Having lived in her apartment for over a decade, Erica was well aware of its shortcomings, as well as its charms. She embraced the way her personal history was intertwined with this one-bedroom apartment in the popular Clinton Hill Co-ops—Sweeten has renovated over 20 homes here!—but she did not like the kitchen. It was cramped and cut off from the main living area and the dining room. When her fiancé, Joshua, moved in, they knew it was time for a change. A crucial part of that transformation was opening up the common spaces; by removing a wall to transform the kitchen and updating the floors, Erica and Joshua created the perfect home for their life together.
Guest post by Clinton Hill homeowner, Erica
It’s hard to believe a wall can have such profound impact on how two people share space together. Our kitchen, once barely big enough for one person, has been transformed into what kitchens are meant to be: the heart of the home. This renovation took what we valued about our apartment and elevated it. Our 800-square-foot Clinton Hill apartment was a loved space, in every sense of the word. It reflected several layers of my adult life. Years ago, my brother had lived with me for a period of time using the dining area as my bedroom. When my fiancé, Joshua, moved in, the space shifted. Many places in the apartment were easy to be in together. The kitchen was not one of those. Even before Joshua joined me, I imagined what would happen if the wall between the living room and kitchen came down. Now that it was two of us, changes seemed necessary. Along with the wall, Joshua also dreamed of replacing the parquet floors with hardwood. (I much preferred parquet so those conversations often ended in agreeing to disagree).
Our apartment and all its quirks and beauties were familiar. We knew how we used the space, and which areas needed to become a better fit. We had a budget and vision. But who could we trust to help us move forward with our ideas? Just choosing the right paint color felt overwhelming, so finding the right designer was a challenge. A neighbor suggested that I look at Sweeten. She was happy with her experience, so I figured it was worth a try.
Just choosing the right paint color felt overwhelming, so finding the right designer was a challenge.
I posted our project, and selected a firm with design/build services. The general contractor was familiar with the Clinton Hill Co-ops and the oddities that exist in these apartments originally constructed in the early 1940s. On that first warm Fall evening, she sat in our living room and listened carefully as we described what we hoped our home would be. A few decisions were easy and made long before the design process began. We knew we wanted to remove a wall, upgrade the contractor-grade cabinetry, replace the appliances, and install under-cabinet lighting. But we were unsure of the process and the things we could not see. After talking, she immediately popped up and put her superhero design tools to work–her x-ray vision which saw through walls, and her tape measure. It was clear that she was the right fit.
Initial sketches removed the wall between the kitchen and the dining area completely, as well as part of the wall between the kitchen and the living room. We were seeking to strike a balance between Joshua’s partiality to completely open spaces and my desire to keep some visual privacy. Receptive to our decision to keep the entire wall between the living room and kitchen intact, the plan removed only the wall between the kitchen and the dining area.
Our contractor’s keen eye helped us ask so many more questions about the space. I never noticed that the sight lines of our parquet floors were uneven and misaligned. (Joshua was right. The floors needed to be replaced.) And the moment she began to speak of light from the kitchen window spilling into the back corner of the living room, I realized that the space would be transformed in ways I was not expecting. With the wall down, of course the kitchen window would be visible as you enter the apartment. The decision to move the refrigerator out of the original kitchen footprint into what was once a hallway closet provided more options on where the sink and dishwasher could be.
I knew that our Sweeten expert had particular expertise in millwork. Our kitchen, filled with unexpected nooks and crannies, was a design dilemma that custom cabinetry could solve. I envisioned white cabinetry to brighten up the kitchen, and we trusted our contractor’s desire to include natural wood via open shelving and some cabinetry with a walnut finish. The shelving she created is the perfect platform for us to display our spices, cookbooks, vases, and the all-important pilon for grinding plantains.
Maybe our blue couch gave it away, but it was understood we were not afraid of color. As a designer, she not only considered ways to bring more storage and surface area into the kitchen, but also a new hue. One afternoon we perused our choices at their warehouse in Queens. Every tile seemed to fall short—wrong tint, incorrect size, too dominating, etc. Just as we were ready to hit the pause button on this decision, Joshua’s eye caught a simple hexagonal tile of soft turquoise blue that was tucked away. This 3D recycled glass tile from TileBar complemented the cabinetry color, the wood finish and it was the right size. The result is a beautiful canvas that pulls the white cabinetry and quartz countertops together. Last, but certainly not least, it serves as a surprising showcase for my favorite red cast iron Dutch oven.
The weekend before demolition day, our contractor came by to finalize things. “I’m so nervous,” I admitted.
Making decisions was easy. Rather than ask us to look at every iteration of countertop or knob, our contractor used her designer instincts and presented us with a few options, and the design sensibility connected across the space. The nickel handles on the cabinet doors pick up the subtle specks of silver accents in the quartz countertops coordinating well with the steel appliances. It was something I only noticed once the kitchen was complete. Without the ability to cut into the ceiling, which was made of concrete, we had to come up with secondary plans for overhead lighting. The CB2 floor lamp now illuminates our favorite round dining table. The gooseneck sconce creates the perfect corner for working on a laptop at our kitchen peninsula, which can now accommodate someone cooking at the same time. The peninsula also has generous storage on two sides—four very deep drawers and a small cabinet.
Now, when you walk into our apartment, three things jump out at you: the welcoming natural light that flows in from the windows, rich wood elements on the cabinetry and shelving, and the turquoise tile of the backsplash. We were able to put our ideas into the hands of a designer who could capture our vision, and transform our space into something more beautiful than we imagined it could be.
The builders and carpenters of our design-build firm are true craftspeople. The care with which they handled each task was notable: the perfectly mitered corners, laying the floor with precision to get the coloring and the wood’s natural imperfections just so, and cleaning up at the end of each day. We felt like we were in good hands the entire way through. I’d notice an imperfection, and before I could say anything, they had fixed it. Truly top-notch workmanship. They were so thoughtful about the space that it made our decision to stay in the apartment throughout the renovation easy. “Just think of it like camping,” Joshua said one night as we dined in our bedroom.
The weekend before demolition day, our contractor came by to finalize things. “I’m so nervous,” I admitted. Warmly, she replied, “Don’t worry. You’re gonna love it. Trust me.” At the end of the first day—demolition day—we were awestruck the moment we walked in. Debris and concrete walls filled much of the living area, but we felt the homeyness of the space. The light from the newly visible window greeted us as we entered in a way we never expected. I looked at Joshua and said, “I didn’t realize how much of me was in this place. Now we get to create this space together.” We couldn’t relish it more!
Thank you, Erica and Joshua, for sharing your renovation journey. It is inspiring to read that by renovating, there was still more to love and learn about your old/new home.
KITCHEN RESOURCES. Engineered White Oak 5” floor planks: Somerset Floors. Cabinets: custom. Open shelving: custom. Contemporary Metal Pull 8160 cabinet hardware: Richelieu. Jefferey Alexander Satin Nickel Sonoma Square cabinet knob, #431SN: Pulls Direct. Brooklyn CT 4403 Quartz countertops: Citiquartz. Recycled glass tile backsplash: TileBar. 23” Single Basin Undermount sink: Vigo Industries. Pull-down spray faucet: Hansgrohe. 30” gas range: Frigidaire. Refrigerator: Maytag. 24” Bar-handle dishwasher: Bosch. Morland wall sconce: Savoy House. Modern Ceiling Light with White Glass and Satin Nickel Finish, #441250: Design Classics Lighting. George Kovacs fabric wall sconce: Lumens. Phoenix barstools, floor lamp, #271806: CB2.
Sweeten contractors have transformed quite a few apartment lines in the Clinton Hill Co-ops including Mario and Joe’s apartment and Laura and Matthew’s kitchen and bathroom. Here’s a New York Times article that featured three of our projects in the building complex.
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