Sweeten hand-picks the best experts for your renovation project

This week, I checked in with Bernice and Davison, an Upper West Side couple who took on a moderately impossible trifecta this past summer: they renovated their new home, moved in, and welcomed a newborn baby all within the same few weeks! Yikes?! All New Yorkers deal with tough deadlines when it comes to moving and renovating, but no amount of negotiation will alter the arrival of a brand new baby, so, with their second child on the way, this family came to Sweeten looking for a contractor who could lead on critical changes to their home before they moved in. The layout of the family’s three-bedroom co-op allowed for the children to have separate bedrooms – not always a given in the City – but to enter the apartment’s one bathroom, you had to walk through one of the bedrooms. This started to feel like a deal breaker as the family tried to envision tiptoeing by a sleeping baby on a daily basis. Relocating the bathroom door so that the bath could be accessed via the living room necessitated a renovation that ended up including a full kitchen overhaul and the addition of the growing family’s new secret weapon: an in-unit washing machine. We introduced Davison and Bernice to Sweeten Expert Louie to take on the family’s targeted plans for demolition and rebuilding throughout the home.

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“We used Sweeten in two ways: we drew heavily on ideas from other kitchens posted on the Sweeten blog for our designs, and we relied on Louie’s kitchen expertise to save money using some of what we already had. We would definitely come back to Sweeten if we had another project to take on.”

– Davison A, Upper West Side homeowner

Davison and Bernice thought a lot about how to improve work space in the kitchen without changing the kitchen’s layout or dimensions. Davison, who works in telecommunications, was inspired by some of the traditional principles of feng shui – he knew that small changes could have a big impact on the way the couple moved in the kitchen, and wanted to use the renovation as an opportunity to create an environment that would allow for easier flow between the kitchen’s hardest-working spaces (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Kitchens, NYC 4

This week, we get a peek into what happens when Manhattanites boldly go where so few seem to venture…taking down kitchen walls! This Hell’s Kitchen renovation would have been stylish even if it had stayed within its original dimensions, but taking a wall down was the first step in making the space virtually unrecognizable. Scroll on down for the play by play on this ambitious Manhattan kitchen renovation.

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“In some ways, we bit off more than we could chew. Sweeten introduced us to Sandy who was really easy to work with, flexible about our plans, and helpful with things that were uncertain or unexpectedly discovered behind walls.

–Dan, Hell’s Kitchen homeowner

Dan and Mike moved into this one bedroom, one bathroom co-op in Manhattan’s storied Piano Factory building in 2013. The building, converted from a 19th century warehouse that once served as the manufacturing site for the inner workings of pianos, is an industrial brick building in Hell’s Kitchen with a beautiful Romanesque entry and a graceful courtyard. Dan and Mike loved the building’s history and architecture, but found themselves in an apartment constructed in the grand tradition of many 1980s co-op conversions: boxy rooms, segmented living spaces, a dated pass-through in the wall that sectioned off the kitchen from the living area (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Inspiration, Kitchens, NYC 7

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 6

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…)

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 homeowner

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…)

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 15

One thing was very clear when Claire and Mike moved into their co-op in a converted Brooklyn industrial building in August: they were not enthralled with the kitchen. And one thing was very unclear: with a baby on the way and no experience with home renovation, what were they going to do about it? Contemplating everything from a complete gut to swapping in a single line of pre-fab cabinets, Claire posted the project on Sweeten and met with a range of designers, design/build firms, and contractors to discuss options for this Park Slope kitchen renovation. Claire and Mike saw bids from Sweeten experts with very different scopes of work; extensive facelifts detailed down to the radiator cover designs as well as very basic, Ikea-centric proposals. Sweeten Experts Paulina & Albert piqued their curiosity with options that offered all-custom cabinetry or a part-custom and part-Ikea hybrid.

Park Slope Kitchen Renovation

“Sweeten Expert Paulina was so friendly and open to our ideas, and she had the design background to help me articulate what I wanted. I have nothing but the highest praise.”

–Claire, Brooklyn homeowner

The apartment’s 13-foot ceilings gave Claire and Mike lots of room to play with cabinet space, but the kitchen had an unusual layout that made the area between the sink and stove inaccessible. Claire and Mike thought about relocating plumbing and electrical lines but, as we saw in Sweeten’s kitchen pricing guides, that move would divert thousands of dollars to permits and specialty fees. Claire and Mike chose to work with the design/build duo, Paulina and Albert, after discussing the custom approach and realizing that for a relatively limited additional cost, they could significantly expand cabinet space and make better use of the unconventional layout. They had also decided to leave appliances (except the fridge) in place, freeing up room in the budget for custom cabinet upgrades.

Park Slope Kitchen Renovation

As the ideas came together, designer Paulina worked with Claire and Mike to translate their interests into material selections. The couple went with basic plywood cabinetry, lined with melamine interiors. To demarcate the kitchen, Claire played around with different navy and gray paint colors, settling on Benjamin Moore’s Evening Dove. Claire had her heart set on a farmhouse sink and spent weeks searching online for the right dimensions. Her research also turned up an unusual bridge faucet – a gorgeous detail that set the feel for the rest of the transformation. (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Inspiration, Kitchens, NYC, Sweetened 8

This past summer, Carol W. and her husband took on the kitchen renovation they spent nearly three years envisioning. Today, Carol shares their renovation story and walks us through each of the detailed decisions they made. One by one, these changes resolved individual storage and surface problems; together, these edits transformed the function and feel of this modern Park Slope home.

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Story & photos by: Carol W., Park Slope homeowner

posted our kitchen renovation project to Sweeten this past summer, but I’d been hoping to update our kitchen from the moment I set eyes on it three years ago. My husband and I found our apartment after a long search, and while the kitchen was in excellent condition, it was the one thing we knew we’d want to change when money and time would allow. Living with it for a while had its benefits though: we learned a lot about how we use it and what we needed to change to make it more functional.

Inadequate storage and impractical materials

We had a decent amount of wall storage, but the high placement of the cabinets meant that, at 5’4”, I couldn’t reach half of the shelves. The cabinets were originally placed about 23 inches up from the counter, which is about 5 inches higher than the standard, and they didn’t extend all the way to the ceiling, which was a waste of space that could be helpful for storing less frequently used items. We were also using a small Ikea kitchen island, which added some counter space but didn’t provide enough storage underneath. (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Inspiration, Kitchens, NYC, Sweetened 7

“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 7

west village co-op renovation

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…)