‘Spotlight On’ for a Designer’s Own Home

by Ariana Speyer

Humble renovation materials make for smart upgrades and plenty of storage

As a designer on the architecture and interiors team for Ace Hotel, Matthew Stewart had plenty of professional experience with construction and renovation materials. When he embarked on his first personal renovation project he ran into similar challenges, but with higher personal stakes. The 1,000-square foot condo in a converted 1930s factory building in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn had to be renovated quickly, and on a limited budget. Despite the obstacles, Matthew knew the loft-like space with 14-foot ceilings would be a great place to decompress.

To bring his vision to life he posted his project on Sweeten, a free renovation platform that matches homeowners with licensed general contractors and tracks their projects, and chose his contractor.

concrete peninsula

“After” photos by Pixy Interiors for Sweeten

Guest blog post by Sweeten homeowner Matthew Stewart

I found a place that needed work and left me with some budget to renovate. It was challenging to work full time and oversee the renovation. I tried to keep things simple. 

The goal for my home was to feel peaceful and light, but I had a pretty tight budget for all that I wanted to accomplish. I focused on fairly humble materials for the renovation that I really liked and how to use them expanding on traditional neutral colors. Work is always visually intensive for me and I wanted a minimal, quiet space to serve as a backdrop for art and objects.

Brooklyn loft with cat

Navigating the reno plan

I’ve seen many projects through construction in my professional career. However, it never personally affected my life before. The biggest challenge was: would I be able to figure out the design of the space, hire a contractor, and complete the work in the short window I had before I would have to move in? I ended up having to move into a construction site. It was a lot to have workers show up every morning and not have a kitchen for many weeks. But you forget the hardships quickly once it’s done and you’re enjoying living there. Thankfully, my partner at the time and I were able to help each other through it. He has great taste and helped me the whole way through.

I’ve always liked appliance garages. It goes back to the fact that my grandparents had one in their very modern kitchen from the ’60s.

family room
family room
Brooklyn loft
Brooklyn loft
wood cabinets
wood cabinets
concrete countertop
concrete countertop
custom closets
custom closets
before bathroom
before bathroom
colored shower glass
colored shower glass
double showerheads
double showerheads
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Mixed-materials kitchen

Mixing wood and laminate as finishes for the cabinetry was an important idea when I was planning the renovation. It emphasizes the volumes and makes the scale a little more human. The countertops and peninsula are concrete, which I like because it can take any form. However, it’s also a natural material for renovation that weathers over time. 

Appliance garage

I’ve always liked appliance garages. It goes back to the fact that my grandparents had one in their very modern kitchen from the ’60s. 

Renovating two bathrooms

I was especially excited about the new bathrooms and having a tub to soak in with a smoked glass panel. From the beginning, I knew the partition would not be clear glass. 

In the other bathroom, the general idea was to make a very small space feel as big and open as possible. The renovation materials are pretty simple, but the details and extra showerhead make it feel more special.

renovation materials of laminate panel and Murphy bed

A Murphy bed and storage

In the guest bedroom/office, the millwork is a combination of knotty pine and laminate, with a painted wood frame. The red laminate panel breaks up the finish and calls attention to the sliding door. They are both closets and shoe storage.

I made the open shelving in the hallway myself using laminated pieces of reclaimed wood. In a way, it’s the heart of the apartment. I knew I wanted to find a spot for these shelves and the hall was just the right fit. It turns a slice of space that wasn’t so usable into a place for display.

Plants were always an important component. All of the artwork is from friends and acquaintances or people in my community.

My Sweeten general contractor

My Sweeten general contractor was instrumental in completing the project and helping me do all of the things I wanted to do. At the outset, I got a lot of high bids. He was the one who convinced me it could be done within my budget. 

He helped me find the millworker who did all the cabinetry. I did all the design and drawings for them, and selected all the finishes. A Murphy bed kit was purchased online and my contractor built the frame, the custom panels, and installed it.

bookshelf hallway
bookshelf hallway
kitchen before
kitchen before
Brooklyn loft remodel
Brooklyn loft remodel
cabinet hardware
cabinet hardware
master bedroom
master bedroom
bathroom
bathroom
double showerheads
double showerheads
before of bedroom
before of bedroom
Murphy bed
Murphy bed
cactus plant
cactus plant
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I highly recommend working with design professionals. It’s easy to underestimate the amount of work involved. And don’t get too hung up on specific choices, sometimes it’s easier to just pick something nice that you know you like and move on. 

My new home makes me feel happy and relaxed, and it helps me focus. Living in the space has forced me to declutter and live more simply. And it’s been a good exercise to direct interests for future projects.

Thank you, Matthew, for sharing your renovation with us!

KITCHEN RESOURCES: Laminate and douglas fir cabinets: Custom by general contractor. Hardware: Rejuvenation. Concrete countertops: Trueform Concrete. Ceramic backsplash tile: Mosa. Silgranit sink: Blanco. Faucet: Kohler. Pendant lights: Verner Panton

MASTER BATHROOM RESOURCES: Shower fixtures: California Faucets. Sink: Kohler. Vanity: Custom. Toilet: Duravit. Lighting: Rich Brilliant Willing

GUEST BATHROOM RESOURCES: Floor & wall tiles: Mosa ceramic. Shower fixtures: California Faucets. Toilet: Toto. Lighting: Vintage.

Paint throughout in Alabaster: Benjamin Moore.

Sweeten founder and CEO weighs in on what to know before renovating a brownstone.

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 with Sweeten.

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