A renovation turns around a tight layout
When it came time to purchase her first apartment, Kayla let her sense of adventure lead the way in finding her new home. After a determined search for the space that felt perfect, she found a prewar one-bedroom with charming architectural elements in the Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea to share with her boyfriend, Jesse, and black Lab, Bear. And it was all just right—except for the kitchen which was the size of a small closet. Kayla found Sweeten, a free service matching renovators with vetted general contractors, and chose a contractor to completely gut the kitchen and give the rest of her new home a facelift ready for next ventures.
I’ve always had a passion for real estate. I even work in real estate tech at Compass as a product manager. Since moving to the city about 12 years ago, I’ve spent more than my fair share of time looking at listings of apartments for sale. And after many years in tiny Manhattan studios (think 300 square feet), I felt it was time to get serious about buying an apartment.
I decided to rent in Brooklyn for a year to see if the shoe fit; my rationale was that I’d get more bang for my buck. Despite the wonderful farmer’s markets, a large apartment with double-height ceilings, and two private terraces, train trouble with the C subway line was a continuing issue, and I ultimately concluded an hour-long commute for more square footage wasn’t for me.
I started to hunt for Manhattan apartments (with a preference for downtown) that were both affordable and true one-bedrooms. The odds were stacked against me. I spent around nine months going to open houses on Sundays, and after seeing many apartments, I finally stumbled upon the space I ended up buying in Chelsea.
I instantly knew it was the one. I’m not sure if it was because I’d been to 50+ open houses, or if it was how quiet and calm the apartment felt, but it was exactly what I was looking for. It is a true one-bedroom in a prewar building and has much of its original charm: a sunken living room and beautiful arches. But the original kitchen was the size of a closet. I used the fact that it was outdated as negotiating leverage and was able to bring the purchase price significantly below asking (a rarity in Manhattan).
Everyone I talked to told me that the most I’d fit into the space was a 24” stove, but my heart was set on fitting a large turkey into my oven.
After asking around, I realized that finding a general contractor to do work in a Manhattan co-op was no easy task. I stumbled upon Sweeten, and after posting my job there, I connected with a few general contractors. I didn’t go the architect route because it would have added to my budget on top of the renovation materials, and I wasn’t planning any significant structural changes. For a one-bedroom renovation, that extra cost is just enough to push the cost over the return. Without an architect, however, finding a detail-oriented general contractor who is on top of his game was paramount. That’s exactly what I found with the Sweeten contractor I chose.
The biggest part of the project was gutting the kitchen. I hired a kitchen designer to help me optimize the layout. She drew out a floor plan and came up with configurations I couldn’t imagine possible in a 70-square-foot space. As an avid cook, I had a few (okay, maybe slightly crazy) requirements: a full size 30” stove, a large refrigerator, and a dishwasher. Everyone I talked to told me that the most I’d fit into the space was a 24” stove, but my heart was set on fitting a large turkey into my oven. And after much finagling, we found a layout that allowed for everything I wanted and more (somehow, I even fit a wine fridge).
The original plan was to buy custom cabinets to maximize the tiny space, but after seeing the price tag (north of $15,000), I had to reconsider. My Sweeten contractor worked closely with me to come up with a solution: a combination of custom and standard cabinets. We spent two hours talking through cabinet door sizes as well as placement so that the doors were symmetrical and made sense for the space (Trust me, this guy pays a lot of attention to detail). For my peninsula, he took the lead on creating both a practical layout and aesthetically pleasing geometric shape so there was enough room to pass by when walking into the apartment (the front door is right near the kitchen).
While much of the kitchen renovation was a fun process, I’d be lying if I said there weren’t bumps along the way. Most of my friends do not believe me when I tell them I bought six sinks for the kitchen. Yep, you read that right: six sinks. To make a long story short: there was a farmhouse sink that was too shallow (thankfully, my contractor pointed this out to me), one that fell off a truck during delivery, another that arrived and didn’t fit, another that arrived then got lost (and eventually found again), and two others that ended up getting returned. When the sink saga was over, my boyfriend told me he never wanted to talk about another sink again. And honestly, who could blame him?
Beyond the kitchen, the remainder of the renovation was giving the apartment a facelift. I refinished the floors, stripped the door frames down to their original steel, replaced the baseboards, changed the grout in the bathroom, added a closet in the bedroom, and put a nice layer of paint on all of the walls.
At the end of the day, I ended up with a beautifully renovated home that stayed true to its prewar nature but allowed for more modern living. A common question I was asked after completing my renovation was: Would I do it all over again? You betcha.
Thank you, Kayla and Jesse, for sharing your newfound home!
KITCHEN RESOURCES: White shaker cabinets, Carrara marble countertops, and backsplash: Sourced by general contractor. Kitchen layout design: Montford Workshop. Liberty champagne bronze knobs, #207033029 and pulls, #301379116; Delta Trinsic touch-technology faucet in champagne bronze, #20312474: Home Depot. Bosch 24″ refrigerator, #B11CB81SSS: AJ Madison. Bosch 18″ dishwasher, #SPX68U55UC: Appliances Connection. Viking 5-series 30” sealed burner range, #VGR530: Viking. Halsted semi-flush mount light fixture in warm brass by Possini Euro Design: Amazon.
Have a small kitchen? These cook spaces are all under 60 square feet.
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