A Couple Gives Their Old Home a Touch of Glam

by Shera Nuss

Their dream space comes to life with herringbone tile, gray kitchen cabinets, and a clawfoot tub

Editor’s Note: This post, originally published May 2014, is one of our favorites for still having a classic and modern look years later. Allison and Jovito purchased their first home together—a single-family brick row house, c. 1910, in the Ocean Parkway neighborhood of Brooklyn. Though they knew the place needed some serious renovations, Allison, a content manager, and Jovito, an electronic prepress director, both in textbook publishing, promptly packed up and, along with their adorable cat, Momo, moved in and geared up for some major home improvements. Allison shares their renovation story and walks us through the stylish choices she and Jovito made in the process of creating their new home.

Brooklyn kitchen and bathroom renovationGuest post by Allison in Ocean Parkway, Brooklyn

Ten months of intense searching, eight lost bids and a couple hundred viewed properties later, Jovito and I finally found an adorable 1910 brick row house in the Ocean Parkway neighborhood of Brooklyn to call our own. We loved the bones and original details of the house, but the over 100-year-old home was also in need of some serious updating. Knowing that we’d have some large-scale renovations ahead of us, we went into the purchase two parts excited and one part slightly terrified.  There was a long list of items on our “fix” list when we moved in, but we also had a limited budget. So our energy and efforts were focused on tackling the kitchen and upstairs bathroom renovation first.

Having never renovated a property before, we didn’t know where to start. How would we find a reputable contractor that would understand our vision, work within our budget, and do a stellar job? Perusing Apartment Therapy on a day when I was feeling somewhat overwhelmed by all our options, I read about Sweeten and decided to post our project to the site. We really liked the idea that they would act as matchmakers and pair us with contractors based on our project’s scope of work and budget. Knowing that they had pre-screened their network of contractors also made choosing feel a lot less scary.

brooklyn kitchen bathroom renovationBrooklyn kitchen and bathroom renovation

After meeting with two contractor matches from Sweeten, and two contractors that were friend referrals, we decided to award our renovation job to Sweeten. We appreciated his pragmatism, patience in answering our many questions, and his thoroughness during the onsite visit. We also appreciated that he seemed completely un-phased by the scary (to us), timeworn, “before” conditions of the kitchen and bathroom. He’d seen and worked on old houses like this many times, so that also helped us feel like we were in good hands. His familiarity with constructing IKEA kitchens and reasonable estimate sealed the deal.

We started our renovation of the kitchen and bathroom in mid-November. Living in the house during construction wasn’t fun, but our contractor and his team were careful to keep the work area as clean and contained as possible. On the plus side, it was exciting for us to see the team’s daily progress and some of the relics they unearthed during demolition. (Like pieces of newspaper from 1943 mentioning President Roosevelt stuck inside the bathroom walls!) The team spent a lot of time and effort making sure the new walls and floors were level, plumb, and true, which was no small feat in an old house where nothing is straight!

The kitchen needed a gut renovation. The walls were covered with dark wood paneling and cabinets, there was a dropped ceiling with fluorescent lighting, cracked floor tile and beat up Formica countertops and backsplash. The existing soffit ran in front of the kitchen window, cutting a good eight inches off the top, and a lot of daylight along with it. It was a less-than-optimal layout and had definitely seen better days.

Because of our limited budget, we decided to go with IKEA kitchen cabinetry and Caesarstone quartz countertops, both of which we purchased during one of IKEA’s kitchen sales. Not wanting the new kitchen to clash with the age of the house but also wanting it to feel current and new, we went with a more traditional cabinet door style in a medium gray color. To keep the space open and airy feeling, we decided to forego wall cabinets. We made sure we had plenty of base cabinet storage to hold all our pots and pans. Because we removed the dropped ceiling, we gained back some ceiling height, so we stacked glass-front cabinets to the ceiling and created a hutch to display our collection of vintage glassware and serveware. We chose durable white quartz countertops to keep the room bright and to add contrast to the gray cabinets.

Brooklyn kitchen and bathroom renovation
Brooklyn kitchen and bathroom renovation

We’re tough on our floors, so we chose extra durable wood-look porcelain tile that we found online at a closeout price. Our contractor laid the tile in a herringbone pattern. We really love the way it turned out! For the backsplash tile, we went with a large format porcelain tile with a raised geometric pattern and tiled all the way up the wall for visual impact. (It’s also incredibly easy to clean!) The wall tile is from Mondial in Bensonhurst.

We both love to cook so it was important for us to have a range that could accommodate many pots and pans and put out some serious BTUs. We were incredibly lucky to find our range second-hand in excellent condition at a local salvage shop. The exhaust hood was found in the clearance section of Home Depot and our brand new dishwasher came from the As-Is section of IKEA. Our counter-depth fridge was on sale at the local P.C. Richard & Son.

Brooklyn kitchen and bathroom renovation
Brooklyn kitchen and bathroom renovationBrooklyn kitchen and bathroom renovation

Our ceiling light fixtures are porcelain lamp holders made by Leviton running about $2/piece online. The pendant over the sink is from Restoration Hardware and is based off an Italian factory light from the 1950s. We like that the lights can extend out about four feet on each side, giving us the option of creating more overhead lighting for prep if we need it.

We decided to go with brass cabinet pulls, knobs, and faucet to warm up all the cool gray and stainless steel. It took a lot of searching to find a brushed brass faucet, but we finally found one through Newport Brass. The solid brass pulls and knobs are made by Laurey and were also found online.

brooklyn kitchen bathroom renovationBrooklyn kitchen and bathroom renovation

Our bathroom was very…blue. Blue tub, blue toilet, blue tile. It had last been majorly renovated in the 50s and everything was really showing its age. The floor of the bathroom was about a 4” step up from the hallway—the ghosts of past flooring renovations buried beneath. To top it all off, the bathroom space itself was tiny—about 36 square feet. Our budget wouldn’t allow us to enlarge the space or reroute plumbing, so our goal was to increase the feeling of space while making it as pretty and useable as possible. Style-wise, we wanted the bathroom to look like it could have been original to the house so we were careful to choose pieces that had an old-fashioned feel to them.

To maximize space, we swapped the existing door for a pocket door and chose a dual-flush toilet with a narrow tank and small footprint. A console sink and clawfoot tub kept things airy and off the floor. Finding reasonably-priced marble floor and subway wall tile at Lowe’s kept us on budget, as well as sourcing salvage and secondhand materials which helped to cut costs. Finally, we added an exhaust fan/light combo to help cut humidity.

Brooklyn kitchen and bathroom renovation Brooklyn kitchen and bathroom renovation

Despite holidays, lots of snow days and a few surprises along the way, the renovation process was mostly stress-free. Our contractor did a good job keeping us informed throughout construction, and he always made himself available to answer questions. And because we lived in our house during construction, we were also able to address and correct any miscommunications right away, which helped the project run more smoothly.

We’re thankful to the Sweeten team for pairing us up with the contractor and his team for an excellent first renovation experience! I’ve already recommended Sweeten to several friends! Sweeten’s matching service removes a lot of the scariness and uncertainty associated with finding a qualified contractor. And when we’re finally ready to begin the next project, you can be sure we’ll be contacting them for another great match!

Many thanks to Allison, Jovito & Momo for sharing your beautiful home!

KITCHEN RESOURCES: Quartz countertops: Caesarstone. Laurey pulls and knobs; Bertazzoni exhaust hood: Home DepotDCS range: Build it Green. Kitchen cabinetry; dishwasher: IKEA. Counter-depth fridge: P.C. Richard & Son. Wall tile: Mondial. Herringbone floor tile: BuildDirectKraus sink: HomeClick. Brushed brass faucet: Newport Brass. Sink pendant: Restoration Hardware. Porcelain lamp holders; ceiling light fixtures: Leviton.

BATH RESOURCES: Marble floor and subway wall tile: Lowe’s. Clawfoot tub and fixtures: Vintage Tub & BathToto toilet: FaucetDirect. Arcade console sink; vintage medicine cabinet: Build it Green. Ginger towel bar; gallery shelf: HomePerfect.

Love the look of Allison’s statement-making exhaust hood? Find out what kind of ventilation is right for your kitchen in our post Ventilate Your Kitchen Like a Chef.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation on Sweeten.

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