A couple’s clever path to a larger, more personal space
When Aimee and B made a move to upgrade to a 3-bed, 2-bath (formerly 1-bath) co-op in Park Slope, they weren’t sure if they needed a contractor, an architect, an interior designer, or all of the above. The kitchen was “more or less non-existent” and the bath needed a re-do. Essential changes, including moving walls and emphasizing the home’s architectural character, gave way to their welcoming new space. Read on for details of their renovation adventure.
My wife B and I loved our little one-bedroom duplex in Hell’s Kitchen, but it had two drawbacks. It was small and the little spiral staircase was a safety hazard that we suspected would only get worse as we got older. Our budget was tight for the 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom apartment we wanted, but we felt like it was time to make the move.
Focusing on Park Slope, we found one apartment that wasn’t perfect, but it had enough space, so we put in an offer. We lost out to a higher bid. We found a second apartment that had a cute little balcony, but we were outbid again. It became clear that we needed to look at apartments below our budget so we could bid higher, but there wasn’t much in that range.
Finally, I expanded my search to include places with only ONE bathroom, and saw an apartment pop up that fit our budget—the listing said, “Bring your contractor.” It was a big mess, but at least it was big! I rushed to an early open house on a Wednesday morning so I could be one of the first to see it. As I left, I texted B, “It needs a lot of work, but it just feels like home.” She came back with me that Sunday and was equally smitten with the place. We had to outbid 11 other offers, but this time, we got it!
The 3-bedroom, 1-bathroom (now 2-bathroom) co-op is on the 2nd floor of a brownstone building in the center of Park Slope. The bathroom was in desperate need of an update, and the kitchen was more or less non-existent (there were a few cabinets and a sink). We knew this would be a lot of work, but didn’t know if we needed an architect, a contractor, a designer, or all of the above. We spoke to a few of each and no one thought they could do all the work we needed for anywhere close to our budget.
After seeing Sweeten on Open House NYC, we finally posted our project on Sweeten and were matched with a contractor who could guide us with design and connect us to an architect. Since we wanted to renovate the kitchen and bathroom before moving in, we decided to take the plunge and do a full renovation on the whole apartment, including installing new 5″ oak floors in a cherry stain, replacing crumbling plaster walls with drywall, and adding a washer/dryer in the hallway closet.
We didn’t have a specific style in mind for the remodel, though we wanted to save as many of the original features as possible. Both of us loved the sense of history in the home, and while a few modern lights were OK with us, we didn’t want to clash too much with the original look. So we saved the molding that was salvageable and picked new ones that matched as closely as possible. We managed to save the vast majority of the tin ceiling—a small section was ruined when we moved the wall between the rear bedrooms. The exposed brick walls and the Deco-style fireplace in our living room were also kept intact (we gave the fireplace a fresh coat of paint). Sadly, we weren’t able to save the beautiful french doors, but one now hangs horizontally on the living room wall as a piece of art.
Beyond matching the existing style, we wanted an apartment that felt cozy and creative. For me, as a writer, that meant lots of space for books. The existing small study, where one of the two doorways was removed and a transom was added, was the perfect spot for our collection. It offered me a place to write and work that felt totally stuffed with books. The writer in me also loved the bay window. Back when I first walked into the apartment, during the open house, I could already envision the banquette that could be built underneath the three windows, allowing us to lounge along the windows and read. Sitting curled up on that bench with a book is now one of my favorite activities. As an added bonus, it also gives us extra storage.
The kitchen was probably the biggest transformation. While we kept the room in basically the same spot, everything else changed. The only appliance in the kitchen when we bought the place was a small, cheap stove that the sellers brought in for the inspection. There was also a small sink and a few metal cabinets, all on the righthand wall when you faced the kitchen. Very little demo was needed in there!
We spoke with our contractor extensively about what we wanted—as large a kitchen as would fit in the space, and as open as possible. He was able to give us a 3D rendering that included all the elements we required—a large peninsula for bar stools, ample storage space including deep drawers for our pots and pans, and the triangular configuration for our stove, sink, and fridge.
We tried to bring in our “cozy and creative” feel through the fixtures and furniture. Our contractor sourced most of our materials, other than the lighting and appliances, so we had time to focus on finding just the right accent pieces. Our favorite store in Hell’s Kitchen, Domus, was a great resource for items like our bedspread and picture frames.
Our Sweeten contractor helped us to figure out the best layout in the apartment. Since we were putting in a second bathroom, we wanted to create a master bedroom that was ensuite, but we weren’t quite sure how to make that happen, including annexing some hallway space. Ultimately, a wall was removed between the two rear bedrooms so the master would be next to the large walk-in closet. That closet became the master bath and a new clothes closet was built.
Though we love the end result, the renovation process took a lot longer than we had originally hoped, partly due to waiting for city permits, some changes to our original plan, and to the general busy schedule of our contractor. We were able to stay in our old apartment for quite a while because we had low carrying costs, and held off selling it as long as possible. When we finally put our old place on the market, it sold quickly and we moved into the new place with only a few weeks’ notice.
Our contractor’s team was able to get it to a “move-in ready” state in time for our move, but we realized that our idea of move-in ready was different from theirs. The floors were dry enough to put our furniture down, but none of the kitchen appliances worked. We had one functioning toilet with the only working sink in the kitchen. B and I had an interesting few weeks of making ramen with our coffee maker and eating tuna out of a pouch.
In the end, that little rough patch just made us appreciate our wonderful new kitchen and the whole apartment even more. And we are still thrilled about all the little details that make this apartment uniquely ours.
Thank you, Aimee and B, for sharing your very comfortable home!
KITCHEN RESOURCES: Cabinets, 750 Series in Stone Grey: Waypoint. Solid White quartz countertops: MSI. Sink, #KHU101-23: Kraus. Simplice faucet: Kohler. Profile refrigerator, stove, dishwasher, microwave: GE. Dark grey, 6″x24″ floor tile: Roca Tile. Thurman classic lighting: Lumens. Classic Metal Ball pendants: Pottery Barn. Hardware: Amerock. Tabouret navy counter stool with wood seat: Overstock.
MASTER BATHROOM RESOURCES: HydroRail shower fixtures: Kohler. Toledo sink and vanity: Fairmont Designs. Langford cross-handle sink fixtures: Pottery Barn. Memoirs Stately round front toilet: Kohler. Benchwright Triple Sconce in antique bronze: Pottery Barn. Medicine cabinet: Ronbow.
SECOND BATHROOM RESOURCES: HydroRail shower fixtures: Kohler. Classic Single Sink Mini Console in gray: Pottery Barn. Langford cross-handle sink fixtures: Pottery Barn. Memoirs Stately elongated toilet: Kohler. Benchwright Triple Sconce in polished nickel: Pottery Barn. Medicine cabinet: Ronbow. Greenhow Blue paint, #CW-655: Benjamin Moore.
Renovating your entire home is an exciting opportunity, but what does it cost? Find out in our cost guide on budgeting your renovation according to square footage.
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