A Mix of Renovation Materials Shine in Full Reno


Humble renovation materials make for smart upgrades and plenty of storage

As a designer on the architecture and interiors team for Ace Hotel, Matthew Stewart had plenty of professional experience with construction and renovation materials. When he embarked on his first personal renovation project he ran into similar challenges, but with higher personal stakes. The 1,000-square foot condo in a converted 1930s factory building in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn had to be renovated quickly, and on a limited budget. Despite the obstacles, Matthew knew the loft-like space with 14-foot ceilings would be a great place to decompress.

To bring his vision to life he posted his project on Sweeten, a free renovation platform that matches homeowners with licensed general contractors and tracks their projects, and chose his contractor.

concrete peninsula

“After” photos by Pixy Interiors for Sweeten

Guest blog post by Sweeten homeowner Matthew Stewart

I found a place that needed work and left me with some budget to renovate. It was challenging to work full time and oversee the renovation. I tried to keep things simple. 

The goal for my home was to feel peaceful and light, but I had a pretty tight budget for all that I wanted to accomplish. I focused on fairly humble materials for the renovation that I really liked and how to use them expanding on traditional neutral colors. Work is always visually intensive for me and I wanted a minimal, quiet space to serve as a backdrop for art and objects.

Brooklyn loft with cat

Navigating the reno plan

I’ve seen many projects through construction in my professional career. However, it never personally affected my life before. The biggest challenge was: would I be able to figure out the design of the space, hire a contractor, and complete the work in the short window I had before I would have to move in? I ended up having to move into a construction site. It was a lot to have workers show up every morning and not have a kitchen for many weeks. But you forget the hardships quickly once it’s done and you’re enjoying living there. Thankfully, my partner at the time and I were able to help each other through it. He has great taste and helped me the whole way through.

I’ve always liked appliance garages. It goes back to the fact that my grandparents had one in their very modern kitchen from the ’60s.

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Mixed-materials kitchen

Mixing wood and laminate as finishes for the cabinetry was an important idea when I was planning the renovation. It emphasizes the volumes and makes the scale a little more human. The countertops and peninsula are concrete, which I like because it can take any form. However, it’s also a natural material for renovation that weathers over time. 

Appliance garage

I’ve always liked appliance garages. It goes back to the fact that my grandparents had one in their very modern kitchen from the ’60s. 

Renovating two bathrooms

I was especially excited about the new bathrooms and having a tub to soak in with a smoked glass panel. From the beginning, I knew the partition would not be clear glass. 

In the other bathroom, the general idea was to make a very small space feel as big and open as possible. The renovation materials are pretty simple, but the details and extra showerhead make it feel more special.

renovation materials of laminate panel and Murphy bed

A Murphy bed and storage

In the guest bedroom/office, the millwork is a combination of knotty pine and laminate, with a painted wood frame. The red laminate panel breaks up the finish and calls attention to the sliding door. They are both closets and shoe storage.

I made the open shelving in the hallway myself using laminated pieces of reclaimed wood. In a way, it’s the heart of the apartment. I knew I wanted to find a spot for these shelves and the hall was just the right fit. It turns a slice of space that wasn’t so usable into a place for display.

Plants were always an important component. All of the artwork is from friends and acquaintances or people in my community.

My Sweeten general contractor

My Sweeten general contractor was instrumental in completing the project and helping me do all of the things I wanted to do. At the outset, I got a lot of high bids. He was the one who convinced me it could be done within my budget. 

He helped me find the millworker who did all the cabinetry. I did all the design and drawings for them, and selected all the finishes. A Murphy bed kit was purchased online and my contractor built the frame, the custom panels, and installed it.

I highly recommend working with design professionals. It’s easy to underestimate the amount of work involved. And don’t get too hung up on specific choices, sometimes it’s easier to just pick something nice that you know you like and move on. 

My new home makes me feel happy and relaxed, and it helps me focus. Living in the space has forced me to declutter and live more simply. And it’s been a good exercise to direct interests for future projects.

Thank you, Matthew, for sharing your renovation with us!

KITCHEN RESOURCES: Laminate and douglas fir cabinets: Custom by general contractor. Hardware: Rejuvenation. Concrete countertops: Trueform Concrete. Ceramic backsplash tile: Mosa. Silgranit sink: Blanco. Faucet: Kohler. Pendant lights: Verner Panton

MASTER BATHROOM RESOURCES: Shower fixtures: California Faucets. Sink: Kohler. Vanity: Custom. Toilet: Duravit. Lighting: Rich Brilliant Willing

GUEST BATHROOM RESOURCES: Floor & wall tiles: Mosa ceramic. Shower fixtures: California Faucets. Toilet: Toto. Lighting: Vintage.

Paint throughout in Alabaster: Benjamin Moore.

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 with Sweeten.



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A Galley Kitchen Renovation for Chef-Turned-Food-Editor


A family whips up smart ideas worthy of a chef’s cook space

“After” photos by Miao Jiaxin for Sweeten

Project: Transform a galley kitchen in a pre-war apartment into a functional space

Before: Since galley kitchens are, by definition, usually small and narrow, renovators typically decide to open up the layout as much as possible when remodeling—whether it involves partially removing a wall or creating a passthrough. However, Daniel, a director at Serious Eats and his wife, Kate (a director at VICE) decided to buck the trend and embrace their floor plan, updating it to make it a true chef’s kitchen.

There were some very visible problems that had to be addressed. The kitchen’s floor tiles had developed corrosive stains over time that could not be scrubbed clean, the cabinets extended to a generic height that wasted space, and some unfortunate layout decisions positioned an old, hulking fridge at the entryway. Worse, the fridge and stove footprints forced the right side of the galley into three abridged sections that were not useful for real food prep. On the other side, plumbing risers in the wall pushed one section of cabinetry out by a few inches, creating an odd corner in the middle of the countertop and adding a few inches of cabinet bulk right at eye level above the sink.

Design flaws aside, the room felt claustrophobic, so most visitors assumed that the problem was with the galley itself. Common in pre-war apartments, the dividing wall between the kitchen and dining room could conceivably have come down, and everyone asked about it. But Daniel and Kate found themselves advocating for preservation as the galley began to play a central role in their big-picture decision-making. Ultimately, Daniel felt really comfortable in a galley: It was like a residential approximation of a commercial restaurant line. Rather than lamenting its limits, he saw it as a pro’s set-up. Wherever you’re standing, everything is within reach!

Daniel and Kate turned to Sweeten, a free service that connects renovating homeowners with vetted general contractors, for help in finding a design and build firm. They had saved up for this renovation and wanted it to be right—making their two-bedroom, pre-war apartment in Jackson Heights, New York, even more desirable.

After: The general contractor that Daniel and Kate found through Sweeten shared the couple’s vision, committing to getting the fridge out of the entryway as well as installing custom cabinets to expand storage vertically. Offset cabinets were traded in for open shelving above the sink.

Daniel also appreciated the contractor’s focus on design decisions like cabinet door orientation and space between features, freeing him up to get a few chef’s details exactly right. Daniel wanted to avoid putting the microwave in a prominent spot and was concerned about cleanliness in an above-stove location. It now lives on an open shelf underneath the counter, where it’s an accessible tool but not a visible feature.

The Sweeten contractor created a dedicated cabinet for cutting boards, and most pots and pans are found in pull-out sliding cabinets rather than stacked in drawers, so they take up less space but are still easily grabbed. A towel bar, mounted just below the counter by the sink, has become major real estate with S-hooks added for small items for hanging.

Daniel and Kate decided on marble hex tile for the floors. It brings a natural element of warmth with a shape that is familiar in homes of a similar era, and it bounces light from the kitchen window with a little glow. Color for the custom cabinets became a tortured decision. Daniel and Kate paid extra for additional cabinet samples when they found that paint swatches didn’t really help them envision different tones, and agreed on a navy finish that paired well with brass accents already in the home.

Daniel aimed for a real chef’s prep space with sections of cherry butcher block. It needs mineral oil but is otherwise not that hard to maintain with cutting boards regularly in the rotation. Around the sink, the couple chose a section of white quartz for easy maintenance and to protect the butcher block from water stains. Standard white subway tile adds a simple gleam and contrast between the cabinet lines.

Bonus: Being avid cooks, Daniel and Kate really wanted to have appliances that could elevate their culinary skills. Key considerations for a new stove were powerful burner output and controls on the front of the oven; having the control panel on the back stand was too out of the way. Recipe experiments and heavy use mean that a food writer’s oven can get pretty gunky, so extra points for minimal nooks and grooves went to the stove they chose. The sink is an undermount with nice depth for lots of pots and pans, and the faucet is a simple gooseneck model with no side accents that might get in the way of a scrub down.

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Style Finds: Floor tile: Marble hex tile by Heritage Tile. Custom cabinets with hardware from Rejuvenation. Range: Frigidaire. Sink: Kraus. Dishwasher: Thermador. Refrigerator: Fisher & Paykel.

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Give new life to your kitchen. Here’s what you need to know on the renovation costs for a kitchen in NYC.

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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Unique Features You Should Include in Your Next Remodel


Problem-solving unique features that do double duty as inspiring design

open pantry Sweeten kitchen renovation

Function and fashion are two major factors to consider while planning for a home renovation. While we want our homes to be aesthetically pleasing, we also need them to be more efficient, organized and less cluttered. The solution? Integrating unique features into your home renovation designs can solve organizational challenges while looking beautiful and distinct.

Sweeten, a free renovation platform that matches homeowners with licensed general contractors and tracks their projects, shows how Sweeten homeowners have used unique features in their renovations to inject beauty-and function-into their homes.

Jewelry wall: A major upgrade from boxes and bowls

(Above) Tina + Andrew’s shiny Sunnyside jewelry wall, Deanne + Daria’s closed-door accessory storage.

When Tina and Andrew combined two closets in the master bedroom into a walk-in closet—“a rare thing in New York City!”—they opted to include a jewelry wall that functioned as a unique feature for display and storage. The narrow shelf underneath adds a subtle component that provides space for decorative touches.

Siblings Deanna and Daria share a Grandmillenial-chic aesthetic, so it’s only fitting that even their jewelry wall is hidden behind an old-school mirrored door. Inside, there’s plenty of room for statement necklaces, earrings, and rings, in keeping with the sisters’ more-is-more sensibility.


Toe kick drawers maximize every square inch

toe kick storage(Above) Elie + Matt’s cutting board storage drawers

toe kick storage(Above) Jessica + Jessie’s jewel-toned drawers

Elie and Matt waited before renovating their kitchen to make sure that they could fully maximize the 7×7 space to suit their needs. When they decided to take the leap, they opted for custom cabinets that included toe-kick drawers as unique features to get more storage.

Jessica and Jesse, both major foodies, knew they needed a “beautiful kitchen to cook in.” To that end, they re-engineered the space to incorporate a six-foot island with a lot of cool features, and toe-kick drawers are one of the stars.


Above-sink drying rack = natural space saver

(Above) Giulia’s nostalgic dish rack, Jo’s efficient drying rack

As part of Giulia’s plan for a “functional” kitchen, she knew she wanted a drying rack shelf above the sink, an idea she says she “stole” from Italy, her home country. The rack’s placement not only frees up counter space; it prevents the dreaded “puddles of standing water.”

Jo’s kitchen renovation aimed to create a clean, classic space while incorporating ideas from her travels and innovative materials. A bamboo drying rack above the sink—something Jo had seen in Europe—was sealed to accommodate wet dishes and provides an earthy counterpoint to the white cabinetry.


An open pantry, a cook’s best friend

open pantry, kitchen pantry, walk in pantry, kitchen renovation

(Above) Nazli’s seamless walk-in pantry

For Nazli’s open-plan kitchen, she opted to forgo upper cabinets, a storage challenge she solved with an open pantry. Although a great solution for seeing and accessing ingredients easily, it can also lead to visual clutter. Nazli avoided that pitfall by painting the pantry a dark gray, which “makes the whole space disappear” once the light is turned off.

Check out the reno projects that bring the most value for resale from kitchens and floors to exteriors.

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 Harlem Kitchen Designed with Nostalgic Notes


Storage and lighting add to the home, sweet home quotient

harlem kitchen renovation, kitchen renovation, Sweeten kitchen renovation

“After” photos by Kate Glicksberg for Sweeten

Project: Refreshing an ineffective Harlem kitchen a family has outgrown

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

Sweeten renovator, Sweeten home renovator

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

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

before and after kitchen, kitchen renovation, Harlem kitchen renovation

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

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

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

After: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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2020 Cost Guide for a Home Remodel in Miami


The costs to expect for kitchen, bath, whole home, and outdoor remodeling in Miami (plus resale value and permit tips!)

modern home remodel in Miami

Whether you own a modern beach-side condo, an on-the-bay house, or a bungalow away from it all on a quiet street, the process of doing a remodel in Miami can be enjoyable—with a rewarding outcome. 

A budget is the start of any renovation, and every project is unique: from materials, adding value and lifestyle to your home, and working with the HOA. Sweeten, a free renovation platform that matches homeowners with licensed general contractors and tracks their project, offers this cost guide to remodeling in Miami to provide a jumping-off point to get you on your way. 

Here’s a breakdown of typical starting costs across Miami, Florida, focusing on four categories: kitchen, bathroom, deck additions, and permits compiled from Sweeten general contractors and Remodeling’s Cost vs. Value report:

  • Full home renovation: $100 – $250+ per square feet (psf)
  • Low-end kitchen remodel: starting at $150 psf or $15,000 (based on a 100-sq-ft space)
  • Mid-range kitchen remodel: $325 psf or $65,000 (based on a 200-sq-ft space)
  • High-end kitchen remodel:  $650 psf or $130,000 (based on a 200-sq-ft space)
  • Low-end bathroom remodel: starting at $300 psf
  • Mid-range bathroom remodel: $570 psf or $20,000 (based on a 35-sq-ft space)
  • High-end bathroom remodel: $630 psf or $63,000 (based on a 100-sq-ft space)
  • Basic wood deck addition: $40 psf or $13,000 (based on a 325-sq-ft space)
  • Concrete patio addition with roof, electrical, plumbing, and a cooking area: $50,000  

How much a home remodel in Miami costs per square feet

If you’re renovating a house in the Miami area, expect costs to range from $100 to $250+ psf with $175 psf as the middle range. If you’re aiming for a budget that is in the upper-middle range, Miami-based Sweeten general contractor Adrian said you can expect to pay over $200,000 or about $200 psf. However, several elements affect this, like square footage, the state of the original home, and how expensive your tastes are. “It has all to do with the finishes,” Adrian said. By finishes, he means the elements you can see such as tiles, faucets, and kitchen countertops. With materials, plan to add to the timeline for installation and materials and labor costs. Using higher-end finishes will push your budget upwards by at least $50,000, he said. 

The budget for renovating an apartment can be higher than house renovations. “If you’re doing a house, often you can work on the weekends,” said Adrian. In a condo, there are tight rules about when construction work can and can’t be done. These hours are put in place by the homeowners association (HOA) for each building. Often, this means only working within an eight-hour or so window Monday to Friday. This extends the timeline of a project, thus increasing the budget. HOAs might also charge a condo owner a fee to remodel their apartment. 

Disposing of trash adds to the cost of condo renovations. With a house, a general contractor can park a dumpster out the front. For condo remodels, general contractors will likely hire a separate contractor to come and lug construction trash away. This involves negotiating tight hallways and elevators as well as timeframes given by the HOA.  

How much a kitchen remodel in Miami costs per square foot

  • A kitchen renovation in the best value range can come in at as low as $15,000 for something that is around 100 square feet, according to Hancen, a Sweeten general contractor in Miami. To get a new kitchen at this price, it needs to be a rip-and-replace job, meaning a layout of the kitchen must stay the same with pipes and appliances remaining where they are.

Homeowners should look at materials like pre-made shaker-style cabinets and appliances from big-box stores like Home Depot. “I’ve also noticed a trend for concrete countertops,” said Hancen. “These can be cheaper than quartz, but they take more to maintain,” adding that a sealant needs to be applied annually. 

  • A mid-range kitchen remodel in Miami costs on average $65,000, according to the Cost Vs Value’s 2020 report from Remodeling magazine. This works out to $325 psf. Almost 60 percent of that cost is recouped in the value it adds to a home. The example kitchen the report gave was 200 square feet with laminate countertops, semi-custom wood cabinets, and a stainless steel sink with a standard single-lever faucet. It also contained a built-in microwave, dishwasher, and custom lighting. Other than the addition of a kitchen island, the layout, such as where the oven and dishwasher were installed, remained the same as the original design.

Sweeten general contractor Domenico, also servicing Miami, recently completed a kitchen renovation in this price range. It included a countertop made from Dekton, a stain-, scratch-, heat-, and UV-resistant material. The cabinets were custom with self-closing doors, which took $40,000 from the budget. The appliances were GE. 

  • High-end kitchen renovations in Miami came in at around $130,000, adding the same amount of value to a home’s resale value—60 percent—as a mid-range kitchen remodel, according to the report from Cost Vs Value. The example Remodeling gave of a 200 square foot kitchen came in at $650 psf. This included custom cabinets, built-in sliding shelves, stone countertops, and imported ceramic or glass tile backsplashes. The appliances were also upgraded, including a commercial-grade cooktop and vent hood, plus designer faucets and a water filtration system.

How much a bathroom remodel in Miami costs per square foot

  • At the low-end, expect a solid rip-and-replace bathroom with no behind-the-wall surprises to come in at $15,000. Contractor Hancen specializes in bathrooms for the Miami area. At a squeeze, a very basic 50-square-foot bathroom can be completed for $300 psf, he said. However, this is contingent on the layout staying the same and having no issues like leaks or mold discovered once the project begins. If you’re after this price, stick to a prefabricated vanity and ceramic tiles, which come out to about $2 psf. When it comes to faucets, toilets, and bathtubs, the brand American Standard is a good example of affordable, quality products. “These are the most well-priced materials I’ve seen and the most popular,” said Hancen.
  • The next step up is a mid-range bathroom renovation. The average cost for this type of bathroom remodel in Miami is about $20,000 and about $570 psf, according to the Cost Vs Value report. The example bathroom the report gave was a 5’ x 7’ space and involved installing a new porcelain-on-steel bathtub, ceramic tiles, and a lit and recessed medicine cabinet. A renovation in this vein can add about $11,000 to a home’s value.
  • There’s a large jump both in price, size, and outcome between an upscale and a mid-range bathroom renovation. The average price in this category is around $63,000, the Cost Vs Value report found. For this budget, you could expand your bathroom to around 100 square feet and can play around with elements like a freestanding soaker tub and a shower with recessed shelves, a frameless glass enclosure, and body spray fixtures. You’re also likely to afford a double sink and double-mirror vanity with custom drawers, and wall cabinets.

The cost of tiles can add up. On a recent project, Domenico’s client picked out a tile that had the appearance of wood and cost $20 psf. Another client wanted a wave pattern created out of tiles. “It was more difficult to install adding to the labor costs,” he said. “Occasionally, breakages happen, so that also needs to be covered.” 

The good news is this is an investment with about 60 percent of the budget added to your home’s sale price. 

Adding outdoor space to your home

In Florida, there is plenty of sun and envious weather to take advantage of by renovating or adding an outdoor space to your home. Many Miami residents will use these spaces as an additional living space and even kitchen. 

  • Recently, Sweeten contractor Adrian added a 900 square foot patio to a house that had a budget of $50,000. “It was essentially another room to the house without the walls,” he said. It had a tiled roof supported by four columns, which was necessary so the structure could withstand a powerful hurricane. The flooring was Cuban tiles and there were fans and lighting so electrical work was required. Adrian’s project is also around the average price of a major patio remodel in Miami. According to the Cost Vs Value report, over 50% of the budget will be recouped when your home is sold.
  • If you went for a simple wood deck addition minus a roof and electric and gas hookups, you could recoup close to 75 percent of the budget in the bump it gives to your home value. The average cost of this type of project is $13,000 or $40 psf in the Miami area, according to the Cost Vs Value report. For this price, you could get a 16′ x 20′ deck with a built-in bench and planter with stairs and railings.

Permit costs

The cost of permits, from a typical building permit to electrical, mechanical, and plumbing permits, are calculated in different ways. Some permit costs are calculated by square footage. Some are calculated by the value of a project so an exact figure can take some time to figure out. That’s why general contractor Adrian puts an estimate in the initial budget. For example, with a $250,000 renovation, he puts a budget placeholder of $1,500 for the main building permit with an additional $500 each for plumbing, electrical and mechanical, if the project requires it. 

Miami-Dade county covers a huge amount of land and almost three million people. Each city—such as Miami South and Miami Lakes—in the county has a building official who issues permits for projects located within that city’s jurisdiction. Residential permits typically take 30 business days to process. 

All of these numbers are a launchpad so you can begin creating an initial budget. Sweeten’s Renovation Checklist is a downloadable roadmap to organize all of the moving parts of a renovation. (Don’t forget to include your “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves”!)

Remodeling your home in Miami? Sweeten can help!

Post your project on Sweeten and we’ll match you with vetted local general contractors to provide estimates for your remodel in Miami, plus we’ll support you throughout your project duration. Meet with your contractor to develop an accurate budget, and you’ll be on your way to the home you’ve always wanted.

Renovating with aging-in-place in mind will prepare you for the future or if your home is multi-generational.

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



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Before & After: Kitchen Edition


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

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

From outdated to classic gray

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

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


Same layout, more storage

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

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


Dark and dated to contemporary chic

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

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

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


Island design

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

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

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


Midcentury Scandi meets Italian modern

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

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


From the ’80s to modern industrial

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

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


A dark kitchen sees the (natural) light 

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

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


From functional to fabulous

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

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


A modern vision brought to life through an extension

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

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

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


Reaching new heights—with less ceiling

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

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

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


First time’s a charm

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

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

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

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

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



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How Long Does a Kitchen Renovation Take?


A step-by-step guide and timeline for a kitchen renovation

kitchen

(Above) Katherine + Chris’ kitchen renovation

One of the most common questions that we at Sweeten hear from homeowners is “How long does a kitchen renovation take?” This usually comes right after “How much is it going to cost?” (As part of its free service matching homeowners with vetted general contractors, Sweeten developed a kitchen cost guide to help.) Our handy Renovation Checklist tells you what you need to do—but how long does it take to do it all?

Typically, we suggest that after closing on your apartment, you allow three weeks to four months for the completion of your kitchen renovation, depending on complexity, the size of your space, and scope.

For example, if you are 1) not altering the footprint, 2) not changing or adding electrical or plumbing, and 3) using stock cabinetry and appliances, it’s reasonable to expect that your renovation will be in done in a few weeks. If, however, you are moving your kitchen from one part of your home to another, requiring both city permits as well as board approvals, and using imported custom cabinets—you should give it several months. As you’ll see, the wide range is due to the fact that there can be many moving parts and multiple parties involved. Certain aspects may be beyond your control. Sweeten, a free renovation service matching homeowners with vetted general contractors, breaks down a kitchen renovation step-by-step.

PRE-CONSTRUCTION PHASE

While the attention is usually on the most visible construction phase, a lot needs to happen before picking up that sledgehammer. Here, the details on each box that needs to be ticked before you break ground on the project.

STEP 1: Close on your property (1-3 months)

While some homeowners already own, a significant number of homeowners are in contract or preparing to close on a property when they begin the process of planning a renovation. The best advice is that you should wait until you have closed on the property, with keys in hand, before doing anything. If you’re in a hurry—at least wait until you’ve signed the contract before beginning the design process.

STEP 2: Post your project (1-3 days)

First things first: Post your project to Sweeten and begin soliciting bids. On the Sweeten site, add some details about the space you want to renovate, your inspiration photos (optional but useful for us finding you contractors who have done similar styles), and any other information that would help Sweeten match you with the right contractors. You’ll receive 3-5 matches within three days, with links to check out contractors’ profiles online. Now’s your chance to take a look at reviews from clients and photos of their past projects to see whether they might be a good fit.

STEP 3: Schedule site visits and solicit bids (1-3 weeks)

After you’ve previewed the Sweeten contractors’ profiles, decide who you’d like to set up a meeting. An on-site visit is the best way for a contractor to understand the scope of the project, the physical possibilities, and limitations of the space, and for the two of you to see if you hit it off. After you schedule your on-site visit, check out our blog post about how to prepare for the meeting. You should expect a written bid within 5-7 business days after your visit.

STEP 4: Level bids and choose a contractor (1-2 weeks)

Once all the written bids have come in, it’s time to compare and contrast! This primer on leveling bids might come in handy. If you have follow-up questions, now is the time to ask. You can also schedule time with Sweeten to walk you through the various bids and weigh in on the selection.

STEP 5: Sign a contract and finalize construction schedule (1 week)

Once you’ve decided on a contractor, he or she will put together a contract for you to review. This will typically include a description of the work to be done, an outline of the costs, as well as the timing of payments throughout the project.

STEP 6: Obtain permits and approvals (ranges widely)

Of all the steps where hiccups or delays might occur, this is it. Obtaining the correct permits and necessary approvals have held up many a renovation, but don’t be daunted: our expert contractors are well-versed in navigating these processes and often can advise you on how best to achieve your renovation goals with the least amount of hassle. If you’re moving plumbing or gas lines, you’ll need an architect and additional DOB permits. Sweeten homeowners have reported obtaining approvals in as little as two weeks—but it’s more common for it to take a couple months.

If you live in a stand-alone house, you won’t need to worry about building board approvals, but you’ll still need the requisite city permits for any electrical or plumbing work to make sure that everything is up to code.

STEP 7: Source materials (ranges widely)

If you are responsible for sourcing all or some of the materials in your renovation, be sure to place the orders as soon as the design plan is finished. Certain items have long lead times, and you don’t want that one faucet to hold up the entire renovation. If time is a concern, look at what’s currently in stock and ready to ship. Speak with your contractor about timing the product delivery to coincide with time of installation.

STEP 8: Tell your neighbors you’re renovating (15 minutes)

Be a good neighbor and warn yours that a renovation is beginning imminently. Tell them what to expect and how long the project is slated to last. It’s always easier to stomach the disruption when you know there’s an end in sight! It doesn’t hurt to bring some sweets, a bottle of wine, or a gift card for a local coffee shop. When the reno is over, invite them over!

CONSTRUCTION PHASE

Note: While most of the steps under “Construction” are your contractor’s responsibility, it’s important to understand what should be happening when. The most crucial steps you’ll be in charge of here are making scheduled payments to your contractor (as they are outlined in your contract), and keeping your schedule open for several hours a week to answer a myriad of questions about details or changes that come up over the course of construction.

STEP 9: It’s demo time (1-2 days)

Out with the old! Now that you’re done with the paperwork, it’s time (for your contractor) to pick up that sledgehammer. Be sure items that are staying are protected with tarp or plastic while the crew gets to work tearing out everything else. Depending on how large your kitchen is, and how extensive the renovation, this shouldn’t take more than a day or two.

STEP 10: Reroute plumbing and electrical (1-4 days)

Now that you’ve stripped the space down to the studs, it’ll be easy to get new plumbing or electrical where it needs to go. Consider whether any plans need to be altered now that you can see what’s behind the walls.

STEP 11: City inspections and sign-offs (1 hour on-site)

If you needed city permits, you may need to have inspections and a final sign-off as well prior to closing up the walls, particularly with gas lines. (Check out what the city has to say about plumbing permits here, and electrical permits here.) While it may take the inspector an hour to do his job at the site, scheduling the actual appointment could take days or weeks.

While a master plumber is typically allowed to sign off on pipework for water lines in the case of a no-show by the city inspector, an inspector must examine and approve any work on gas lines. You are not allowed to close up the walls and move onto the next phase of the project before this inspection happens.

Note: With electrical work, inspectors generally are scheduled for visits once the project is 100 percent complete, and they will check the electrical panel, junction boxes, and outlets. Sometimes, because of city bureaucracy and delays, your electrical inspection may be rescheduled two or three times. Check with your contractor or architect about this.

STEP 12: Installation – floors (1-5 days)

To prevent having to redo the floors if you decide to reconfigure your cabinets in the future, make sure that the flooring is consistent throughout the space, even if some of it will be hidden.

STEP 13: Installation – all other material including cabinets and appliances (1-10 days)

Installation of all other materials is usually in this order: cabinets, appliances, fixtures and lighting, counters, backsplash, and cabinet hardware. Aspects of this may vary, depending on site conditions, and the arrival time of the materials.

STEP 14: Clean-up (1 day)

Typically, contracts allow that the space is left in “broom-swept” condition. However, you may want to hire post-construction cleaning specialists to make sure that your new floor is clean enough to eat off.

POST-CONSTRUCTION PHASE

STEP 15: Final walk-through with contractor (30-60 minutes)

Review the work with your contractor: try all the drawers and doors, look closely at the edges and finishes, and make sure everything is working the way it should. If there are any problems, point them out and add them to the punch list. The contractor will either fix it on the spot (if it’s minor) or set up another time to return. Sweeten’s founder + CEO, Jean Brownhill advises to keep notepads in each space, and do not speak to your contractor for two weeks during this time, but take notes of what needs fixing as you live in your new home.

STEP 16: Punch list items (1-10 days)

Depending on what the items are—this could be anything from straightening a cabinet door to waiting on installing that last out-of-stock item—it could take anywhere from a day to several weeks. When it’s on the long side, though, that is usually due to backordered items. Otherwise, your contractor should be able to return and fix everything in a few days.

STEP 17: The final payment (10 minutes)

You’ve been making installments throughout the renovation, but when the last item on your punch list has been addressed, it’s time to pay the remaining percentage to your contractor and say goodbye.

This timeline is meant to give you a detailed look at the various aspects of renovating and a range of how long each step should take, taking into account factors that may be outside of both your and the contractor’s control. In general, Sweeten renovators report that their kitchen renovations are completed between three weeks to two months (depending on the level of complexity). The key to staying on track is isolating the steps that you think might be obstacles and allotting more time to get them done.

If you’re still stuck on that first question of “how much is it going to cost?” check out our guide on kitchen renovation costs.

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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