Custom sliding doors transform 500 square feet
After living in rentals on Manhattan’s Lower East Side for several years, Claire, a program manager, and her partner Dan knew they wanted to buy in the area. So when they spotted a listing for a 500-square-foot studio in a co-op building they liked, they jumped at the chance. It was what the couple had been hoping for: to gut renovate a fixer-upper and turn an outdated relic into modern and flexible living as a junior one-bedroom.
To transform the studio apartment into a junior one-bedroom, Claire, a first-time renovator, posted the project on Sweeten, a free renovation platform that matches homeowners with licensed general contractors and tracks their projects, chose her contractor and got busy creating their home.
Guest blog post by Sweeten homeowner Claire
Dan and I lived on the Lower East Side for several years in typical rental apartments—tiny, with windows looking into someone else’s kitchen, no living room, and a dated kitchen and bathroom. In NYC real estate terms, this translates into “cozy”! We’re not big fans of moving, so purchasing an apartment together was always on our minds.
Often, we’d walk past our current apartment building and joke about purchasing a studio there if we could find a relatively cheap unit to gut-renovate. Somehow this apartment showed up in an internet search and met our expectations, and we decided to buy it! We closed in February and lived in our old apartment until the end of June while the renovations were in progress.
The unit had not been touched since the co-op was built in the ‘60s and was ugly, so we knew a complete overhaul was necessary. The main problem we tried to solve was to achieve some separation between the living/kitchen area and the sleeping space. We wanted it to feel less like a studio and more like a junior one-bedroom.
Because of Department of Building regulations, our architect said we couldn’t install full walls to divide the areas. After a brainstorm with my architect and general contractor, we decided to instead put in custom sliding doors fabricated by a vendor. The doors allow us to keep the overall space open, but we can close them when we have overnight guests or just want some privacy. Though it was challenging to figure out the right door dimensions and making sure the ceiling was even, I think it was a smart investment.
In addition, we wanted to remove the wall between the kitchen and the living space, fully renovate the kitchen and bathroom, and have new hardwood floors throughout. Fun—not fun— story: we ordered a new toilet online, and it came broken three times in a row. We were only able to get it in one piece when we picked it up at the store.
It’s a dusty business, so live somewhere else during a gut renovation, if possible
Given the apartment’s small size, I used a limited material palette and color scheme, sort of a mix of Scandinavian, Japanese, and Lower East Side flavors. We went with white kitchen cabinets and tiles, chrome, black hardware, and an oak wood floor. My favorite part of the renovation was picking materials and envisioning how each of them would look in the space. It was hard to find things I liked with our limited budget! I incorporated interesting textures and colors through decoration and furnishings so it wouldn’t feel too clinical.
My contractor was resourceful in accommodating our various needs and provided honest recommendations on what was feasible or not. For example, having a soaking tub in the bathroom was very important for Dan since he loves taking baths! Our bathroom door was tiny, so we weren’t sure how the tub would actually get in. Our contractor figured out how to open up the closet wall next to the bathroom and inserted the tub that way.
I appreciated that the Sweeten team was approachable and knowledgeable about my first-timer renovator questions. The team hopped on a call to discuss potential contractors and provided useful tips on how to select the contractor. They also frequently checked in during the renovation and was available for help as needed.
When you’re renovating, plan that it will take more time and money than you anticipate—there are always unexpected things that happen as you go through the process. We ended up spending roughly 25% more than the original budget since we added change orders to address issues that came up. Decide what are your renovation “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves” and stick with them. It’s a dusty business, so live somewhere else during a gut renovation, if possible, and invest in an air purifier and a professional cleaning afterward. Don’t feel pressured to decorate everything right after you move in. Be patient, live with the apartment for a while with existing items, and figure out what you need. Also, buy vintage furniture if you can!
Now our new space finally feels like home :)
Thank you, Claire and Dan, for sharing your very first renovation with us!
KITCHEN RESOURCES: Sekton cabinet system & Ringhult cabinet fronts: IKEA. Large Edge cabinet pulls in black: Rejuvenation. Caesarstone countertops in Frosty Carrina: IKEA. Backsplash: Wayfair. Delta Trinsic sink/faucet: Wayfair. Refrigerator, dishwasher, and stove: GE. Lighting: Schoolhouse Electric. Paint in Simply White: Benjamin Moore.
BEDROOM AREA RESOURCES: Paint in Simply White: Benjamin Moore.