“With This Reno, I Thee Wed”

A newly engaged couple takes the remodeling plunge

Even though Heather and Eric knew nothing about renovating, they took the chance of starting a remodeling project before moving into their new apartment. Their interpretation of “home, sweet home” meant a non-cookie-cutter space with natural light, a welcoming kitchen, architectural details, and wide-plank flooring. With the help of the team they connected with through Sweeten, the free service that matches homeowners with vetted general contractors, the renovating couple’s “get-it-done” attitude included ferrying materials through the city with up-to-the-minute decisions to meet a five-week timeline.  

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Guest post by Sweeten homeowners Heather and Eric in Manhattan

When we were looking for a new place, we ignored all gut-renovation apartments off-the-cuff, but when we saw this 850-square foot co-op, we knew it had great potential. It was dark, barren, and dated, and probably hadn’t been touched since it was built in 1972, but it had natural lighting from the east, south, and northern exposures, high-rise views, and a prime Gramercy location. Neither Heather nor I had previous renovation experience, but through conversations with friends and family, and research on Sweeten, we felt prepared to post our project and move forward.

Heather, not knowing an engagement proposal was forthcoming, eagerly pushed for the exciting summer project. So only three days before I popped the question, we put in an offer on the property. After she said, “Yes!” the project truly began.

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Our goal was to take this dark space that had no overhead lighting, ’70s popcorn ceilings, and a cramped galley kitchen and modernize it, opening it up to highlight the apartment’s natural light and spaciousness. We wanted it to feel unique and stand out from the crowd of standard New York starter homes.

We prepared a timeline to begin the day after closing with the goal to finish the job in five weeks in order to beat our old apartment’s lease expiration. However, after the seller delayed the closing, we had to improvise living remotely for three weeks and then through the final two weeks of construction. With this delay, we, along with our contractor, had to personally roll our new kitchen cabinets across two New York City avenues! On top of that, our building only allowed renovation work between 9 am to 4 pm on weekdays. Did I mention we had no prior renovating experience?

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With a timeline like this, Sweeten was critical in hiring our contractor—before which, we had interviewed three contractors who could not meet our timeline or budget. Sweeten immediately matched us with two contractors who both had great reviews and offered competitive quotes. The one we chose was eager to meet our timeline, always arriving early and ending late. He visited us on weekends and did additional research and buying outside of the labor and roughing. Our contractor provided ideas when asked and would respond with a “No problem” to any request—a luxury during a difficult and stressful project.

We created a defined foyer by reframing walls and building a Moroccan archway, which led into the kitchen. Other hallway closets were also reframed to provide symmetry throughout the apartment.

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We envisioned an open kitchen with a bar counter that provided a natural gathering spot for breakfast and entertaining. To get there, we completely gutted the kitchen, replacing all of the old cabinets and appliances, and took advantage of every inch of space. We moved the refrigerator to the opposite side of the kitchen and raised the microwave by six inches, allowing us to cut through the wall of the previous galley kitchen and create an opening with recessed, under-cabinet puck lighting. We accented the space with quartz countertops, glass cabinetry, a herringbone marble backsplash, and stainless steel hardware.

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Tackling the lack of overhead lighting, we chose nonstructural beams in the living room and bedroom with LEDs inserted. The beams gave the space a unique structural aesthetic and provided a clever lighting solution. We then added crown molding in the entire apartment for more dimension. The flooring throughout had been a traditional parquet not revisited since the original construction of the building in the ‘70s. We replaced it with wide-plank espresso hardwood flooring to balance the white and off-white cabinetry and furnishings.

Of course, at post-renovation, we realize how important it is to plan ahead. It’s better to have all your ideas on paper before you begin, from important aspects like flooring and appliances to the small details that are easy to overlook, such as cabinet hardware, paint colors, lighting fixtures, and electrical outlets. Having this mapped out will make your life and your contractor’s life much easier during the renovation.

Truthfully, we look back and are still unsure how we were able to sketch, design, renovate, and implement all of our aesthetic and structural changes without any background or experience in any of these areas. Day by day, the apartment came together and by the end, we were incredibly proud of what we accomplished. Now we have a few months to relax before the wedding.

Thank you, Heather and Eric, for sharing your pre-wedding home design journey with us!

LIVING ROOM RESOURCES: On the Rocks paint color: Sherwin-Williams. Home Legend wire-brushed hickory coffee flooring and stain: Home Depot. Craftmade Mira, 47191-CH-LED ring chandelier: 1 Stop Lighting. Hyperikon LED flush mount ceiling light: Amazon.

KITCHEN RESOURCES: Home Legend wire-brushed hickory coffee flooring and stain: Home Depot. Home Decorators Collection Brookfield kitchen cabinets in Pacific White: Home Depot. Hardware: Home Depot. Quartz countertops: from the general contractor. Carrara Venato herringbone backsplash: The Builder Depot. Moen Kaden faucet in chrome: Home Depot. Refrigerator, dishwasher, and range: Samsung. Under-cabinet lighting: AQ Lighting. Jumilla LED track lighting: Home Depot. Phoenix Ivory bar stools: CB2.

BEDROOM RESOURCES: North Star paint color: Sherwin-Williams.

In Melissa and Blake’s Gramercy apartment, the couple reimagined the floor plan of the galley kitchen and found new spots for prep and storage.

Refer your renovating friends to Sweeten and you’ll both receive a $250 Visa gift card when they sign a contract with a Sweeten general contractor.

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