Sweeten hand-picks the best experts for your renovation project

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 2
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…)

Posted by: Categories: NYC 1

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…)

Posted by: Categories: NYC 0

We’re back this week in the Clinton Hill Co-Op for a show-stopping, top-to-bottom apartment renovation. Nestled in one of our favorite parts of Brooklyn, these buildings all seem to have three things in common: gorgeous open air views, spacious living layouts, and lots of un-renovated interiors. We’ve seen wildly inspiring upgrades here, here, and here, and have been waiting to find out what the owners of another one-bedroom would bring to this now-familiar space.

Clinton Hill Co-op Renovation

“I tell people about Sweeten all the time – it was just so easy. We were the first of our friends to renovate and didn’t know how the process would work or anyone who could do a small project in our range. Sweeten sent contractors who already knew what we wanted to do.”

–Clinton Hill Co-op Homeowners

The owners had big ideas about hosting and entertaining in a more open loft space, and they wanted unobstructed views through to the corner windows; they even had an architect friend with creative ideas about how to use the space more efficiently, but they didn’t know where to start to find a general contractor who could do the renovation in their location and on their budget.  After they posted their project to Sweeten, we introduced them to Sweeten Expert Kris to create a new kitchen and bath, expand a long hallway, and completely overhaul flooring throughout. (more…)

custom storage inspiration

NYC homeowners tend to think first about kitchen and bath renovations, and with good reason: kitchens and baths are the highest-impact and highest-value projects for a home’s function and future resale value. But a hidden deal breaker for many buyers is the lack of storage that seems endemic in New York City: bedrooms with no closets and entryways with no coat storage are silent signals to buyers that they won’t have a place to stow their stuff.

It doesn’t have to be this way. With a few feet of wall space, window space, or corner space, plus great design and some expert craftsmanship, even the tiniest homes can make room for transformative storage. We checked in with seven Sweeten experts for a survey of high-function and high-style small space, custom storage inspiration. (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Custom, Inspiration, NYC, Storage 2

Now that we’ve dedicated two whole weeks to rather technical updates on IKEA kitchens and custom cabinetry, I’m feeling extra ready for a classic before-and-after. This week’s inspiration comes from a multi-talented Murray Hill couple – Pallavi is an architect by training who works as a sustainability consultant at Arup and Keyur is a software engineer at Etsy. Considering this couple’s fascinating mix of creative careers (and Pallavi’s quirky fashion side project!), we’ve been closely watching their overhaul of the one-bedroom co-op they bought three years ago, and let me tell you, this is one gorgeous Manhattan apartment renovation!.

Manhattan Apartment Renovation

“This was the best service ever and I’ll tell you why. We’d been meaning to renovate for years and we met five different contractors through online directories who all gave quotes that were way outside our budget. We shelved the project thinking we couldn’t afford it. Then, we came to Sweeten, got matched with three contractors, saw their work on Sweeten, and selected Pedro. He was knowledgeable, flexible, and always available when we texted or called or emailed.”

~ Pallavi M., Manhattan homeown

The husband and wife team posted their project on Sweeten (complete with layout options!) after a few failed attempts at working with contractors they found via online directories. We introduced them to Sweeten Expert Pedro to take on three major issues in their home. The galley kitchen, already space-challenged, was tucked away in the back corner of the apartment and loaded with teeny cabinets. The bathroom was “drab drab drab” – a remnant of the building’s earliest residents and out of sync with the aesthetic that the couple had in mind for a space-efficient, clean-lined oasis. And, closet space in the bedroom had been carved out of just a few feet of the entry wall, an unnecessary limitation in an otherwise spacious room. We see this exact kitchen/bath/closet trifecta play out again and again across New York City! It’s amazing how limited these essential rooms often are in this city and how much creative New Yorkers can do to undo limitations that have stood for decades.

Manhattan Apartment Renovation

Open kitchen and expanded cabinets

The most radical part of the game plan involved moving the dividing wall between the bedroom and the hallway that leads to the kitchen. Pedro helped the couple steal two feet from the bedroom to open up access to the kitchen and extend new cabinetry and counters into the apartment’s entry foyer. This move more or less doubled the kitchen in size and flooded the space with natural light from the kitchen window that had been blocked from view. (more…)

After last week’s look at the new IKEA kitchen cabinet system, we turned to seven Sweeten experts for guidance on the central question that most homeowners hit very early in kitchen renovation projects: should you buy custom cabinets or pre-fabricated cabinets? Cabinet construction may well end up being the single biggest expense of your entire renovation, and the results are the most obvious visual proof of your investment, so this can feel like a heavy decision. The challenge (and opportunity) is that your choices are endless, but if you focus on a few key factors, you can find the right cabinets for your new kitchen.

IKEA vs Custom Cabinets

While it’s tempting to assume that your budget is the only consideration, all of our experts agreed on a surprising truth: custom cabinets can be (much, much) more expensive than stock cabinets, but they don’t have to be. Even the cheapest kitchen is an enormous investment, so if budget isn’t necessarily the deciding factor, how should you decide and how can you keep your budget from dictating your choices? First, three definitions: (more…)

Posted by: Categories: IKEA, NYC 7

Like many New Yorkers, the Sweeten team has been gearing up for big things in 2015, and we have two moderately technical (but IMPORTANT!) updates for homeowners thinking about renovating this year. This week, we’re highlighting changes that are coming very soon to IKEA’s cabinetry system. Later this month, we’ll walk you through contractor licensing so you’ll know what to look for when City licenses for all general contractors expire in February. We’ll keep our classic renovation before-and-afters coming, too — we can’t wait to unveil a brand new Manhattan kitchen and bath and check in on a project in a favorite enclave of Clinton Hill. If you’ve resolved to renovate this year, we hope you’ll bear with the technical updates and enjoy house tours of recent renovations so that you’re inspired and ready for spring renovation season!

new ikea cabinet line

First up: in February, IKEA will roll out brand new kitchen cabinets, replacing the system that has been in place since 1995. IKEA has close to 8 million customers using “Akurum” cabinets, and 20% of homeowners who post renovation projects on Sweeten consider IKEA cabinetry right off the bat, so let’s take a look at how the switch to the “Sektion” line will affect those homeowners and find out more about what will be available if you are considering a new kitchen renovation.

IKEA hasn’t released pricing or specs for the new system yet, but we scoured their FAQs and photos of the equivalent line already out in Europe for clues, and we spotted a few relatively minor upgrades in store based on features that are especially well-liked from the current system. At a minimum, Sektion drawers will incorporate soft-close drawers and doors and will include wall-mounted rails that make installation easier and more DIY-friendly.

The bigger news is both good and bad… (more…)

Posted by: Categories: IKEA, Kitchens, NYC 10
Tuesday, December 23, 2014

2014 Year in Review: Sweeten Blog Favorites

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New York City homeowners undertook more than 82,000 renovations in 2014! At Sweeten, we were busy finding the right contractors for $100M in renovation projects across the City. Here are just a few of our staff and reader picks for the most inspiring renovations on the Sweeten blog this year. (more…)

Posted by: Categories: NYC 0

I thought we’d ended the year on a high note with Claire and Mike’s gorgeous Park Slope kitchen renovation, but we have a competitor for our best of 2014 awards in Pepper’s double bathroom re-do. This week’s blog post also brings us a new renovation vocabulary term: this is the first time that “encaustic” tiles are appearing on the Sweeten blog since they cameoed in a Sweetened West Village Italian eatery back in 2012. Very exciting on all fronts.

NYC bathroom renovations

“I didn’t even know where to begin. Sweeten helped me re-consider my budget and plan for a project that had been stalled for months because I didn’t know where to start.”

–Pepper, Manhattan homeowner

Pepper moved into this two-bed, two-bath Washington Heights co-op in 2008 after scouring the City for her own slice of Manhattan real estate and realizing that she wasn’t going to come away with much more than a studio in pricier neighborhoods. Pieces of the 1940s bath materials had been haphazardly replaced by previous residents, but with no idea where to start or how much it would cost, five years passed before she got serious about the work (notably, at the insistence of her husband, Marshall!). Pepper posted the project on Sweeten, hoping to meet with contractors who could help guide her through the renovation process.

Pepper, an actress and voice over artist with a weekly radio show that reads periodicals aloud for blind audience members, and Marshall, who works in finance, were originally interested in combining their two adjacent bathrooms to create a single, expansive, luxury bath. While that would have made for amazing blog photos, the couple were dissuaded when they realized that the combination would limit the future sale value of their home, add $20K to their budget, and create significant plumbing and building approval needs. We sent over four general contractors to discuss other options and the couple especially hit it off with Sweeten Expert Aleks after deciding to leave the fixture footprints in place and avoid high permit and plumbing costs. (more…)

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