My Sweeten Story: An Epic Brooklyn Brownstone Remodel
A couple’s own pied-à-terre in their townhouse is finally complete
“After” photos by Pixy Interiors for Sweeten
- Homeowners: Janet and Jerry post their 1910 Brooklyn brownstone apartment remodel on Sweeten
- Where: Crown Heights, Brooklyn, NY
- Primary renovation: Homeowners turn their cramped one-bedroom apartment into a loft-like home
- 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 homeowner Jerry
This is it. Our apartment. The pied-à-terre we’ve long waited to move into. We have a primary residence on Long Island, but we work in NYC and spend about half our time here. We decided to invest in a multi-family townhouse in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, rent the main units and keep the smaller, fourth-floor apartment for ourselves.
From the time we first saw the top-floor space, we knew it would be our nest. Like the other apartments, this one-bedroom unit needed work. It was dark and chopped up, the kitchen was a wreck and the bathroom was in disrepair. We started thinking about how to refresh the under 600-square-foot space and make it feel larger. Our goal was to create an open and airy studio. We planned to maximize natural light and use natural materials for an organic feel.
More space with natural light
In our project’s earlier phases, we’d worked to preserve the building’s architectural features. But in this unit, previous renovations had removed most original detail. Hardwood floors had been replaced with linoleum. Moldings that might have graced the overhead plaster were forgone for a drop ceiling. Only the window moldings and the fireplace remained. Given this situation, we felt free to rethink the space. We decided to use modern elements, bringing in Scandinavian style and Californian mid-century modernism as influences to the new interior.
Our architects, MNDPC, worked closely with Janet and our Sweeten contractor to achieve several architectural changes. First, we moved the entrance from the fourth floor down to the third, making the stairway part of the apartment’s interior. This increased privacy and usable space, and also allowed us to increase the living room’s natural light with a skylight at the top of the stairs.
These subtle architectural elements bring the space together while simultaneously differentiating the sleeping and living rooms.
Next, we exposed the living-room ceiling. Opening it to the original wooden beams provided for more vertical space and a lofty room. Initially, we were going to paint the wooden ceiling and exposed beams white. Our contractor suggested the beams looked really good unpainted and unfinished. The adjacent sleeping area, however, would have a new lowered ceiling, and an archway. Together these subtle architectural elements bring the space together while simultaneously differentiating the sleeping and living rooms.
Exposed beams and an industrial feel
A key facet of our design concept, the arch plays nicely with horizontal lines throughout the apartment, including the exposed beams and the long kitchen countertop. It also connects with a number of graceful curves, like the rounded mirror over the restored fireplace and the rounded lighting fixtures.
With the ceiling beautified, we moved to the problematic floors, which were covered in vinyl and old carpeting. We wanted natural wood and after much searching, we chose white-oak flooring and planned to lay it in a custom herringbone, or chevron, pattern. Unfortunately, there was a long lead time for the wood to be custom cut (nearly two months, as the supplier told us that it would require shipping the planks to Europe), not to mention a high price. Just before going back to the drawing board, we found a pre-cut herringbone at half the price. It came out fantastic.
Once the floors were down we were ready to build the kitchen. We wanted dark wood cabinets, and while we were planning, Ikea came out with a new style that not only looked great but pleased our budget! We wanted countertops that would complement the cabinets and wear well, and considered marble, granite, and a few synthetic materials, but ultimately chose soapstone for its durability and appearance. The veined black goes nicely with the apartment’s other dark features and looks fantastic as a backsplash.
To stay minimal, we hid appliances in cabinets; our washer/dryer combo, fridge, and pull-out freezer all fit under the counter. The pendant lights over the kitchen counter, the chandelier above the old fireplace, and the bedroom fixtures are simultaneously industrial, modern, casual, and polished.
Bringing sunlight inside
In the bathroom, we managed another stunning redesign thanks to our Sweeten architects. The shower, a vertical space with a skylight, is flooded by day with natural sunlight, making it feel almost like it’s outside. One disappointment that turned out fine was with the stone floor tiles. We spent a lot of time picking them out, but after accepting our order, the supplier said that only one box of tile was available.
Our contractor solved the issue by taking a large slab of the same stone and custom cutting it into a single 3’x3’ shower base as well as a door saddle, and a stone shelf. We chose an in-wall toilet to maximize space.
Having knocked down walls and invited light in every way imaginable, we felt successful in our visual opening of the space. We went even further by creating an outdoor area. The roof had formerly been inaccessible but we replaced a window with a glass door; it leads to a new roof deck with views of the neighborhood and Manhattan in the distance.
Happy at home
Through it all, we felt lucky to work with Sweeten, which connected us with both our architect and contractor and helped us troubleshoot on many occasions. The process came with so many rewards. While Janet says she most appreciated the design work and creative discussions, I’m just enjoying our apartment! It’s like staying in a nice hotel with a feeling of being home. The best of both worlds.
Thank you, Janet and Jerry, for sharing your entire home with us!
LIVING ROOM RESOURCES: Wall paint in Cotton Balls: Benjamin Moore. Poolesville European white oak flooring: PID. Chandelier above fireplace: Schoolhouse Electric. Theresa Rand coffee table: Menu Design Shop. Doorknobs: Omnia.
BEDROOM RESOURCES: Ceiling light, sconce lights: Schoolhouse Electric. Mill C bedside table with laptop tray: CB2. Spindle Nightstand: Industry West. Airisto bench/side table in ash: Finnish Design Shop.
KITCHEN RESOURCES: Paint in Cotton Balls: Benjamin Moore. VOXTORP kitchen cabinets and sink: IKEA. Ipanema Reserve countertops and backsplash: M Teixeira Soapstone. Faucet, #1959LF-BL: Delta . Undercounter refrigerator and freezer: Liebherr. Pendant lights: Schoolhouse Electric. All-in-one 2.3 cu. ft. front-load washer and electric ventless dryer: LG. Fellow Stagg Pour Over kettle: Williams Sonoma.
BATHROOM RESOURCES: 18″ x 18″ Marine Black Phyllite floor tiles: M Teixeira Soapstone. Matte white wall tiles 3”x9”: COLORI. Shower fixtures; Contemporary and Purist Line fittings: Kohler. Toilet: Duravit. GODMORGON vanity, ODENSVIK sink : IKEA. Faucet: Grohe. Hardware, lighting, towel bar, tissue holder, robe hook, Swedish utility rack: Schoolhouse Electric. Mirror: CB2. Waffle towels: Snowe.
Before you buy a townhouse, read our guide on buying and renovating a multi-story fixer upper.
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