Sweeten hand-picks the best experts for your renovation project

Each week, we aim to translate insight from NYC homeowners and contractors into information you can use to make better decisions about improving your home. This week: a look at a few of our favorite modern and contemporary kitchens by Sweeten experts and the defining elements that work so well in these inspiring spaces.

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Before we can sit back and enjoy a good old photo tour, we need to cover a few minorly technical notes. While it can be interesting to debate the merits of using the terms “modern” and “contemporary” interchangeably (art and architectural history buffs might insist on using “modern” to refer specifically to styles that emerged in the first half of the 20th century), we’re not overly concerned here about terminology. This round-up is meant to show how simple elements can come together to make a kitchen functional and beautiful. If you are planning a kitchen renovation and are inspired by what you see, it’s probably because you are drawn to a few unifying pieces that are visible throughout many of these spaces, so let’s focus on those:

SLEEK LINES: perhaps the most obvious signifier of a modern kitchen, clean-lined design is achieved in all of these homes via a combination of flat-fronted cabinetry and minimal (or concealed) hardware. Foregoing framing, decorative details, and ornamentation makes these spaces extra strong on horizontal lines and material contrast. (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Inspiration, Kitchens, NYC 2

After three run-ins with extensive water damage, Brooklyn homeowners Brad and Michelle took on a kitchen, bath, and floor renovation to restore and update their pre-war Fort Greene co-op. Today, Brad shares their renovation story and walks us through the process of wrangling insurance claims and partnering with a team of contractors they met through Sweeten to re-create the most beloved elements of their home and add a few design twists to make it their own.

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Homeowner guest post by Brad, Fort Greene homeowner

Like a lot of first-time NYC buyers, when my wife, Michelle, and I purchased our two bedroom Fort Greene co-op nearly ten years ago, we had to stretch ourselves financially. One of the main reasons that we were able to make it work was that the apartment, although in a pre-war brownstone, was in great condition and didn’t require any renovation. In fact, we were especially happy with the contemporary kitchen that the prior owner, an architect like myself, had installed. It was a great contrast to the more traditional, yet clean, moldings and lines of the rest of the apartment.

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Water Damage: Act I

A few years ago, we got our first chance to use Sweeten. Our master bathroom had suffered damage from a water leak in the apartment above. Even though I am an architect, I didn’t know any contractors in my network that could do the work economically since it was such a small project. But Sweeten quickly connected me with a contractor who did a great job restoring the walls and ceiling. Since then, I’ve been a huge Sweeten fan, recommending it to friends as well as using it to find contractors for my own clients’ projects. (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Bathrooms, IKEA, Inspiration, Kitchens, NYC 4

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“Sweeten helped us with everything, really. The community was accessible and trustworthy and helped solidify what to expect in the process. We were first-time renovators and Sweeten Expert Alan had the patience to help us find materials and map out what we needed, especially in determining how far we could push storage options and get the most out of a small space.”

- Megan, Upper East Side homeowner

Megan and Ryan moved into their one bedroom co-op on Manhattan’s Upper East Side in 2012 after deciding that the apartment’s crumbling bathroom (an almost-dealbreaker that nearly scuttled the sale) would be their first renovation project to tackle as new homeowners. Megan, who works at the United Nations, and Ryan, who works in personal finance, knew they needed to replace the discolored tiles that previous owners had attempted to cover in paint. The vanity, a bizarre combination of sink overhang and unnecessarily narrow cabinet storage, was cracked and beyond salvageable. And the window, a great asset in a Manhattan bath, had been painted and sealed with uneven tile – more or less negating its value in the room. (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Bathrooms, NYC 3
Thursday, March 26, 2015

Three Ways to Create a Laundry Room

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Last week’s look at Davison and Bernice’s Upper West Side kitchen renovation raised some interesting questions about finding ways to add laundry appliances to NYC apartments. I don’t think I’m alone when I say I am flummoxed, FLUMMOXED, every time I walk into a home goods store and see washers and dryers on the sales floor. These appliances are not prohibitively expensive and yet so few New York City homes have them. It boggles the mind – these are life-changing gadgets and they are relatively affordable but most city dwellers are still stuck lugging sheets and towels to laundromats or to shared stackers in dank basements. I have inspected every inch of my 340 square foot East Village home and I can accept that there is no possible place to put a washer or dryer, but that doesn’t mean we can’t live vicariously through NYC neighbors who have won this battle.

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Building management approvals and City permits

Space aside, the biggest roadblocks to in-unit laundry are typically the co-op and condo board regulations that ban washers and dryers in many City buildings. In some, the electrical grid is not up to meeting the demand that dryers (specifically) place on the system, and in other cases, the existing pipe stacks are not large enough to handle the increase in water and suds flow. Still in many other cases, fears that washing machines will overflow and dryers will lead to flames have traditionally been enough to block tenant plans for laundry upgrades. (more…)

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This week, I checked in with Bernice and Davison, an Upper West Side couple who took on a moderately impossible trifecta this past summer: they renovated their new home, moved in, and welcomed a newborn baby all within the same few weeks! Yikes?! All New Yorkers deal with tough deadlines when it comes to moving and renovating, but no amount of negotiation will alter the arrival of a brand new baby, so, with their second child on the way, this family came to Sweeten looking for a contractor who could lead on critical changes to their home before they moved in. The layout of the family’s three-bedroom co-op allowed for the children to have separate bedrooms – not always a given in the City – but to enter the apartment’s one bathroom, you had to walk through one of the bedrooms. This started to feel like a deal breaker as the family tried to envision tiptoeing by a sleeping baby on a daily basis. Relocating the bathroom door so that the bath could be accessed via the living room necessitated a renovation that ended up including a full kitchen overhaul and the addition of the growing family’s new secret weapon: an in-unit washing machine. We introduced Davison and Bernice to Sweeten Expert Louie to take on the family’s targeted plans for demolition and rebuilding throughout the home.

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“We used Sweeten in two ways: we drew heavily on ideas from other kitchens posted on the Sweeten blog for our designs, and we relied on Louie’s kitchen expertise to save money using some of what we already had. We would definitely come back to Sweeten if we had another project to take on.”

– Davison A, Upper West Side homeowner

Davison and Bernice thought a lot about how to improve work space in the kitchen without changing the kitchen’s layout or dimensions. Davison, who works in telecommunications, was inspired by some of the traditional principles of feng shui – he knew that small changes could have a big impact on the way the couple moved in the kitchen, and wanted to use the renovation as an opportunity to create an environment that would allow for easier flow between the kitchen’s hardest-working spaces (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Kitchens, NYC 5

This week, we get a peek into what happens when Manhattanites boldly go where so few seem to venture…taking down kitchen walls! This Hell’s Kitchen renovation would have been stylish even if it had stayed within its original dimensions, but taking a wall down was the first step in making the space virtually unrecognizable. Scroll on down for the play by play on this ambitious Manhattan kitchen renovation.

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“In some ways, we bit off more than we could chew. Sweeten introduced us to Sandy who was really easy to work with, flexible about our plans, and helpful with things that were uncertain or unexpectedly discovered behind walls.

–Dan, Hell’s Kitchen homeowner

Dan and Mike moved into this one bedroom, one bathroom co-op in Manhattan’s storied Piano Factory building in 2013. The building, converted from a 19th century warehouse that once served as the manufacturing site for the inner workings of pianos, is an industrial brick building in Hell’s Kitchen with a beautiful Romanesque entry and a graceful courtyard. Dan and Mike loved the building’s history and architecture, but found themselves in an apartment constructed in the grand tradition of many 1980s co-op conversions: boxy rooms, segmented living spaces, a dated pass-through in the wall that sectioned off the kitchen from the living area (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Inspiration, Kitchens, NYC 7

There is something undeniably delightful about a great bathroom before and after — this week, we have three! It’s possible that I love to live vicariously through other folks’ bathroom renovations because the depths of despair in the “before” photos appear to know no bounds; New York City sure seems to have more than its fair share of aged, beige tiles, peeling laminates, and harsh lighting all piled into miniature rooms upon which dwellers make endless daily demands. Despite the obvious space limitations, the bathroom can be the ideal place to showcase beautiful design and materials precisely because there is so much to fit into a typically tiny space. Hard-working fixtures and finishes are forced to play nicely together as they compete for square inches, and a bathroom renovation somehow feels contained — a great before and after bath serves as a reminder that every home has to make space for basic bathroom essentials. Even the tiniest of urban baths can do so stylishly.

Here, three full baths complete an Upper East Side family’s condo renovation. Scroll down to see how design duo Sweeten Experts Lauren and Adam and Sweeten’s expert general contractor Alan worked together to create modern and simple baths throughout this home, and take a bonus peek at the custom millwork that brought similar form and function elsewhere in this uptown Manhattan renovation.

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In the master bath, Lauren and Adam worked to balance two competing values: the bath itself is the largest of the three, with plenty of room for his and hers sinks, a sizable window, and a full tub, but the condo’s owners wanted to create a sense of privacy and make room for more storage. To take advantage of the bath’s spacious footprint but minimize sight lines into the master bedroom, the designers left the layout of the room generally intact, swapped in high-end tiles and custom cabinetry, and split the tub into a standing shower with a bench and expanded shelving. (more…)

This week, I went behind the scenes of a design and build collaboration to learn about the journey of this Upper East Side kitchen from forlorn galley to stunning chef’s workspace. After the owners of this home came to Sweeten to modernize their kitchen, we introduced them to Sweeten Experts Lauren and Adam, an architecture and interior design duo, and brought in Sweeten Expert Alan, a general contractor, to re-imagine the kitchen’s storage, function, and feel. The results are so easy on the eyes that you could be forgiven for missing the simple design tricks tucked behind these lacquered cabinets and beneath those gleaming Calacatta counters.

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Sweeten Experts Lauren and Adam got the message loud and clear from the owners of this condo: this is a family that loves to cook and planned to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Although they were first-time renovators, the homeowners had very thoughtful and specific ideas about storage and workspace needs, and they conveyed a desire, above almost all else, for function and durability.

Lauren and Adam worked through drawings that featured five smart design tricks, each designed expressly to increase the kitchen’s storage capacity, locate critical cooking and prep tools precisely where they would be most useful, and play with the depth and width perception in a room that could not be physically enlarged. These design ideas are simple enough to incorporate in any kitchen renovation and are especially key for small-space dwellers.

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1. Frontload the bulkiest pieces

In a galley kitchen or narrow hallway, it can be tempting to place cabinets and furniture evenly throughout the space (or shove the bulkiest pieces away from the entry point). Instead, Lauren and Adam created a sense of depth and width by placing the largest cabinets and the fridge near the entry, gradually lightening visual heft as the room continues toward the window. When a visitor walks through the kitchen’s entryway, the largest cabinets feel like a natural continuation of the narrow door and frame, and the room appears wider and longer as floor-to-ceiling cabinetry gives way to open storage and spacious countertops. This approach ensures that the room draws its visitor through the most narrow point of the space first and into more open space immediately. (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Inspiration, Kitchens, NYC 7
Thursday, February 19, 2015

Is Your General Contractor Legit?

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Homeowners thinking about renovating in New York City always need to be aware of the City’s license and permit requirements for home renovation, but a somewhat obscure and rather technical tid-bit of information will take center stage this month as City licenses for businesses that engage in home renovation expire on February 28. Seems like that might be worth repeating: ALL licenses for ALL people and businesses that engage in residential construction, repair, remodeling, or additions in NYC expire on February 28. Contractors must re-apply to keep these licenses active, so after February 28, you should check to see whether a contractor has a Home Improvement Contractor (HIC) license in NYC using Sweeten’s quick and easy, contractor license search tool. Read on for the full download of why it’s important to work with licensed contractors in NYC.

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What is a Home Improvement Contractor License and does my contractor need one?

New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs licenses and regulates all kinds of trades – contractors, yes, and a long list of other industries (evidently, you need a license to be a bingo game operator, and the City limits the holders of such licenses to 216 events per year…! This is very off-topic, but very fascinating.).

Anyway! (more…)

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There are more than 10,000 general contractors in New York City – even if it were easy for a homeowner to do all of the research to make sure contractors are licensed, insured, and have solid references with beautiful portfolios of work, it can still be tough to find contractors who are available in your area, within your budget range, and on your timeline. That’s why we’ve made it our job – at Sweeten, we hand-pick the best experts for major home renovation projects. So much of this happens behind the scenes that sometimes we forget how exciting it is to work with talented renovation professionals across the City. This week, join us for a mini walking tour through the profiles of just a handful of new Sweeten experts!

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Sweeten Expert Jonathan caught our eye with custom shaker cabinets and contrasting floating shelves in this Upper East Side Manhattan kitchen. Beautiful finishes, a smart layout, and creative use of the kitchen’s central corner saved this space from life as a galley kitchen. Take a look at Jonathan’s profile for information about his team, references from other homeowners, and more great photos.

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Sweeten Expert Alastor brought painterly craftsmanship to the bathroom of this Chelsea apartment with luminous penny tile, intricately laid from floor to ceiling and throughout custom rounded wall niches (more…)

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