/ By Shera Nuss / May 15, 2014
Allison & Jovito’s Sweetened Kitchen & Bath – Homeowner Guest Post
Less than a year ago, Allison Stearns & her fiance, Jovito Pagkalinawan, purchased their first home together — a single-family brick row house, c. 1910, in the Ocean Parkway neighborhood of Brooklyn. Though they knew the place needed some serious renovations, Allison, a Content Manager, and Jovito, an Electronic Prepress Director, both in textbook publishing, promptly packed up and, along with their adorable cat, Momo, they moved in and geared up for some major home improvements. Today, Allison shares their renovation story, and walks us through the all stylish choices she & Jovito made in the process of Sweetening their amazing new home.
By: Allison Stearns
10 months of intense searching, 8 lost bids and a couple hundred viewed properties later, my fiancé, Jovito and I finally found an adorable 1910 brick row house in the Ocean Parkway neighborhood of Brooklyn to call our own. We loved the bones and original details of the house, but the 100+ year old home was also in need of some serious updating. We went into the purchase two parts excited and one part slightly terrified, knowing that we’d have some large-scale renovations ahead of us. We had a lot of items on our “fix” list when we moved in this past September, but we also had a limited budget. We decided to focus our energy and efforts tackling the kitchen and upstairs bathroom renovation first.
Having never renovated a property before, we didn’t know where to start. How would we find a reputable contractor that would understand our vision, work within our budget and do a stellar job? Perusing Apartment Therapy on a day when I was feeling somewhat overwhelmed by all our options, I read about Sweeten and decided to post our project to the site. We really liked the idea that Sweeten would act as matchmakers and pair us with contractors based on our project’s scope of work and budget. Knowing that Sweeten had pre-screened their network of contractors also made choosing feel a lot less scary.
“I’ve already recommended Sweeten to several friends! Sweeten’s matching service removes a lot of the scariness and uncertainty associated with finding a qualified contractor.”
– Allison S., Brooklyn Homeowner
After meeting with 2 contractor matches from Sweeten, and 2 contractors that were friend referrals, we decided to award our renovation job to a Sweeten match, Sweeten Expert Pedro. We appreciated his pragmatism, patience in answering our many questions and his thoroughness during the onsite visit. We also appreciated that he seemed completely un-phased by the scary (to us), timeworn, “before” conditions of the kitchen and bathroom. He’d seen and worked on old houses like this many times, so that also helped us feel like we were in good hands. His familiarity with constructing IKEA kitchens and reasonable estimate sealed the deal.
We started our renovation of the kitchen and bathroom in mid-November. Living in the house during construction wasn’t fun, but Pedro and his team were careful to keep the work area as clean and contained as possible. On the plus side, it was exciting for us to see the team’s daily progress and some of the relics they unearthed during demolition. (Like pieces of newspaper from 1943 mentioning President Roosevelt stuck inside the bathroom walls!) Pedro’s team spent a lot of time and effort making sure the new walls and floors were level, plumb and true, which was no small feat in an old house where nothing is straight!
The kitchen needed a gut renovation. The walls were covered with dark wood paneling and cabinets, there was a dropped ceiling with fluorescent lighting, cracked floor tile and beat up Formica counter tops and backsplash. The existing soffit ran in front of the kitchen window, cutting a good 8 inches off the top, and a lot of daylight along with it. It had a less-than-optimal layout and it had definitely seen better days.
Because of our limited budget, we decided to go with IKEA kitchen cabinetry and Caesarstone quartz countertops, both of which we purchased during one of IKEA’s kitchen sales. Not wanting the new kitchen to clash with the age of the house but also still wanting it to feel current and new, we went with a more traditional cabinet door style in a medium gray color. To keep the space open and airy feeling, We decided to forego wall cabinets. We made sure we had plenty of base cabinet storage to hold all our pots and pans. And because we got rid of the dropped ceiling, we gained back some ceiling height, so we stacked glass-front cabinets to the ceiling to create a hutch to display our collection of vintage glassware and serve ware. We chose durable white quartz countertops to keep the room airy and bright and to add contrast to the gray cabinets.
Flooring and Wall Tile
We’re tough on our floors, so we chose extra durable wood-look porcelain tile that we found online at a closeout price. We had Pedro’s team lay the tile in a herringbone pattern. We really love the way it turned out! For the backsplash tile, we went with a large format porcelain tile with a raised geometric pattern and tiled all the way up the wall for visual impact. (It’s also incredibly easy to clean!) We found the wall tile at Mondial in Bensonhurst.
We both love to cook so it was important for us to have a range that could accommodate many pots and pans and put out some serious BTUs. We were incredibly lucky to find our range second-hand in excellent condition at a local salvage shop. We found the exhaust hood in the clearance section of Home Depot and our dishwasher, brand new, in the As-Is section of IKEA. Our counter-depth fridge was found on sale at the local PC Richard.
Our ceiling light fixtures are porcelain lamp holders made by Leviton and run about $2/piece online. The pendant over the sink is from Restoration Hardware and is based off an Italian factory light from the 1950s. We like that the lights can extend out about 4 feet on each side, giving us the option of creating more overhead lighting for prep if we need it.
We decided to go with brass cabinet pulls, knobs and faucet to warm up all the cool grey and stainless steel. It took a lot of searching to find a brushed brass faucet, but we finally found one through Newport Brass. The solid brass pulls and knobs are made by Laurey and were also found online.
The bathroom was very…blue. Blue tub, blue toilet, blue tile. It had last been majorly renovated in the 50s and everything was really showing its age. The floor of the bathroom was about a 4” step up from the hallway—the ghosts of flooring renovations past buried beneath. To top it all off, the bathroom space itself was tiny—about 36 sq. ft. Our budget wouldn’t allow us to enlarge the space or reroute plumbing, so our goal was to increase the feeling of space while making it as pretty and useable as possible. Style-wise, we wanted the bathroom to look like it could have been original to the house so we were careful to choose pieces that had an old-fashioned feel to them. To add space, we swapped the existing door for a pocket door. We chose a dual-flush toilet that had a very narrow tank and small footprint. We decided to install a console sink and clawfoot tub to keep things airy and off the floor. We found the very reasonable marble floor tile and subway wall tile at Lowes. We were able to find many of the bathroom materials salvage and second-hand which really helped to cut costs. Finally, we added an exhaust fan/light combo to help cut humidity.
Despite holidays, lots of snow days and a few surprises along the way, the renovation process was mostly stress free. Pedro did a good job keeping us informed throughout construction, and he always made himself available to answer questions. And because we lived in our house during construction, we were also able to address and correct any miscommunications right away, which helped the project run more smoothly.
We’re thankful to Sweeten team for pairing us up with Sweeten Expert Pedro and his team for an excellent first renovation experience! We’ve really been enjoying our new space since the renovation has finished up. And when we’re finally ready to begin the next project, you can be sure we’ll be contacting Sweeten for another great match!
Many thanks to Allison, Jovito & Momo for sharing their beautiful, Sweetened home!