First-Time Renovators’ Stories, Vol. 3

Get the lowdown on their projects and advice

No matter the level of experience, the key to tackling a renovation is being prepared for the expected—and the unexpected. When renovators, beginners and pros alike, come to Sweeten, they get the guarantee of a licensed contractor specifically matched to their project, plus the support of an entire company whose number one priority is making sure the project goes right. These first-timers shared their reno journeys—and what they learned along the way.

family portrait

The biggest components of Sheilaja and Sergio’s renovation revolved around entertaining. They wanted to maximize their tight galley kitchen and reimagine the foyer as a dining area. In the cook space, they decided to extend the cabinetry for more storage and chose a glossy white finish that reflects light. Instead of running upper cabinets along both sides, the couple opted for floating shelves, making the space feel wider and longer. To create a dining room, they removed two closets in the foyer, allowing enough space for bookshelves and a full table and chairs. “As first-time renovators, we greatly appreciated how responsive our Sweeten contractor was to our calls and emails throughout the renovation. In the few instances where something needed to be adjusted or redone, he was willing to take the extra steps to make sure we were satisfied with the outcome,” Sheilaja shared.


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Jen bought her first apartment eager to renovate the kitchen, but decided to live with it to get a feel for how she’d actually use the space.“I had a pretty clear vision of the aesthetics and giving myself that extra year solidified those design decisions,” she said. Once she got started on the renovation, a wall came down between the living area and kitchen. She connected the separate spaces with a peninsula for more counter space and a built-in spot to eat. The rest of the minimalistic cook space came together with sleek cabinets, barely-there hardware, and integrated appliances. She loved the transformation so much, choosing a favorite element was nearly impossible, though she did have a few words of wisdom for future renovators. For one, start putting together a materials list before you even hire a contractor. Jen assembled a spreadsheet with everything from appliances to light fixtures to keep track of things she loved and to see if they went on sale.

racquel standing in her kitchen near window after renovation

After mishaps with a kitchen designer and a year off from the process, Racquel began her kitchen renovation with a Sweeten general contractor by her side. Though there were a few issues with deliveries and delays, the project was complete within the three-week window her contractor had quoted. Including the time spent before she found Sweeten, Racquel did put more time into the renovation than expected. Her patience and perseverance proved worth it. “Resist the urge to rip things out before you have a chance to live with it. If I hadn’t, I don’t think I would’ve made the best decisions,” she said. “Sometimes I walk into the kitchen with the sun coming in and it feels like a postcard. It looks like a magazine.”

family portrait

Lynn and Craig’s number one request for an apartment? An in-unit washer and dryer. They found a two-bedroom, one-and-a-half bathroom in a perfect location, with great bones, but no laundry. Ultimately they decided to tackle both of the apartment’s bathrooms. Their contractor found a spot in their 24-square-foot half bathroom to install a laundry area by tapping into the sink’s water line. To solve another problem in the space, a lingering smell of cat urine, the walls and floor were gutted and rebuilt. While Lynn’s background in exhibit design allowed them to renovate without an architect, in retrospect they would’ve hired one. “Renovating a home is practically a second job if you undertake it on your own with just a contractor. We now understand why people hire architects. For those with less design experience or who are strapped for time, it would be helpful to work with a professional who can do the groundwork for you,” Craig said.

family portrait

After losing out on several homes, Sonali and Shalaj were surprised when their bid on a two-bedroom co-op in the Financial District of Manhattan was accepted. Once reality hit, the new homeowners came to a conclusion: they had to gut renovate the ‘70s style apartment. In addition to reimagining the bathroom and bedroom, they decided the living area should be an open concept. Most of their budget and effort went into updating the kitchen, including appliances and materials. Fortunately, a friend advised them to set aside a 30% buffer on top of their budget. “The advice came in handy as that was almost exactly the amount we went over by. Extra costs included a few items outside the original scope such as replacing the AC unit and also spending more on kitchen materials than had been initially planned,” Sonali said.

These couples renovated for the first time—together.

Refer your renovating friends to Sweeten and you’ll both receive a $250 Visa gift card when they sign a contract with a Sweeten general contractor.

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

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