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!

WATCH VIDEO:

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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A Bath Refresh: From Leaky to Luxe


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

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

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

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

Veronica was more than happy to get rid of the outdated beige tile and grimy old jet tub and posted her project on Sweeten, a free renovation platform that matches homeowners with licensed general contractors and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

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

Black bathroom tile

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

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

black and gold bathroom

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

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

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

WATCH VIDEO:

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

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



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A Studio Loft and Balcony Check All the Boxes


A renovation gives a design-obsessed owner the ultimate pad

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

Greenwich Village Studio loft

“After” photos by Pixy Interiors for Sweeten

Guest blog post by Sweeten homeowner Carly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Long-time Renters Shine as Renovating Homeowners


A co-op refresh including an unplanned kitchen remodel

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

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

sunken living room with hardwood floors

“After” photos by Miao Jiaxin for Sweeten

Guest blog post by homeowner Jessica

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

homeowners in their newly renovated living room

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

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

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

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

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

washer dryer in kitchen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Meet Sweeten General Contractor Aaron


A general contractor with hundreds of renovations under his belt

At Sweeten, the experts in our network are experienced contractors and design pros we’d be thrilled to have working in our own homes. We check their licenses, insurance, quality of work, and customer service skills. Trust and open communication are the lifeblood of our free renovation platform, and our personal connection to our experts enables us to match you to the best choices for your project. Here, get to know their personalities and click to view their portfolio, including photos from past work and client reviews, so that you can hire the right team and renovate with confidence.

View Aaron’s profile and portfolio

Where are you from and how long have you been in construction?

I grew up on Long Island and have been working in construction since I was 18 years old.

How did you get into the industry?

I began my career in the Hamptons working in the tile and masonry trade for a high-end builder. I wanted to take on other aspects of the business and started to learn framing, drywall, and finish carpentry. A few years later, I was blessed with the opportunity to work for a 55-and-over community developer. Along with three other very experienced managers, I oversaw the build-out of 285 condos. I’d say it was this experience that really cemented my career in homebuilding. When the last community neared completion, I  started my own company and to date, we have completed hundreds of projects in New York City, as well as Nassau and Suffolk counties.

What do you love most about your job?

I love educating the homeowner and giving them the opportunity to really understand all of the costs associated with their project and the different possibilities. I also enjoy the strategic and systematic building process and the satisfaction of seeing a project’s beauty when completed.

What’s the biggest challenge you face when renovating in New York?

For homeowners, it’s the financial weight of preconstruction services needed to meet the requirements of the building’s management companies, building architects, insurance fees, and DOB requirements. 

For general contractors, it is getting materials into and out of the buildings, parking, competing against other contractors that are not properly insured, and restricted working hours implemented by the buildings.

What do you think is the biggest misconception homeowners have when starting a renovation project?

The biggest misconception I find is that most people feel that they can create a scope and budget before properly planning a project. It is very important to determine if you have a fixed scope and flexible budget or a flexible scope and a fixed budget. Once this is established, you can properly plan a project by creating a wishlist. 

What do you want all of your clients to know before you work with them?

We deliver 100 percent transparency, explain all best and worst-case scenarios to avoid any surprises, are clear and precise in our communications, and take pride in our finished product. We also have a great user interface app/portal that our clients can use on-demand to manage all aspects of their project.

What is your favorite project you have done?

It would have to be a fundraiser that was put together on Long Island. It was a complete gut renovation of a home for a family with a handicapped daughter and ill husband/father. We have done a few fundraisers but this one was really special. When the family moved back into the home, the looks on their faces just made our hearts melt. Everyone on this project had a feeling you just cannot describe when it was completed.

Aaron has been a Sweeten general contractor since January 2019.

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, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation on Sweeten.



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Millennial Sisters Buying and Remodeling Their Home


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

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

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

kitchen renovation

“After” photos by Pixy Interiors for Sweeten

Guest blog post by Sweeten homeowners Daria and Deanna DeChirico

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

grandmillennial sisters

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

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

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

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

kitchen renovation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CEILING PAINT THROUGHOUT: North Star: Benjamin Moore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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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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An Epic Brooklyn Brownstone Remodel Gets a Modern Loft Feel


A couple’s own pied-à-terre in their townhouse is finally complete

Over a couple of years, Janet and Jerry, a couple from Long Island who bought a historic Crown Heights, Brooklyn brownstone, embarked on a bottom-to-top renovation. After remodeling two of the floors as rentals with Sweeten, (See blog posts for the third floor and garden level) we get the details on the final apartment, a project high point indeed as it marks the completion of the townhouse’s top floor and the pair’s own NYC pied-à-terre. 

The backstory: The duo knew when they closed on the circa 1910 building, a “bring your architect” purchase in need of a total gutting, that a big job lay ahead. Janet, president of the New York School of Design, and Jerry, a doctor, posted the project on Sweeten, a renovation platform connecting homeowners to vetted general contractors, and hired a Sweeten architect and a Sweeten contractor. Read how a neglected and cramped one-bedroom gives way to a space with a loft-like feeling.

brownstone remodel

“After” photos by Pixy Interiors for Sweeten

Blog post by homeowner Jerry as told to Sweeten

This is it. Our apartment. The pied-à-terre we’ve long waited to move into. We have a primary residence on Long Island, but we work in NYC and spend about half our time here. We decided to invest in a multi-family townhouse in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, rent the main units and keep the smaller, fourth-floor apartment for ourselves.

From the time we first saw the top-floor space, we knew it would be our nest. Like the other apartments, this one-bedroom unit needed work. It was dark and chopped up, the kitchen was a wreck and the bathroom was in disrepair. We started thinking about how to refresh the under 600-square-foot space and make it feel larger. Our goal was to create an open and airy studio. We planned to maximize natural light and use natural materials for an organic feel. 

Brooklyn homeowners

brownstone floor plan

In our project’s earlier phases, we’d worked to preserve the building’s architectural features. But in this unit, previous renovations had removed most original detail. Hardwood floors had been replaced with linoleum. Moldings that might have graced the overhead plaster were forgone for a drop ceiling. Only the window moldings and the fireplace remained. Given this situation, we felt free to rethink the space. We decided to use modern elements, bringing in Scandinavian style and Californian mid-century modernism as influences to the new interior.

These subtle architectural elements bring the space together while simultaneously differentiating the sleeping and living rooms. 

Our Sweeten architects worked closely with Janet to achieve several architectural changes. First, we moved the entrance from the fourth floor down to the third, making the stairway part of the apartment’s interior. This increased privacy and usable space, and also allowed us to increase the living room’s natural light with a skylight at the top of the stairs.

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Next, we exposed the living-room ceiling. Opening it to the original wooden beams provided for more vertical space and a lofty room. Initially, we were going to paint the wooden ceiling and exposed beams white. Our Sweeten contractor suggested the beams looked really good unpainted and unfinished. The adjacent sleeping area, however, would have a new lowered ceiling, and an archway. Together these subtle architectural elements bring the space together while simultaneously differentiating the sleeping and living rooms. 

A key facet of our design concept, the arch plays nicely with horizontal lines throughout the apartment, including the exposed beams and the long kitchen countertop. It also connects with a number of graceful curves, like the rounded mirror over the restored fireplace and the rounded lighting fixtures.

WATCH VIDEO: Janet and Jerry talk about the start of their renovation on NBC’s Open House NYC

With the ceiling beautified, we moved to the problematic floors, which were covered in vinyl and old carpeting. We wanted natural wood and after much searching, we chose white-oak flooring and planned to lay it in a custom herringbone, or chevron, pattern. Unfortunately, there was a long lead time for the wood to be custom cut (nearly two months, as the supplier told us that it would require shipping the planks to Europe), not to mention a high price. Just before going back to the drawing board, we found a pre-cut herringbone at half the price. It came out fantastic.

integrated kitchen cabinetry

Once the floors were down we were ready to build the kitchen. We wanted dark wood cabinets, and while we were planning, Ikea came out with a new style that not only looked great but pleased our budget! [See more money-saving ideas for your kitchen renovation.] We wanted countertops that would compliment the cabinets and wear well, and considered marble, granite, and a few synthetic materials, but ultimately chose soapstone for its durability and appearance. The veined black goes nicely with the apartment’s other dark features and looks fantastic as a backsplash.

To stay minimal, we hid appliances in cabinets; our washer/dryer combo, fridge, and pull-out freezer all fit under the counter. The pendant lights over the kitchen counter, the chandelier above the old fireplace, and the bedroom fixtures are simultaneously industrial, modern, casual, and polished.

In the bathroom, we managed another stunning redesign thanks to our Sweeten architects. The shower, a vertical space with a skylight, is flooded by day with natural sunlight, making it feel almost like it’s outside. One disappointment that turned out fine was with the stone floor tiles. We spent a lot of time picking them out, but after accepting our order, the supplier said that only one box of tile was available.

Our contractor solved the issue by taking a large slab of the same stone and custom cutting it into a single 3’x3’ shower base as well as a door saddle, and a stone shelf. We chose an in-wall toilet to maximize space.

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Having knocked down walls and invited light in every way imaginable, we felt successful in our visual opening of the space. We went even further by creating an outdoor area. The roof had formerly been inaccessible but we replaced a window with a glass door; it leads to a new roof deck with views of the neighborhood and Manhattan in the distance.

Through it all, we felt lucky to work with Sweeten, which connected us with both our architect and contractor and helped us troubleshoot on many occasions. The process came with so many rewards. While Janet says she most appreciated the design work and creative discussions, I’m just enjoying our apartment! It’s like staying in a nice hotel with a feeling of being home. The best of both worlds.

Thank you, Janet and Jerry, for sharing your entire home with us!

LIVING ROOM RESOURCES: Wall paint in Cotton Balls: Benjamin Moore. Poolesville European white oak flooring: PID. Chandelier above fireplace: Schoolhouse Electric. Theresa Rand coffee table: Menu Design Shop. Doorknobs: Omnia.

DINING AREA AND STAIRWAY RESOURCES: Hackney marble dining table, storage bench: CB2 Rattan cane chairs: Industry West.

BEDROOM RESOURCES: Ceiling light, sconce lights: Schoolhouse Electric. Mill C bedside table with laptop tray: CB2. Spindle Nightstand: Industry West. Airisto bench/side table in ash: Finnish Design Shop

KITCHEN RESOURCES: Paint in Cotton Balls: Benjamin Moore. VOXTORP kitchen cabinets and sink: IKEA. Ipanema Reserve countertops and backsplash: M Teixeira Soapstone. Faucet, #1959LF-BL: Delta . Undercounter refrigerator and freezer: Liebherr. Pendant lights: Schoolhouse Electric. All-in-one 2.3 cu. ft. front-load washer and electric ventless dryer: LG. Fellow Stagg Pour Over kettle: Williams Sonoma.

BATHROOM RESOURCES: 18″ x 18″ Marine Black Phyllite floor tiles: M Teixeira SoapstoneMatte white wall tiles 3”x9”: COLORI. Shower fixtures; Contemporary and Purist Line fittings: Kohler. Toilet: Duravit. GODMORGON vanity, ODENSVIK sink : IKEA. Faucet: Grohe. Hardware, lighting, towel bar, tissue holder, robe hook, Swedish utility rack: Schoolhouse Electric. Mirror: CB2. Waffle towels: Snowe.

ROOF DECK RESOURCES: Marvin Swinging French door. Automated shade: Shade Store.

Before you buy a townhouse, read our guide on buying and renovating a multi-story fixer upper.

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 Mom and Daughter Remodel Their Forever Home


By cleverly using limited space, a first-time renovator nails it

When Martha, who works in preschool special education, first saw the Hamilton Heights co-op in upper Manhattan she would eventually buy, she passed because it needed a lot of work. She continued looking, searching for a permanent space to share with her daughter, Sofia, a 4th grader. But after a year and no luck, when her realtor encouraged her to take another look, a lightbulb went off. No longer daunted, Martha embraced the possibilities of the apartment’s pre-war flourishes, including 10-foot ceilings, french doors, and transom windows.

To transform the 700-square-foot apartment, Martha, a first-time renovator, posted the project on Sweeten, a free renovation platform connecting homeowners with vetted general contractors, chose her contractor and got down to business creating their home.

renovated kitchen gray cabinets, stainless steel sink

“After” photos by Miao Jiaxin for Sweeten

Guest blog post by Sweeten homeowner Martha

We were living in a great apartment nearby for four years. But after my divorce, I knew I needed to find something to purchase in order to control my housing costs. Since I’m a full-time, working, single parent, the more I can get my costs under control, the better off we’ll be in the long term. I had an amazing real estate agent who looked at places in my price range for a full year.

Living room and bedroom

The apartment I ended up buying was the first home I saw when I started my search! But it needed so much work that I automatically said no and we moved on. After my realtor encouraged me to take another look, I saw it with new eyes. I saw the potential in it, and not just the work that needed to be done.

One of the biggest challenges was that I had a tight timeline—I was paying rent along with a mortgage plus maintenance, and I couldn’t afford that for long. So I had to use only materials that were in stock. It was limiting, but I think we made do! I wanted to open things up and make a home that was cozy and colorful, that would reflect our personalities and be welcoming.

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The first few days during the demo were the best part of the process, because I could finally see what things were really going to look like.

The highest priority with the renovation was to cure the ugliness! The apartment hadn’t been touched since the ’70s. There was fake wood paneling in the hallways, old linoleum plunked down over the amazing original hardwood floors, and layers and layers of paint. The space was tight and there was a lot of wasted space in the kitchen that I wanted to find a way to utilize.

The first few days during the demo were the best part of the process, because I could finally see what things were really going to look like. I was most excited to take down the wall between the kitchen and the living room. It made all the difference in creating an open, warm area. Once we knocked that down, it gave us space for a table and chairs that we wouldn’t have otherwise. 

kitchen renovation-red hardware-stainless steel sink-gray cabinets

In the kitchen, we installed new custom cabinets, plus more cabinets next to the stove. I went for a 30-inch stainless-steel farmer’s sink, quartz countertops, and a new stove. My favorite thing in the whole house is the kitchen backsplash; I love that funky design.

My contractor really wanted me to lay a new floor on top of the old one. But I loved the color variation in the original wood so I insisted it stay. We kept all the original flooring, just refinished and stained.

The biggest challenge was that the apartment has zero closets. I didn’t have the budget to build them so we bought a couple of big wardrobes and a funky metal gym locker for a linen closet and made it work. At least we had more vertical space to work with because after we removed the dropped ceilings, we gained at least two feet!

gray bedroom-wood floors-french doors

I’m a first-time renovator, so I really needed someone who would listen, do good work, deliver on time, and stay within budget and I got all of that. My Sweeten contractor was great and I really had no headaches with my renovation, which is amazing! He was really communicative, and anytime something needed to be changed or wasn’t going to work according to plan, he explained everything to me. Then we worked towards solutions together, which was so helpful. It went as smoothly as one could ask for.

When you’re renovating, remember that there will inevitably be something or some things that don’t go according to your plan. Try to see the big picture and not freak out about the details.

I wanted our forever home to be a place of joy that you can see. Our home makes me feel free.

Thank you, Martha and Sofia, for sharing your new home with us!

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KITCHEN RESOURCES: Floor tiles, backsplash, lighting, paint: Home Depot. Cabinet hardware: Hobby Lobby. Faucet, fan: Wayfair.

LIVING ROOM RESOURCES: Fan: Wayfair.

BEDROOM RESOURCES: Fan: Wayfair. Paint: Home Depot.

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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