Rooms reimagined and built-ins make a winning layout
- Homeowners: Laura and Walter posted their project on Sweeten
- Where: Park Slope, Brooklyn, New York
- Primary renovation: Full apartment gut with built-ins in every room
- Notable: 700-square feet holding a living room, den, dining area, kitchen, 2 bedrooms, and bathroom
- Result: More space thanks to highly-functional storage and an efficient layout
- Sweeten’s role: Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and up to $50,000 in renovation financial protection— for free
Written in partnership with Sweeten homeowner Walter
Our apartment, built in 1912, had almost all of the original details still intact. It was important for us to keep this character while adding a more usable kitchen and bathroom. The first objective was to get rid of the long hallway, which was tying up roughly 10% of the apartment, and by doing so, open up the floor plan to bring more light into the apartment.
Next, we wanted to expand the footprint of the kitchen. It was impossible to open the oven door without running into the sink. It was also difficult for more than one person to be in the space at a time, and there was no place for guests to hang out; everyone wound up standing in the doorway to the kitchen. We heard about Sweeten and posted our project on the site, and when we were ready to begin work, we selected our contractor to create a home that better fit our growing family.
First, the original kitchen and center bedroom were swapped. The apartment layout included a small angled section of wall in the center bedroom—now our kitchen. Enter our fantastic Sweeten contractor, who had this idea when he came to our apartment for the initial meeting, and one of the primary reasons we decided to work with him. His instinct was to embrace this angle and open up the new kitchen more than the traditional 90-degree corner would allow. We lost a bit of floor space in our bedroom as a result, but the tradeoff was worth it.
We were able to include both a peninsula and a dining nook in the new spacious layout, something we wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise. There was extra room at the end of the peninsula closest to the living room and a small bookshelf was placed there to keep our favorite cookbooks close at hand.
Dropping the ceiling had the added benefit of the apartment drawing you in, making the rest of the apartment feel spacious by comparison
Our goal was to use natural materials as much as possible. The oak floors were a tribute to the original parquet floors (we tried to save them, but they were too thin for another sanding). We designed and cast our own concrete sink (in a small rented workshop in Industry City) to fit perfectly. The subway tiles in the kitchen and bathroom were handmade, as were the dining nook pendants—all adding subtle character and texture to the spaces. The one exception was the countertops; we opted for a marbled quartz and think it will last much better than the real thing.
The dining nook became part of the kitchen, which aligned with the open-format lifestyle we wanted. Another plus? The built-ins around the nook hide a ton of additional storage. Under the bench are four drawers which store items like table linens and candles, and the storage above the bench functions as our pantry to hold extra consumables. Coming from our narrow galley kitchen, we were really excited to have a space big enough for us and our friends to hang out and cook in.
Above the foyer, we dropped the ceiling by 18” and added an access panel from behind the kitchen cabinets. The result is nearly 30 square feet of additional storage space, perfect for storing long items such as wrapping paper and a guitar case. Dropping the ceiling had the added benefit of the apartment drawing you in, making the rest of the apartment feel spacious by comparison—a design trick inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Given that we wanted to squeeze five rooms and a bathroom out of our apartment, it was important that every room was laid out as efficiently as possible. The various built-ins allowed us to accomplish just that. In the den, we created a cabinet that could store all of our books, games, and crafts, while still providing space for our piano or a full-size bed for the future.
When it was possible, we worked around the apartment’s architectural details (the countertop was cut to fit around one of the original columns). If we couldn’t, we incorporated them into other parts of the apartment. (Our bedroom door, frame, and transom window were salvaged from another location in the apartment.)
All of the moldings and doors were stripped down to bare wood and repainted to expose details previously hidden by 100 years of paint. The radiators were sandblasted to remove the chipped silver paint, replacing it with a white powder coat.
In our bedroom, the closets around the bed double as night stands with the upper drawers on each side containing a hidden outlet. The built-ins were sketched out over several long meetings, and our Sweeten contractor was able to capture every detail and take them to the cabinet maker to turn them into reality. We couldn’t be happier with the outcome.
We weren’t able to enlarge the footprint of our bathroom because of where the windows were located and the building plumbing. In order to maximize the space, we optimized each of the major fixtures. Even though the space allowed for a standard-length tub, we decided to trade that in for a shorter tub that could squeeze in under the window. We also installed a wall-mounted toilet with an in-wall tank, freeing up coveted floor space and making the room feel larger than it is. By mounting the faucet on the wall, there was more space around the sink, and keeping it clean was a breeze without handles to work around. We snuck in a cabinet between two studs, allowing us to store extra items that used to be tucked away in a bedroom closet. You can’t have enough storage!
Like any renovation, a lot of unexpected situations arose. An old dumbwaiter shaft ran right through our proposed kitchen, the floor joists needed replacing, and the gas pipe had to be rerun from the basement passing through three other apartments. In retrospect, none of these things should have been surprising in an old building, and our Sweeten contractor was with us every step of the way to modify our plans to deal with the unexpected. The team was very flexible, offering to meet with us on nights and weekends to make decisions and get things done.
My best tip for future renovators is to have all the long lead time fixtures and finishes ordered before the work begins. Nothing pushes back a project deadline like material lead time or having all work stop because the tiles are still on the truck.
In the end, we were able to keep the things we loved best about our original apartment while making significant improvements to create a space that works well for our family, both now and in the future. The kitchen has become the center of our apartment, with friends able to hang out in the dining nook or living room while still being part of the conversation. The glass partition helps bring a ton of light into the apartment, and the bathroom has gone from tight-for-one to comfortable-for-two. We were very lucky to find a partner in our contractor. After living in the completed apartment for nearly half a year now, we’ve yet to find anything we’d change.
Thanks for sharing your terrific renovation story with us, Laura and Walter!
KITCHEN RESOURCES: Cabinet hardware: Emtek. Paint color in Lucerne on cabinets: Benjamin Moore. Countertops: Silestone. Backsplash: Country Floors. Faucet: Kohler. Sink: Elkay. Refrigerator and stove: Sub-Zero-Wolf. Dishwasher: Miele. Lighting: AspectLED.
KITCHEN/DINING NOOK RESOURCES: Pendant lights: Kaufmann Mercantile. Built-ins/cabinetry: Custom by Sweeten contractor.
BATHROOM RESOURCES: Carrara Venato bathroom floor tile: The Builder Depot. Bathroom wall tile: Country Floors. Moen Weymouth faucet: Faucet.com. Toilet: Toto. Seaforth tub: Kohler. Lighting: Pottery Barn. Paint color in Raccoon Fur: Benjamin Moore.
DEN RESOURCES: Built-ins/cabinetry and wall paint color in Gray Owl: Benjamin Moore.
BEDROOM: Parisian pendant ceiling light: Restoration Hardware. Built-ins/cabinets: Custom by Sweeten contractor.
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