A Shabby to Chic Renovation
A year-long search results in a new home and neighborhood
Anyone who’s been through the buying-and-selling process in New York City will tell you: It takes hardiness to put one home on the market when you’ve yet to find your next one. But that’s what Tejesh, who works for a multi-national fashion retailer, did when he decided to let his Chelsea abode go to the highest bidder. A year later, he found the new place he’d been waiting for: a “perfect” 750-square-foot one bedroom unit in a 1940s pre-war co-op on the Upper West Side. The place needed a major renovation, and Tejesh had no fear. He posted his project on Sweeten, a free service that matches renovators with vetted general contractors, and found a general contractor he trusted with the job.
After more than a decade of living in the heart of Chelsea, a block away from the charms of the Meatpacking District and the phenomenal Chelsea Market, I knew that finding my next place was going to require faith and flexibility. When my previous apartment sold and I hadn’t yet found my next home, those things were more necessary than ever.
I focused on location over curb appeal, and after a year of looking, I found it. The one-bedroom apartment, in a small pre-war co-op with 31 units, could only be described as outdated. The kitchen and bath needed total gut jobs. But I liked the layout and the historic detailing, and the price was good, too.
Then I checked out the neighborhood. The place is a block from Riverside Drive and another short walk to the Hudson River’s edge; a block in the other direction is the subway and Broadway shopping. It’s a 5-minute walk to Central Park, and an easy stroll to Hell’s Kitchen, the area where I spend a lot of my after-work hours hitting the gym and meeting friends at restaurants.
I had ideas for moving the toilet and the shower drain, but in the end, my contractor put the bathroom back together as it was, with streamlined fixtures and a glass-walled shower.
I wasn’t a renovating newbie. I’d bought the old Chelsea studio in 2003, and remodeled twice before selling it as a junior one-bedroom. I quickly figured out the specifics of the renovation of the new place, then posted the job on Sweeten and waited for contractors to bid.
The apartment’s interior was functional but needed an overhaul. I wanted it to have a modern look and liked the idea of mixing old and new features and finishes. The place had beautiful archways, an entry niche, and a sunken living room, all key architectural features I wanted to retain. My list of must-dos included replacing all floors, revamping the electric to install new lighting and additional outlets, to redo three closets—and the biggies—to completely modernize both the kitchen and bathroom. Before long, we had our Sweeten general contractor secured and we were ready to start work on the apartment.
The renovation started with the kitchen. To bring 21st-century sleekness to the space, I decided to open the kitchen and create a peninsula that would connect it to the dining room space. The kitchen had an awkward design and was walled-in from the rest of the apartment. I was excited to bring in light and design a kitchen where I could cook. It would also serve as a social space. I love entertaining, and having a massive countertop to hang out around and serve appetizers and cocktails from was truly a necessity.
I didn’t go crazy on the cabinetry; it’s custom-designed but basic, built by a Brooklyn company to make use of all available wall space. A floor-to-ceiling pantry occupies a former dead space blocked off by an immovable hot water riser. We installed quartz countertops and a marble backsplash which topped the white cabinets.
The bathroom was as challenging as the kitchen. Small and narrow, the space was overwhelmed by an enclosed tub and shower. Once gutted, the actual problem was clear—there was no room in there! I had ideas for moving the toilet and the shower drain, but in the end, my contractor put the bathroom back together as it was, using streamlined fixtures and a minimal glass-walled shower. We decided to eliminate the space-hogging storage cabinet.
Meanwhile, I moved on to bathroom tile design, which also proved difficult to choose. Wanting something striking, I flopped from $250-a-square-foot marble mosaic to hand-painted Italian tiles, then settled on a geometric design made of cement tile, which I paired with luxe wall tiles.
Throughout the apartment, the original hardwood flooring was in bad shape and could not be refinished. I decided to install new Brazilian hardwood floors spanning the living room, dining room, kitchen, and bedroom. The wood is dark, but with the contrast of white walls, blinds, and the all-white kitchen, the apartment feels bright and light. We also updated the electric panel, added outlets, and incorporated new light fixtures in every room.
The apartment had three closets, including two in the bedroom, and we felt we could improve on all of them. My contractor refashioned all of them to make them more roomy and functional, rebuilding one entirely and refinishing and upgrading the interiors of the other two.
From project start to finish, my Sweeten contractor was on top of it. We had some unexpected hiccups and delays, but he kept the job moving. During my earlier reno projects, I’d learned a thing or two about how to work with a general contractor. Remember that your contractor’s communication with you is essential. If you expect to be included in every decision, make sure the contractor knows it.
My contractor FaceTimed me from the apartment while I was at work asking for my approval on things as he installed. It felt great to have that level of involvement, but I also needed to be constantly available. He even sent progress photos when I went out of town. He was a no-nonsense, great guy, and I’d trust him to renovate for me again.
Despite occasional glitches, the renovation went great. The best part was sleeping on my new bed in my apartment for the first time! It felt great to wake up in this beautiful space. I still have a lot of art to hang and need more rugs to soften up the hardwood floors, but I love it.
Thank you, Tejesh, for sharing your story and your new home!
KITCHEN RESOURCES: Custom kitchen cabinets: E-Wood Flooring and Cabinetry. Chrome pull hardware and Behr: Home Depot. Quartz countertops and hexagon backsplash: Floor and Decor. Undercounter sink: Elkay. Faucet: Delta. Refrigerator, dishwasher, and oven: Bosch. Cooktop: Bertazonni. Pendant lighting: Lumens. Bar stools: Wayfair.
BATHROOM RESOURCES: Pacific Contemporary Collection Berlin IV cement floor tile: Cement Tile Shop. Large-format white wall tile: Porcelanosa. Faucet, hanging mirror, and shower head with built-in shower wand: Delta Faucet. Eviva vanity: Overstock. Toilet: American Standard. Light bar: Lumens.
This 440-square-foot apartment on the Upper West Side is all about small-space style.
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