Renovating a “Handyman Special” in Queens, NY

by Carole Braden

A couple opts for the fresh and bright for a lasting look

If you want to have your way with a New York City apartment, “handyman special” is the phrase to look for in the listings. And that’s exactly what our discreet homeowners—we’ll call them MR and SV—found when they walked into this one-bedroom Kew Gardens, Queens co-op. The 1,000-square-foot unit was chock full of prewar features, but would make way for a clean and modern look focusing on the kitchen and bathroom. The renovators posted their project on Sweeten, a free service matching homeowners with vetted general contractors, and found the right contractor who elevated an outdated apartment into the 21st century, on a budget to boot. [Learn more about have to save on a renovation in this article from MSN.]

gray kitchenGuest blog post by Sweeten homeowner MR

My wife, SV, and I purchased a co-op in a nice prewar building, where it looked like nothing had changed since the doors opened in 1939. Having renovated our previous Brooklyn co-op, we had some experience. We had no intention of turning this vintage one-bedroom into a jet-age European fantasy apartment that would look laughable in less than a year. Still, every inch of the interior, with the exception of the windows, which are the property of the co-op itself, needed work. We had a draftsman and architect draw up plans. 

kitchen during renovation

Dishwasher gray kitchen

Meanwhile, our Sweeten bids came in; we interviewed four contractors and agreed on one. We’d written in our project profile that we were looking for complete renovations of both the kitchen and bathroom. We’d stated upfront that we intended to source all of the appliances, cabinets, fixtures, and flooring ourselves. In the interest of full disclosure, I also wrote: “Please be aware that there are both cosmetic and structural alterations involved that will require meeting the co-op building’s management requirements and any DOB requirements.” I prefer to head off surprises whenever possible. 

 kitchen renovation

kitchen storage

We began by gutting the kitchen. In addition to the cabinets and appliances, we removed the 1930s-era architectural elements including an arch and ripped out the dated kitchen door and its frame. The floor was covered in linoleum tiles. Out! Our contractor put down new ceramic floor tiles and white subway tiles as a backsplash for our gray-grained cabinets. The six-burner gas range was a splurge, but we did everything else clean and spare. With proper electrical updating, we even managed a dishwasher in the kitchen.

We had no intention of turning this vintage one-bedroom into a jet-age European fantasy apartment.

bathroom during renovation

bathroom sliding door

We gutted the bathroom next, in the end deciding to refinish the bathtub rather than replace it with the stand-up shower we’d planned. SV decided on wall tiles with a beveled edge and a wispy smoke pattern. For the floor, crosshatch floor tiles were laid down in a chevron design. With input from our contractor, a glass-paneled barn-style door mounted on a track was installed which saves space in the bathroom and hallway.

Our contractor stripped and stained all of the original parquet wood floors in the living areas. We also installed smoke and carbon monoxide detectors throughout.

During every new phase, our upstanding Sweeten contractor looked at our plans, went over the steps necessary, and helped me answer questions from the building management company’s construction engineer. SV and I grilled our contractor before we began, so we knew what we were getting into. He gave us a contract including a price and an exhaustive list of the work he’d be responsible for. He stood by the price and the work, re-negotiating our agreement only as changes came up. Whenever I had questions, I was able to contact him or his office manager. 

console sink

bathroom storage

We purchased most of the materials and ran each item by our contractor, I got a thumb’s up or an explanation for why something wouldn’t work. I made it my business to be at the job site daily. I knew enough to stay out of the way of the workers and, if necessary, to sweep up or run out to get coffee for the crew.

We suffered a few stops and starts, primarily due to disagreements with the co-op’s management over construction elements. Did everything come out according to plan? Look at the photos and you decide. I’d write more, but SV wants me to install a wall-mounted broom rack. We’re getting a little closer to finished every day. And we love this old place. Especially now that it’s brand new.

Thank you, MR and SV, for sharing your renovation story!

WATCH VIDEO:

KITCHEN RESOURCES: Cabinets and countertop: Min’s Kitchen Supplies. White beveled subway tile backsplash and floor tile: Classic Tile. Dishwasher: Bosch. Refrigerator/Freezer: LG. Range: Samsung. Hood: Broan. Sink: Ruvati. Kate Model SS faucet and soap dispenser: Delta.  Ceiling fans: Hunter. Light fixture: Craftmade.

BATHROOM RESOURCES: Feather River ¾ Privacy Barn Door: Home Depot. Barn door hardware: TMS. Carrington shower fixtures: Symmons. Kingston vanity: Wayfair. Kathryn undermount sink: Kohler. Medicine cabinet, Mercer Double Towel Hook: Pottery Barn. Champion toilet: American Standard. Asbury Triple sconce: Restoration Hardware. Franklin Brass shower curtain rod: build.com. Towel rack: WingIts. Grab bar: Moen. Toilet paper holder and soap dish: Kitchen Bath Supply. Shower curtain: Bed Bath & Beyond.

A few tips to read before you change the layout of your condo or co-op.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation on Sweeten.

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