From a Studio to a Junior One Bedroom in Manhattan
Multifunctional room dividers transform a 500-square-foot apartment
- Homeowners: Claire and Dan posted their junior one bedroom renovation project on Sweeten
- Where: Lower East Side, Manhattan, New York City
- Primary renovation: A gut renovation to transform the studio apartment into a modern flex space
- With: Sweeten general contractor in NYC
- Our role: Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering guidance, tools, and support—for free. Learn more about how Sweeten works.
Written in partnership with homeowner Claire. “After” photos by Pixy Interiors.
Compact living in a junior one bedroom
Dan and I lived on the Lower East Side for several years in typical rental apartments—tiny, no living rooms, dated kitchens and baths, and windows looking into someone else’s kitchen. In NYC real estate terms, this translates into “cozy!” We’re not big fans of moving, so purchasing an apartment together was always on our minds.
Often, we’d walk past our current apartment building and joke about purchasing a studio there if we could find a relatively cheap unit to gut-renovate. Somehow this apartment showed up in an internet search and met our expectations, so we decided to buy it. We closed on the purchase but lived in our old apartment while the renovations were in progress.
The co-op had been built in the ‘60s and had not been touched—it was ugly. We knew it would need a complete overhaul. Our primary goal was some separation between the living/kitchen area and the sleeping space. We wanted it to feel less like a studio and more like a junior one bedroom.
Making a junior one bedroom work
Because of Department of Building regulations, our architect said we couldn’t install full walls to divide the space. After a brainstorm with the architect and general contractor, we decided to install custom sliding doors fabricated by a vendor. The doors allow us to keep the space open, but we can close them when we have overnight guests or just want some privacy. Though it was challenging to figure out the right door dimensions and make sure the ceiling was even, I think it was a smart investment.
In addition, we wanted to remove the wall between the kitchen and the living space, fully renovate the kitchen and bathroom, and install new hardwood floors throughout. Fun—not fun—story: we ordered a new toilet online, and it came broken three times in a row. We were only able to get it in one piece when we picked it up at the store.
It’s a dusty business, so live somewhere else during a gut renovation, if possible…
Simple color palette for a small space
Given the apartment’s small size, I used a limited material palette and color scheme—sort of a mix of Scandinavian, Japanese, and Lower East Side flavors. We went with white kitchen cabinets and tiles, chrome, black hardware, and a red oak floor. My favorite part of the renovation was picking materials and envisioning how each would look in the space. It was hard to find things I liked that fit our limited budget! However, I incorporated interesting textures and colors through decoration and furnishings so it wouldn’t feel too clinical.
The right contractor for a first-time renovator
My contractor was resourceful in accommodating our various needs and provided honest recommendations on what was feasible or not. For example, having a soaking tub in the bathroom was very important for Dan since he loves taking baths. Our bathroom door was tiny, so we weren’t sure how the tub would actually get in. Our contractor figured out how to open up the closet wall next to the bathroom and inserted the tub that way.
Sweeten lends advice and support
I appreciated that the Sweeten team was approachable and knowledgeable about my first-timer renovator questions. The team hopped on a call to discuss potential contractors and provided useful tips on how to make the hiring decision. They also frequently checked in during the renovation and were available for help as needed.
Renovation tips: Budget and expectations
When you’re renovating—even for a junior one bedroom—plan on it taking more time and money than you anticipate—there are always unexpected things that happen as you go through the process. We ended up spending roughly 25% more than the original budget since we added change orders to address issues that came up. Decide on your renovation “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves” and stick with them. It’s a dusty business, so live somewhere else during a gut renovation, if possible, and invest in an air purifier and a professional cleaning afterward.
Don’t feel pressured to decorate everything right after you move in. Be patient, live with the apartment for a while with existing items, and figure out what you need. Also, buy vintage furniture if you can! Now our new space finally feels like home :)
Thank you, Claire and Dan, for sharing your very first renovation with us!
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KITCHEN RESOURCES: Sekton cabinet system & Ringhult cabinet fronts: IKEA. Large Edge cabinet pulls in black: Rejuvenation. Caesarstone countertops in Frosty Carrina: IKEA. Backsplash: Wayfair. Delta Trinsic sink/faucet: Wayfair. Refrigerator, dishwasher, and stove: Appliances Connection. Lighting: Schoolhouse Electric. Paint in Simply White: Benjamin Moore.
BEDROOM AREA RESOURCES: Paint in Simply White: Benjamin Moore.