A Rental Studio Becomes a Pied-à-Terre

A long-distance reno builds in plenty of style and storage

Maple wooden flooring under oak wood cabinetry and black double hung windows after renovation

Over a decade ago, Ying and her parents purchased an investment property on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. It was a prewar studio apartment, perfect for a young professional right out of college. Ying made it her home for a couple of years and then moved on to another apartment in the East 60s that was better suited to her needs. The studio became a rental apartment for several years and cycled through three different tenants until it hit the rental limits under co-op rules. By this time, Ying had moved to Portland, Oregon, where she currently works in communications, but she and her parents still made frequent visits to New York City. They envisioned renovating the space to create a comfortable second home for themselves on those occasions.

Living area and bedroom area in studio apartment before renovationStudio apartment with maple wooden flooring and closed cabinetry over glass windows after renovationMatte black light fixtures in a studio apartment with wooden flooring and cabinetry after renovation

Enter Sweeten, a free service matching homeowners with vetted general contractors. Ying knew that she needed a contractor she could trust to manage the project since she wouldn’t be on site and posted her project to Sweeten’s website. Her plans included new paint, lighting, and flooring, as well as comprehensive custom built-ins along several walls and a brand-new spa bathroom. This Sweeten contractor turned out to be the right one for the job, and he quickly got to work after discussing Ying’s vision with her over phone and email. She shared her Pinterest board with him, and told him that her goals were to “streamline the entrance [by] knocking out that closet there, and leverage the blank wall as storage to make the studio look cleaner and give it more room.” Ying was inspired by the techniques used by designers of tiny houses, where “every corner is maximized.” The Sweeten contractor was in total agreement after seeing the space, and produced a proposal with the intention of achieving a look that was “fresh, clean, and simple.”

Image of the bathroom and living room before renovationCustom oak wood cabinetry near dining nook and maple wooden flooring after renovationMaple wooden flooring and built in custom cabinetry in oak wood along with brushed nickel handles after renovation

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In the end, they reconfigured the space by the entrance to create a small dining nook. Ying chose a rift oak wood veneer for the custom cabinetry, paired off with brushed nickel handles with squared-off edges. There’s no longer any need for storage furniture, since the built-ins accommodate space for hanging clothes as well as shelving, and anything else one might need on a short trip to the city. On the floors, Ying went with a prefinished maple in a light stain. To contrast, the new lighting fixtures were matte black with modern lines, which tied in with the existing black window frames.

White bathroom with white subway tiles and contrasting gray grouting with slate colored hex tiles in shower and bathroom after renovation

In the bathroom, Ying’s favorite part of the renovation, the end result was one befitting a luxurious pied-à-terre. The tub was traded out for a walk-in shower with frameless glass walls and doors, and outfitted with white subway tile and contrasting gray grout. A slate-colored hex tile was added to the floor of both the shower and the bathroom (in different sizes). A custom vanity was installed with a white Thassos marble countertop.

White bathroom with subway tiles and marble countertop over vanity and white sink after renovationWhite subway tiles in narrow walk in shower with glass door and an oversized showerhead after renovation

Ying credits the great communication and management skills of her Sweeten contractor for getting the job done right. She has a self-professed obsession with attention to detail but knew that she would have to trust her team given that she was directing the project remotely. “They were really good at keeping me up to speed. They shared images of the ongoing renovation. We were in contact weekly. While the co-op took a LONG time to get back to us on the paperwork, my contractor was instrumental in helping chase them down.” Ying adds, “I think that it helped from a design and reno perspective that I was never breathing down their necks. Pick a team you can trust to bring your aesthetic to life. And don’t feel worried about voicing your opinions—you are the client, after all! But be respectful; you are both working on the same project!”

Thanks, Ying, for sharing your new studio with us! 

LIVING SPACE RESOURCES: Prefinished maple hardwood floors: Lumber Liquidators. Rift Oak Wood cabinets: Custom. Cypress 5-Arm chandelier lighting: Rejuvenation. Cedar & Moss Conifer 18” pendant lighting: Rejuvenation.  Cedar & Moss Conifer pendant lighting: Rejuvenation.

BATH RESOURCES: Hex floor tile: Tile America. Shower, sink fixtures, medicine cabinet: Kohler. Sink/vanity: Custom.

With 2,500 miles between Emily and her NYC studio renovation, she managed the details with her general contractor via FaceTime and Skype.

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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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