Second Time’s the Charm: ‘A Renovation of a Renovation’ in a Brooklyn Duplex


If you’ve ever gone house hunting, you’re probably familiar with that feeling of ambivalence when confronted with a middling renovation by a developer. On the one hand, everything’s shiny and new and there’s no danger of finding a creepy doll in the attic; on the other hand, why does that bathroom door hit the sink when you open it?

Rather than live with the architectural flaws of their developer-renovated duplex, one Brooklyn couple decided a redo of the redo was a must. The pair hired vonDALWIG Architecture to tweak the improvements, to bring more light into their home, and to create better flow.

“We took the approach of rethinking the quality of space and found some simple moves to bring more value and spatial quality to the home,” says Kit von Dalwig, who founded the architecture and interior design firm with her husband Phillip. “We reorganized the garden level, moving the master bedroom to the rear and creating a cool hallway, behind a set of bathrooms, that connects the two bedrooms but is also a buffer space, too.” They also enlarged some windows and installed new pale wood flooring, both of which helped remedy the lack of light.

Ready to see what else the von Dalwigs did to turn a so-so space into something spectacular?

Photography by Alan Tansey, courtesy of vonDALWIG Architecture.

The walls had been painted blue; a fresh coat of Farrow & Ball&#8
Above: The walls had been painted blue; a fresh coat of Farrow & Ball’s Strong White helps brighten the room, as does new flooring, courtesy of 7-inch-wide engineered planks in a sun-bleached finish from Madera. One thing the developer did right: preserving the original dentil moldings, marble fireplaces, and plaster ceiling rose. Hanging from the medallion is the Arca Single-Tier Chandelier by Matter Made.
The clients own a lot of artwork as the wife is a curator. Between Mies van der Rohe&#8
Above: The clients own a lot of artwork as the wife is a curator. Between Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Couch and the black leather chair from DWR is a coffee-table-cum-art by New York–based artist Jessi Reaves. The painting over the fireplace is by Math Bass; the painting to the left is by Beauford Delaney.



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The Cons of DIY Renovation


DIY’ing your full home renovation is tempting. But should you really do this?

the cons of DIY

This is a do-it-yourself, do-it-all maker culture. Fueled by enough YouTube videos, a homeowner can feel emboldened to take on anything—even a DIY home renovation.

It’s natural to be undecided about whether you want to do that full home renovation by yourself or hire professionals. Doing it yourself can mean acting as your own project manager or it can mean doing it all by hand, completely or partially. In any case, the prospect of cost savings is the tempting carrot at the end of the stick.

But there is a counter-argument—the cons of DIY. Is that DIY full home renovation really in your best interests? Examining the cons of DIY isn’t a scare story or a money pit narrative. Instead, it’s a window onto the scale and complexity of DIY full house renovation. Below, Sweeten outlines a chance to make an informed decision.

Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner.

Completion time

Home renovations require time and the attention to make both small and key decisions. Depending on the scope, part of your home may be covered in plastic protection or kitchens and bathrooms will be unusable. What you want is a full home renovation that operates on a compact, predictable schedule.

You have a life. Career, kids, relationships, friends, leisure: All of these have priority. This narrows down the amount of time that you have available to work on your house.

Professionals compress the schedule and complete the project much faster than if you had done it by yourself. Professionals are contractually bound to a completion timeframe. Plus, they have a vested interest in finishing on time since yours is likely one in a queue of other projects on their books.

Keeping on schedule

When you install your own laminate floor or paint your own bathroom, timing is easy. You have three or four minor milestones to hit, and it’s simple to keep them in order.

But when the project is as multi-layered as a full home renovation, it’s like playing multi-dimensional chess. Each project—floor, walls, windows, plumbing, and more—has its own set of milestones. Each of those projects is a milestone and must weave in with other projects. And, to make it even more interesting, you sometimes need to bounce back and forth between projects. Coordinating subcontractors within that system can get bewildering.

By contrast, contractors know how to keep scheduling straight; it’s their stock in trade. They’ll keep all of the projects running as consistently as possible. And they’ll seamlessly coordinate the movements of the subcontractors.

Quality of work

Unless you have tiled a shower before, you first need to learn how to tile a shower. The worst classroom for learning how to tile is in your own house. You do not want your house to be a proving ground for your fledgling tiling, wiring, flooring, or plumbing skills.

Professionals do this work all the time. With training, apprenticeships, and experience in the field, they have already worked out the kinks. Professionals generally turn out professional quality work.

Codes and permits

A vast amount of full home renovation work touches on building codes and permits. Structural work, electrical, plumbing, HVAC, and even water heaters require permits in most municipalities. All permit work must be done according to code. And just because you aren’t required to pull a permit for a certain project doesn’t mean that building code isn’t applicable.

Code-compliant work may suffer at the hands of DIYers. The pros know code and are professionally bound to turn out work that complies with the latest codes. Contractors, subcontractors, designers, and architects stay abreast on the latest changes in their field.

Finding subcontractors

Subcontractors are skilled tradespeople who do projects like plumbing, electrician, drywall, painting, or flooring.

Even if you’ve decided to DIY your home renovation by hand, you still might end up hiring pros for select projects such as whole-house wiring, solid wood or engineered wood floor installation, drywall installation, tiling a shower, or blowing or rolling insulation into an attic.

Finding and lining up good subcontractors can be a challenge. Using a contractor can take that chore off of your plate since the contractor has ready access to a pool of trusted subs.

Renovating safely

Homeowners taking on full DIY home renovations risk injury in many ways. Old paint might be lead-based or those floor tiles might have asbestos. Black mold is common in ceilings, attics, and walls. Falls—the most common type of household injury—can occur even when you are on a ladder painting crown molding.

When you hire professionals to do the job, they have the know-how, safety gear, and materials to keep themselves and you safe. Safety is second nature to them; their livelihood and health depend on it.

Are you really saving money?

One reason often mentioned for doing a DIY full home renovation is that it saves money. As long as you can keep the renovation moving and on-target, with no wasted time or materials, you just might save some money.

But there is also the distinct possibility that you may lose this bet. If your project isn’t clearing inspections, you need to do it over until you get it right. That costs money. If you decide to do a hands-on renovation, you may need to purchase tools that are used only once: a wet tile saw, a full set of drywall tools, a paint sprayer.

When you hire a professional to do your full home renovation, you might save money in a number of ways. Savings might come in the form of wholesale discounts, bulk discounts, or special perks granted by a supplier since the professional is a regular buyer. Or from years of experience, the professional may have a keen eye for finding materials that are still high-quality but less expensive.

Is a DIY home renovation the right choice?

No solution applies to everyone in all situations. A DIY home renovation might be perfect if you are hungry to learn new skills. For anyone who is interested in the process as well as the product, DIY renovation is an eye-opener. Finally, if you are short on money but long on time, a DIY renovation might be right for you.

Hiring professionals to do your whole-house renovation helps you hit those critical timing marks that keep you on schedule. The work will be done to professional quality, safely and cleanly, in accordance with local building codes. Peace of mind and the assurance that the job will be done right—and not hanging over your head for months—are just a few of the benefits of using pros to do your full house renovation.

Here’s what Sweeten homeowners took part in during their renovation and what their general contractors handled.

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 Suburban Kitchen Renovation Puts Pockets of Space to Use


A suburban kitchen renovation helps ex-city dwellers get a bigger, more stylish kitchen in Montclair, NJ

open concept kitchen

“After” photos by Miao Jiaxin for Sweeten

  • Homeowners: A couple posted their suburban kitchen renovation on Sweeten
  • Where: Montclair, New Jersey
  • Primary renovation: Kitchen update
  • Notable: Gaining square footage with a better layout
  • Result: Room for an island and connection to the dining room
  • Sweeten general contractor
  • Sweeten’s role: Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner.

Guest blog post by Sweeten homeowner

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Leaving urban life in Brooklyn for New Jersey

My wife and I both grew up in apartments in New York City. When we were planning to start a family, we divided our living room inside a one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. We created another bedroom believing it would give us enough space. It was tight but manageable. However, when our daughter turned four years old, we were less than thrilled with our school district and we knew it was time to move.

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My buddy, who lives in Montclair, New Jersey, suggested that we visit his town, and we fell in love with the area and the houses. We found the school we wanted our child to attend and searched for a home nearby. The market was crazy competitive. We lost six bids before we finally found a home in the neighborhood we wanted.  

Reviewing inefficiencies at home

We bought the house, a two-level residence on a wide quiet street, knowing it needed work. We closed in June and didn’t plan on moving in till late August, so we had a little over two months to renovate. The kitchen was in bad shape. It was small and felt claustrophobic with cabinets looming over on all sides.

There was only about eight feet of usable counter space and about 20 square feet of space to move around. The stove looked like it came out of a movie from the 1940s. The floor tiles, which were cracked and loose, were what my neighbor called, “McDonalds” tiles—the ugly red terracotta tiles that are in some older McDonalds restaurants.

The house is almost a hundred years old. I’m guessing that most of the fixtures were original and that nothing was maintained. The plumbing was a mess—all the valves were corroded. At some point, the electrical box was changed, but no permit was pulled and the box was not up to code. We wanted to start renovations with the kitchen.

kitchen island

Trouble with contractors

We had the names of a few contractors who were recommended by our realtor. Some never called me back and three actually came by to see the house. One of the three never made a single measurement but quoted us $28,000 with no details. When I asked, he said it includes everything except counters, cabinets, and fixtures. I kept having to ask questions to try to nail down what exactly he was going to do.

Yet another contractor made measurements and told me he couldn’t start until November or sometime before Christmas. He still wouldn’t provide me with an estimate but kept asking when I was available to go shopping for cabinets with him. Speaking with my new neighbors, they told me it’s difficult to book any contractor in Montclair you don’t already have a relationship with.

One wall had an old butler’s pantry, and by removing it, we gained a whopping 18 square feet.

By August, we were pretty desperate. We spoke with an architect friend, and she recommended using Sweeten. She drew us a rough drawing of what we wanted, and we posted the job. Fortunately, we immediately received serious responses from contractors from outside of Montclair. After receiving several estimates, we found the Sweeten contractor we wanted to hire.

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Finding hidden spaces at home

Work started in September. We were able to expand the kitchen by tearing down two walls. One wall had an old butler’s pantry, and by removing it, we gained a whopping 18 square feet. It was enough space to add an island counter, which gave us an abundance of counter space to do our cooking. There was an unused cellar entryway that we removed and made into a walk-in pantry. The wall between the dining room and kitchen was removed to create a bigger space and an open kitchen design.

Our Sweeten contractor was terrific throughout the whole process, acting as both contractor and design consultant. Being a really old house, there were some unanticipated structural issues during demolition, but he was able to deal with it all. He added a header beam and support columns to support the ceiling. Our contractor also helped us move some pipes and changed all the old corroded water valves. All of the existing DIY electrical wirings were all cleaned up.

We love our new kitchen. Opening up the space between the kitchen and the dining room, made the tiny space feel really big and flowing. In fact, I was able to take advantage of all that counter space to do a ton of baking with my daughter over the holidays. We couldn’t be happier with the result, and can’t wait for our next project.

Thank you for sharing your new New Jersey home with us! We love how your suburban kitchen renovation turned out. 

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Carrara Morro quartz countertop, redwood porcelain floor tile in natural glaze: MSI. Cabinets: Forevermark. Ducted under cabinet range hood: Hauslane. Five-burner gas cooktop: Cosmo Appliances. Artec Pro pull-down kitchen faucet, Kore Workstation: Kraus. Profile combination microwave wall oven: GE. Refrigerator: Samsung. Dishwasher: Whirlpool.



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Sweeten’s Guide to Hamptons Renovation Costs in 2020


Sweeten’s 2020 guide to Hamptons renovation costs, including kitchen, bath, and whole-home, plus permit tips

The Hamptons…the mere mention conjures up images of poolside luxury and endless summer. But what’s it really like to live—and renovate—there? If you’re considering buying a home in the East End to renovate, there are some things you should know. Luckily for you, we’ve done the homework! Read on to learn what to expect (and budget) for your Hamptons renovation costs. (Keep in mind that all projects are unique, and many variables will impact a remodel!)

Sweeten offers a guide to Hamptons renovation costs, focusing on four categories—cost per square foot, kitchen, bathroom, and permits. Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner.

Note: every expert contractor will want to have a detailed chat and inspection of your home before creating an estimate for your needs and wants.

Here’s a breakdown of typical Hamptons renovation costs, compiled from Sweeten renovations and Remodeling’s 2020 Cost vs. Value report.

  • Full home renovation: Starting at $100 per square foot (psf) with stock materials; high-end properties start at $250+ psf
  • Low-end kitchen remodel: $25,000 for under 100 square feet
  • Mid-range kitchen remodel: $40,000—$75,000
  • High-end kitchen remodel: $75,000+
  • Low-end bath remodel: $20,000
  • Mid-range bath remodel: $25,000—$40,000
  • High-end bath remodel: $40,000—$100,000
  • Basement remodel: $25,000—$100,000

To be clear: when referring to the Hamptons, we are talking about the Town of Southampton and the Town of East Hampton, which both comprise many hamlets and villages. Hamlets such as Westhampton, East Quogue, or Hampton Bays lie within the boundaries of the town of Southampton. The villages of Amagansett and East Hampton are within the administrative boundaries of the town of East Hampton. So, any building permits filed will be with the offices of Southampton or East Hampton.

There is a season for everything, but especially in the Hamptons. Usually, there is a big push before summer so that everyone can enjoy their homes before the summer is out, and everyone is very busy. If possible, start your design process in the fall and do the work in the winter. 

However, with the unexpected events of 2020, real estate industry experts expect the busy season to shift due to the freeze on non-essential activities and business.

Hamptons home renovation costs per square foot

According to experts who work in both New York City and the Hamptons, the consensus is that costs per square foot are essentially the same in both locales. As we point out in our cost guide to Westchester County, proximity to Manhattan dictates both the buyer demographic as well as real estate values. This, in turn, is reflected in the cost of renovations. As Sweeten contractor Eric points out, however, there are subtle differences between the villages and hamlets, with East Hampton being the priciest. Sweeten sees projects starting at $100 per square foot with stock materials and high-end properties at $250+ psf.

While renovation costs per square foot will vary depending on whether it is a gut or non-gut, and the level of finishes and custom features you require, Eric tells us that there is a starting point of $150 psf for renovations with stock materials. Luxury waterfront properties, however, start at $500 psf for high-end renovations and can exceed $1,000 depending on complexity and finishes. (See Budget Basics: Renovation Costs Per Square Foot, where we outline three levels of renovation.)

Additionally, cost increases over the past year have also pushed baseline budgets upwards: the price of fuel has gone up, as has general liability insurance, said Sweeten contractor Eric. “Building materials are also up from last year because of supply and demand; everyone is renovating! And when homeowners are renovating, the cost for electricians and plumbers and other subs increase, because they can pick and choose between the most profitable jobs. They will charge more now for smaller jobs like a single kitchen or bath.”

Costs for a kitchen renovation

  • Low-end kitchen: Most Sweeten kitchen remodels in the budget range average $25,000 for under 100 square feet with budget-friendly finishes from retailers such as Home Depot. 
  • Mid-range kitchen: Most Sweeten projects in the mid-range can fall between $40,000—$75,000. In Sweeten contractor John‘s experience, he cites a mid-range kitchen could average in the $75,000 range. Ariel Okin, an interior designer who works in the Hamptons, tells us: “Kitchen gut renovations can range from $40,000—$150,000 depending on the level of work the client wants, and the same goes for baths. Square footage, scope of work, and estimated amount of time it will take to complete the job are all major considerations that go into pricing out the project.”
  • High-end kitchen: At Sweeten, we’ve seen projects cost start at $75,000 for high-end finishes. According to Remodeling’s Cost vs. Value 2020 Report, a major upscale kitchen remodel averages $166,408 in New York or $832 per square foot.
    This is based on a 200-square-foot kitchen with top-of-the-line custom cabinets, stone countertops, imported tile backsplash, built-in refrigerator, microwave, commercial-grade cooktop, and vent hood, as well as all new lighting and wood floors.

Sweeten contractor John estimates that a high-end kitchen in the Hamptons will start at $150,000 and up.

Costs for a bathroom renovation

  • Low-end bathroom remodel: At Sweeten, we’ve seen projects begin at $20,000. John quotes a three-piece (shower, sink, and toilet) project to average out to about $35,000 for a 5’ x 8’ space with budget-friendly finishes.
  • Mid-range bathroom remodel: Sweeten has completed bathroom renovations between $25,000—$40,000 in the mid-range that covers about 100 square feet. Cost vs. Value 2020 Report cites an average of $29,585 for a mid-range bath remodel.
  • High-end bathroom remodel: At the high-end range, Sweeten renovations that consist of three-pieces can cost between $40,000—$60,000. A high-end master suite remodel consisting of 4-5 pieces including a shower, double sink, bathtub, and toilet costs between $60,000—$100,000. According to Remodeling’s Cost vs. Value 2020 Report, an upscale bathroom remodel averages $88,523 in New York or $885 psf. This is based on expanding an existing 35-square-foot bathroom to 100 square feet, relocating all fixtures, and installing a new shower with a frameless glass enclosure, freestanding soaker tub with high-end faucets, stone counters with dual sinks, one-piece toilet, and a humidistat-controlled exhaust fan.

Sweeten contractor John estimates that a high-end master bath renovation would run about $100,000 on average.

Costs for a basement renovation

At Sweeten, we’ve seen basement remodels budgeted at $100—$150 psf or $25,000 for a simple coat of paint. A gut renovation would cost $50,000—$100,000 which could include plumbing, electrical, an entertainment center, appliances, closets, and with possible walls going up or down. An average basement conversion project in the New York area is $75,000, according to the Cost vs. Value report. The project for this size budget includes a 20′ × 30′  foot room and a 5′ × 8′ foot bathroom with a shower and bar area as well as insulation and laminate flooring. This sample project works out to $117 psf.

What to know about permits in the Hamptons

Permits are a big part of the renovation process in Hamptons towns. While expediters are not regularly used there, the process can involve two types of experts not usually called upon in renovation projects elsewhere.

  • Environmental consultants can assist homeowners and architects in parsing land use regulations, coastal environmental planning, and acquisition of related permits. Given the delicate ecosystems and the proliferation of wetlands and sand dunes along the coasts, these consultants are crucial to navigating this aspect of the permit process. Additionally, they can answer help determine whether you can expand the footprint of a house or add a dock. They typically charge by the hour (ranging from $250-350/hour, with a minimum project fee). For the initial site inspection and report, some offer a flat rate fee of around $1,500. This fee would cover the property inspection and produce a report.
  • Local attorneys who are well-versed in the zoning codes of the particular town in question can help navigate the process. Sweeten architect Andrew tells us that East Hampton recently changed some of its codes and a local attorney assisted him and his client in liaising with the town office on a debated matter of allowable square footage. Attorneys’ fees vary; a local real estate agent can provide recommendations.

Keeping up with local regulations and requirements

While the town offices may be small and provide a more personal interaction, as Sweeten architect Andrew relates, don’t mistake that casual air for a casual approach to enforcing regulations. For example, certain Hamptons neighborhoods won’t allow work on weekends, or after a certain time during high season. There have also been increasing attempts to limit the square footage on properties and accessory structures that may be used as rental properties. Additionally, there are stringent regulations at the town, state, and federal levels that will affect your renovation, depending on scope.

It’s important to understand what the current code is. However, you should also try to find out what is upcoming or anticipated in terms of changes. Because project timelines can extend, you want to ensure you’re complying with the relevant codes when your project finishes.

One relatively recent development has been a change in the energy conservation requirements in East Hampton, for example. Andrew notes that he is dealing with this on a current project. Now, they’ll need to hire someone who is certified to complete the HERS rating, which will cost between $1,000—$2,000. They may also need to use different building components to achieve better insulation and R-value required today.

The Town of Southampton provides this handy Building Permit Application Checklist for residential interior renovations (note that different fees and applications are required for other types of construction).

  • Building permits for residential interior remodeling permits run $65 psf up to 2,000 square feet on the first story of a house with a $50 fee for up to $1,000 of estimated construction cost (ECC).
  • This Electrical Permit Fee Schedule indicates that electrical permits range from a minimum of $50 for a re-inspection to $1,000 for additions, renovations, basement wiring, and garages with more than 7 devices over 15,000 square feet.
  • Fees for plumbing fixtures are $5 per fixture with a $50 minimum.

Ready to start planning your Hamptons renovation?

Now that you understand typical Hamptons renovation costs, you can start the planning process! Sweeten’s Renovation Checklist offers you a downloadable roadmap to organize all of the moving parts of a home renovation, including laying out your “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves.” Once you post your home renovation project on Sweeten, you’ll be matched with multiple excellent contractors who can provide their expertise and estimates. Sweeten stays involved and monitors your project until it is completed. The result: peace of mind during the renovation and your dream house at the end!

Learn more about remodeling costs based on location and project scope with our handy cost guides.

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

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



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A Brooklyn Brownstone Renovation “Flips” for the Better


Living space and rental come together in this Brooklyn brownstone renovation

brownstone renovation, Brooklyn

“After” photos by Kate Glicksberg for Sweeten

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

Guest post by Sweeten homeowner Bellamy

Finding their circa 1900 Brooklyn brownstone home

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

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

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

Salvaging and repurposing

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

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

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An overhaul for the kitchen

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

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

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

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

WATCH: How Bellamy and Zak find their Sweeten contractor

Splurging and saving

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

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

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

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

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

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Managing the renovation budget and process

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

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

Switching the brownstone layout

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

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

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FOYER RESOURCES: Merola floor tile: Home Depot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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A Living Room Renovation Puts A Pool Table in the Spotlight


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

bachelor pad renovation

“After” photos by Kate Glicksberg for Sweeten

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

A living room renovation gives room for a fave sport

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

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

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Designer, Bennett Gale

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“BEFORE” of kitchen

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

Planning an entertainment space at home

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

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

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

kitchen bar

Sample testing the countertop materials

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

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

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

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Choosing the right general contractor team

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

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

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

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

SHOPPING GUIDE

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

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

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

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



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Steal This Look: A Luminous Kitchen Renovation in Rockport, Maine


Leave it to design stars Tara Mangini and Percy Bright of Jersey Ice Cream Co. to infuse an undistinguished 2004 builder’s special (see Remade in Maine: Jersey Ice Cream Co. Upgrades a Recently Built House) with rustic charm. The reimagined kitchen has tinted plaster walls, a now-signature Jersey Ice Cream Co. feature, Shaker-style cabinets, a luxury chateau-style range, and luminescent white tile. Here are the elements for re-creating the look.

The kitchen is partially constructed by Jersey Ice Cream Co. and by one of the house&#8
Above: The kitchen is partially constructed by Jersey Ice Cream Co. and by one of the house’s original contractors, Jay Fischer of Cold Mountain Builders. Photograph from Remade in Maine: Jersey Ice Cream Co. Upgrades a Recently Built Rockport House.
A large apron-front farmhouse sink anchors the L-shaped kitchen. It&#8
Above: A large apron-front farmhouse sink anchors the L-shaped kitchen. It’s paired with an unlacquered brass faucet. Photograph from Remade in Maine: Jersey Ice Cream Co. Upgrades a Recently Built Rockport House.
The pièce de résistance: a Lacanche range and white terracotta backsplash. Photograph from Remade in Maine: Jersey Ice Cream Co. Upgrades a Recently Built Rockport House.
Above: The pièce de résistance: a Lacanche range and white terracotta backsplash. Photograph from Remade in Maine: Jersey Ice Cream Co. Upgrades a Recently Built Rockport House.

Materials

Kitchen cabinets, built by Jay Fischer of Cold Mountain Builders, are painted Benjamin Moore Balboa Mist.
Above: Kitchen cabinets, built by Jay Fischer of Cold Mountain Builders, are painted Benjamin Moore Balboa Mist.
The kitchen countertops are honed Crema Delicata Marble, which is available at Stone Source among other stone retailers.
Above: The kitchen countertops are honed Crema Delicata Marble, which is available at Stone Source among other stone retailers.
The kitchen backsplash is made of Clé Tile Zellige Weathered Terracotta Tile left over from the master bath (see the rest of the house in Remade in Maine: Jersey Ice Cream Co. Upgrades a Recently Built Rockport House). The tile has a color &#8
Above: The kitchen backsplash is made of Clé Tile Zellige Weathered Terracotta Tile left over from the master bath (see the rest of the house in Remade in Maine: Jersey Ice Cream Co. Upgrades a Recently Built Rockport House). The tile has a color “made up of, literally, dozens of shades of white” according to Clé is $22.75 per square foot.

Appliances

The range is a French Lacanche Chagny 00 Range in ivory and brass hardware. It can be ordered directly through Lacanche. For more on ranges like this, see  Easy Pieces: Retro Kitchen Ranges.
Above: The range is a French Lacanche Chagny 1400 Range in ivory and brass hardware. It can be ordered directly through Lacanche. For more on ranges like this, see 10 Easy Pieces: Retro Kitchen Ranges.
At the end of the counter is a SubZero -Inch Undercounter Wine Refrigerator. Available at AJ Madison; contact for pricing and more information.
Above: At the end of the counter is a SubZero 24-Inch Undercounter Wine Refrigerator. Available at AJ Madison; contact for pricing and more information.



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How to Include Profit & Overhead Costs in Renovation Project Estimates


Grow your contracting business and stand out from the competition: use Sweeten’s guide to include profit & overhead in your bids

profit and overhead in renovation project estimates

Estimating overhead and profit are important parts of any project bid. However, underestimating overhead costs on a project often cuts into the profit. Sweeten outlines how to manage the cost of your business within a renovation project estimate.

Sweeten matches general contractors with high-quality home renovation projects, vetted for readiness and appropriate budget. Contractors pay only when they win a project. Budgets start at $15,000 and average over $100,000.

How does Sweeten work with general contractors?
  • Sweeten matches general contractors with high-quality home renovation projects, vetted for readiness, and appropriate budget.
  • Contractors pay only when they win a project.
  • Budgets start at $15,000 and average over $100,000.

Project Estimating Tip 1: Estimating Overhead

Indirect overhead

Ongoing, or indirect, overhead items keep a business running long term.  There are a number of indirect or ongoing costs. These may include: 

  • Salaries and benefits for employees
  • Office costs, such as rent, utilities, supplies
  • Vehicle costs
  • Insurance
  • Marketing costs, including Sweeten fees
  • Professional services including accountants, attorneys
  • Software licenses

Think of these expenses as the “cost of doing business” as they allow you to get in the game and operate a successful business. For that reason, many general contractors spread these costs evenly over a number of projects by incorporating them into their overhead and categorizing them as marketing. Others build it into their overhead on a project to project basis. It’s a key decision a contractor needs to make when they’re running their business. Ultimately, it’s a personal decision! The important point is to treat these fees as business expenses, and not as a reduction in profit.

Direct overhead

Direct overhead costs are costs for specific projects. Here are some examples:

  • Equipment rental
  • Job site utilities
  • Additional insurance, when required
  • Manpower for non-labor charges, such as accepting deliveries and ordering materials
  • Project marketing expenses
    • For example, the fees for Sweeten’s services provide business development and marketing, opportunities for free photography/blog and social media promotion, peace of mind, and consumer protections for clients that are designed to help our GCs win.

Include anything that does not fall under materials or labor that affects the project.

Project Estimating Tip 2: Presenting P and O Estimates

Some contractors lump profit and overhead costs together. However, separating the two offers an opportunity for the contractor. Most clients don’t understand the expenses of running a business. Many people assume the profit and overhead number is mostly profit—and they will try to get the GC to reduce it. Separate the two, and it could lead to a better understanding of what is behind the estimate. It explains the cost of doing business.

One helpful strategy is to list some of the overhead items that benefit the client.  They will appreciate the transparency and help them understand what they’re paying for. Offering this could separate the contractor from other firms bidding on the project. The client should know if the GC will purchase more insurance or special equipment to make the project successful. 

Project Estimating Tip 3: Estimating Profits

Many GC’s use a standard profit percentage for their renovation project estimates. It is a fairly common practice for GCs to increase or decrease the percentage based on different job factors. A contractor might reduce their profit margins if it looks like the project will run very smoothly. Perhaps a client already has materials on-site, so changes or delays due to delivery issues are unlikely. Some of Sweeten’s GCs will give a small discount on profit to lock in the job.

However, the reverse is also true! Projects that appear more difficult for some reason. For example, projects where the clients have a difficult time making decisions and you anticipate delays.  Those types might include a higher profit margin in the bid. This will give you a cushion to fall back on when problems crop up. 

Project Estimating Tip 4: Change Orders and Options

Changes happen on many projects. Account for your cost by including profit and overhead items in the change order procedure. Above all, be sure to be upfront with this practice in the initial contract you sign with the client.

The same is true if options, or add-ons, are included in the estimate. Include the profit and overhead in the renovation project estimate for the add-on. In those cases, the profit and overhead are combined with the estimated costs. 

Beat the competition with fair, profitable renovation project estimates

We hope our guide to adding profit and overhead costs to your renovation project estimates was helpful! Knowing how to do this strategically is a crucial step in growing your contracting business.

An often-overlooked tool to help grow a contracting business? Social media. Sweeten gives an easy-to-use social media guide to creating or updating your accounts for maximum effect.

Sweeten matches general contractors with real renovation projects that have a minimum budget of $15,000 (and Sweeten contracts only pay when they win a project!) Learn more about Sweeten’s working relationship with general contractors.



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Sweeten’s Splurge vs. Save Renovation Guide: A Breakdown by Room


Want to get more value out of each room in your home? Know where to invest (splurge) vs. hold back (save) in a renovation.

Your house needs a few improvements and you have the urge to do them all immediately. Every project seems to announce itself with equal priority. Unless you’re awash in money and time, you cannot address all at once. You need to sift through your priorities—starting with knowing where to splurge vs. save during a renovation. 

Below, Sweeten helps you understand where to splurge vs. save so you can define your priorities. Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner.

What does splurging mean?

Splurging doesn’t mean overspending. It can mean shifting money from one project to another. Or placing one project higher on the to-do list than other projects. Splurge on things that you touch or see often. Splurge on things that are meaningful to you or which make you happy. 

What does saving mean?

Saving doesn’t mean to skip or ignore. It means that you can safely put it on the back burner for now. Or if you want to do it, you can dial down on the cost a bit. Many times, after the project has been on the back burner long enough, you might see it in a clearer light.

Once you think in terms of splurge vs. save during a renovation, all of these home projects fall into an order that makes perfect sense.

Splurge vs. Save: Kitchens

Splurge: Kitchen Countertops

Every day, you touch, see, and use your kitchen countertops. Whether you choose quartz, solid surface, natural stone, laminate, or wood, your countertop choice is semi-permanent. After the design, fabrication, and installation, changing out your countertop shouldn’t be taken lightly. If you want a certain type of quartz countertop, but choose a shade or pattern that you don’t feel strongly about, ask yourself: How will I feel about this in a year? 

Save: Kitchen Appliances

Kitchen appliances are better designed than ever. The rising tide of improved kitchen technology lifts all boats—even for lower-priced appliances. With research, you can find lower-cost refrigerators, dishwashers, cooktops, and ranges that fit your needs. These appliances often match or exceed the quality of higher-priced versions from only a few years ago. 

Splurge vs. Save: Bathrooms

Splurge: Bathroom Fixtures

Bathroom fixtures are more than just mechanical devices. They aren’t just knobs and levers that start and stop the water. Fixtures are ornaments that complement a beautiful shower, tub, or sink. Spend more to splurge vs. save for bathroom fixtures that make you happy.

Save: Bathroom Technology

Technology has entered all parts of our lives, so why not the bathroom, too? IoT, or the Internet of Things, is a concept that describes how common things within our life are now Internet-equipped. Bathroom technology and IoT are not gimmicks! IoT devices can track water usage, regulate heating, and allow the bathroom to better adapt to your needs. Bathroom technology has its place, and it is the future. But for now, you can limit your bathroom smart devices or put them on the back burner.

Splurge vs. Save: Living rooms

Splurge: Paint

That designer paint that you’ve been eyeing? Now it can be yours. You can easily justify spending more on the premium paint that you want in the living room. That’s because the living room gets so much facetime, and it’s so public. Poor quality paint may flake, chip, or fade over time, costing more in the end. When you decide to splurge instead of save on your desired paint, you’ll be happier in the long run.

Save: Lighting

Living room lighting, while necessary, does not need to be expensive. Prioritize the shape and the finish of the lighting fixture over the brand name. One trick of designers is to over-scale lighting fixtures for a dramatic look. Just make sure that all of the in-wall wiring for sconces and ceiling lights is complete first!

Splurge vs. Save: Bedrooms

Splurge: Bedroom Closet systems

An unfinished closet is an empty box waiting for your stuff. However, that stuff has no place to go unless you create a system. Gone are the days of the closet rod with one shelf above it. Closet storage systems belong in all closets now. 

Reach-in closets benefit from a shoe fence or shoe cubby, two or three drawers, and plenty of open shelving, plus a closet rod. Walk-in closets should be outfitted with the same and more: additional shelves and drawers, pull-out baskets, multiple hanging areas, and lighting.

Save: Millwork and trim

Custom millwork and trim are the finishing touches for homes. If yours is a home of architectural significance, custom trim throughout is practically required. But if you want to save money, you can ease back on the fancy millwork in the private areas of the home. Save the ceiling medallions, crown molding, chair rails, dentils, batten, and picture rails for the dining and living areas.

Splurge vs. Save: Basements

Splurge: Basement Flooring

Moisture is usually the deciding factor when you consider whether or not to finish your basement. Prevalent moisture can turn an expensive basement remodel into an uninhabitable area best used for storage. 

An attractive, moisture-shedding floor covering and a subfloor system can make a world of difference. Begin with the subfloor system, interlocking 24-inch squares that elevate your floor covering about 1-inch. Then, choose a basement-ready floor covering that you love, whether ceramic or porcelain tile, luxury vinyl planks, engineered wood flooring, or laminate flooring.

Save: Guest bedrooms

Building out a guest bedroom in your basement is a wise move when you know that it will get frequent use, either by friends and family or as a rental unit. But if you want a guest bedroom in your basement only for the occasional visitor, you’re taking up valuable space best used for other activities.

Splurge vs. Save: Attics

Splurge: Built-in storage

Built-in storage doesn’t often rank high in priority in other parts of the house, but this is not the case for attics. Attics are starved for space to begin with. Once you add furniture, you have even less storage room. Knee walls are the short walls that extend from the floor to the rafters. Knee walls that have built-in storage should be built during the remodeling process, not later.

Save: Full bathrooms

Full bathrooms—toilet, sink, and shower or shower/tub—are a rarity in attics unless the intent is to build out an entire suite with living quarters. Otherwise, attics used as offices or children’s play areas work well with just a half-bathroom.

Splurge vs Save: Decks

Splurge: Deck Flooring

Your choice of deck flooring can easily make or break how much you end up using—and loving or avoiding—your deck. With that in mind, you’ll want to prioritize decking.

For the best in looks and maximum strength, choose a premium wood such as ipe or mahogany. Both are long-lasting, easy to maintain, and they return maximum resale value. Composite wood—a mixture of wood fibers and plastics—is smooth, splinter-free underfoot, and looks remarkably like wood.

Save: Deck Built-ins

Built-ins such as benches, tables, and planters are wonderful additions to decks. Built-in benches are especially valuable because they tuck away to the side, opening up more space in the center of the deck. Yet one way to pare down your deck-building budget is to save the built-ins for a later day. The same builder (or a different one) can always come back and create those built-ins that your heart desires.

Splurge vs. Save in a Renovation: Conclusion

Almost every room in a home would gladly use a piece of the budget. Knowing what projects can wait until a later date, or what may or may not maximize the full breadth of the room, can help guide on where to splurge vs. save in your renovation.

Here’s how to minimize the mess during a renovation and how to clean up after it’s finished.

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



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A Manhattan Office Renovation Expands Working Space


An office renovation in Manhattan helped this tech brand update a full floor while modernizing their workspace

commercial office renovation

“After” photos by Kate Glicksberg for Sweeten


  • Project: A tech brand expands office space in its NYC headquarters
  • Location: Manhattan, New York
  • Sweeten general contractor
  • Interview with Piper Skillman for Chapter Interiors
  • Sweeten’s role: Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner.

Sweeten: How did you and your client come together?

Piper: Packet sought an interior design agency to align its growing office space in Lower Manhattan with its dynamic, emerging brand. Packet’s co-founder and CMO, Jacob Smith, reached out to another one of our tech clients (White Ops, who is also a customer of Packet) for a referral, and after noting our work there, gave us a call.

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Sweeten: What is the client’s brand?

Piper: Packet creates the high-touch aspect of high-tech — making cloud infrastructure more delightful to consume for the top digital businesses in the world. Clients, partners, and employees needed to experience the brand the moment they entered the office and throughout their journey in the space.

Sweeten: What led to the opening of this new office space?

Piper: The tech company, which was founded in 2014, had recently doubled its staff and was planning on another year of team growth. While the company is about 70% remote, NYC is its headquarters and one of its global “hubs” where the team gathers regularly. When another floor in the building they occupy became available, Packet immediately grabbed it.

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Sweeten: How do your new design and the materials used to represent your brand?

Piper: The brand colors dictated our palette but it was important for us as designers to go beyond an easy and obvious link. It was essential to convey their brand experience throughout the space.

When selecting materials for their Manhattan office renovation, the sense of tangible authenticity—a certain “human-ness”—guided our choices. We opted for wood floors with character, felt walls, linoleum work surfaces, and a special dyed-through MDF that you leave exposed (as opposed to painting.) In addition to tactile fabrics, patterns that reference those seen in their cloud data centers further connected the space to the physical aspects of the product and brand.

In terms of space planning, Chapter Interiors strived for activity-based workplace design. Instead of asking the person to adjust to the space; we investigate how clients work and build spaces to suit. This results in an array of environments for employees—spaces that facilitate certain aspects of work and help optimize performance. An example was helping Packet design for different types of work (e.g. talk-heavy sales vs headphones-on engineering) while finding places for people to gather, recharge, exchange ideas, or be active.

office phone booth(Above) A phone booth for calls and video meetings

Sweeten: With companies working remotely because of COVID-19, do you foresee companies downsizing their commercial workspaces? How will office spaces change and service in the post-COVID world?

Piper: Yes! Reducing your footprint is an excellent opportunity to redesign your space (and save money.) In the short term post-COVID world, barriers will be erected and procedures will be put in place to minimize germ transmission. The longer-term implications are rethinking why people should go to the office.

Companies still need space for employees to gather. Moving forward, I see workplaces geared towards collaboration, team building, and brand connectivity with consumers and partners. Dedicated desks and independent work while at the office is less and less important. Numerous studies during the pandemic have proven that working from home does not hinder overall productivity.

It makes sense to combine working from home with time at the office. The best analogy I’ve heard so far is that working from home versus going into the office will be similar to eating at home versus going out to a restaurant. Employers need to make coming into the office special by providing spaces that foster activities that are worth traveling for. This ties into our strong belief in activity-based-workplace-design.

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Sweeten: How was your vision executed by working with your Sweeten general contractor?

Piper: The site manager was wonderful. From day one it was clear she cared about the quality of work and was very hands-on. Together, we worked to problem-solve several issues to make sure the final product was cost-effective, durable, and displayed craftsmanship. I would love to work with her again!

Sweeten: How did you, as a client, work with Sweeten?

Piper: We work with contractors all the time— yet still, find the process of finding the right contractor daunting. For Packet’s office renovation in Manhattan, I had very targeted needs, and Sweeten helped me quickly vet and compare contractors.

Sweeten: Can you describe the “before” space?

Piper: Words can’t describe this space before! It was raw, with filthy carpet and random paint patches throughout. Bad shape… But the potential that Packet saw was great, with pervasive natural light, airy ceiling height, and breathtaking views.

When starting a business, here’s how to finance a brick-and-mortar 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 with Sweeten.



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