My Sweeten Story: Our Bronx Rowhouse Remade as a Live/Work Home

This pre-war Bronx remodel gives a work-downstairs space for its artist owner

pastel green kitchen cabinets with white countertop and black steel gas cooking range with hood and undermount sink with brushed nickel faucet and white walls after renovation“After” photos by Kate Glicksberg for Sweeten

  • Homeowners: Steve and Lewis posted their gut renovation project on Sweeten.
  • Where: South Bronx, New York
  • Primary renovation: A whole-house remodel in the Bronx to create an in-home art studio and a feeling of “warm minimalism”
  • Sweeten general contractor and architect, Shannon Reid of Reid Wilson Architects
  • 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 homeowners Steve and Lewis

Setting goals for a new home

We bought this house with dreams of a live/work space that would reflect our style and offer plenty of room for our art collection. Steve is a painter, so having his studio at home was a life-long dream. We also wanted a place where our friends and large extended family could come together.

General contractors in the white dining space

Outside view of the brownstone with metal fence

We are Steve DeFrank and Lewis Holman. Steve teaches at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. Lewis is self-employed as a tax accountant. We sold our loft condo in Williamsburg after living in it for nearly 15 years to purchase a small townhouse in the South Bronx.

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28342-DeFrank-Before-FL 2 Kitchen
28342-DeFrank-Before-Fl 2 Parlour Stairs
28342-DeFrank-Before-Garden-FL2bath
28342-DeFrank-During-FL 2 stair-FL3 to FL2
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28342-DeFrank-During-FL 3 radiant heat
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From a two-family to a single-family rowhouse

The engineer’s report on our 1882 rowhouse in Mott Haven, the Bronx, looked good, but we still wanted a gut renovation. The structure has three stories comprising roughly 1,500 square feet. The home had been divided into two apartments and had eight rooms on two of the floors. We wanted to renovate and convert to a live/work single-family home.

View of the large white living area with staircase and railing after renovationWhite living room with curtains on french window and a blue couch after renovation

White dining nook with open shelving and double windows after renovation

White dining nook with hanging light fixture and open shelf after renovation

We listed our project on Sweeten and began our search for design-build services. Sweeten’s introduction to our contractor and architect was a valuable service. As first-time renovators, our biggest questions before starting the project were about cost. In addition to an in-home studio, we wanted to open up every floor of the building, giving us fewer walls and more windows. We understood that altering the building in this way would be an investment.

The plan we made with the architect was for the ground floor to be Steve’s studio and a water closet—a bathroom with the sink outside. The middle floor would be the living and dining rooms, plus a kitchen and a half bath. On the top floor would be our bedroom and a home office/guest bedroom, a full bath, and a laundry closet.

View of pink staircase with railing and white wall with green coat hanger hooks

Man at work in an art studio

Display of art work in a white art studio and work station

We did a true gut renovation—nothing was in good enough shape to retain. Our Sweeten contractors demolished down to the bricks and joists, all of which had to be replaced or sistered; this was necessary to allow removal of the central beam, which had to be done to open up the ground- and middle-floor spaces.

Radiant heat and functional stairs

Throughout the home, we aimed for low-maintenance, design-worthy materials to evoke an aesthetic of warm minimalism. We wanted expansive wall space for hanging artwork. The ground-level studio interior is an open workspace with recessed LED lighting, a lot of artist’s storage, and radiant-heat flooring—which we installed on all levels. To bring as much light as possible to the studio, we opened the rear wall with an 8’ x 9’ three-panel glass sliding door.

We decided to remove the original front stoop and relocate the house’s entrance to the ground floor, which created some challenges. Our architect Shannon envisioned—and our Sweeten contractor produced—a storage unit that divides the entry area from the studio space. We had hoped to save the original interior staircase and railing, but our Sweeten contractor showed us options that made more sense.

Ultimately, we closed the stairs from the ground floor to the first to create more wall space in the studio; we chose a vivid pink hue for the risers, which brightens the whole entrance. On the parlor and top floors, we went with a wood stair-rail that looks simultaneously classic and modern. In the end, we were very happy that we took our contractor’s advice.

Open sea green kitchen with view of the dining nook and natural wood flooring after renovation

Sea green kitchen cabinets with black chimney over a black cooking range after renovation

Connecting all of the floors

The kitchen cabinets are custom millwork, the front panels are painted a green that evokes the palest verdigris. Our island, which has an angled front, is an homage to artist Donald Judd. We rented nearby during renovations and observed this living area coming together. Visiting the site at least twice a week, we loved seeing the gradual progress, sometimes glacial and sometimes lightning quick.

We understood that altering the building in this way would be an investment.

Sea green open kitchen with white counter kitchen island and double window after renovation

White and blue powder room with circular mirror and white sink after renovation

A dining-area drawer and shelving system provides storage and connects these rooms to the top floor, where the main bedroom and home office also employ coordinating storage units. We had fun with tile in the upstairs full bath, where we mixed matte and glossy tile in a range of sizes and colors, including chartreuse, dark green, and gray-green.

A building exterior refresh

The elimination of the parlor-floor entrance led to an anomaly on the front of the house, with regards to the living-room windows. The window occupying the old door frame is much larger than the window next to it. The architect’s solution—a modular window design, made up of a series of smaller frames, one of which mirrors the smaller window to create a visual connection.

White bedroom with double window along with bed and fuschia pink runner

White bedroom with bed and red headboard and paintings on the wall after renovation

White bathroom with yellow wall tile and oval mirror over a white sink after renovation

Large white sink with black faucet on cream and green wall tiles along with oval bathroom mirror after renovation

Sea green shower area with black bathroom fitting and a built in ledge after renovation

Steve and Lewis’ renovation advice

Throughout the job, we enjoyed a collaborative exchange with the architect and contractor. As first-time (and last!) renovators, we’d embarked on possibly the most stressful project of our lives. Luckily, we had chosen our team carefully. Our contractor and crew kept a sense of humor during a long, arduous process.

Our advice to other homeowners ready for a renovation: Anticipate bad news and delays, and roll with the punches. Be grateful for the opportunity you have, even when you wonder why you ever thought it was a good idea! And remember, issues that arise and seem monumental during the process get solved, and are forgotten once you move in. Now when we enter our home, we feel serene.

White bedroom with workstation and orange swivel chair on natural wood flooring after renovation

White workstation with white and red chair and open shelving unit after renovation

White laundry room with washer dryer along with open shelves and wooden flooring after renovation

White staircase with black railing and white wall with art work after renovationThank you for sharing your Bronx remodel story with us, Steve and Lewis!

Renovation Materials

WHOLE HOME RESOURCES: Wall and ceiling in Super Matte paint; interior doors, trip/castings, window sills, stair risers, and stringers in Cliffside Gray pearl paint: Benjamin Moore. Radiant heat flooring: Warmboard, Inc. Engineered Hickory Heirloom, ¾” thick, tongue and groove softened edge, 5” face widths, Veiled White satin prefinished wood flooring: Carlisle. Mini Orb stairwell lights: Allied Maker. Light switches: Lutron.

ARTIST STUDIO RESOURCES: Interior doors and door trim in Super White pearl; studio floor and cellar stairs in Platinum Gray glossy floor/porch paint; storage cabinet in Pacific Ocean; stair risers in Hot Lips pearl; stair stringers in Cliffside Gray pearl: Benjamin Moore. Continuum 23 series architectural LED linear fixture: Alcon Lighting. No. 8 LED, flush mount recessed lighting: Dulanski

KITCHEN RESOURCES: Custom millwork cabinets: Custom by contractor. Cabinets in Antique Jade paint: Benjamin Moore. Dekton countertops and backsplash in Zenith: TK Quartz and Granite. Refrigerator, dishwasher, and cooktop: Bosch. Electric oven: Appliances Connection. Discus Pendant 2 light over kitchen island: Mattermade

DINING AREA RESOURCES: Tolomeo variations light over dining table: Artemide. Dining area drawer and shelving system: Vitsoe.

FULL BATHROOM RESOURCES: Field tile, 6×6 in color P210 (dark green), 6×3 in color R203 (chartreuse), 3×3 tile in color P94 (gray-green), 3×3 in color S1 (off-white, behind sink): Pratt & Larson. Blu Bathworks series 1200 wall-mount vanity and matte white #SA1200-01m sink top; Duravit Darling New wall-mounted toilet; matte black single-function shower head; black Del Rp71751.Bl shower arm; black wall-mounted hand shower set: AF New York. Gravity mirror: Ex.T. Mini Dome light: Allied Maker.

HALF BATH RESOURCES: Adriatic 3×12 lava stone subway tile: Tilebar. Jason Wu sink faucets: Brizo. Nivis wall-mounted sink: Agape Design. Gravity mirror: Ex.T. White Darling New wall-mounted toilet: AF New York. Endless Dome light: Allied Maker. Contempo II black matte towel bar: Manhattan Center for Kitchen and Bath.

BEDROOM RESOURCES: Drawer and shelving systems: Vitsoe. Tolomeo variations wall-mounted bedside lamps: Artemide.

ADUs or accessory dwelling units can transform into home offices, living space for family or as a rental, or a retreat.

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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