Finally, a happy home after bumps and delays
For a dozen years, Tara and Mike lived in a tiny studio apartment on the Upper West Side. A move uptown, to the Grand Concourse Historic District of the Bronx, landed them in a much larger home in a 1930s co-op building. In 2015, they moved in and up against no deadlines to renovate, carefully thought through the changes they wanted to make and assembled photos and information that a contractor could use to bring their visions to life. Read on for the full story of how they gutted two full baths, enlarged closets (one of which now fits three bikes!), and lived to tell the tale of not one, but two, plumbing disasters.
We purchased this apartment a few years ago, after living in a 250-square-foot apartment on the West Side for about 12 years. Going from a studio apartment to a 3-bed, 2-bath was a big leap. The kitchen had already been renovated by the previous owners, so we only had to deal with the outdated bathrooms. Leaky toilets, hot water surges, and ugly yellow tile were just a few of the things we needed to remedy.
We took our time in the beginning, even before posting our project to Sweeten, to lay out exactly what we wanted room by room. We had a document with photos ready to hand to any contractor who we contacted. This made it easy for us and the contractor to make sure we were all on the same page from the start. We were also never in a rush to start the work. We started looking for a contractor at least four months before we were even ready to think about putting any money down. This gave us the luxury of taking our time to choose the firm that was right for us.
We ended up going with this Sweeten design-build firm. We wanted a design-build firm from the start so that someone would take charge of sourcing and delivery of all the various components of our job. Our budget included line items for everything we could possibly need, and we were free to select the fixtures that fit within the budget. When something we wanted was out of range, we either decided to find an alternative or paid the difference upfront. We also needed someone who could handle all of the Department of Buildings permits, as well as our co-op’s application process.
We had a specific vision for this renovation. We planned to gut the bathrooms and add ceiling fans in all of the bedrooms and living room, new radiator covers in the bedrooms, and lighting and doors throughout. The bathroom in the master was very narrow, and we wanted to move the tub out of the guest bath and into the master. Moving the location of the tub, and expanding the bathroom by about two feet, solved the narrowness issue.
(During) Master bath ceiling reveals a waste line wrapped in duct tapeWe really were excited to pick out all the new fixtures and tiles for the bathrooms. Our contractor offered several options within our budget. We wanted to see and touch the cabinets and faucets before committing to them. Our thinking was if we’re going to be living with these things for years to come, we needed to like how they felt, and more importantly, wanted to see the quality.
We visited several showrooms in the NYC area to see the Kohler line of cabinets and the Brizo faucets that we ultimately chose. We liked the Fantini sink faucet and shape of the handles for the guest bath; it also matched the black finish of the Brizo line used in the shower. To keep the ordering simple, we used the same family of fixtures and cabinets in both bathrooms, with different finishes for each.
We chose a fun feature as an accent in the shower: a round tile in shades of white, blue, and green from a company called Clayhaus in Oregon. Our biggest challenge was timing the special order and delivery around the completion of the first bathroom. The tiles took about six weeks to fabricate, and we ended up being about two weeks off. Luckily, the crew had other projects around our apartment to complete while waiting for the tile to arrive.
When our master bath ceiling was opened up during demolition, the contractor found that the waste line from the toilet above had been wrapped in duct tape during a prior renovation. We immediately reported this to building management, who arranged to have the pipe replaced. Their plumber worked with our contractor to gain access, and within a day the situation was resolved.
Enlarging the master bath with extra square footage resulted in an added benefit, giving us space in our bedroom to accommodate a large dresser next to the newly combined closets. In the guest room, we widened the closet to make it suitable for bike storage. We can now get three bikes in there with room for other gear along the sides and floor.
During the renovation, we had no options for moving off-site, but having a contractor who understood our needs, and the fact that we would be living on site the entire time, made the process bearable. The first few weeks of disruption were the hardest, but we settled into a routine and focused on the outcome. And because we were dealing with two bathrooms, we could only start the second one when the first was completed.
While our own renovation went smoothly, with all pipes and fittings replaced and brought up to code, it was an external problem that delayed the final weeks of work. Nearing what would have been the end of the project, we came home to water pouring down from a bathtub located in the apartment two floors above us. An older pipe leading from the tub drain had eroded completely and detached from the waste line. Bath water had been spilling down for hours while we were at work. Our crew was not on site that day, and the unit above ours was vacant. With no one to report the leak, it was ours to deal with.
That was the most devastating moment because we were so close to completion but now had to deal with the clean-up and dry-out of brand new walls and flooring. We put in a claim with our insurance carrier to cover the cost of the repairs, and wanted our team to do the work, since they were still on site, knew our building and our home. We could trust them to work unsupervised. They were willing to stick around and do this repair, but it was at least three months and multiple visits by an insurance adjuster before we could agree on a scope of work and monetary settlement. Luckily, both bathrooms were still usable and we made sure there was no mold growing between the walls. When all was said and done, both spaces were finished about ten months after the start date.
Prior to the start of the renovation, our biggest question was whether we would be able to find a reliable contractor. We would be trusting them with our home, our valuables, and our dog, for several months, day in and day out, while we were at work. We wondered if they would do the best job they were capable of, or would they cut corners? Would they stand by their work?
I’m happy to say that they went above and beyond our expectations, standing by us when we had a major leak that damaged a significant portion of their work. They also took excellent care of our home. Sweeten was a great resource, and knowing that they were there to assist us was valuable when going into a major renovation. I don’t think we would have had as easy of a time finding a solid and reliable contractor if we had not used Sweeten from the start.
Thanks, Tara and Mike, for sharing your renovation story!
MASTER BATH RESOURCES: Basketweave floor tile; gray subway wall tile: Classic Tile. Assorted Circle accent tiles: Clayhaus. Jason Wu shower/bath fixtures: Brizo. Jute sink/vanity: Kohler. Verdera medicine cabinet: Kohler. Toilet: Toto.
GUEST BATH RESOURCES: Basketweave floor tile; white subway wall tile: Classic Tile. Assorted Circle accent tiles: Clayhaus. Jason Wu shower/bath fixtures: Brizo. Verdera medicine cabinet: Kohler. Sink/vanity: Fantini. Toilet: Toto.
What’s the difference between design-build firms and build-only firms? Read all about design-build firms, which combine design and construction under one roof, in our guide.
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