Posts

A Traditional House Remodel Offers a Dose of Modern

Good bones bring new life to a kitchen, bathroom, and a central foyer

Renovated dining room

“After” photos by Michael Hnatov for Sweeten

“I’m shocked by how long it took us to renovate,” the owner of this Westchester, New York, home said. “You know what they say about having kids, though: The days are long but the years are short.” The house, at 5,500 square feet, was also large, and in great, if not quite stylish, condition. It felt livable, and that’s why these finance execs-cum-parents of now high-school-age daughters put the finishing touches on their renovation nearly a decade after buying it. 

white kitchen cabinets
Before dining and kitchen
kitchen renovation
thick marble countertop
Before dining room
trim molding dining room
built in storage
home office
open shelving
double sink bathroom
built in media cabinet

The single-family house, built in the early 1960s, is like many in this Westchester County suburb. Its layout featured a formal entry hall and a dedicated dining room, plus a finished basement that boosts the total square footage. When the family of four and their pets moved into the home, it had just received a round of pre-sale renovations. 

The kids were in elementary school. “We always knew we’d update it and make it more our style at some point,” the owner said, “but we weren’t in a rush.” They’d lived happily in Manhattan for 15 years, and then in a rental in Scarsdale for three more before committing to the new home. “We wanted,” said the owner, “to live in our home long enough to find a clear vision.”

When the goal of the project crystallized, it was fairly simple: They wanted to preserve the home’s great bones and traditional features—including old hardwood floors, large windows with a diamond grill pattern, some stained-glass touches—and blend in a modern-classic feel. Some plans were solely functional.

The bathrooms, which had not been renovated since the home was built, were outdated and slated for a full redo. But the rest of the house would get a gentle, progressively modern update that would play off and enhance what was already there.  

Foyer stairs

“We were excited about the job as a whole,” the owner said, but “relieved to know we could do a lot just by just adding a few touches.” In the end, they did a bit more than that. The home’s spacious foyer, already a stunner, got a dramatic makeover, featuring daring large-slab marble tile and a deco-style beaded chandelier. Those bathrooms got their gut-jobs, redone with glass-walled showers, gleaming fixtures, and statement lighting.

The mudroom received a sleek redesign, with functional storage, and whimsical bright-blue penny-round floor tile. And the kitchen received a playful update, with a painted hardwood floor, a boldly mirrored backsplash, and a wraparound marble overlay on the existing peninsula providing a stylish second life for the high-end cabinetry that was already there.

The process, the owner warned, was grueling at times, especially since the family of four lived in the house throughout. “We expected some inconvenience—especially since we have a dog and a cat—but it was a big challenge,” the owner said. “Towels and blankets under doors went a long way, but dust found its way around.”

penny tile mudroom
bathroom before
glass enclosed shower
Black sink vanity

Despite inconveniences, the project also bore happy surprises, like the ugly, thin carpet in the office that lifted to reveal a beautiful parquet floor. The Sweeten contractor cleaned it up and stained it white, which markedly opened the space. “We now have three rooms with different patterns of wood floor,” the owner says. While to some this might sound like a nightmare scenario, these little-bit-of-everything-loving homeowners find the mixed-up style “very cool.”

Because one never knows when a gorgeous discovery will save the contractors a few days’ effort, this homeowner suggests taking time to map out the renovation process in detail, with contingencies. And ask for the tough love you need to maintain your timeline: ordering deadlines for materials so you’ll have them before they’re needed; assignments for moving things around the house as work carries on.

“Our contractor,” the homeowner says, “was patient and thoughtful about what needed to be ordered. More important, he completed work on time, if not early. He was easy to work with, responsive and flexible. We also knew that, should that attitude change, Sweeten had our backs.”

Opportunities for efficiency and satisfaction can be found by playing an active part in the project, the homeowner said. Living in the house throughout the process, he says, allowed the family to see it day-to-day. “My favorite part,” he said, “was watching the rooms finish one by one and seeing the larger picture slowly emerge.” 

In the end, he said, the family stayed close to their budgeted figures and felt real satisfaction in the job’s completion. “It’s great to be done and the house finally feels like our home,” he said. “The vision we had came together, and now we can build on it with details like family photos and objects we love.”  

Williamsburg Loft

In 2005, a condo conversion gave Felix the opportunity to buy an apartment in the Williamsburg building where she had rented for three years. Although she considered renovating the spacious but “grim” rental-grade bathroom at the time, she procrastinated…for over a decade. It wasn’t until 2016 that she pulled the trigger, but the results were well worth the wait. With a bright new master bathroom, a brand new extra powder room, a washer/dryer closet, and an entryway closet, the project incorporated clean lines and Scandinavian-inspired design throughout the new spaces that blended seamlessly with the loft-style apartment.

 

In early 2015, Felix started thinking renovations again. She now had a daughter, Nova, and while the 1,500-square foot apartment provided plenty of space for the duo, the bathroom update was long overdue, and storage space in the entryway was lacking, so a new closet was also in order. A powder room would be a much-appreciated addition, given that they had room for guests and a third bedroom might be added down the line. Last—but certainly not least—Felix wanted to include a washer/dryer to the scope of her project.

Now you might be wondering why a whole year lapsed between Felix posting the project, and the project breaking ground. This is a story of perseverance paying off: Sweeten Expert Alan, who Felix chose from several Sweeten matches, patiently checked in with Felix over the course of the next dozen months as she updated and changed the details of the renovation. “We were laughing about it, because it was really just shy of a year of us meeting [for the first time] and me pulling the trigger,” Felix recalled. “That was really why I went with him—he stuck with me through the procrastination!”

Once Felix signed on the dotted line, things picked up pace. Alan was helpful in the planning stages by assisting her in decision-making about layout, materials, and finishes. She would send him links and he gave feedback about whether a choice might work. Felix and Alan also worked together to carve up what once was open, under-utilized space right outside of the original bathroom. They physically mapped out where walls would go for the new half-bath and closets, and worked with the building’s condo board and architect to review the plans and work through permit filing requirements. Inside the existing full bath, they decided to keep both the sink and the toilet in the original location, but moved the tub slightly to make room for an extra linen closet behind the bathroom door.

 

 

Felix’s original vision of a “Scandinavian feel” was brought to life through gray and white finishes with wood and colorful accents. In the full bath, Felix chose a gray slate tile for the floor, to contrast against the white bathtub, toilet, and vanity. For the walls, she chose a matte white subway tile from Nemo Tile, intending to lay it horizontally, but changed direction when she realized that the tile fit perfectly along the tub when laid vertically. A glass partition maintains the overall minimalist look. Alan’s team recessed a large mirrored medicine cabinet into the wall, providing ample storage. Felix also appreciated that the understated palette of the permanent fixtures meant that she could change out bright hooks and towels without having to worry about clashing colors.

In the powder room, Felix carried through the same minimal design and materials, with wall-mounted fixtures that maximize floor space. Although the decision to wall-mount the toilet complemented the overall design, it was borne of necessity: during demo, Alan discovered that a steel beam ran through the floor where the toilet would have stood, making it impossible to run the necessary plumbing. He made use of his extensive network and had a different model delivered with minimal delay.

 

The steel beam beneath the powder room was the only major obstacle in a process that otherwise went smoothly and quickly, with Felix and Nova displaced from their apartment for just under two months. Alan’s team cordoned off the renovation zone to keep dust from invading the rest of the apartment, and kept it tidy throughout the duration of the project. While construction was underway, Felix would stop by the work site daily to check in and to answer any questions the team had. “But pretty much Alan knew what I wanted,” Felix explained. (This may have had something to do with the fact that they had been talking about this project for 12 months!)

Now that Felix and Nova have moved back into the loft, they are thoroughly enjoying the updates. In particular, the stacked washer/dryer has been a “life changer,” and they now have space for coats as well as odds and ends like the vacuum cleaner in the new entryway closet. The baths provide a spa-like experience with plentiful storage, but remain beautifully simple. Felix loves her new space but does have a minor regret—she wishes that she had had the foresight to hang the medicine cabinet in the full bath a bit higher so that she could open the doors without knocking over bottles sitting on the back ledge of the sink. Overall, however, Felix found the renovation process to be “surprisingly easy,” even for a first-time renovator.

Portfolio Items