A Manhattan couple chooses to reinvent vs. relocate
With a little one in the plans, Rachel and Marco needed to renovate or move out from the Greenwich Village apartment they loved. Turning a two-bedroom into a three-bedroom took careful planning, but after years in their home, they knew just what they needed to do to create a flexible yet sophisticated home that would accommodate everyone. The couple came to Sweeten, a free service matching homeowners with vetted general contractors, to modify their duplex for a growing family.
This is our first home, which we bought about six years ago just after we got married. When we were planning to expand our family, we knew we had to renovate or move. There was enough square footage, but we needed more distinct rooms or spaces. The apartment is a duplex co-op in Greenwich Village, built in 1910. There are only 40-something units and six floors in the building and everyone sort of knows and looks out for each other. We love Greenwich Village so much and I really wanted to have the experience of raising a baby here. So, we renovated!
Living here for so long before the renovation was really helpful since it gave us plenty of time to think about the best possible use of the space. We had a two-bedroom, two-bath, but wanted another bedroom for a baby. The old layout didn’t really work for entertaining, either—the kitchen and dining room were upstairs while the living room was downstairs. Marco and I also wanted our own personal spaces within our home for his hobbies and for my closet/office. Overall, we were looking to create a comfortable family home that met everyone’s needs.
Our apartment is set back from the other units in our building and I always think of it as a hidden gem—a colorful, fun place where you could see a little girl growing up, sophisticated yet flexible enough to accommodate events like playdates and parties. We posted our project on Sweeten, which connected us with our general contractors, who were really amazing. On top of being creative problem solvers, they were incredibly nice guys.
The top floor would be a combined kitchen/dining/living area, so the kitchen needed to be functional but also beautiful enough for a dinner party. We hid most of the appliances behind paneled cabinets; an “appliance garage” and snack storage were organized inside hallway cabinets outfitted with marble countertops. When we have family-style dinners, we set up the self-serve dishes and bar in those spaces. So, yes, you’re in a kitchen, but it’s also an elegant dining room.
I cook a lot and was so excited for the stove. I wanted one of those fancy French stoves that come in custom colors, but they are so expensive! I found this one from Big Chill, which is a U.S. manufacturer, for maybe one-third the price. (They also do custom colors.) The cabinet color was chosen to match the stove, so this appliance is “hidden,” too. We wanted something different from the typical all-white kitchen that would also complement the light wood floors. This almost-black shade is just a little more interesting than plain black. It took lots of trips to Benjamin Moore for swatches!
We put a lot of thought into maximizing space and brainstorming with our Sweeten contractors. We really pushed them to be creative. I just kept saying, “We need to hide the trash and we need a spice cabinet. Where can we do it?” I wouldn’t let up! The answer was wrapping the cabinets around the pillar and also where the lower cabinets end, which created a finished look. There were other details: I don’t think you can go wrong with big molding. I chose the largest size I could find for the ceilings, doors, and floors! It makes a big difference for not a huge cost.
There were a few challenges such as the flooring, which was supposed to be a light wood with a matte finish. I had an image in my mind of exactly what it should look like. Unfortunately for everyone, it took a couple of tries to get it just right, including completely refinishing the downstairs floors more than once. I blame the baby hormones!
Then there was the fireplace, which was very old and nonfunctioning. Our contractors figured out that it wasn’t even capable of working; it was a faux fireplace that took up space for no reason. They removed it, and we gained floor space.
We also needed to make brand new brick match with brick from 1910. Our contractors came up with a solution that was even better than what we had imagined. We repaired some portions, which was very expensive, and painted the wall solid white, stripping that paint off layer by layer to create the current washed effect. That helped to blend the new and (very) old brick.
The bathroom needed updating, too. It was really old with a weirdly-shaped, very deep, mini tub. I still don’t know why it was like that. We installed a beautiful regular-sized tub and shower tile I had seen in another project our contractors had done, which I loved. I pushed hard to put in a double-wide mirror, even though there were a lot of issues with making a recessed cabinet fit the space. I’m glad I persevered because it makes the room so much bigger.
Marco and I have always believed in having our own spaces. We divided what used to be a huge bedroom into two separate spaces to create his office and my closet. Marco needed his own space where he could work on his hobbies without driving me crazy! He likes to do things that create dust and noise and play his music really loud. He works hard during the week, so he should have a place to do that! The office is actually soundproofed so he won’t wake the baby.
Throughout the process, Sweeten was great; they continually checked in with us. I knew I could go to them if there was ever an issue with our contractor. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you need to pick finishes in person whenever possible. It’s really difficult to imagine what crown molding, counters, or other elements look like on a computer screen.
Thank you, Rachel and Marco, for sharing your renovation journey with us!
KITCHEN RESOURCES: Kitchen cabinets: Showplace Cabinetry. Black of Night cabinet paint color: Benjamin Moore. Cabinet hardware: Lewis Dolin. Sink and faucet: Newport Brass. Refrigerator: Sub-Zero. Stove: Big Chill. Dining table: ModShop. Dining stools: CB2.
WALK-IN CLOSET RESOURCES: Closet system: The Container Store.
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