That ‘70s Apartment Gets A Dose of Luxury

When Fabio and Melina won the bidding war on a two-bedroom Carnegie Hill apartment, they were amazed and delighted. With outdoor space, family-friendly amenities, and just one block from the new Second Avenue subway, it checked off all the right boxes. The only downside: it needed a thorough facelift and the clock was ticking on their rental apartment. Oh, and their baby was due any minute. Here’s how they juggled the ups and downs of renovating, while learning to be new parents—Melina gave birth to their son a month into the project!

Guest post by Carnegie Hill homeowner Melina

With the lease of our functional but tiny, 550 square-foot, one-bedroom rental on the Upper East Side about to end and a baby boy on the way, the time came to try and buy a place. We set our hopes on a two-bedroom apartment in our neighborhood, ideally with great light and storage space.

Fast forward three months into our search and there were still no prospects. We were starting to lose hope! We went to every open house around us and looked at all options. Many of the apartments we visited were too expensive, too small, too dark, or way too far from any subway or daycare, which was our desired childcare plan. That is, until we visited a listing two blocks south of our rental and a block from the entrance of the new Second Avenue subway–whose opening, at the time, still sounded like a dream far in the future. The apartment itself was falling apart and looked straight out of “That ‘70s Show.” Only one family had occupied the home since the building was built 40 years ago, and no renovations had ever been done. Most of its walls were painted green, the living room had an entire wall covered in mirrors, and a popcorn ceiling ran throughout. However, the space was promising. A true two-bedroom on a high floor, with a large balcony off the living room, light (windows in every room!), and closet space. It came with basement storage, a bike room, a children’s playroom in-the-making, and a roof deck. Our only reservation was the need for a full renovation before moving in. Despite that, we made an offer, thinking we wouldn’t win the bidding war anyway. To our surprise, our best and almost unreasonable offer did.

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We found Sweeten on an online search and posted our project to be matched with builders. We were nervous about finding a contractor who could understand our expectations and timing constraints. The lease on our rental was ending before the summer, and so our move-in date was not flexible. We had less than four months to complete our entire renovation project. We chose our Sweeten contractor because we immediately felt we could trust him in getting the job done in time.

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The focus for our renovation was the kitchen and bathroom. Fabio and I both love to cook and wanted a space where we could work together at the same time. The small bathroom needed to feel less cluttered and gain storage space. Our contractor provided decisive support, validated our suggestions, and helped to define the details before starting the work. We wanted to make this apartment our own, and he was happy to accommodate our choices, but he also made sure they were practical. As soon as we closed on the apartment, the team went in and started the demolition.

Before construction, we spent a lot of time pulling together the look and materials from home and design websites, so we had a strong point of view on the style we were trying to achieve. Our material choices included Carrara marble, cement and ceramic tile, classic New York hex tile in the bath, Edison bulbs, and black and white cabinets.

We opened up the kitchen entryway slightly to let additional light come through to the dining area. We opted for countertops on opposite sides to maximize prep space and to accommodate a full semi-professional espresso setup—Fabio is a coffee geek. Our Sweeten contractor helped us finalize our design with IKEA cabinets.

We spend a great deal of time in the kitchen and didn’t want strong colors we may grow tired of quickly, and settled on black cabinets with patterned ceramic floor tiles to add interest. While we tried to stay within our budget as much as possible, we splurged on professional heavy-duty appliances. We went with a modern version of a rustic farmhouse sink and purchased copper cabinet pulls online. The new kitchen is fantastic—the storage space feels especially luxurious compared to our previous kitchens.

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We kept the bathroom’s tub and had it re-enameled but replaced the sink, cabinetry, hardware, and had the floor and walls retiled. We used a gold, black and white color theme that coordinated with the light fixtures and cement floor tiles. To create storage space, we built a new partially recessed medicine cabinet hidden behind the door. There was no heat in the bathroom, and with long New York winters in mind, we added a small towel heater.

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The flooring throughout the apartment needed to be replaced, and our contractor took us to his supplier for a selection of inexpensive but great-looking wood flooring. We went with a light-colored wood with dark veins to generate an interesting contrast. The shelves in the rooms’ closets were falling apart. Initially, we planned on using IKEA shelving to replace them but because they weren’t standard size, we had them custom-designed by California Closets to optimize our storage space.

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Our son was born one month into the renovation, and we were able to trust our contractor and his colleagues to handle the work with limited supervision. As with most renovation projects, some of our plans fell through unexpectedly, but our contractor and his team made sure we stayed on track and resolved every issue quickly and efficientlyThe renovation has been complete for almost a year, and we could not be happier with our new apartment. Thanks to our contractor and Sweeten, we got our dream home and moved in on schedule.

Thank you Melina and Fabio for sharing how a renovation can be completed with grace under time constraint. We hope you continue to enjoy your home!

KITCHEN RESOURCES: EliteTile Artea Porcelain Tile floor tile: Wayfair. Cabinets, sink, faucet: IKEA. London Gray counters: Caesarstone. Arabescato Carrara Hexagon Marble Tile backsplash tile: Wayfair. Appliances: KitchenAid. Lighting: CB2.

BATH RESOURCES: Black and White Handmade Cement and Granite Moroccan Tile floor tile: Overstock. LessCare Dual Flush toilet: Wayfair. Sink, cabinets: IKEA. Hex Porcelain Mosaic Tile in Matte White wall tile: Wayfair. Delta in Champagne Bronze hardware: Wayfair. Lighting: CB2. Brass and marble shelves: CB2.

BEDROOM RESOURCES: Bed: IKEA. Desk: CB2. Chair: Overstock. Curtains: Anthropologie.

LIVING ROOM RESOURCES: Sofa, armchair: IKEA. Rocking chair: Wayfair. Persian rug: ecarpetgallery.

Renovating with a baby in the picture takes extra planning. Karen and Kevin found a contractor who carried out their vision.

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