Q&A: What to Know Before Renovating a Brownstone

Sweeten’s Founder + CEO Answers Your Renovation Questions

Welcome to our first installment of a series in which I hope to bring clarity to some of the mysteries of renovating. We hear your questions every day and work happily to bring you answers through our team and blog. Whether you’re a first-time homeowner or a serial renovator, each project brings a new set of circumstances and new queries with it. Feel free to email me at JBrownhill@sweeten.com. In the meantime, I’ll even include questions that I get asked most often—even at cocktail parties!

Today, our question is about brownstones, and if this topic interests you, be sure to check out Part 1 of Nazli’s post on her and her husband Larry’s full gut four-story townhouse reno, a story filled with helpful insights and a refreshingly candid take on their experience.

QUESTION: What should homeowners keep in mind before jumping into a brownstone renovation?

JEAN: I think most people get really excited about the interiors, especially as New Yorkers. We’re used to mostly having apartments or spaces where we are pretty much focused only on the interior. But the big change comes when you go from a regular apartment renovation to a brownstone renovation or an actual piece of property, and you’re still tempted to focus on the interiors. After all, that’s where it’s going to be fun…that’s where you’re going to live.

I highly recommend people fall in love with all the details of their roof, and all the details of their basement—places where apartment dwellers usually rely on a super and don’t ever have to worry. So when you’re thinking about a brownstone renovation, really look at the integrity of the roof and the integrity of the basement. Those are the areas you want to get right before you even start on the interiors. Every time it rains, you don’t want your heart skipping a beat wondering if your roof is leaking. Or if it’s raining hard, you don’t want to be stressed out worrying, “Oh my god, is my basement flooding?” So fall in love with the roof and the basement. Because that’s really the difference. Yes, you’re getting a ton more space, and yes, you’re getting a backyard, but start at the top and the bottom.

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Jerry and Janet’s historic brownstone needed major work, including a facelift of the building’s exterior, so they turned to a gut renovation with the goal of creating the perfect mix of old and new.

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.