Sweeten hand-picks the best experts for your renovation project

“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!?

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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.

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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

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I went in to this process totally blind. Sweeten Expert Gennadiy was fantastic – I knew he would get everything right, even down to the outlet covers. He was incredibly, incredibly detail-oriented and helpful.”

–Elizabeth N., West Village Homeowner

This week, I caught up with Elizabeth, a Manhattan homeowner who has spent the summer enjoying her newly-renovated and restored two-bedroom co-op on one of my favorite tree-lined West Village blocks. Elizabeth beat the spring real estate rush by closing on her new place in January. Pretty much right away, Elizabeth, who works in sales in the financial services sector, realized the unforgiving nature of buying in New York City – she had spent one visit, and a grand total of about 15 minutes, looking at the apartment before rushing in a bid. As she walked through on closing day, Elizabeth began to see how much TLC her new home needed.

Revamping the bathroom was her initial focus – the heavy tiles and cramped under-sink storage made the space feel unnecessarily tight and poorly lit. The bathroom door swung in, bumping up against the sink and vanity, and made for an awkward entry and exit. And that WALLPAPER! And that TINY sink basin! Suffice it to say that Elizabeth had no qualms about this overhaul. (more…)

This week, I got to live vicariously through a delightful homeowner’s Upper West Side kitchen transformation. Hafeeza and her husband made the big move from a 4,500 square foot home in suburban New Jersey to Manhattan’s Upper West Side in 2013. After raising five children, Hafeeza and her husband were ready for a retirement relocation that would put the City at their feet and free them from maintaining a large home. They spent a year in a temporary spot before finding the long-term city apartment where they planned to enjoy the essentials: family and friend get-togethers and nightly meals prepared by Hafeeza’s husband, the devoted family chef. The new space was ideal for those plans, except for the kitchen, which was functional but outdated and lacked the storage and prep space they envisioned. After talking to a number of contractors who weren’t available for or interested in the scope of the job, Hafeeza took to Sweeten to find a contractor for her list of simple and smart upgrades.

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“Our Sweeten Expert was a true professional from the initial meeting until the final payment.”

- Hafeeza M., Upper West Side homeowner

Usually, when I talk to homeowners about their renovations, I get a dose of renovation envy: I want THAT sparkling new kitchen, too! But after talking with Hafeeza, I ended up with something extra and unexpected: a renewed appreciation for New York City living and the William Morris mantra we recently explored on the Sweeten blog. One look at Hafeeza’s Sweeten project post and you can see why. Hafeeza started with a call for (more…)

Last week, we looked at the upfront and behind-the-scenes costs of a basic NYC kitchen renovation. This week, we’re continuing with part two of the kitchen pricing guide series to break down options and costs for a high-end kitchen renovation.

Sweeten Expert Peter reiterated a few points from last week: you can go sky-high on luxury appliance costs but the real value of a high-end kitchen comes in the soft costs of precise design and infrastructure upgrades, and the investment of custom millwork and installation labor.

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Design and layout

Peter explained that the first place you start to see a move toward a high-end kitchen is when the homeowner is looking to re-work or expand the layout of the existing kitchen. Dropping walls, moving gas lines, re-routing plumbing lines, and re-wiring electrical options automatically hit a cost threshold above the $20,000 you need for a basic kitchen gut. Homeowners looking to do that kind of transformative work in the kitchen need architectural designs from a registered architect that can add a minimum of $15,000 to $20,000 to the budget, and generally necessitate expensive permits, thorough building approvals, high insurance coverage requirements, and more involved management from a general contractor overseeing the project.

These “soft costs” – expenses critical to the success of the work but often invisible and unforeseen for the homeowner – can represent 15-30% of a high-end kitchen renovation.

Below: Luxe kitchen renovation with custom, white lacquer cabinetry and custom oak paneling by Sweeten Expert Peter

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Custom cabinetry

Cabinets are generally the most cost- and labor-intensive physical aspect of a luxe kitchen renovation. Peter explained that many homeowners looking for high-end finishes tend to go in one of two directions: they opt for minimalist sleek cabinetry with concealed hardware, or they turn to decorative cabinetry with highly custom visual details. Either way, Peter explained that the starting point for basic custom cabinetry is $1,000 per linear foot (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Cost Guide, Inspiration, Kitchens 0

In March, we took a look at the cost breakdown of the average NYC bathroom renovation. This week, we’re moving on to the first of a two-part series on kitchen renovation pricing. We talked with Sweeten Experts Valeria and Eduard as well as Sweeten Expert Peter for a transparent look at the basic and variable costs of a typical kitchen renovation.

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The realization that struck me after talking with these experts is that homeowners have a lot of choice in managing costs on some material aspects of a kitchen renovation, but there are other costs that are less-obvious, labor-intensive, and tremendously critical to the work overall, no matter what you choose to spend on materials. Let’s take a look at both the straightforward and behind-the-scenes costs.

Straightforward Costs – Materials and Appliances 

Take a quick walk around your kitchen or any home appliance store and you can start to get a feel for the obvious costs of a kitchen renovation. You can expect to spend under $400 or up to $3,000 (and well beyond) on each of your stove, fridge, and dishwasher selections. You can find basic sink options for under $100 and up to $2,500, and faucet fixtures for under $40 and up to $1,200. (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Cost Guide, Kitchens 4

The last six months have brought big-time changes for Blaise, Kristin, and their family of five. After welcoming their third child and moving from Manhattan to Brooklyn, Blaise and Kristin were ready to prep their new home in Prospect Lefferts Gardens for the long run. First up: a kitchen and laundry room update. We stopped in to take some photos along the way, but the rest of this story is told by Blaise, himself.

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“Sweeten made it easy to communicate our vision to contractors before they even set foot in our home.”

- Blaise C., Prospect Lefferts Gardens homeowner

When we moved into our new home six months ago, we almost didn’t notice how limited the kitchen was. Living out of boxes and welcoming a newborn, it took us a few weeks to realize that we were having trouble finding space for groceries and that we had accidentally made a habit of storing kitchen basics in the basement. The move just about doubled the total space of our home, and yet we were struggling to find a place for everyday kitchen stuff.

Our punch list was pretty classic: kitchen storage was sorely lacking and countertop space was a joke. We are working parents who don’t cook that often, but we were ready to move our pots and pans out of the oven. We also realized that the bar-height counter was inaccessible for our kids and wanted to create a central gathering spot with a more standard counter height.

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The kitchen had been recently renovated and we liked the look, so we initially entertained the possibility of a quick fix like purchasing a kitchen island, but ended up deciding to use what we had and expand on it. At first, I tried to juggle contractor bids on my own, but with kids and jobs, that turned out to be decidedly easier said than done. I posted the project on Sweeten and added to the plans to create a laundry room in the basement by enclosing our washer/dryer with built-out walls and solid doors. (more…)

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We know first-hand how daunting it can be to envision renovation options as you’re standing in a crowded open house. This week, we are beyond psyched to share a first look at our new partnership with Corcoran, New York’s preeminent real estate group. We’ll be partnering with Corcoran to help buyers and sellers demystify the renovation process, understand design options for particular properties, and break down potential upgrades at various price points. Over the next few months, you’ll see more information for first-time buyers about how to value renovations for properties on the market, ideas for new homeowners looking to undo the renovation decisions of prior owners, and guidance for sellers looking to maximize their re-sale value or refresh a property before it gets listed.

In our first video take, Sweeten founder and CEO, Jean Brownhill Lauer, and Sweeten Expert Kent run us through kitchen renovation options, in under a minute, for a one-bedroom apartment on the market for $525,000.

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To keep the budget in the $10k – $30k range, Jean focuses in on the most immediately visible elements of the kitchen: new tile and backsplash, under-cabinet lighting, painting cupboards, and a possible high-impact splurge on new countertops. With a $30k – $60k budget, Jean and Kent help us picture a more transformative project: opening the kitchen up to the living room, creating a custom prep and dining island, bringing millwork finishes from the living room to new kitchen cabinetry, and re-doing the kitchen floor. Now press play!

We’re just getting started with this new Corcoran collaboration and can’t wait to share more with you as the spring real estate market warms up. Stay tuned for more in the works from Jean and Team Sweeten.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sanaya’s Sweetened Clinton Hill Kitchen

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“Sweeten connected me with an awesome, smart, and honest contractor, which is all you need to make it happen.”

–Sanaya K., Clinton Hill homeowner

Like a number of her Clinton Hill Co-op neighbors, homeowner Sanaya spent years living with decades-old cabinetry, outdated appliances, and unnecessarily cramped spaces before taking the plunge with a complete Sweeten renovation of her kitchen. “The kitchen was incredibly outdated,” she explained. “The cabinets were falling apart and I’m embarrassed to admit that there were cans of food holding up the shelves in one spot!”

Sanaya and her husband, Chris, had to contend with missing shelves and work around what looked like water damage from a prior leak. In addition, the original layout included a wall between the kitchen and pantry, which closed off both spaces and served no functional purpose. “It was tight,” Sanaya recalled. “Totally unnecessary, and made the space feel like a maze of walls.” Because of the placement of this dividing wall and the location of the refrigerator, counter space was seriously lacking. In her project post on Sweeten, Sanaya did not mince words: “…everything must go.”

After meeting with her Sweeten matches, Sanaya chose to work with Sweeten Expert, Alan, who helped bring together the homeowner’s renovation game plan.

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Sanaya took on three unconventional design choices to replace existing finishes: counter tops, the backsplash, and flooring. (more…)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

One Kitchen, Three Ways in Clinton Hill

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Ever since Billy & Sally came to us with their cramped Clinton Hill kitchen last year, we’ve spent a lot of time Sweetening homes in the Clinton Hill co-ops. One of the most remarkable things about these projects is that they all start with the exact same, 1940′s bones, but by the end, no two of these spaces ends up anything alike. I personally cannot decide which of these kitchens I love most, but one thing is for sure, they have all come a very long way! Have a look at these three renovation outcomes and let us know which you like best.

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Kitchen #1: Billy & Sally’s Stylishly Curated Kitchen

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Kitchen #2: Kyle & Angela’s Mid-Century Inspired Kitchen

03_sweeten_carrieKitchen #3: Light & Modern, Family Kitchen

Let us know which you like best in the comments below (–and check back in a few weeks to see how this one finished up)!

Posted by: Categories: Inspiration, Kitchens 10

This is certainly one of those renovations that I have been anticipating with bated breath. Partly because the amazing homeowners, Kyle, an IT professional at a law firm, and Angela, a freelance illustrator, have the style and the je ne sais quoi to totally charm; but also, I love projects like this one, where the homeowners have lived in the space, dreamed about what it will be one day, and saved up for years towards the goal of making that dream home their real home. It gives all of us who may still be far from that goal, a sense of possibility.

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“We’d been living here for eleven years and things were starting to get a bit shabby. When we moved in, the apartment had been freshly renovated with all the cheapest materials available at Home Depot, which was fine back then, but we really wanted to make it ‘ours.’ We saved up for renovations all the while and put a lot of thought into what we wanted to do.”

 –Angela, homeowner

When the time had arrived early this year, Kyle and Angela (and their “mean, little chihuahua”) posted to Sweeten to get started on renovating their 900 sq/ft, 2 bedroom Clinton Hill co-op apartment. The road to selecting ‘the perfect contractor’ was made a whole lot sweeter by our three suggestions; according to Angela, “we feel confident that any of the contractors Sweeten selected for us would have done a great job, but we’re really happy that we chose Sweeten Expert Kris.” Kris and his team were able to take the homeowners’ dreams of extra counter space for baking and a place that showed off their personal mid-century style, and turn them into a reality, on-time and within-budget!

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Kris’ team worked closely with Kyle and Angela to meet their main objectives for the project: to create a modern, open apartment AND stay on budget. First order of business was making the ‘big moves,’ which meant tearing down the non-structural interior walls and tearing up the outdated and damaged parquet flooring. With just these changes, the homeowners could already begin to anticipate their moment of, “I can hardly believe it’s the same place we’ve lived for the past decade!” (more…)