An architect spends five years dreaming and planning her own home
When she discovered it, Lauren DeMattia loved everything about this 700-square-foot, 1920’s Brooklyn Heights co-op—except the kitchen. As an architect, she knew that living in the space would be the best way to determine how to design it to work for her lifestyle. After much back-and-forth, she decided to move the stove to another wall to gain counter space, lose a large closet, and install built-ins and drawers for storage. She didn’t realize her journey from bad design to a “wow” kitchen would take such a long time, even before she found Sweeten, but she’s glad it did. After she posted her project on Sweeten, a renovation platform connecting homeowners to vetted general contractors, she was able to achieve a layout that worked with the amount of space she needed to cook and entertain with abandon.
To say I had won the real estate lottery in 2012 might feel like an overstatement, but after a short apartment hunt, I found a co-op in Brooklyn Heights that was everything I had been looking for—two bedrooms, a corner unit, lots of windows, high ceilings, and a single block from multiple subway stations. The only drawback was that the place needed a lot of work.
Before moving in I did some things that really needed doing: putting in new hardwood floors, fully gutting the original bathroom, and installing updated electrical and lighting. At the time, the idea of touching the kitchen was out of the question—and budget. But it was, thankfully, the newest portion of the apartment and didn’t necessarily need work yet. It also had a weird layout that didn’t exactly scream a clear solution. As a bit of a perfectionist, I wanted to live in the apartment long enough to come up with the right solution before I started knocking down walls.
Ultimately, I knew I wanted a kitchen that felt open to the living room with lots of storage (this is NYC) and a layout that still provided some sort of entryway and coat closet.
As soon as I moved in, I began thinking about and talking about my most recent, “brilliant” plan for the kitchen layout to friends and family. First, I was set on an island, then a peninsula, and then I thought about moving the plumbing. I realized that I had to narrow down what was and wasn’t working for the space.
The layout technically had a lot of counter prep space, but it was in two separate areas so that I often had my back to my guests while I cooked. I loved the giant coat closet within the “entry,” but keeping it meant my options were limited. The appliances were in decent shape, though oversized for the space. A weird drop ceiling over part of the kitchen made it feel disconnected from the rest of the living room. This ceiling, coupled with a half-height wall that separated the front door from the kitchen, made the kitchen feel smaller than it actually was.
Five years and probably quite a few exasperated friends and co-workers later, I settled on a plan for the kitchen. There would be no island and no peninsula. Everything was out from floor-to-ceiling. The huge coat closet was partially removed to make room for custom cabinets, panel-ready appliances, and a new drop ceiling that mirrored the curve of the floor transition from new tile to my existing hardwood floors. With the coat closet gone, I decided to expand the closet in my bedroom to make up for the lost space. Aesthetically, I’ve always loved blue cabinets and knew that I wanted to do darker kitchen cabinets with a lighter floor and a whiter countertop with some wood accents.
I chose a separate cooktop and oven because the space I had for the stove was much deeper than a traditional countertop and I wanted to take full advantage of the space I had. I also wanted the appliances to look seamless and fully integrated. Plus, I hate the weird space that always happens between a stove and the cabinet where dirt and food collects.
To get more workable counter space, I moved the stove to another wall. The original location of the refrigerator was a perfect spot. The sink remained on its original wall and was centered in order to get counter space on either side and keep it close to the cooktop/oven. By doing this, I created two zones for prep on each side of the sink.
Once I made the decision about the sink and cooktop/oven, I knew that the old coat closet had to be downsized to make room for the refrigerator. I opted for a panel-ready refrigerator because I felt like opening the front door and having a seamless wall of cabinetry would help mitigate the fact that you were walking right into the kitchen. Functionally, I was also trying to create a triangle between my sink, cooktop/oven, and the refrigerator.
Just to the left of the refrigerator happened to be the perfect location for a pantry. I had some built-in, pull-out drawers earmarked for my pots and pans and a simple pull-out wire drawer (it was super easy to install!) for my pantry items. With storage, food, and the refrigerator covered, I used the remaining space to the right of the refrigerator to create a new coat closet.
Based on the way my apartment “boundaries” were, there was a funny niche on the TV wall into which a counter and cabinets were installed. With the new design, there’s storage below where my microwave and toaster oven live and “open” storage above to display my pretty kitchen items. The glass doors open and can be tucked away so the countertop can be used as a bar top for parties.
I also wanted to have a place to eat. By pushing my living room furniture closer to the window, I made room for a new dining table and chairs. I had the pendant lights installed over the table. Extra work had to be done to build out the beam in the ceiling to hide the electrical boxes.
Much like the kitchen design, the idea of a built-in at the window had been on my mind since I bought the apartment. With a millworker already doing custom cabinets, I figured it was time to have the built-in done as well. A sleek bookshelf was created that also hides my radiator and air conditioner units that were always annoyingly off-centered from the windows. I selected a “piano” finish on the top of the bookshelf for easy cleanup. I’m looking forward to exercising my hopefully-green thumb.
I optimistically planned for a “quick” two-month renovation, during which I camped out in the second bedroom with all my possessions and a microwave. Of course, it took almost three months before I was able to move back into my own bedroom and another two months before the project was officially finished.
My advice for anyone preparing for a renovation: take your time. Do your research; debate all the possibilities. It was better to wait and mull over all my plans (for years!) before making the investment. Using Sweeten helped with the process of finding a contractor. I appreciated being able to read references and see photos of previous projects so I could see the quality of each contractor’s work.
Renovating my own space as an architect was good and bad: good because I knew what I wanted and how to articulate it to the contractor. But also bad, or rather tricky, because I knew exactly what I wanted and expected a specific level of quality and detail.
The final result was worth the discomfort and occasional tears. I’m incredibly happy with my new space. The kitchen is so bright and open, the layout functional with tons of storage, and I was even able to make space for a proper dining table. Now, instead of talking to my friends about my renovation, I get to talk to them about the next time they’re coming for dinner.
KITCHEN RESOURCES: Cabinets: Custom. Cabinet knobs: Simon’s Hardware & Bath. Quartzite “macaubas” countertops and backsplash: European Granite & Marble. Appliances: Bosch. Floor tile: Mosaic House. Floating Shelf: Custom. Dining table and pendants: Room & Board. Dining chairs: Overstock.
Hiding the fridge is a great design trick for elevating the look and feel of your kitchen.
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