as “an ingenious space-saver.”

Slider

 

“Every piece,” Keren said, “is of the right proportion and scale,” including the king-size bed that Jared considered a must-have in the loft bedroom. The designers searched endlessly to find the furniture pieces that would allow every room to feel both luxurious and functional. To mellow the mood of the bedroom, Keren said, they added “a floor-to-ceiling, emerald-green velvet drapery to hide the formerly visible ensuite bath.”

The project had a fast turnaround, thanks to Sweeten’s vetting and follow-up during the project, Keren said. “The contractor was easy to work with and accommodating as the scope grew.”

As for the owner—Jared has been pleased to have his own digs to hunker down in during uncertain times. “The designs are super smart and well executed,” he says. “The living-room nook is discrete and conducive to relaxation. I am really happy.”

Thank you, Keren and Thomas of White Arrow, and Jared, for sharing the results of an inspired collaboration!

SHOPPING GUIDE

KITCHEN: Wood flooring and matte white-washed finish stain from Bona Traffic: Bona. Kitchen cabinets: Existing cabinets  refinished with oil paint in custom emerald green: Fine Paints of Europe. Cabinet hardware: House of Antique Hardware. Countertops: Caesarstone. Bianco Carrara 1” penny rounds backsplash: Builder Depot. Sink: Existing. Unlacquered brass faucet: Studio Ore.

LIVING ROOM: Aura paint in Cloud White: Benjamin Moore. Blue-velvet sofa: Clad Home. Leather chair: Trnk. Side table: Slash Objects. Ceiling light fixture: Atelier Areti. Coffee table: Sonder Living. Rug by The Rug Company: Farrow and Ball. Desk: HARTÔ. Borge Mogensen desk chair reissue: Fredericia. Sconce: Muller van Severin for Valeire Objects. Sound system: Sonos.

DINING AREA: Table: &Tradition. Borge Mogensen desk chair reissue: Fredericia.

BEDROOM: Vintage Harvey Probber Danish Mid-Century modern walnut headboard: 1stDibs. Lamp: Maison Sarah Lavoine. Dresser: Vintage. Sconces: Cedar & Moss. Nightstand: West Elm.

ADUs or accessory dwelling units can transform into home offices, living space for family or as a rental, or a retreat.

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.



Source link

A Brooklyn Brownstone Renovation “Flips” for the Better


Living space and rental come together in this Brooklyn brownstone renovation

brownstone renovation, Brooklyn

“After” photos by Kate Glicksberg for Sweeten

  • Homeowners: Bellamy, an executive at The GAP, and Zak, a senior environmental scientist, posted their project on Sweeten
  • Where: Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, New York
  • Primary renovation: Three stories of a 2,400-square-foot Brooklyn brownstone
  • Notable: Swapping the positions of their renovated garden rental and owners’ duplex
  • Result: Better functionality for the two-family building
  • Sweeten general contractor
  • Sweeten’s role: Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner.

Guest post by Sweeten homeowner Bellamy

Finding their circa 1900 Brooklyn brownstone home

After a grueling year-long search, countless open houses, and one house lost in a bidding war, we found our home. Remarkably, it had everything we wanted: it was a two-family home in the heart of “brownstone” Brooklyn, with original hardwood floors. Most of the houses in the neighborhood were built circa 1900. Many we viewed did not stand the test of time, but this home had been in the same family for years and did not show the usual wear-and-tear of a 100-year-old home. We were lucky, but it did need a major facelift.

Slider

 

I was thankful to stumble upon Sweeten early in my renovation research for our brownstone in Brooklyn. While I had owned a home before, this was our first time doing a serious renovation that would require more than our DIY skills could handle.

The layout of the house and our budget did not afford us a ton of options, so the renovation was straightforward. We focused on structural changes to change the flow and use of the house. Thankfully, when we moved in, we were able to live in the garden floor apartment while we renovated the upper two floors where we would eventually live.

Salvaging and repurposing

We removed the original entry doors as you come into the entry foyer, but left the structural wall intact. This allowed the area to feel more open as you continue into the living area; it also gave back more livable space to work with. However, I loved the original details of the doors and wanted to find another use for them. Luckily, they just fit the ceiling clearance on the second floor and they found new life as the guest room headboard.

In the living room and through to the kitchen, we tore down two walls and exposed a long expanse of brick wall. The former owner had repointed the brick in the front room with black mortar, which was a real eyesore. When we exposed the whole length of the house, we were left with two walls that didn’t match. Limited by our budget, we repointed the half that was previously covered and experimented with painting techniques to blend the two together.

Slider

 

An overhaul for the kitchen

I wanted the kitchen to be the focus of the home. There were three main obstacles: adding a door for backyard access, the ceiling height, and a non-negotiable double oven. I initially wanted to enlarge the back window above the sink to make it a focal point and let in more natural light. Not far along into the process, I had to abandon that idea since we were concerned with what the enlarged opening would do to the structural integrity of the home, given its age. It was also a huge expense so we chose to use those dollars elsewhere.

In the end, we actually made the window above the sink slightly smaller to allow for a proper backsplash. We replaced the second window with a door and added a small landing and stairs for easy backyard access.

The next question was how to vent the hood with 11-foot-high ceilings and open shelving left nowhere to hide. Ultimately, the ducting was kept exposed and vented directly through the wall outside. I love the industrial element it adds to the newly renovated space.

Lastly, where to fit the double oven? At first, I was concerned I would be giving up valuable pantry space, but the layout worked out perfectly and there was room for everything we wanted, even the custom built-in beverage taps. We are home-brewing enthusiasts and wanted a unique feature in our kitchen to showcase that.

WATCH: How Bellamy and Zak find their Sweeten contractor

Splurging and saving

The first-floor bath was an easy update. The layout was already functional, so we kept it as-is with a direct replacement—aka rip-and-replace—of all the fixtures. We were able to salvage the original door and reuse the existing tub. We later put our DIY skills to the test and added fun wallpaper and wainscoting.

My favorite splurge on the top floor was a heated bathroom floor—worth every penny in the winter.

The top floor previously served as a separate apartment complete with its own kitchen. We wanted to have a master bedroom, master closet, master bathroom, guest bedroom, and laundry room. The tricky part was figuring out where to put everything. The pre-existing kitchen allowed us to easily add laundry without a huge expense. Once that was decided, everything else fell into place.

The master bedroom closet is a dream spot that had been a small room that our contractor converted. My favorite splurge on the top floor was a heated bathroom floor—worth every penny in the winter.

Throughout the house, we did some major upgrades that elevate the whole space: we put up fresh drywall throughout the second floor, refinished the original floors in a dark walnut color, and replaced all the windows in the house.

Slider

 

Managing the renovation budget and process

While I would not necessarily recommend living in a renovation (so much dust), it did allow us to check on the progress and be more involved in day-to-day decisions such as outlet locations and doorknob height. We optimistically thought the renovation would take three months, but we did add on some significant projects that stretched the timeline. Overall, the project took about five months to complete the top two floors with some minor updates in the garden apartment.

The budget was our major obstacle, but our Sweeten contractor was great at working with us to determine where we could splurge and where we could save. Once our contractor realized we were quite handy, we were able to figure out what we could do ourselves versus what we should leave to the professionals. For example, we chose to take on all the painting, which was a huge undertaking. I’m talking all ceilings, all walls, all trim, and multiple coats! I don’t think we understood what a huge task it was—and that in certain spaces, the contractor was unable to move forward until we completed painting. I’m glad we did it, but it was a grueling several months and I’m pretty sure I gave myself carpal tunnel.

Switching the brownstone layout

The biggest change in terms of the function of the home was separating the garden floor apartment from the upper two floors. In dividing the two, we were able to gain a coat closet in the apartment and additional storage space for us before the basement level. The ground floor is now available as its own standalone rental unit, while we live on the two floors above. Now that the house is done, I am so thankful we splurged on what we wanted—replacing the windows, skim-coating, and repointing the brick; those are some of my favorite things in the house.

Thanks to Bellamy and Zak for sharing your beautiful and unique Brooklyn brownstone renovation story with us! Here’s how they renovated their new garden rental space on a budget.

SHOPPING GUIDE

FOYER RESOURCES: Merola floor tile: Home Depot.

LIVING ROOM RESOURCES: Vega brushed brass blush-mount lamp: CB2.

GROUND FLOOR BATH RESOURCES: Merola hex black floor tile: Home Depot. Jeffrey Court Fresh White wall tile: Home Depot. Devine Color Speckled Dot peel-and-stick wallpaper: Target. Delta Foundations shower fixtures: Home Depot. ENSEN faucet: IKEA. Black towel bar hardware: CB2. The Copper Factory doorknob: Overstock.com. Godmorgon/Odensvik vanity and sink: IKEA. Framed fog-free wall mirror: Home Depot. Hinkley Lighting vanity light from Ainsley Collection, 56552PN: Build.com.

KITCHEN RESOURCES: Merola floor tile, FRC8TWED: Home Depot. Kitchen cabinets: Custom. Omnia cabinet knobs, 9153/18.3: Build.com. Drawer pulls: Custom. Quartz countertops, 1141: Caesarstone. Jeffrey Court Fresh White backsplash tile, 96012: Home Depot. Olde London apron-front farmhouse fireclay sink, OL33SG: Home Depot. Kenmore refrigerator, 70423: Sears. Bosch dishwasher, SHVM78W53N: Sears. Whirlpool self-cleaning double electric wall oven, WOD51EC0AS: Lowe’s. Kenmore slide-in gas cooktop, 34913: Sears.

MASTER BATH RESOURCES: Carrara marble hex mosaic floor tile, C33XH: MarbleOnline.com. Jeffrey Court Fresh White wall tile, 96012: Home Depot. Jeffrey Court Retro Octagon White Dot shower floor tile, 96025: Home Depot. Towel bar and toilet paper holder: CB2. Delta Porter shower fixtures, 142984C-BN-A: Home Depot. Godmorgon/Odensvik sink and vanity, 291.852.39: IKEA. Vanity cabinet fronts: Semihandmade. Hinkley Lighting vanity light from Ainsley Collection, 56552PN: Build.com. Home Decorators Collection framed fog-free wall mirror, 81160: Home Depot.

PAINT RESOURCES: Trim paint in Totally Black, HDC-MD-04: Behr. Wall paint in Pure White, PPU18-06: Behr.

See the downstairs rental results from Bellamy and Zek’s Brooklyn brownstone renovation story!

Remodel the brownstone of your dreams with help from our guide on purchasing and renovating a townhouse.

Refer your renovating friends to Sweeten and you’ll both receive a $250 Visa gift card when they sign a contract with a Sweeten general contractor.

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 Living Room Renovation Puts A Pool Table in the Spotlight


College friends collaborate on a living room renovation & kitchen update to create a grown-up man nest

bachelor pad renovation

“After” photos by Kate Glicksberg for Sweeten

  • Designer Bennett Gale posted his project on Sweeten on behalf of his client Dan.
  • Where: Greenwich Village, Manhattan, New York
  • Primary renovation: Living room renovation to expand + kitchen remodel in a 900-square-foot co-op
  • Notable: The remodel transformed a cramped living room into a swanky billiards chamber.
  • Result: An open kitchen, a dry bar with party potential and plenty of room to cue pool
  • Sweeten’s role: Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner.

A living room renovation gives room for a fave sport

Sometimes even man-cave passions are well worth making room for. Designer Bennett Gale knew this when he agreed to help his friend Dan, who had purchased a one-bedroom apartment in a 1960 New York City building, with its remodel.

“For the longest time, the only piece of furniture that Dan had—before he even bought a bed—was a pool table,” recalled Bennett, who works as a project manager for a luxury real-estate developer. The dark-wood billiards console—sturdy, angular, and clad in camel-toned felt—was a prized possession and an essential feature in the project. Dan, a finance executive who’d moved into the co-op about a year before starting on the redesign, had made it the apartment’s centerpiece.

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Designer, Bennett Gale

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“BEFORE” of kitchen

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A pool table in a Manhattan apartment may sound like a literal elephant in the room, but Bennett, who had been close with Dan since college, understood its importance and was happy to discuss it. The table had a modern design and good bones. With a set of 4 – 5 table leaves that let it multitask as a dining surface, the nifty four-legged table was also practical—Dan had gathered many a friend around it. The issue was that his otherwise sparsely set living room felt tight when the table was in use. “I wanted to create more space around it,” said Dan. Plus, more elbow room would be useful for pool cues!

Planning an entertainment space at home

Dan and Bennett worked together to post the job on Sweeten and soon hired a contractor. Then they set out to upgrade the co-op into the ultimate bachelor’s pad. (Note: Dan’s girlfriend has moved in since the renovation—and reportedly, loves the space.) The original scope of the project, Bennett said, grew substantially. “We’d planned to open up the wall between the kitchen and the living room, but once we dug into the plans, it became clear that by taking out a few walls and relocating a closet, we could make better use of the space.”

He proposed a full reconfiguration that would knock out a lot of flow-hampering sheetrock, give the kitchen an eye-catching redo, and elevate the living room to become a spacious entertaining hub. The makeover would bring light and a chic, loft-like sprawl to the downtown apartment.

Conversations about specifics began in the kitchen. Bennett and Dan put a lot of research into cohesive surfacing choices. “Dark-wood parquet flooring dominates a lot of the space,” Bennett said, “so we lightened up the walls and chose materials that coordinated with the wood.” Dan opted for kitchen cabinets in a custom textured veneer with blond accents; dark matte-bronze cabinet hardware and coordinating lighting fixtures complement the stained wood. The natural marble that Dan settled on for the countertops is a warm white with earth-toned veining that echoes the deep brown pool and dining table.

kitchen bar

Sample testing the countertop materials

Quality and durability were primary factors. Dan had decided to go “all in” on natural marble for the countertops and backsplash. “We did countless tests on countertop samples in order to determine whether we should go with honed marble or polished,” Bennett said. “Olive oil, red wine, hot sauce, pickle juice, and soda were tested to observe how it would stain or etch.” Dan chose a matte honed finish, which is more resistant to discoloration and allows scratches and marks to blend. “From multiple slabs, we identified one with as much veining and movement as possible,” Bennett said. 

With materials picked and sourced, the real work began. The crew opened the kitchen, installed cabinetry and appliances, and created a three-stooled stretch of counter seating on the opening’s living-room side. From there, the apartment’s other unnecessary walls got the sledgehammer. Bennett’s plan included taking out a hallway wall to give more space around the pool table.

To complete the space expansion, the removal of a corner closet revealed a protruding column. Bennett designed a dry bar to fill the accidental niche. “That awkward corner became a great opportunity,” Bennett said. “We negotiated with the contractor to have the bar included in the build-out. It ended up as a great display.” The closet was relocated to an oversized and inefficient foyer.

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Choosing the right general contractor team

As is the case in most every home-construction job, the team hit some snags. During demolition, contractors discovered that the electrical wiring needed to be upgraded. Bennett emphasizes the importance of reading and understanding co-op or condo board rules and sharing them with contractors, who must not only work within the regulations, but also lock in the appropriate licenses and insurance coverages for the project.

A cooperative relationship between the construction crew and building staff is an absolute must, according to Bennett. “Get the super involved early,” he says. “These individuals almost always have previous experience with renovations in the building, and can often provide valuable insight on the exact issues you’ll encounter.” Fortunately, Dan received support from Sweeten throughout the process, and from Bennett, his friend (and architect!) “I would have been lost without his experience, guidance, and recommendations, not to mention his help pushing back on the contractors and the building when I needed it,” he said.

All challenges aside, though, “I’m very happy with the finished product,” Dan said. “I accomplished exactly what I was looking to do.” 

Thank you, Bennett and Dan, for sharing the results of a great collaboration! 

SHOPPING GUIDE

KITCHEN: Porcelain floor tiles: Tile Depot. Kitchen cabinets: Provided by contractor. Bronze cabinet hardware: Emtek. Calacatta Calvini honed marble countertops: Stone Source. Grohe Brushed Chrome faucet: AJ Madison. Bosch refrigerator, Bertazzoni dishwasher, range, and hood: P.C. Richards & Son. Light fixtures: Y Lighting.

LIVING SPACE: White Dove paint: Benjamin Moore. Pool table: Blatt Billiards. Sectional sofa: West Elm. Light fixture over pool table: Tech Lighting.

ADUs or accessory dwelling units can transform into home offices, living space for family or as a rental, or a retreat.

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 Manhattan Duplex Remodel To Expand & Welcome a Child


Expecting parents take on a Manhattan duplex remodel to expand their space and fortify for the future

Greenwich Village home renovation


  • Homeowners: Rachel + Marco posted their Manhattan duplex remodel on Sweeten
  • Where: Greenwich Village in Manhattan, NYC
  • Primary renovation: Swapping rooms between two floors of a duplex co-op
  • Notable: A kitchen expands with hidden appliances and built-ins
  • Result: The kitchen and living room come together to create a great room
  • Sweeten general contractor
  • Sweeten’s role: Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner.

Guest post by Sweeten homeowner Rachel

A Manhattan duplex remodel (instead of moving)

This is our first home, which we bought about six years ago just after we got married. When we were planning to expand our family, we knew we had to renovate or move. There was enough square footage, but we needed more distinct rooms or spaces. The apartment is a duplex co-op in Greenwich Village which was built in 1910. We love Greenwich Village so much and I really wanted to have the experience of raising a baby here. So, we renovated!

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Living here for so long before the renovation was really helpful since it gave us plenty of time to think about the best possible use of the space. We had a two-bedroom, two-bath, but wanted another bedroom for a baby. The old layout didn’t really work for entertaining, either—the kitchen and dining room were upstairs while the living room was downstairs. Marco and I also wanted our own personal spaces within our home for his hobbies and for my closet/office. Overall, we hoped to create a comfortable family home that met everyone’s needs.

I always thought of our apartment as a hidden gem—a colorful, fun place where you could see a little girl growing up, sophisticated yet flexible enough to allow for events like playdates and parties. The general contractors we found through Sweeten were really amazing. On top of being creative problem solvers, they were incredibly nice guys!

The top floor would be a combined kitchen/dining/living area, so the kitchen needed to be functional but also beautiful enough for a dinner party. We hid most of the appliances behind paneled cabinets; an “appliance garage” and snack storage were organized inside hallway cabinets outfitted with marble countertops. When we have family-style dinners, we set up the self-serve dishes and bar in those spaces. So, yes, you’re in a kitchen, but it’s also an elegant dining room.

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Customizing the almost-black kitchen

I cook a lot and was so excited for the stove. I wanted one of those fancy French stoves that come in custom colors, but they are so expensive! Instead, I found one from a U.S. manufacturer for maybe one-third the price. (They also do custom colors.) The cabinet color was chosen to match the stove, so this appliance is “hidden,” too. We wanted something different from the typical all-white kitchen that would also complement the light wood floors. This almost-black shade is just a little more interesting than plain black. It took lots of trips to the paint store for swatches!

We put a lot of thought into maximizing space and brainstorming with our Sweeten contractors. We really pushed them to be creative. I just kept saying, “We need to hide the trash and we need a spice cabinet. Where can we do it?” I wouldn’t let up! The answer was wrapping the cabinets around the pillar and also where the lower cabinets end, which created a finished look. There were other details: I don’t think you can go wrong with big molding. I chose the largest size I could find for the ceilings, doors, and floors! It makes a big difference for not a huge cost.

I don’t think you can go wrong with big molding. I chose the largest size I could find for the ceilings, doors, and floors! It makes a big difference for not a huge cost.

There were a few challenges, like the flooring. It took a couple of tries to get it just right, including completely refinishing the downstairs floors more than once.

Then there was the fireplace, which was very old and didn’t work. Our contractors figured out it was a faux fireplace that took up space for no reason, so it was removed.

Matching new and old brick

We also needed to make our brand-new brick match with the brick from 1910. Our contractors came up with a solution that was even better than what we had imagined. We repaired some portions, which was very expensive, and painted the wall solid white, stripping that paint off layer by layer to create the current washed effect. That helped to blend the new and (very) old brick.

The bathroom needed updating, too. It was really old with a weirdly-shaped, very deep, mini tub. We installed a beautiful regular-sized tub and shower tile I had seen in another project our contractors had done, which I loved. I pushed hard to put in a double-wide mirror, even though there were a lot of issues with making a recessed cabinet fit the space. I’m glad I persevered because it makes the room so much bigger.

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A bedroom transforms into personal hobby spaces

Marco and I have always believed in having our own spaces. We divided what used to be a huge bedroom into two separate spaces to create his office and my closet. Marco needed his own space where he could work on his hobbies without driving me crazy! He likes to do things that create dust and noise and play his music really loud. He works hard during the week, so he should have a place to do that! The office is actually soundproofed so he won’t wake the baby.

Greenwich Village home renovation

Throughout the process, Sweeten was great; they continually checked in with us. I knew I could go to them if there was ever an issue with our contractor. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you need to pick finishes in person whenever possible. It’s really hard to imagine what crown molding, counters, or other elements look like on a computer screen.

Thank you, Rachel and Marco, for sharing your Manhattan duplex remodel with us!

Shopping Guide

KITCHEN RESOURCES: Kitchen cabinets: Showplace Cabinetry. Black of Night cabinet paint color: Benjamin Moore. Cabinet hardware: Lewis Dolin. Sink and faucet: Newport Brass. Refrigerator: Sub-Zero. Stove: Big Chill. Dining table: ModShop. Dining stools: CB2.

LIVING ROOM RESOURCES: Crown molding: ArchitecturalDepot.com. Sofas: Mitchell Gold & Bob Williams. Rug: AllModern. Bookshelves: CB2.

BATHROOM RESOURCES: Hardware, shower fixtures, and toilet: Kohler. Sink and vanity: Restoration Hardware. White Wisp paint color: Benjamin Moore.

MASTER BEDROOM RESOURCES: River Blue paint color: Benjamin Moore. Arc Floor Lamp: Sit Down New York. Console: West Elm. Stool: Wayfair.

NURSERY RESOURCES: Sun Kissed Peach paint color: Benjamin Moore. Wall art: Johanna Goodman. Crib and upholstered chair: Babyletto.

OFFICE RESOURCES: Baby Seal Black paint color: Benjamin Moore. Closet system: California Closets.

WALK-IN CLOSET RESOURCES: Closet system: The Container Store.

When you’re ready to build your dream home, having a licensed general contractor is key. Read more on why.

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 Full Apartment Renovation Smooths a Family’s Traffic Flow


A full apartment renovation in Clinton Hill prioritizes comfort and storage

Kitchen view

“After” photos by Kate Glicksberg for Sweeten


  • Homeowners: Dara + Mauricio posted their project on Sweeten
  • Where: Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, New York City
  • Primary renovation: An 1,800-square-foot full apartment renovation to increase function and storage
  • Notable: Giving the kitchen more space and flow by moving the refrigerator out of the space
  • Result: A larger kitchen and better flow throughout
  • Sweeten general contractor
  • Sweeten’s role: Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner.

Guest blog post by Sweeten homeowner Dara

Figuring out the best layout for the apartment

Our building was originally constructed in 1930, possibly for officers of the Navy Yard located several blocks north. Like many buildings in NYC, it turned into a co-op in the ’80s. The overall layout of the apartment was great, with a lot of natural light, but the configuration of the space in both bathrooms, as well as the kitchen, was awkward.

Mauricio, an architect, and I wanted to open up the kitchen so that all four of us, including our 5-year-old twins, could move around it comfortably while adding counter space and enlarging the existing island. But solving that problem was really challenging. We must have gone through at least ten different layouts.

We discussed everything from a standard galley kitchen layout, to relocating the gas line and stove, but nothing felt quite right. Then we said, “What if we extend the kitchen by taking a bit of space away from the adjacent dining room?” Ultimately, we realized that by moving the fridge and aligning it with an enlarged island, we could seamlessly expand the kitchen without sacrificing room for our dining table.

The kitchen remodel worked, and now we have a much bigger kitchen with a lot more storage and prep space. We even have huge cabinets underneath our island. Most importantly, our dining room is still perfectly roomy.

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Renovation tip to help save time

We planned for minimal construction and maximum impact.  The access point to the washer and dryer was moved from the master bedroom to the third bedroom by easily rotating it in its existing space, rather than relocating it. That way, you don’t need to walk through the master to do a load of laundry. It also allowed us a larger shower.

We opened up the “den” off the living room by removing built-ins along three walls to create a more flexible space as a TV room and an office. We saved money and time tailoring modular closets to our needs rather than building out new closets. Non-layout items we needed to address included fixing the electric panel and installing new hardwood floors since the original wood was as thin as the veneer.

Throughout the process, we kept in mind our 3 R’s mantra: Things needed to be easily repairable, replaceable, or recyclable. Most of our purchases were made from local stores that had minimum to no lead time. We chose not to do anything custom until our kids stopped sharing a bedroom when they get older; we might need to rethink some of the spaces.

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Compromising on style

In terms of style, we tried to reach a middle ground between our preferences. I chose a more eclectic style in the second bathroom: gray-and-blue patterned tiles on the floor and shower wall mixed with large white subway tiles. In the master bathroom, Mauricio preferred a more streamlined and minimalist look with grays and whites with a floating white glossy vanity.

We had a lot of opinions and ideas, and we were thankful that our contractor took the time to talk things through.

For the kitchen cabinets, we went with Ikea, that we could upgrade to semi-custom later on. We wanted solid hardwood that was reminiscent in the color of the original floor, but more modern looking. We chose a white oak in wide planks.

A good-working Sweeten reno team

Our Sweeten contractor and his dad made a great team. He was very easy to talk to, and his dad was quite resourceful, with many solutions for various problems we encountered along the way. We had a lot of opinions and ideas, and we were thankful that our contractor took the time to talk things through. We could debate different ideas with him, but he was never pushy or non-communicative.

Avoiding subcontractor issues

One thing we would do differently is to put all of the renovation items (except finishes) under the contractor umbrella. We bought our countertop slabs from a local store, which encouraged us to use their fabricator rather than using our contractor to oversee the subcontractors. At installation, there were problems with sizing and fit. The fabricator blamed the contractor for moving the kitchen cabinets. Meanwhile, the contractor blamed the fabricator for cutting a countertop that didn’t fit. If the fabricator had been a subcontractor of our contractor, and under his supervision, that would have all been avoided.

shower tile
cabinet storage

 

Finally, we’re extremely happy with our home. After the full renovation of our apartment, all four of us can have breakfast at the kitchen island with room to spare. Plus, with all of the closets plus the kitchen storage, we finally have enough space to store everything. It all makes us happy on a daily basis. Now we are gearing up for renovating our rooftop, to create an outdoor space for our family that rivals the interior.

Thank you, Dara + Mauricio, for sharing your full apartment renovation with us!

Shopping Guide

KITCHEN: Cabinets and hardware: Ikea. Countertops: Quartzmaster. Sink: Kohler. Faucet: Grohe. Fridge, dishwasher, and stove: Bosch. Lighting: West Elm. Paint in Decorator White (eggshell finish on walls and semi-gloss doors): Benjamin Moore

MASTER BATHROOM: Medicine cabinets: Wyndham Collection. Toilet and sink: Duravit. Accessories: Delta. Slate floor and wall tiles: Galactic Tiles. Paint in Ultra White: Benjamin Moore.

SECOND BATHROOM: Medicine cabinets: Kohler. Toilet and bathtub: Duravit. Accessories: Delta. Faucet: Kohler. Floor tiles: Vintage and purchased locally. Paint in Ultra White: Benjamin Moore.

LIVING SPACES: Prefinished white oak flooring and base molding: Lumber LiquidatorsShaker-style doors throughout: Brooklyn Windows & Doors. Paint and Plaster in Ultra White: Benjamin Moore.

Plan ahead and read up on how long it takes to renovate a whole apartment.

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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An Empty Nest Renovation That Checks Every Box


Seasoned renovators bring all their expertise for empty nest renovations to their prewar gem

prewar apartment

“After” photos by Kate Glicksberg for Sweeten

Beth and Bob Judge knew what they wanted: a prewar apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. And the couple—a residential real estate salesperson and a financial industry consultant—were willing to wait (and renovate) to score one that suited their family’s needs, knowing that an empty nest renovation was on the horizon. When they found the approximately 1,450-square-foot co-op in a 1917 Beaux-Arts building complete with 9-10-foot ceilings, they went for it.

For the couple and their son, Rip, a college senior, (their daughter Meghan, a recent college grad, lives nearby) and their corgi puppy Watson, the apartment was perfect. It had room for Beth’s home office and potential for smart, modern upgrades. To bring their empty nest renovation vision to life, they posted their project on Sweeten and chose their contractor. Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner.

Guest post by Sweeten homeowner Beth Judge

Moving back to the city

We relocated back to Manhattan several years ago after residing in the Midwest and South for work. It was simply time to return home to our families in the Tri-State area. Bob and I met in NYC while studying for our MBAs, and Bob grew up here. While away, we owned several single-family homes —a few we had renovated—so we weren’t strangers to the process. There was a high likelihood of renovating to make a space our own as we started the buying phase.

NYC renovation portrait

We rented for a few years until we located an apartment that would satisfy our love of prewar architectural details while accommodating modern living. Our home was purchased through an estate sale and we immediately started renovating. It had been updated in the early ‘90s, when the owners created an open floor plan of living room, dining room, and foyer which was a big draw for us. And there are two windows in every room except the bath, so the light was a huge selling point!

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Mapping the “musts” for an empty nest renovation

While Bob rents office space, I required a fully functional home office in a dedicated space. Also, a washer/dryer! We lived without them for a few years in Manhattan after having a laundry room in suburban homes, and we didn’t want to do that ever again. Both the kitchen and the bath needed better functionality and major cosmetic updates. Storage was essential throughout the apartment, as well as better lighting.

Our vision for the apartment was classic and period-appropriate but updated for today. We felt it was important to keep within the prewar aesthetic, including subway tiles, wood flooring, wide baseboard and door frame moldings, classic single-panel doors, radiator covers, and shaker-style cabinets.

closet turn home office

More storage and a tip for staying cool

The master bedroom initially had a large double door closet. We flipped it to be used in the second bedroom next door as a home office. We created built-in drawers and cabinets, as well as added new closets to account for the one given to the home office. 

I loved ditching the tub for a large shower stall and completely rearranging the master bath. We went for a custom industrial-style shower screen, mosaic floor tiles, and classic subway tiles with a twist: a crackle pattern. Plus a black metal grate for heat. The design worked!

I sourced what I needed at the onset so we weren’t crunched for time in selecting and getting product delivered in time.

Electrical rewiring was not expected, but it had to be done. Then we replaced all the lighting and added ceiling fans in the bedrooms and kitchen. It’s a trick from the south because you can cut down on A/C bills. And it’s a plus in a prewar building where you can’t regulate the heat in winter.  We went for sleek, custom radiator covers that are great for display on top, too.

In the foyer, we extended the closet out by six inches and added shelving on top. So what was non-functional became completely utilized, with tons of space! We added bookshelves in the living room—we love books and are avid readers.

stainless steel kitchen counter

Enlisting Sweeten during a hurdle

Bob would say the stainless steel countertops surrounding the range are a throwback to a ’50s kitchen we had. Those tops are indestructible! It was the only design element he wished to have a “say” in. Bob is the master of paint colors. I can give him a palette of 10 colors and he can narrow them down so that they flow together from room to room.

While we had renovation knowledge, every experience has its unexpected nuances. We were very relieved to have Sweeten as the backstop when needed. It was great to have someone who could assist in holding the contractors accountable. We had problems with the contractor in a subsequent gas leak after move in. The contractor had punctured a line in the kitchen with a drywall screw. So parts of the kitchen had to be dismantled, the leak fixed, and put back together again. Sweeten stood by us and made sure the job was completed correctly. 

master bathroom
Tub-to-shower conversion


When planning for the unexpected pays off

I wish I had engaged Sweeten to talk through the contract, which might have avoided several issues. Having a second set of eyes is never a bad idea! For example, while I was very specific on the type of cabinetry I wanted, we found the budget in the contract did not align with reality. 

To help alleviate the overage, I hit the sales.  Also, I sourced what I needed at the onset so we weren’t crunched for time in selecting and getting product delivered in time. Additionally, we had allocated extra funds for overages and the unexpected.

Our new home makes us feel joyful. Our daughter commented that the space is aesthetically a culmination of all of our past homes, with a bit of industrial thrown in. It’s truly who we are at this stage of life, a mix of the past and present: kids grown, empty nesters with a puppy in the house!

Thank you, Beth and Bob, for sharing your empty nest renovation with us!

Shopping Guide

KITCHEN: Countertops, subway tile backsplash: Caesarstone. Stainless under-mount sink and pull-down commercial faucet: Kohler. Refrigerator: Miele. Dishwasher: Bosch. Range: XO.  Microwave: GE. Paint in Pale Oak: Benjamin Moore. Washer and dryer: Blomberg. Fanimation custom drum ceiling fan in black and brass: Pottery Barn. Custom pine shelving: Delirious by Design. Shelving hardware: Rejuvenation.

BATHROOM: Merola mosaic floor tile: Home Depot. Crackle subway shower wall tile in Tierra Ceramic Filed: Complete Tile. Watermark shower fixtures, sink faucet, and train rack: Pottery Barn. Shower screen: Custom. Vanity: Custom. Lucite drawer pulls: LuxHoldUps. Toilet: American Standard. Lighting: Shades of Light. Vanity mirror/medicine cabinet and sink: Kohler.  Towel ring, toilet paper holder: Rejuvenation. Wall paint in Calm, custom vanity paint in San Antonio Gray: Benjamin Moore.

HOME OFFICE: Wallpaper in Dog’s Life: Anthropologie. Maple shelving and table top: Custom. Shelving brackets: Rejuvenation. Chair: West Elm. File cabinets: Pottery Barn.

MASTER BEDROOM: Drawer pulls and cabinet knobs: Restoration Hardware. Paint in Knitted Cap: Benjamin Moore.

LIVING AREA: Door hardware: Baldwin.  Bedroom ceiling fans: Hunter. Dining room chandelier, foyer ceiling light: Ballard Designs. Hall crystal flush mount: Shades of Light. Paint for all trim, kitchen cabinets, master builtins and radiator covers in Dove White; bedroom wall paint in Constellation: Benjamin Moore. Radiator covers: Custom. Existing hardwood floor and new hardwoods in kitchen: Custom gray wash.

ADUs or accessory dwelling units can transform into home offices, living space for family or as a rental, or a retreat.

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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She Shed Gives a Derelict Backyard Garage Real Purpose


A “she shed” in Queens emerges from a garage renovation, complete with a pull-down ladder, kitchen, and bathroom

She Shed

“After” photos by Miao Jiaxin for Sweeten

When her elderly mother needed some assistance, Michelle, a paralegal from Queens, New York, decided to move back home. From the start, she knew she would want her own space to thrive in this new living arrangement. Renovating a 228-square-foot beat-up garage in the backyard provided the perfect solution: the ultimate “she shed” retreat that she nicknamed The Shak. As this was her first-ever renovation project, posting her project to find fully-vetted contractors through Sweeten “seemed like a no-brainer.” Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner. The result: a vibrant space that is truly all her own.

Guest post by Sweeten homeowner Michelle

Finding the right contractors

My journey down the renovation rabbit hole began when I found myself picturing the dilapidated garage in the backyard as my dream “diva den,” as my best friend calls it. While researching different designs and models, I remembered an article on Sweeten I’d read a few years ago and had always wanted to use their services. It seemed like a no-brainer to have an intermediary help locate vetted contractors. It also solved the huge question of ‘where to begin.

Since I had no idea what my renovation would cost, Sweeten helped me modify my scope of work and nail down a realistic budget. They introduced me to a few contractors who were a good match for my project. I finally felt like I had a team behind me, which is great once you start writing big checks.

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I asked questions that clearly came from watching copious amounts of home improvement TV. Everyone was extremely patient and explained why things are done a certain way.

Planning the “She Shed” garage remodel

I knew instantly that the first Sweeten contractor I met was the right fit for the job. Finally, I found someone as excited about my garage as I was! At that stage, I only had a basic idea of what I wanted. We took down most of the existing structure, retaining only the foundation. Since I was renovating a 12′ x 19′ garage, I wanted the interior to be basic and for the structure to retain the identity and functionality of a garage. That meant concrete floors, no molding, and a statement-making garage door. If you took out the rugs and furniture of the she shed, the structure could have use as a garage or workspace. I also wanted a calming space with one stipulation: no white walls.

Experiencing a real-life renovation

Working with everyone on my contractor’s team was amazing. I asked questions that clearly came from watching copious amounts of home improvement TV. Everyone was extremely patient and explained why things are done a certain way. Most importantly, nobody exposed me for the complete novice that I was. Gaining an understanding of how everything worked also helped reign in some of my design ideas. To top off the contractor’s great service, he downloaded WhatsApp to stay in touch with me when I left for Cuba mid-project. I greatly appreciated his dedication to my peace of mind.

The weather was one of the biggest challenges during my project. It wasn’t an issue when my project started in August. However, when November arrived, it was either too cold, too rainy or was supposed to rain but didn’t. Either way, there were a few bad weather days that halted work on The Shak. My contractor also had to juggle other clients. In my naiveté, I thought contractors worked on one project at a time. I came to understand that The Shak was my highest priority, but contractors work on other dream projects at the same time.

ladder to garage attic

Building a ladder to the attic

As the exterior took shape, and the interior work began, I became more involved in the project. That is also when my attention to detail heightened. For storage, we utilized the space, we utilized the space above the ceiling. How to access that space became an hour-long discussion. I asked the contractor and his partner how I would get up to the storage space. “Use a ladder,” they said. “That’s what I do in my garage.” I’m no mathematician, but a nine-foot-tall ceiling plus a five-foot-tall girl does not equal easy movement of big boxes up a six-foot ladder. And where would I keep this ladder when I wasn’t using it? After a bit of selling on my part, they agreed to install an attic ladder. It was worth hashing out and in the end, my contractors loved the ladder too.

Personalizing the “she shed” bathroom

It may sound weird, but finding my dry-flush toilet was exciting. The she shed did not seem usable to me if you had to keep going into the house to use the bathroom. After endlessly searching for a toilet that did not need to be hooked up to sewage lines or have an odor, I came across a dry flush toilet. It is a great invention. It works like a Diaper Genie disposal system with a continuous bag that self-seals when “flushed,” then, a new portion of the bag opens for use.

Since the bathroom is a small 3’ x 4’ space, I definitely wanted some over-the-top designs on the walls. I initially thought of using three-dimensional self-adhesive wall panels but decided against that since I wanted a mix of color and patterns. As a naturally curly-haired girl, the print I chose was a perfect fit for my preference of streamlined chaos.

garage bathroom remodel

A tip on DIY wallpaper hanging

However, by the time I found the mural, the contractors had completed the interior space. So, my best friend and I enrolled in the university that is YouTube. After watching about twenty videos, we felt qualified to hang wallpaper, something neither of us had ever done before. I love what we accomplished, but some things take more skill and patience than she or I possess. I will never hang wallpaper again.

Ultra-bold backsplash tiles

After the contractor installed the sink and countertop, my next big project was the backsplash. I wanted something different and eye-catching, something that would not bore me. I came across graffiti tiles but the designs weren’t bold enough. After feeling empowered with my new construction knowledge, I decided to decoupage my own tiles. We figured out the dimensions for the backsplash and measured out 5′ x 2′ worth of decoupage tiles as well as some purchased ones. It is one of my favorite things in The Shak. Now, when my friends come over, they all choose their favorite tile. I love how they invite interaction.

I have never embarked on a project of this size. At times, it was scary. I would get a call at 8 a.m. from my contractor, asking which direction I wanted the French doors to open or what size I wanted the windows to be, with no clue of how to respond. My advice to anyone starting a project would be to pick a contractor that listens to your ideas. It is also helpful to watch some YouTube videos, home improvement shows, or however else you like to educate yourself. The more a homeowner knows, the better he or she can direct the construction of their masterpiece. I couldn’t be happier with everything I accomplished in making The Shak a reality.

Thank you, Michelle, for sharing the story of your she shed, The Shak with us! We hope it brings joy and relaxation.

RESOURCES: Garage door: Clopay Avante. Flooring: stained concrete. Stone Harbor Greige paint,10YY 48/071: Glidden. Exterior light fixture; Doors and windows: Lowe’s. Siding: Vinyl. Midea 9,000 BTU mini split central air: Amazon. Boholmen sink and Grevsta cabinets: IKEA. Refrigerator: Home Depot. Backsplash: Zazzle and custom tiles. Toilet: Laveo Dry Flush. Foam bath floor mat tiles: Amazon. Wall mural: Pixers.

ADUs or accessory dwelling units can transform into home offices, living space for family or as a rental, or a retreat.

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 Colonial Home Remodel Featuring Soft Tones


Clever ideas for a Colonial home kitchen remodel and a newly-created bathroom

When Amanda, a former pastry chef, and Cory, a tech executive, saw their 1919 Yonkers Colonial house for the first time, they were charmed. They loved everything, down to the kitchen’s dated salmon formica. But they also knew that after they lived there for a bit, they would be renovating it to suit their family’s needs. With their son, Herschel, and their cat, Horse P. Cat, they moved into the 2,600-square-foot home and brainstormed about how to best remodel the kitchen and add a new downstairs bathroom.

To bring their Colonial home remodel to life, they posted their project on Sweeten and hired this Westchester-based contractor. Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner.

drip dishware collection

“After” photos by Miao Jiaxin for Sweeten

Guest blog post by Sweeten homeowner Amanda

A charming (but not functional) Colonial home

We had been dividing our time between a farmhouse in Dutchess County and a walk-up apartment in Brooklyn. When our son was born, neither of these homes was quite suited to us. We decided to find a place in between with a shorter commute for my husband, more social opportunities for me, and easy access to the home.

When we first saw the house, we were charmed by the time-capsule of a kitchen—salmon formica, dark-wood cabinets, and a dishwasher that predated the other elements. That said, we knew we would eventually update the kitchen. Having a lavatory on the ground floor and not having to run upstairs was also on the wishlist.

Yonkers family portrait

The existing kitchen had one radiator, which was buried in the back of a custom cabinet. It was a clever solution at the time, but ate up a lot of cabinet space and wasn’t heat-efficient. We decided to install a radiant floor heating system that we could run off of our existing hot-water heating system. A more formal, fully-functional island would offer storage, outlets, and a bigger counter area.

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We wanted to create a better flow of traffic and light. The main entrance to the kitchen from the dining room was a narrow 28-inch-wide doorway. It made the kitchen feel isolated from the rest of the house. Bringing down the wall would not have respected the house’s character. Instead, the opening was widened and centered between the two rooms to bring more natural light into the north-facing kitchen. 

Balancing the kitchen structures

Some infrastructural elements dictated a lot of the design. One was that the major waste line for the three upstairs bathrooms lays along the kitchen’s exterior wall. It had been boxed out previously, and the existing cabinets had been customized around it. We didn’t want to relocate that line, so we decided to figure out how to incorporate it.

The second element was a sheetrock box-beam of sorts. We didn’t know what was in it, but since it was asymmetrically placed and not detailed like the house’s other box beams, we assumed it was hiding something expensive to move. Our thought was, let’s give this weird beam and column matching mates to create symmetry.

Colonial kitchen remodel

These design decisions hid the two odd-ball elements by making it look like they’d always been there. Bonus: We made that second column a sneaky little cabinet right between the sink/dishwasher and our espresso machine. It’s the perfect spot for drinking glasses and cups. We love it!

I wanted to bring the warmth and softness of natural wood into the kitchen, so I chose a darker wood for the cabinets that echoes our furniture. A built-in pantry was replaced with custom open shelving. The birds-mouth adjustable shelves look like they might have been there when the house was built. It enhances the room’s original feel and provides a display for our brown-drip dishware collection.

Turning closets into a power room

There was no bathroom on the first floor. We combined two closets—approximately 4’ x 4’—and some square footage where we used to hang coats by the back door. The sacrifice was worth it for what would become the most frequented bathroom in the house. A pocket door with frosted glass saved space and allowed light to flow through. We installed Art Deco wallpaper, wainscoting, a picture rail, and paint in neutral tones.

Though manufacturers say that you can install wood flooring over radiant heat systems, it made me leery, and wood is not an efficient conductor of heat. I was certain I wanted tile, but one that wouldn’t appear cold or hard.


Finding the right contractor for our remodel

Sweeten helped us find a group of tried-and-true general contractors to vet. In the past, we’d tried a few recommended by neighbors, but this time that didn’t work. And this project was too big an investment to just pick somebody out of a hat. It was great to be able to talk through everything with a Sweeten professional and get a curated list. I doubt we’d have found our contractor on our own, and I’m so glad we did.

They were much more organized than contractors we’d worked with previously. Our contractor seemed to have experience and know-how beyond his years. When we ran into uncertainties, he was great at suggesting possible solutions. There was a structural issue discovered during demolition that required changes to the design layout. He was quick to help us with potential resolutions, down to providing revised elevations so we could visualize the new design. And he always discussed costs with us before we signed off. They also provided spreadsheets to help me keep track of all the elements I needed to order and have on-site.

The sacrifice was worth it for what would become the most frequented bathroom in the house.

Veteran renovators share advice

The biggest challenge with our renovation was waiting for it to be finished! Time moves slowly when you’re living on the second floor of your home, feeding a family from a makeshift kitchen in your bedroom. This was no fault of our contractors. Our city building department took three months to issue our permits.

If you can, live with your space for a while before renovating. You’ll end up with a much clearer picture of how to make your new space work best for you.

Also, always budget for 10-20% more than your original estimate, especially for kitchens and baths in old houses. This is our fourth renovation experience, and there has always been a major structural or plumbing issue (or both!) that have come up. It’s never pleasant, but if you plan for it, it’s way less painful.

Our new space makes us feel happy! We really love all of the new millwork in the home remodel, it feels so harmonious with the rest of our beautiful old Colonial home.

Thank you, Amanda and Cory, for sharing your Colonial home remodel story with us!

Shopping Guide

KITCHEN: Textile 24″x24″ floor tile in Sand: Cancos Tile. Metro style (slab with full overlay) cabinets in oak with Prairie stain: Vista. Riverwood knobs and Edgecliff pulls in Matte Bronze finish: Schoolhouse Electric. Taj Royale countertop and backsplash in honed: Caesarstone. 32” single-bowl undermount Kraus sink: Signature Hardware. Single-hole pull-down faucet in oil rubbed bronze by Bocard: Signature Hardware. Fridge / Dishwasher / Stove: Bertazzoni. Oswego 9” pendant light in burnished antique: Rejuvenation. Lucia flush mounts in white: Cedar & Moss. Wildwood sconce in white: Cedar & Moss. Wall paint in Pale Oak; trim paint in Cloud White: Benjamin Moore.

POWDER ROOM: Textile Deco floor tile in Dark: Cancos Tile. Deco Paradiso wallpaper by Anaglypta: Wallpaper Direct. Ringo faucet in oil-rubbed bronze: Signature Hardware. Skime wall-mount sink and vanity: Magnus Home Products. Storjorm mirror: IKEA. Toilet: TOTO. Sculptural Glass Pebble small flush-mount: West Elm. Towel hook: Sugar Tools. Wainscoting paint in Quietude; ceiling paint in Pale Oak: Benjamin Moore.

If you’re remodeling an old house, here’s what you need to know from layouts to additions.

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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