Sweeten hand-picks the best experts for your renovation project

After last week’s look at the new IKEA kitchen cabinet system, we turned to seven Sweeten experts for guidance on the central question that most homeowners hit very early in kitchen renovation projects: should you buy custom cabinets or pre-fabricated cabinets? Cabinet construction may well end up being the single biggest expense of your entire renovation, and the results are the most obvious visual proof of your investment, so this can feel like a heavy decision. The challenge (and opportunity) is that your choices are endless, but if you focus on a few key factors, you can find the right cabinets for your new kitchen.

IKEA vs Custom Cabinets

While it’s tempting to assume that your budget is the only consideration, all of our experts agreed on a surprising truth: custom cabinets can be (much, much) more expensive than stock cabinets, but they don’t have to be. Even the cheapest kitchen is an enormous investment, so if budget isn’t necessarily the deciding factor, how should you decide and how can you keep your budget from dictating your choices? First, three definitions: (more…)

Posted by: Categories: IKEA, NYC 8

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 16
Tuesday, December 23, 2014

2014 Year in Review: Sweeten Blog Favorites



New York City homeowners undertook more than 82,000 renovations in 2014! At Sweeten, we were busy finding the right contractors for $100M in renovation projects across the City. Here are just a few of our staff and reader picks for the most inspiring renovations on the Sweeten blog this year. (more…)

Posted by: Categories: NYC 0

I thought we’d ended the year on a high note with Claire and Mike’s gorgeous Park Slope kitchen renovation, but we have a competitor for our best of 2014 awards in Pepper’s double bathroom re-do. This week’s blog post also brings us a new renovation vocabulary term: this is the first time that “encaustic” tiles are appearing on the Sweeten blog since they cameoed in a Sweetened West Village Italian eatery back in 2012. Very exciting on all fronts.

NYC bathroom renovations

“I didn’t even know where to begin. Sweeten helped me re-consider my budget and plan for a project that had been stalled for months because I didn’t know where to start.”

–Pepper, Manhattan homeowner

Pepper moved into this two-bed, two-bath Washington Heights co-op in 2008 after scouring the City for her own slice of Manhattan real estate and realizing that she wasn’t going to come away with much more than a studio in pricier neighborhoods. Pieces of the 1940s bath materials had been haphazardly replaced by previous residents, but with no idea where to start or how much it would cost, five years passed before she got serious about the work (notably, at the insistence of her husband, Marshall!). Pepper posted the project on Sweeten, hoping to meet with contractors who could help guide her through the renovation process.

Pepper, an actress and voice over artist with a weekly radio show that reads periodicals aloud for blind audience members, and Marshall, who works in finance, were originally interested in combining their two adjacent bathrooms to create a single, expansive, luxury bath. While that would have made for amazing blog photos, the couple were dissuaded when they realized that the combination would limit the future sale value of their home, add $20K to their budget, and create significant plumbing and building approval needs. We sent over four general contractors to discuss other options and the couple especially hit it off with Sweeten Expert Aleks after deciding to leave the fixture footprints in place and avoid high permit and plumbing costs. (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Bathrooms, Inspiration, NYC, Sweetened 6

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

Carrie and Jack moved into their pre-war co-op in Murray Hill back in 2003 – a lifetime ago in New York City real estate! Carrie, a budding theater producer, and Jack, who works in online marketing for Clinique, took on a kitchen renovation after moving in, but a decade passed before they were ready for their Manhattan bathroom renovation. The original pre-war bath felt very….original and pre-war. In the intervening years, in an attempt to update a few prominent features with minimal time and money, the couple swapped in a new medicine cabinet and lighting fixture, but no amount of scrubbing or cosmetic work could address the aging, bulky tiles and tub that rounded the room. Ready for an overhaul, Carrie posted her project on Sweeten and brought on Sweeten Expert Aleks to create, in her words, a clean, modern, sanctuary.


“I can’t say enough good things about Sweeten Expert Aleks. It was a joy to talk about the work with him and he followed through on every commitment. Just soup to nuts a great experience.”  

–Carrie R., Manhattan homeowner

What New Yorker hasn’t walked into an apartment at some point and seen these tiles? Here, they wound their way around the walls, unnecessary and overdone, stealing inches of elbow room from the vanity. Replacement tiles aged at different speeds from original tiles, creating a pockmarked effect. The shower rod hung unconvincingly from the ceiling, and oddly shaped built-in vanity niches and the pedestal sink made for very limited storage options. Even the newer medicine cabinet needed help…never quitemade it all the way into the wall during its initial installation. Still, Carrie and Jack were smart to buy an apartment with good bones: hidden underneath all of that thick tile was a 5’ x 8’ bathroom – windowed (!) and roomy enough for a full-size tub.


Carrie didn’t have to contend with space or lay-out constraints but struggled mightily with a nagging sense that the couple should preserve and maintain pre-war features where they could. We’ve seen this same debate play out at other properties with deep historical ties (in Chelsea’s London Terrace co-op and in this Park Slope home). Carrie originally felt adamant about honoring the building’s past, but the kitchen renovation had opened the door to more modern finishes and cleaner lines. The simple and streamlined approach they took with the kitchen really worked, and the couple began to shift their thinking from pre-war flair to modern minimalism. The kitchen renovation experience also gave Carrie and Jack a head start on material selections, and they found themselves selecting bathroom upgrades that were in line with the kitchen floor and wall tiles they had chosen years earlier. (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Bathrooms, NYC 4

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.


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

Here on the Sweeten blog, we can’t help but focus on great design and beautiful finishes. In the last year, we’ve been treated to magazine-worthy upgrades and transformative craftsmanship in many corners of New York City. But today, I’m ready to confess that I’ve been withholding a key piece of behind-the-scenes insight. I love hearing from New Yorkers about their renovation experiences and design inspiration, and it is tempting to let the glittering tile and fresh paint do all of the talking, but there is one comment that just about each and every homeowner utters at some point in the conversation: “work was delayed because we were waiting for that < insert massive or minuscule detail here… >”.

Renovation Cost Savings: Avoid Order & Delivery Hiccups

I usually don’t include these off-hand comments on the Sweeten blog, because it’s not that interesting to hear that a toilet sat uninstalled for two weeks while a homeowner waited for a missing screw to arrive (and I don’t want to publicly shame any homeowners for causing project delays!), but these are not isolated incidents. I talked to Sweeten Expert Valeria to understand why material order and delivery delays are so pervasive, and what homeowners can do to up their renovation cost savings and keep things moving. Valeria’s firm is in the midst of taking this Brooklyn kitchen from pre-fab to super fab, and she echoed what I was already hearing from homeowners: when material orders and deliveries go even slightly haywire, it can be spectacularly disruptive to the progress, sequence, and cost of a home renovation, AND, these disruptions usually occur (ironically) when individual homeowners are trying to save money by ordering their own materials. Here’s why: (more…)

Posted by: Categories: How To, NYC, Renovation Resources 6
Thursday, November 6, 2014

Amy’s Sweetened Brooklyn Heights Bathroom



“Sweeten Expert Pedro was responsive whenever I called or emailed him about the project, and he was able to accommodate all of my requests.”

–Amy, Brooklyn Heights homeowner

Brooklyn Heights homeowner Amy moved into her one-bedroom, one-bathroom co-op two years ago, facing a not-so-terrible but oh-so-prevalent NYC problem: the bath in her new home was ok. It was fine, really; functional and clean and perfectly non-offensive. Amy was not dealing with any pastel porcelain fixtures or layers of cracked floor tile and dropped ceilings, but she couldn’t shake the sense that the materials selected by the previous owners felt dated and at odds with the way the rest of her home was coming together. As she settled in, Amy, who works in advertising, began noticing how the double-wide mirror and counter extension made the room feel cramped without adding any function, and decided that she could do without the under-sink storage if it would help her reclaim a few extra square feet. Amy found her way to Sweeten via Apartment Therapyposted her project on Sweeten, and we matched her with Sweeten Expert Pedro to strip out everything but the tub and streamline the space for this Brooklyn Heights bathroom renovation.


Tile sets a new tone

Amy had a classic bath in mind and went right for timeless and unfussy white subway tile to line the shower and go half-height up the walls. The subway tile pick was simple and inexpensive, allowing Amy to accent the space with a sea-foam green penny floor tile from Ann Sacks. Pedro lined both sections with a neutral medium-gray grout, which helps balance the shine with a bit of grit and texture. To bathe the new finishes in plenty of light, Amy selected a white glass, silver-ringed Schoolhouse Electric flushmount (disclaimer: I try not to be biased but this has long been my most favorite lighting fixture in all the world!).

SWEETEN_AmyDBathroom-04SWEETEN_AmyDBathroom-05 SWEETEN_AmyDBathroom-06

Custom sink details

Amy’s pièce de résistance, and the object of considerable research and finagling, was the console sink. The room’s wall bump-out provided a natural cut-off point for the sink depth at only 20 inches, but Amy found that sink options commonly clocked in at more than 24 inches. Amy sourced a custom-cut Carrera marble counter top and combined it with chrome legs to create a vintage-inspired console that fit precisely within the space constraints. Amy went with Kohler faucet fixtures and Pedro replaced and re-located the newly-exposed sink pipes upward for a more polished look. Amy loves the way the sink turned out – putting her stamp on the design and bringing her vision for the fixture to life in spite of the room depth was no small win!

Storage losses and space gains

Most urban dwellers would be loathe to lose bathroom storage (or storage of any kind, for that matter), but Amy was able to take a minimalist approach to medicine cabinet and sink storage space because of the linen closet in the bathroom. Without the original top-heavy medicine cabinet and bulky sink vanity, Amy traded a few square feet of concealed storage for a few square feet of open space, a sleek glass shelf, and a spot for artwork – all told, not a shabby deal.



No pain, no gain

Amy and Pedro worked through a few unforeseen issues together during the three week life span of the project. Amy inadvertently under-ordered tile amounts and needed to wait for back-up tile to arrive, and Pedro discovered leaks in the shower body that needed to be replaced behind the tile walls. The shower work added unexpectedly to Amy’s budget but was worthwhile to ensure that the work would hold up in the long run. 



Thank you, Amy, for this tour of your gorgeous new bath! Proof, again, that there are endless and simple ways to do great modern, classic baths. For more on the bathroom renovation process, take at look at our NYC bathroom pricing guide and post your project on Sweeten!



This week, the folks at Brick Underground highlighted a sticky renovation issue and offered guidance from Sweeten Founder and CEO, Jean, on how to navigate notifying neighbors about upcoming home renovation plans. To illustrate a few options for this often-overlooked renovation etiquette step, they posted a letter that I sent to my building’s upstairs, downstairs, and same-floor neighbors before re-doing the floors in my mini East Village apartment. Here’s my letter, and a few thoughts on why it worked to preserve peace in my little corner of the building: (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Renovation Resources 1