Renovating the Bunny Mansion in New Jersey
A two-family becomes a single home for a couple and their furry friends
Carol and Jon felt as if they’d won the lottery when they found their first home, a charming, two-story detached place—gray with black shutters, built in 1926—on the western edge of Jersey City. While Jon, a lawyer working with startups, and Carol, who does policy work for a national homelessness nonprofit, had great ideas for renovating, they knew this house would be a challenge: It was an up-down duplex and their dream was to turn it into a single-family residence. But with Sweeten’s help, the renovation turned out great—and was even featured in the New York Post.
This was the very first house we toured and it had everything we wanted, including a backyard, driveway, and garage. Best of all, it was around the corner from my beloved tia (Spanish for “aunt”), so we can have coffee with her every day. We loved our home, but there were challenges: the electrical had to be upgraded and we had to move radiators around to accommodate the kitchen renovation.
With the ultimate goal to make two spaces into one cohesive home, we knew we’d need to save money. So when we first moved in, we made just a few aesthetic changes. We painted the entire space, including the kitchen cabinets, and we had a family friend remove not one, but two drop ceilings in the kitchen. We added a few new light fixtures and fabulous bunny wallpaper from Anthropologie.
We decided to play the role of landlord, living on the first floor of the house with our four rabbits and three cats while we rented out the top floor. We knew that the renovation process would take time, money and patience, but that it would be worth it.
After two years of saving, we were ready to take on the full renovation. We browsed Sweeten’s Instagram page for inspiration, posted our project on Sweeten, and were matched with an amazing contractor. He really helped this not-so-handy couple transform our kitchen into the perfect space to cook and entertain, and prepare the rest of the house for the next renovation phase: turning the house from a double to a single-family home.
During the renovation, we moved into the upstairs unit and lived without a stove with our seven pets, as well as a cat and her two kittens we were fostering for JerseyCats, a local cat rescue. We weren’t prepared for the renovation to take as long as it did. We started demolition at the end of March and finished early August. Waiting for permits held stuff up a lot. We were sort of over the whole process very quickly. Fortunately, our contractor was always there to help.
I worked closely with our contractor and was very detailed in letting him know what we wanted: as large and open a kitchen as possible that reflected our colorful and fun style. Have I mentioned the bunny wallpaper? Early in our relationship, Jon was in law school and I was in graduate school. We thought bunnies would be low-maintenance pets. HA! Now, we can’t get enough.
We also wanted to increase storage and counter space and create direct access to the backyard through the kitchen.
To enlarge the kitchen, we tore down a wall and took space from an existing bedroom. One of my must-haves was a big kitchen island. I love to cook and host parties for my friends and family, and everyone always ends up in the kitchen. I kept imagining a huge island surrounded by those I love. I really wanted it to be different and for the cabinets underneath (and the lower perimeter cabinets) to be colorful. I’ve been going through a green phase. I came across swatches of Benjamin Moore Pine Green and was immediately inspired. I’ll admit, I’m obsessed with the island.
The contractor also created a new door out of an existing window that allowed direct access to the backyard. For more storage, he came up with the double-door pantry, knowing I wanted enough space for my microwave and all of my cooking appliances.
While I focused on the kitchen, Jon was obsessed with making the two-family house look and feel like a one-family home. He took charge of redesigning the entry foyer and exposing an existing staircase, which had been hidden behind a wall. Removing that wall and adding a banister made the two-family feel disappear. We are now able to go upstairs without having to go through the foyer.
It turns out we were able to upgrade the electric panel, but unable to increase the wattage. It’s such an old house that the panel is in the back of the house, so upgrading it entirely would have been a much larger endeavor.
My favorite part of the renovation was seeing the space transform day to day. One of my favorite moments was walking in and seeing the kitchen gutted to its frame. It was hard to even imagine how beautiful it would turn out. It was exciting and surreal. Despite the delays and being (slightly) over budget, we are in love with our home and would go through it all again.
Thank you, Carol and Jon. We hope you both create “hoppy” memories in your new home!
KITCHEN RESOURCES: Cabinets: Fabuwood. Upper cabinet paint color in Frost from Behr: Home Depot. Lower cabinet and island paint color in Pine Green, #2051-20: Benjamin Moore. Pure White countertops, #1141: Caesarstone. Lancaster Deco 3×6 Bianco ceramic tile: TileBar. Small globe brass pendant lights: CB2. Wall-mount range hood: Whirlpool. 30″ gas range: KitchenAid. 30″-wide French door refrigerator: Samsung. Wine Captain refrigerator: U-Line. Bar stools: West Elm. Mushroom Forest wallpaper: Anthropologie.
Sarah and Alok converted their two-bedroom apartment into a three-bedroom in Tribeca.
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.