Original Details Make Their Mark

A family keeps to a tight five-week deadline and budget

renovation Brooklyn

Sarah and her husband bought their first apartment last year in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn. It was originally a one-bedroom co-op, but they benefitted from some renovations the previous owners had done, including cordoning off space for a second bedroom. Architectural details such as an ornate archway were also intact, giving it the perfect amount of charm. On the other hand, the bathroom needed some work, as did the hodgepodge of cabinets in the kitchen. With two small kids, Sarah also saw a peace-giving opportunity to swap out flimsy doors on the second bedroom for something with a little more soundproofing.

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On replicating a kitchen archway design: We weren’t sure that was possible, but [the contractor] did an amazing job!

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Even though they closed on the apartment in November, Sarah and her husband rented the apartment back to the former owners during the planning stages of the renovation. By the time the building’s board approved the plans, “we ended up with just five weeks to get the work done, including over Christmas and New Years,” said Sarah. They were moving in February 1. With the holiday season in full swing, they had trouble finding a contractor up for the tight timeframe challenge. Sarah came to Sweeten, a free service that connects homeowners with vetted general contractors, to find someone for the job. “It came down to the wire,” said Sarah. “Our Sweeten contractor and team were still painting as we were moving in.”

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As far as kitchens go, the kitchen in the apartment wasn’t half bad. It had an open plan that fed into the living room, wooden countertops, and a farmhouse-style sink. However, cream backsplash tiles that culminated in a heavy printed pattern above the sink weighed the whole thing down. “The real goal in all of this was to make everything as clean and minimalistic as possible,” said Sarah. The mismatch of cabinets also needed to have one cohesive look. The couple went for open shelving to make the kitchen feel bigger. They also loved the idea of showing off their dishes. “They are really beautiful and we don’t mind looking at them all the time,” said Sarah. The cabinets below the counter were from Ikea and were perfectly fine, but they had wanted to replace them with flat fronts for a minimalist aesthetic. However, for new homeowners, that was a few steps over the budget line. Instead, the hardware was swapped out for a bold gold. “It completely changed their look,” said Sarah. “We’re very happy with the result.”

One archway in the kitchen was in the original Art Deco style (the building was built in 1938), so Sarah’s Sweeten contractor was asked to mirror the design on an adjacent archway—previously a doorframe. “We weren’t sure that was possible, but he did an amazing job!”

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The bathroom received the most extensive makeover of the project. The floors needed to be re-tiled with a new shower fixture and vanity added. “It never felt very clean,” said Sarah, of the existing bathroom, which had black floor tiles. “It’s a small space so we went with all white to make it feel as open as possible.”

Like the archways in the kitchen, Sarah wanted to keep some of the old detail. In the bathroom, that meant keeping the bathtub. Its light salmon pink gives the bathroom an understated drop of color. It was also easier to let it remain where it was. “That’s a cast iron tub and it weighs a ton! We thought, just keep it and make everything else white.”

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The bathroom provided the couple a chance to add a nod to a favorite style, Shaker architecture. Instead of using typical towel rails, Sarah had a peg rail made by a Shaker workshop in Massachusetts. “It turns out to be really handy to have a lot of pegs,” she said. “We use them for towels and drying clothes for the baby.”

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The simplest part of the renovation turned out to be not so. It turned out that the new doors for the nursery weren’t made to be as soundproof as they used to be. The couple’s Sweeten contractor suggested a solid core door rather than one with MDF (medium-density fiberboard) cores, which can be pushovers when it comes to noise. However, “it turns out solid core is incredibly difficult to find these days,” said Sarah. She only found one option in an extensive search. It turned out to be the perfect fit. Well, almost. The floors were uneven. That meant the new doors needed to be sanded down for a snug fit. The couple also handmade some leather pulls instead of using door knobs. Now, Sarah and her husband are enjoying the fruits of their efforts. “Our girls snooze away while we watch movies or entertain right outside their door,” she said.

The priority was using paint that was as non-toxic as possible, a subject Sarah is very serious about, in light of research linking volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted from certain objects and liquids, like paint, to cancer. While some fancier brands had whites the couple liked, they decided to keep their budget in mind and went with something more economical that was also VOC-free. That turned out to be a smart decision. “Our plaster walls drank up the paint,” said Sarah, “and we ended up having to buy 25 gallons when we originally budgeted for ten.”

On this project, the five-week timeline wasn’t the only thing that was tight. Sarah and her husband were focused on sticking to their budget. The couple worked closely with their Sweeten contractor to keep costs low in other areas, such as picking up some materials and supplies themselves. It turned out to be a lot of work, including a run out to New Jersey to get tiles, paint, and grout. However, the strategy had a valuable fringe benefit. “It made us very involved in the project,” said Sarah. “We made every decision along the way.”

Sarah and family, thank you for sharing your newly renovated apartment with us!

KITCHEN RESOURCES: Kitchen backsplash: Floor & Decor. Shelving: Cut by the local lumber yard. Shelving brackets: Ikea. Muuto “Grain” light pendant: Finnish Design Shop. Nelson “Saucer” pendant: Design Within Reach. Kitchen hardware, knobs and pulls: Etsy.

NURSERY RESOURCES: Doors, #738791: Lowe’s. Door pulls: handmade from leather and brass bolts.

BATHROOM RESOURCES: Pine Shaker pegboard: Shaker Workshops. Wall and floor tile: Floor & Decor. Vanity and sink: Ikea. Danze shower faucet: Amazon. Sink faucet, #902.994.25: Ikea. Medicine cabinet: Ikea. Premium Plus paint: Behr. Toilet paper holder: Finnish Design Shop.

We talked to the experts on soundproofing to come up with a plan of attack for homeowners seeking peace and quiet.

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