Sweeten hand-picks the best experts for your renovation project

This past summer, Carol W. and her husband took on the kitchen renovation they spent nearly three years envisioning. Today, Carol shares their renovation story and walks us through each of the detailed decisions they made. One by one, these changes resolved individual storage and surface problems; together, these edits transformed the function and feel of this modern Park Slope home.


Story & photos by: Carol W., Park Slope homeowner

posted our kitchen renovation project to Sweeten this past summer, but I’d been hoping to update our kitchen from the moment I set eyes on it three years ago. My husband and I found our apartment after a long search, and while the kitchen was in excellent condition, it was the one thing we knew we’d want to change when money and time would allow. Living with it for a while had its benefits though: we learned a lot about how we use it and what we needed to change to make it more functional.

Inadequate storage and impractical materials

We had a decent amount of wall storage, but the high placement of the cabinets meant that, at 5’4”, I couldn’t reach half of the shelves. The cabinets were originally placed about 23 inches up from the counter, which is about 5 inches higher than the standard, and they didn’t extend all the way to the ceiling, which was a waste of space that could be helpful for storing less frequently used items. We were also using a small Ikea kitchen island, which added some counter space but didn’t provide enough storage underneath. (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Inspiration, Kitchens, NYC, Sweetened 3

Here on the Sweeten blog, we can’t help but focus on great design and beautiful finishes. In the last year, we’ve been treated to magazine-worthy upgrades and transformative craftsmanship in many corners of New York City. But today, I’m ready to confess that I’ve been withholding a key piece of behind-the-scenes insight. I love hearing from New Yorkers about their renovation experiences and design inspiration, and it is tempting to let the glittering tile and fresh paint do all of the talking, but there is one comment that just about each and every homeowner utters at some point in the conversation: “work was delayed because we were waiting for that < insert massive or minuscule detail here… >”.

Renovation Cost Savings: Avoid Order & Delivery Hiccups

I usually don’t include these off-hand comments on the Sweeten blog, because it’s not that interesting to hear that a toilet sat uninstalled for two weeks while a homeowner waited for a missing screw to arrive (and I don’t want to publicly shame any homeowners for causing project delays!), but these are not isolated incidents. I talked to Sweeten Expert Valeria to understand why material order and delivery delays are so pervasive, and what homeowners can do to up their renovation cost savings and keep things moving. Valeria’s firm is in the midst of taking this Brooklyn kitchen from pre-fab to super fab, and she echoed what I was already hearing from homeowners: when material orders and deliveries go even slightly haywire, it can be spectacularly disruptive to the progress, sequence, and cost of a home renovation, AND, these disruptions usually occur (ironically) when individual homeowners are trying to save money by ordering their own materials. Here’s why: (more…)

Posted by: Categories: How To, NYC, Renovation Resources 5
Thursday, November 6, 2014

Amy’s Sweetened Brooklyn Heights Bathroom



“Sweeten Expert Pedro was responsive whenever I called or emailed him about the project, and he was able to accommodate all of my requests.”

–Amy, Brooklyn Heights homeowner

Brooklyn Heights homeowner Amy moved into her one-bedroom, one-bathroom co-op two years ago, facing a not-so-terrible but oh-so-prevalent NYC problem: the bath in her new home was ok. It was fine, really; functional and clean and perfectly non-offensive. Amy was not dealing with any pastel porcelain fixtures or layers of cracked floor tile and dropped ceilings, but she couldn’t shake the sense that the materials selected by the previous owners felt dated and at odds with the way the rest of her home was coming together. As she settled in, Amy, who works in advertising, began noticing how the double-wide mirror and counter extension made the room feel cramped without adding any function, and decided that she could do without the under-sink storage if it would help her reclaim a few extra square feet. Amy found her way to Sweeten via Apartment Therapyposted her project on Sweeten, and we matched her with Sweeten Expert Pedro to strip out everything but the tub and streamline the space for this Brooklyn Heights bathroom renovation.


Tile sets a new tone

Amy had a classic bath in mind and went right for timeless and unfussy white subway tile to line the shower and go half-height up the walls. The subway tile pick was simple and inexpensive, allowing Amy to accent the space with a sea-foam green penny floor tile from Ann Sacks. Pedro lined both sections with a neutral medium-gray grout, which helps balance the shine with a bit of grit and texture. To bathe the new finishes in plenty of light, Amy selected a white glass, silver-ringed Schoolhouse Electric flushmount (disclaimer: I try not to be biased but this has long been my most favorite lighting fixture in all the world!).

SWEETEN_AmyDBathroom-04SWEETEN_AmyDBathroom-05 SWEETEN_AmyDBathroom-06

Custom sink details

Amy’s pièce de résistance, and the object of considerable research and finagling, was the console sink. The room’s wall bump-out provided a natural cut-off point for the sink depth at only 20 inches, but Amy found that sink options commonly clocked in at more than 24 inches. Amy sourced a custom-cut Carrera marble counter top and combined it with chrome legs to create a vintage-inspired console that fit precisely within the space constraints. Amy went with Kohler faucet fixtures and Pedro replaced and re-located the newly-exposed sink pipes upward for a more polished look. Amy loves the way the sink turned out – putting her stamp on the design and bringing her vision for the fixture to life in spite of the room depth was no small win!

Storage losses and space gains

Most urban dwellers would be loathe to lose bathroom storage (or storage of any kind, for that matter), but Amy was able to take a minimalist approach to medicine cabinet and sink storage space because of the linen closet in the bathroom. Without the original top-heavy medicine cabinet and bulky sink vanity, Amy traded a few square feet of concealed storage for a few square feet of open space, a sleek glass shelf, and a spot for artwork – all told, not a shabby deal.



No pain, no gain

Amy and Pedro worked through a few unforeseen issues together during the three week life span of the project. Amy inadvertently under-ordered tile amounts and needed to wait for back-up tile to arrive, and Pedro discovered leaks in the shower body that needed to be replaced behind the tile walls. The shower work added unexpectedly to Amy’s budget but was worthwhile to ensure that the work would hold up in the long run. 



Thank you, Amy, for this tour of your gorgeous new bath! Proof, again, that there are endless and simple ways to do great modern, classic baths. For more on the bathroom renovation process, take at look at our NYC bathroom pricing guide and post your project on Sweeten!



This week, the folks at Brick Underground highlighted a sticky renovation issue and offered guidance from Sweeten Founder and CEO, Jean, on how to navigate notifying neighbors about upcoming home renovation plans. To illustrate a few options for this often-overlooked renovation etiquette step, they posted a letter that I sent to my building’s upstairs, downstairs, and same-floor neighbors before re-doing the floors in my mini East Village apartment. Here’s my letter, and a few thoughts on why it worked to preserve peace in my little corner of the building: (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Renovation Resources 1

“Sweeten provided a number of good contractors who were willing to do the job. Honestly, the hard part was picking which one. Sweeten Expert Alan was honest in his estimates and delivered on time, with no surprises.”

–Howard, Lower East Side homeowner


After our recent roundup of modern classic baths by Sweeten experts, I was especially ready to talk with the architect and designer behind an innovative and contemporary bathroom upgrade over on Grand Street. Grazyna and Howard bought a co-op in the heart of Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 2001 and took on a kitchen renovation shortly after moving in. After thirteen years in their home, Howard, an architect who now works in education, and Grazyna, an interior designer and associate professor, couldn’t help but notice more than five decades of wear and tear that were starting to show in their bathroom. The original sink and bath tub were pitted and dented, and short-term attempts at new coatings didn’t seem to last. Grazyna and Howard thought about taking a minimal approach to the work but knew that swapping out fixtures without a full re-tile plan would guarantee a patchwork result because they wouldn’t be able to find identical tiles. Tile damage aside, getting a new tub into a New York apartment would be an unnecessary challenge for a couple that wanted a more accessible walk-in shower down the road.

Both wife and husband had worked on a number of renovation projects throughout their careers in the industry, but this time, the project felt personal and the stakes seemed high. Howard posted the couple’s vision for the project on Sweeten to find a contractor who would take on the relatively small project and also be willing to think creatively about how best to use the space. We matched Howard’s architect eye and Grazyna’s design expertise with Sweeten Expert Alan - a Sweeten blog regular with an extensive background in kitchen and bath tile work. Alan’s team cleared out the space to make way for a slew of customized design features and unique materials.



Three striking material choices

Grazyna and Howard specifically wanted to avoid the all-white bath approach and felt inspired by the color and flow of water. They selected a luminous green-blue translucent glass tile, in varying widths, lengths, and monochromatic hues, to cover the walls, using a horizontal tile placement that evokes an ashlar masonry effect. (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Bathrooms, Completed Projects, Sweetened 15

I know first-hand how daunting it can be to envision renovation options as you’re standing in a crowded open house. Thanks to our partnership with Corcoran, New York’s preeminent real estate group, we got in on a private tour of a one-of-a-kind, 4,400 square foot, Clinton Hill townhouse (mansion?!) with incredible renovation potential.

Sweeten blog readers have weighed in on renovations at other properties with deep historical ties – we saw some serious opinions about the modern bath at this London Terrace co-op and some intense back and forth about preservation goals at this Park Slope home. In our second video take with Corcoran, Sweeten Founder and CEO Jean imagines what the new owner of this elegant townhouse at 331 Washington Avenue might do with a renovation. With so much architectural detail and structural presence, this home could house a complete restoration that would reclaim its roots, or take on a new life as a hybrid 19th-century-inspired grande dame with modern finishes.


Press play on this quick house tour and let us know what you would do with kitchen placement, 12 foot ceilings, intricate wood detailing, pier and trumeau mirrors, marble fireplaces, original parquet, and a blank slate rear patio.

We’re just getting going with this Corcoran collaboration and can’t wait to share more on how sellers and buyers can make the most of properties on the market. Stay tuned for more in the works from Jean and Team Sweeten!

Posted by: Categories: Sweeten + Corcoran 3
Thursday, October 9, 2014

Modern Classic Bathroom Round-Up


If you’ve been following the Sweeten blog for the last year, you’ve seen NYC homeowners take on renovations of all shapes and sizes, with endless options for fixtures and features. While we generally aim to inspire readers with a weekly peek into the before and after experiences of real NYC homeowners, the “after” pictures can end up inspiring fear for readers who find a single aisle of tile overwhelming.

I always ask homeowners about their process for finding the fixtures and finishes they ended up selecting, and there tend to be two camps: homeowners who spend weeks sourcing and comparing and researching versus homeowners who went to a big box store for 24 minutes. Still, if you stick with classic choices, it doesn’t really matter which camp you’re in. For proof, we looked at a cross-section of budgets and projects and found seven modern classic baths by Sweeten experts that show how far simple tiles and clean craftsmanship can take the tiniest room in your home.

01 SWEETEN_nalinaBath

In a gut renovation so true to the original that it requires a double take, Nalina replicated her bathroom’s classic look with new white subway wall tile and 1″ hex floor tile. She gave definition to the white-on-white layers with gray grout. A small shower wall niche is a convenient update for the traditional space. 

02 SWEETEN_sanayaBath

Like Nalina, Sanaya went classic with white subway wall tile and black and white hex floor tile. She also chose a gleaming chrome and white lighting fixture for her Clinton Hill bath upgrade.

03 SWEETEN_essentialMasterBath

In this high-end project by Sweeten Expert Rich, the homeowners upended their classic white subway and penny round floor tile picks by laying the tiles in less conventional but still classic geometric patterns. A custom vanity with luxe tub and shower features give this space an updated edge. (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Bathrooms 7


Here on the Sweeten blog, we’ve got your weekly fix of classic before and after renovation transformations, design ideas, and budget basics for every home improvement project. This week, we ran the numbers on our Instagram snapshots and tallied up the dining spaces our @SWEETEN_HOME followers love most. These photos prove two universal truths: one, there are endless ways to create a gorgeous dining area (white-washed walls or wild wallpaper? rough-hewn wood or sleek lacquer? windowed or mirrored?…) and two, statement lighting is always, always, always in style.

Straight from our 125,000+ Instagram followers, here are the most-adored, Sweeten-Expert-crafted dining areas. Take a look for inspiration, check us out on Instagram, and follow us @SWEETEN_HOME!



Posted by: Categories: Dining, furniture, Inspiration 3

“We had a lot of questions and were really involved. Sweeten Expert Mark was incredibly accommodating. We would text him with annoying questions while we were shopping for materials and he would help us make the call right away.”

–Saskia S., Downtown Brooklyn homeowner

If you have set foot in more than three New York City apartments, you have probably seen one of these: a standard issue, L-shaped studio in a concrete block, post-war high-rise. First-time homeowners Saskia and Ben left a two-bedroom rental apartment where they had lived for five years to buy this 650 square foot studio in a co-op building in bustling Downtown Brooklyn. They knew that they had some work to do to make this blank slate feel like home, but just as they were settling in and scheming about renovation possibilities, they had to muddle through a tough math problem: how does a couple downsize from a two-bedroom to a studio and then make room for the arrival of a brand new family member!?


Saskia, who works for a non-profit, and Ben, an attorney, turned to Sweeten to find a general contractor who would help them use the space as efficiently as possible. In their Sweeten project post, they set up four goal lines: divide the living and sleeping areas, build customized storage, upgrade and open up the kitchen, and do something (anything!) with the 1970s tile in the bathroom. We happily pointed them to Sweeten Expert Mark of recent Sweeten Blog fame to figure this equation out.



Saskia and Ben were refreshingly pragmatic and totally unfazed by the actual square footage; they felt sure that they didn’t need more space, they just needed to find ways to make the most of the space they had. Separating the living and sleeping areas was an obvious first move that brought an intriguing possibility: putting up a wall is standard fare in NYC, but a new wall in this co-op required a more complicated set of approvals and architect drawings. To save the time and money they might have spent down that route, Mark proposed a partition that would visually separate the room without veering into the structural and paperwork requirements of a new wall. Saskia went further: could the partition double as custom storage? Mark was ready with one more element – they could create a “wall” of custom storage AND set a few extra feet apart for a nursery nook. Somehow, incredibly, this studio apartment was on its way to life as an almost-two-bedroom for this growing family…! (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Bathrooms, Kitchens, studios, Sweetened 6

In the last two weeks, we’ve house-toured Elizabeth’s West Village stunner and Marissa’s Prospect Heights bath makeover. Part of the fun in seeing a truly transcendent renovation is that homeowners like these ladies make this process look like a cake walk – but as a commenter pointed out after last week’s post, it is hard work to pull these projects off and make them look positively effortless.

One part of the story you are unlikely to see on any “before and after” design blog? Specifics about contractor licenses. Sure, it is great fun to look at glittering new tile and fixture picks, but a successful renovation includes a lot of behind-the-scenes maneuvering that generally requires specific licenses and expertise. Do you know what kind of work requires a license in NYC? Would you know where to look to find out if a contractor has a license for your project? This is not an intuitive part of a renovation, my friends, so let’s take a closer look at these questions.


The stodgy legal language is all up at NYC.gov, but here is a quick rundown:

Anyone who provides home improvement work that costs more than $200 must get a home improvement contractor (HIC) license in New York City.  (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Before, Renovation Resources 9