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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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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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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