First-time renovators emerge proud—and wiser
After nearly a decade of bouncing from one New York apartment to another, Katie, Marcus, and their pup, Squib, were ready to put down roots. They purchased a 750-square-foot Park Slope co-op knowing they would renovate right away and before moving in. They closed in April and had a move-in date of May 31; any renovation had to go quickly. But they were optimistic because the apartment was in great shape, and other than replacing the floors and updating the bathroom, there wasn’t anything major that needed doing–or so they thought. Floors, it turns out, can be a tricky challenge. They posted their project on Sweeten to find a vetted general contractor. Between their Sweeten contractor and Client Service’s help, Katie, Marcus, and Squib can now stand on stable ground.
Before we did our final walk-through, we had only visited our apartment once at the open house. In our home search, we had developed a pretty thorough checklist of what to look for at every apartment we visited: “Were bathrooms properly ventilated?” “Did windows need replacing?” “Were the floors even?” In this apartment, which was probably built in the 1920s, the wood floors were uneven and noisy. We knew we’d have to replace them, and it would be easier to do so before moving in. Since we were going to be redoing the floors, we figured we might as well redo the bathroom as it’s hard to live without one in a one-bath apartment! It wasn’t in bad shape, it was just a bit out of date and not our style.
(Above) No changes made to the current floor plan.
Settling on an overall style was a bit of a challenge as Marcus likes deep, rich colors and lots of décor, and I tend to like bright, clean spaces with straight lines and pops of color or contrast. Right off the bat, we had to figure out our combined vision for the space so we wouldn’t argue over every little thing.
Other than that, our first big challenge came when the contractor began to rip up the floorboards. There was no subfloor. There was nothing but air between our old floorboards and the ceiling of the apartment below. No wonder it had been so noisy!
Since the building was old, there was the added challenge of trying to re-level an apartment where everything had been built or altered for a dramatically uneven floor. We weren’t able to get it completely level. There’s even a section of brick wall underneath part of our bedroom floor. From what? We’ll never really know. The floor is still noticeably uneven in parts, and we’ve had to get levelers for most of our furniture, but it’s much better than when we started.
We wanted a wood floor that would bring some warmth to the space and be durable for years of Squib running back and forth over it. We selected red oak because I love how it warms up the space and plays off the exposed brick of the fireplace. Our contractor was helpful in guiding us to a good stain and style of baseboards. (There weren’t any baseboards originally, but we liked having something to transition from the wall to the floor.) We also did do a bit of soundproofing under the floors.
In the kitchen, we replaced the water-damaged wood floor with slate tile which we felt would be more durable. It’s not a large space, and we’ll probably update our kitchen at some point, so we kept the tile neutral.
The bathroom was our main project focus. We wanted something simple and crisp. It’s not a huge bathroom and we didn’t want to overwhelm the space. We chose a classic white subway tile for the walls and slate tile for the floor. While I love the look of a honeycomb floor tile, it’s too hard to keep clean and grime-free. To break up the subway tile, we added a little black edging under the chair rail. Thankfully our contractor had done something similar on a previous job so we were able to see an example of it before committing!
We also wanted to maximize storage in the bathroom. We kept a wall cabinet in its place and repainted it. Our contractor built a little nook in the shower, which we hadn’t even thought of, but ended up loving! The storage under the sink wasn’t useful because of the pipes. We compensated by including a large medicine cabinet.
One thing we didn’t anticipate was how hard it would be to find a sink without faucet holes. Since our faucet comes out of the wall, almost every sink without pre-made faucet holes had to be specially made. As a result, our sink didn’t arrive until after we moved in, and we had to settle for a vanity with drawers that weren’t compatible with our plumbing.
We are in the process of having a friend modify it so we can actually utilize that space. Here’s a tip: vanities are unbelievably expensive and you can really only use the Ikea vanities with Ikea sinks, or it will take a lot of modification to make it work. Listen to your husband when he tells you that.
But live and learn. This was our first ever renovation. In the span of seven weeks, we closed on our apartment, renovated, moved, and started working 14-hour days. We also got married in the middle of all this! It was so hard to source things in a timely manner and, instead of having fun looking at lighting or tile or paint colors, we just wanted everything done so we could stop making choices.
The high-speed ride led to fun miscommunications like me accidentally telling the painters to paint both bedrooms deep teal because I actually forgot that we had two bedrooms and told them to “paint the bedroom teal.” Looks like we have a painting project ahead of us.
Our contractor was somehow able to complete the majority of the work in our accelerated time frame even after laying a new subfloor for the whole apartment. He was very communicative and offered great tips and guidance on what would look better or last longer in the space. He was clear about what was happening at every step of the process.
The people at the Sweeten office, too, checked in with us throughout the process to ensure that everything was going smoothly. The Sweeten blog was helpful for finding design inspiration and sources when the full scope of products available on the internet proved overwhelming. The Sweeten cost guides helped us create a budget.
We realized afterward that it would be great to have two budgets, an “on paper this is what we want to spend” budget and a “we cannot afford to go over this number” budget. That way you can assess what will be worth the money and what you can scale back on if something comes up. Start sourcing things early, if possible. It’s better to get the thing you want early and move it around your living room for a few weeks then to not get what you want because it won’t arrive in time.
We were excited to finally have our own space to make our own! I grew up on the campus of a boarding school so I had never been able to paint my walls before, let alone really personalize a space. We love our apartment so much and are so happy with everything. The bathroom turned out perfectly and the floors are much more beautiful and practical than the original ones we started with.
Like every homeowner, we have many more projects that we will eventually want to do, but I’m happy we started with just the flooring and the bathroom so we didn’t bite off more than we could handle with our first apartment purchase.
Thank you, Katie, Marcus, and Squib, for sharing your home, sweet, home with us!
LIVING ROOM RESOURCES: Wood flooring: sourced by general contractor. Paint in Chantilly Lace, #OC-65: Benjamin Moore.
BATHROOM RESOURCES: Floor tile: Express Brooklyn Tile. White subway wall tile: Provided by contractor. Hardware: Original fixtures. Shower fixtures: Kohler. Sink: Nameeks. Vanity: Ikea. Medicine cabinet, toilet: Lowe’s. Lighting: Schoolhouse. Paint in Winter Solstice, #1605: Benjamin Moore.
KITCHEN RESOURCES: Floor tile: Express Brooklyn Tile.
BEDROOM RESOURCES: Paint in Sky Space, #5001-6B: Valspar.
Another first-time renovator remodels her co-op in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
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.