Sweeten hand-picks the best experts for your renovation project

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 The new space was ideal for those plans, except for the kitchen, which was functional but outdated and lacked the storage and prep space they envisioned.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…)

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This summer, we’ve been fortunate to be joined by Josh, Ron, & Kevin — Sweeten’s summer intern fleet! These guys have been impressing our team with their enthusiasm and insightfulness for the last 6 weeks, and today, they’ve outlined some of their favorite discoveries so far about the notoriously obscure and daunting process of renovating in NYC.

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Josh on how renovating is much more complicated than Home Improvement

Before starting at Sweeten, my knowledge of home renovations came from re-runs of Tim Allen’s 90’s sitcom, Home Improvement. I always thought that home renovations were an easy process that only required some time and money -but of course, I was wrong. I quickly learned that there is so much more that goes into the home renovation process, the foundation of which is trust.

Without trust, a general contractor will have hesitations while doing his/her job and a homeowner will be uncomfortable throughout the process because of a lack of confidence in (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Team Sweeten 3

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Over the last year, we’ve looked at some gorgeous NYC home renovations (see Exhibit A and Exhibit B) and we’ve rolled up our sleeves to get to the bottom of more technical questions like the costs of landscaping, flooring, and kitchen and bath renovations. For each of these blog posts, I get to talk to experts and homeowners about their experiences, and I’ve learned that no two home renovation stories are alike. I have also learned that virtually every homeowner plods through the same muddled process to plan and understand the work ahead, and virtually every homeowner has to face down the same mistakes before gleaming new surfaces are revealed. This week, we surveyed a small slice of our 300 Sweeten experts with a very open-ended question:

“What are the most common things you find yourself explaining to homeowners who are starting the renovation process?”

You would think we’d see a wide range of responses from these experts, and you would be wrong. 25 experts, who represent a broad group of design and build skill sets, revealed the top 3 mistakes homeowners make when planning renovations in NYC (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Renovation Resources 74

Clinton Hill homeowner Diane moved into an apartment in a large, residential co-op on historic Clinton Avenue about a year and a half ago. Diane was no stranger to renovation and hoped to bring lessons learned from renovating a kitchen in a previous home to make the bathroom in her new home more functional and comfortable. The bathroom layout worked for Diane but the small space was in rough condition: large floor tiles covered the walls and were starting to loosen and crack. More importantly, Diane needed to adjust the height of most of the fixtures and add a few other touches around the room to customize the small space and make each element more comfortable.

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“My Sweeten contractors were so great – I could not have found a better contractor. Best experience I ever had.”

- Diane, Clinton Hill Homeowner

I loved Diane’s no-nonsense approach to this project. After a series of “nightmare” interactions with independent contractors, and after two different contacts walked with Diane’s deposits, Diane posted her project on Sweeten with all of her bases covered: she had already purchased new fixtures and navigated her building’s renovation approval process – two huge time-savers. We matched Diane with Sweeten Expert Sean who brought in rave reviews for responsiveness, staying in touch with project updates, and carefully protecting Diane’s home while work was underway.

To restore a bright, clean, and classic feel to the space, Diane turned to white subway tiles, an all-time Sweeten favorite for a crisp and easy-to-clean finish. As Sean’s team gutted the bath and cleared out layers of old tiles, Diane discovered (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Bathrooms, Completed Projects, Sweetened 1
Thursday, June 26, 2014

Pricing Guide: Floors in NYC

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Last week, we looked at a range of gorgeous floors chosen by Sweeten homeowners over the past year. This week, let’s look at the numbers behind a transformative flooring project. I’ve heard over and over again that kitchen and bathroom upgrades are your best bet for adding re-sale value to your home, but new floors can be an infinitely easier and faster way to transform the feel of your home. Floors are an especially tempting project if you are a new homeowner and haven’t moved in yet: without furniture to move around, you can have a crew tear up old floors in minutes (really) and lay down new materials before the week is up. It’s about as close as you can get to instant gratification in the home renovation universe. For an insider’s look at the costs of re-doing or re-finishing your floors, I talked to Sweeten Expert Jamie about the materials, the labor, and the unexpected.

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Photos come from a Park Slope custom flooring & painting project by Sweeten Expert Jamie.

Material Costs

First things first, you need to decide if you will be putting in new floors or re-finishing your existing floors. So many New York apartments have original floors that are worth reviving, but Jamie explained that floors can reach an end point in their re-finish capacity – if your floors have already been re-finished numerous times, you might not have enough surface depth to sand down, and you can risk exposing nail heads, which will damage the sanding equipment. If you decide your existing floors still have life in them, Jamie noted that many homeowners are switching over to more eco-friendly stain and finish materials. These new products help minimize fumes and are more environmentally-friendly, but you may need to work with your contractor to ensure that you can successfully bond newer products to older floors for an even finish.

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All after photography: Paul Ober

If you have crumbling parquet or inherited linoleum from another era: new floors for you, my friend! There are endless options for flooring materials, starting at under $1 per square foot for laminate options, under $2 per square foot for engineered wood options, and under $6 per square foot for hardwood options. National retailers have dozens and dozens of options in these ranges, and are (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Cost Guide, Floors 1
Thursday, June 19, 2014

Inspiration Underfoot: Flooring

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Each week, we aim to translate insight from Sweeten experts into information you can use to make better decisions about improving your home. This week and next, let’s take on flooring. I might be biased, because new floors were the very first step I took in renovating my tiny East Village apartment, but I cannot possibly think of a better way to get a bigger bang for your buck. If you are looking to transform the way your home feels, you can do it with new floors in less than a week’s time. For proof of its impact, scroll through these flooring selections some of our favorite homeowners have made in the last year. Next week, check back for the full low-down on the process and cost of re-doing your floors.

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In Williamsburg, Katie and Elliot renovated with Mirage Knotty Walnut floors throughout the first floor of their townhouse. The natural knots and irregularities serve as a counterpoint to the clean cabinet lines and modern lighting fixtures. I’m always amazed at how (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Floors, Inspiration 5

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After posting last week’s look at interior design in NYC and scouting the photos our 50,000+ @SWEETEN_HOME Instagram followers love most, I have been thinking about the relationship between beauty and function in a home. Hat tip to Design Sponge for reminding me of this quote:

“Have nothing in your house that you don’t know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

~ William Morris, writer, artist, designer (1834-1896)

First thought: YES! So true! And such a smart antidote to our collective tendency for accumulating stuff. Second thought: perhaps if Mr. Morris had lived in 21st century New York City, he might have amended his statement to require that things be both useful and beautiful, and not one or the other. When you only have a few hundred square feet to yourself, you start to realize that beautiful things should be functional, and functional things should be beautiful. Whether you’re contemplating a renovation, enjoying a recently completed project, prepping your home to put it on the market, or just looking to make the most of what you have, may I humbly suggest a few ways to edit, de-clutter, and organize to get you out of your home and into the world this summer! With William Morris’s sage words in mind, here are three tips to get you started.

1. Take a look in each room of your home and separate clutter into two categories: things you can display and things you need to stow away.

Lots and lots of everyday household items are really lovely. You don’t need to buy pricey accessories to make your home welcoming and useful. Open up your cabinets and grab things that don’t need to be hidden away – glassware, tea canisters, books, jewelry, plants – you are probably using storage space for things that would add visual interest and detail to a room if you took a few minutes to arrange them. To be clear: my coffee table is hardly a model for a design vignette, but after rooting around for some items that were stowed out of reach, re-purposing a glass container from a neighborhood juice spot, stacking odd books I’ve collected along the way (a French comic book, an anthology of fairy tales, a design book that was a housewarming gift from an old friend), finding a succulent that needs zero care, and moving a serving tray out of a cupboard, I have a passable little gathering spot made entirely of things I already had.

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In the kitchen, I keep reasonably beautiful and functional items on the counter so that they are within reach, and so that they aren’t taking up storage space. Pastas are in glass jars on the counter along with olive oil, tea – all things I use daily (or, you know, when I cook on a quarterly basis) and don’t mind looking at frequently.

Now the reverse is perhaps a bit more challenging: (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Inspiration 5

After our peek at spring-inspired style updates, I have been looking forward to talking with Sweeten interior design experts to answer a long-standing question of mine: what does it cost to work with an interior designer? I needed to check my ego at the door for this one – I know I need professionals for home renovation projects, but I should be able to pick out my own couch…right? After talking with three of Sweeten’s most successful interior designers, I have a very different outlook on that front. For the basics on pricing, I caught up with Sweeten Expert Joy, Sweeten Expert Maneli, and Sweeten Expert Jill.

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cover photo featuring design work in Brooklyn Heights by Sweeten Expert Jill

Joy, Maneli, and Jill helped me clear up one misconception right off the bat: interior designers are equipped to do much more than pick out furniture. Whether you are planning to gut renovate your home or looking for a way to update what you already have with new pieces, interior designers can step in at any stage in the process and lend expertise that ranges from wall placement, technical wiring choices, floor and tile selections, lighting and layout, and then continue until the last decorative pillows and desk accents are placed. “Furniture, window treatments, millwork design, lighting, ​flooring, AV, landscape selection, painting, and plaster types…interior design involves the knowledge of electricity, plumbing, wall ​construction, etc, all beyond creating the coziest of sitting areas,” explained Joy.  So with such a wide range of services, where do they start with pricing?

Size, Scope, and Schedule

It sounds like the key elements of budget planning involve space size and scope of work (the homeowner’s goals for the project and initial thoughts on corresponding budget). The good news here is that homeowners can maintain a lot of control over the final budget of the project. If you’ve been following our kitchen and bathroom pricing guides, you know that for some renovation projects, you need to spend thousands of dollars on behind-the-scenes structural and technical costs regardless of how high-end you want the end result to be. With interior design projects, the bang for your buck feels more predictable and impactful, because you are spending on items that you can see and feel, and you have more control over the relationship between what you pay and what you get.

Options for Structuring Costs

You can probably expect your interior designer to propose a few options for setting the budget:

1. flat fees for different packages of service

2. hourly fees for consultation and visits

3. 20% to 35% mark-up on purchases and services (like contractor oversight), or a commission based on the cost of planned construction (if renovation work is happening)

4. a mix of these options to allow for more flexibility

If you are gut-renovating and relying on your interior designer for full design services, you can expect to spend around $10 per square foot on design services alone. At this level, your interior designer is deeply involved in the project from start to finish and is sourcing, purchasing, and ensuring the delivery and installation of every visible aspect of your home. If you are gut-renovating a 1,000 square foot property, you can expect to pay $10,000 on design services, separate and apart from the cost of materials. If the scope of your project involves highly specialized selections or high-end and exclusive artisan work, you can expect the design cost per square foot to rise accordingly.

photos below featuring work in Manhattan by Sweeten Expert Joy

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If you are focused exclusively on furnishings and are not planning any renovation work, you might see a cost proposal where you pay the designer 20% to 35% of the total cost of the merchandise you purchase, or you might see a cost structure that combines a flat fee with hourly fees or commission-based fees. At this level, your designer is providing a design vision with color and material selections, sourcing merchandise, and ensuring that pieces are delivered properly. All in, bare minimum, you might be able to do one room for $8,000 for design services and furniture, provided that you’re open to mixing thrift shop finds with national retailer-type pieces with a few select higher-end accents. With a more average budget, you can expect to spend $15,000 to $20,000 for design services and furniture selections for one room (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Cost Guide, Inspiration, interior designers 2

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Erica and Donna moved into their two-bedroom home — a former kindergarten classroom in a converted South Slope / Greenwood Heights Catholic school — four years ago. High ceilings, check. Big windows, check. Modern urban oasis, check. Erica, who works for the City of New York, and Donna, a digital product consultant, were initially drawn to industrial and rustic decor as a way to balance and warm up the contemporary feel of their new space. But, after overspending on a pricey couch and accenting the windows and doors with a red paint that grew to irritate them both, the couple decided they needed design help. After they posted their project on Sweeten, we introduced them to Sweeten Expert Katherine to help bring new life to this old-school space.

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“Katherine had a lot of creative ideas. Some of the areas of our apartment that she transformed were not even on our radar design-wise until she pointed them out.”

- Erica W., Brooklyn Homeowner

Erica and Donna focused first on their bedroom. They wanted tranquility, comfort, and a little romance; they also needed to maximize the long, narrow lay-out of the room and find art to make the space feel personal and vibrant.

Katherine sought to create a relaxed retreat, in tune with the couple’s design preferences. She put together an inspiration booklet to illustrate creative concepts, drawings, and to simply nail the creative vision. The trio took group shopping trips, and worked together to upgrade the shabby-schoolhouse-chic vibe with cleaner lines, bolder colors, and improved utility (more…)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Follow us @SWEETEN_HOME!

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Here on the Sweeten blog, we’ve got your weekly fix of classic before and after renovation transformations, design ideas, and budget basics for every home improvement project. When you don’t have time for the weekly lowdown (or you’re running out of town for a long weekend…), check us out on Instagram and follow us @SWEETEN_HOME!

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Straight from our 44,000 followers, here are some of the most loved Instagram snapshots from the Sweeten Network: (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Inspiration 1