Empty Nesters Turn a Rental into a Cozy Home

Downscaling translates into a more functional apartment

home renovation Manhattan

For 18 years, home for JoAnn and Brian was a 6-bedroom, 4,800-square-foot Colonial in Chesterfield, New Jersey. As they neared retirement, however, they decided that they wanted to move to Manhattan—a lifelong desire. Their daughter was living in New York City, and the couple already owned an investment property in the Turtle Bay neighborhood that could be converted to their primary residence. The apartment, a one-bedroom co-op measuring 600 square feet, had been rented out for over a decade.

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The apartment was tired and worn, and “totally not my style,” says JoAnn. “The kitchen was completely outdated and ugly. I like to cook and wanted more storage and a larger work area. I needed room for all my appliances and a large countertop for prepping. We didn’t add more appliances, though, just bought new and better-quality ones.” The kitchen was walled off from the living area and the entryway with narrowly-arched pass-throughs, which made the space feel smaller than it actually was. The plan for the bathroom, which required a refresh, was to swap out the tub for a large walk-in shower. Storage was to be incorporated throughout the home wherever possible.

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As experienced renovators (with four renovations under their belts!), JoAnn and Brian knew it would be beneficial to hire a licensed contractor who was experienced with local rules and regulations. Since their contacts were all in New Jersey, they were at a loss for where to turn. Then, one day while they were watching the Sunday morning news, they saw a commercial for Sweeten, a free service matching renovators with vetted general contractors. “We immediately filled out the easy online form and were matched with three different contractors. After meeting our Sweeten contractor, we knew right away we wanted to work with him. This turned out to be our best decision!”

The duo got to work on a design with their contractor that would allow them to downsize comfortably from a six-bedroom house to a one-bedroom apartment (no easy feat). Their biggest concern was storage. Their Sweeten contractor redesigned the existing closets to maximize usable area and even found a place to add a new closet in the hallway adjacent to the master bedroom. To keep the apartment “simple, so it doesn’t feel too crowded,” says JoAnn, the kitchen counter stools swivel toward the living room and act as additional seating. A pull-out sofa in the living room does double duty for overnight guests.

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In the kitchen, their Sweeten contractor took all of JoAnn and Brian’s ideas and created a space with the prep surfaces they needed, while also housing their cooking tools. They chose to leave the footprint as it was, changing out everything else. Rental-grade cabinetry was replaced with custom Shaker-style cabinetry in two tones.

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Along the back wall, which holds the new Bertazzoni stove, Bosch dishwasher, and Liebherr refrigerator, the cabinetry is floor-to-ceiling white. The peninsula sports a dark wood for contrast. Both sides are topped with white Caesarstone counters. Glass subway tile backsplash and a larger-format gray tile on the floors complete the look.


In the bath, out went the old tub. In its place, their Sweeten contractor installed a walk-in shower divided from the rest of the bath with a piece of frameless glass for a more open feel. Gray mosaic tiles in complementary shapes—a hex in the shower and a weave in the rest of the room—were chosen for floors. White subway tile on the walls kept things simple, and a modern vanity provided much-needed storage.


Next to the vanity, the contractor found room behind the wall, so he opened it up to add floor-to-ceiling built-in shelving, which JoAnn and Brian use for toiletries and small decorative objects.

The bedroom and living room were overhauled with new paint and doors. Yet another archway leading from the bedroom area to the living room was removed for more airiness overhead.


They reported a seamless experience working with their Sweeten contractor: “We sent him many pictures of what we liked and he really paid attention,” said JoAnn. “We are extremely happy with all the choices. Their work ethic was exemplary. They showed up on time and made themselves available when we needed them. They were conscious of our budget. The contractor and his team were very respectful to our neighbors so as not to disturb anyone. They kept everything neat and orderly. Our apartment was completed in a timely fashion and exceeded our expectations!”

Thanks, JoAnn and Brian, for sharing your new Manhattan “nest” with us.

KITCHEN RESOURCES: Cala Luna floor tile: Terrazo and Marble. Kitchen custom cabinets: Interiors Palace. Bianca Drift countertops: Caesarstone. Vapor Blue glass subway tile backsplash: The Builder Depot. Sink and faucet: Grohe. Refrigerator: Liebherr. Dishwasher: Bosch. Range: Bertazzoni. Hudson Valley Massena pendant lights in satin nickel: Lighting New York. Smokey Taupe paint: Benjamin Moore.

BATH RESOURCES: Drift Weave floor tile, Drift Hex shower floor, and white subway wall tile: Tiles by Kia. Shower fixtures: Hansgrohe. 24″ Livello sink and vanity: Fresca. Carlyle II one-piece toilet: Toto. George Kovacs bath vanity light: Lamps Plus. Verdera Collection medicine cabinet: Kohler.

After a hodgepodge of DIY jobs to update their kitchen, Susan and Carl called in the professionals to give their East Village kitchen a head-to-toe makeover.

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