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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The bathrooms, which had not been renovated since the home was built, were outdated and slated for a full redo.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.”  

Clinton Hill Kitchen

clinton hill coop kitchen renovation

For Sarah, who works in finance, and Becky, who works for a media company, the kitchen renovation was some time in the making. Sarah had been living in the one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment since 2010 (with Becky joining her in 2013) and had her sights set on overhauling the kitchen from the get-go.

A previous renovation had tiled off the kitchen, chopping up the open living space and giving guests a clunky raised border to trip over. White appliances and heavy cabinetry were outdated, and the kitchen’s generous square footage wasn’t all that useful for hosting or entertaining. Great space to stand around in, but not much else.

 

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At the start of the project, Sarah envisioned limiting cabinet installation to one wall and contemplated adding an island, but after a design consultation, she decided to re-work the game plan. Thankfully, Alan was up for anything. “Alan’s really a nice guy, super trustworthy and very patient,” Sarah said. “He was willing to wait throughout that time while I was re-designing things.” The new plan was worth the hold-up: they would tear out the L-line of cabinetry and use multiple variations on open and closed storage on each of the walls and in a central island. Plus, they geared up to create a new entry connecting the kitchen to the hallway, improving the flow around the apartment.

clinton hill kitchen renovation

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Becky and Sarah found inspiration from a previous project for the striking white-on-wood contrast that now unites the new space. “I had redone my radiator covers and my windowsills with white Caesarstone slabs and I thought it would look nice to match that,” Sarah said. Her original vision paired the white stone composite with gray cabinets, but after looking through Ikea photo pairings, a warmer, walnut-inspired wood started to feel like a better match.

To give the Ikea base cabinetry some added oomph, Sarah chose custom doors from California-Ikea-one-upper Semihandmade. Semihandmade also provided coordinating custom paneling for the new island – a gorgeous detail with the stark white waterfall countertop. The island’s added storage freed Becky and Sarah to be more adventurous with other cabinetry choices. They skipped an upper line of cabinets on the most visible wall and went with slim open shelving made from recycled wood. White globe pendants and sconces from Schoolhouse Electric are anchored on an intricate porcelain backsplash tile from Stonesource; the tile’s folded paper-style pattern adds another level of visual detail in barely-there-beige.

The floor is where Alan and his team really earned their oats. The kitchen floor now matches the rest of the apartment’s original tongue and groove parquet—thanks to Alan’s painstaking work to cut and stain new flooring to match the original (and no longer available) planks.

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clinton hill kitchen renovation

The finished product looks amazing, and Sarah now has some hard-earned wisdom to share. “I probably could have timed the delivery of everything better,” she admits. The summer-long process paused when the cabinets beat the doors’ arrival by a few weeks, and delivery of a few additional custom pieces dragged until January. Her advice to future renovators: temper your eagerness to get started, knowing that your patience will pay off with a more reasonable timeline (and with all of your packages in place).

 

Custom Woodwork in Manhattan Kitchen

A one-bedroom in a coveted West Village condominium designed by famed architect Emery Roth offered a multitude of positives to a new Manhattan buyer: Impossibly desirable location, soaring ceilings, deep closets, residential amenities, and a quiet retreat for work or play. But this lovely home’s kitchen was relegated to a tight little galley, and though the finishes were once beautiful, the dark and heavy cabinetry blocked light and cut access to the living and dining rooms. Eric, the new owner, came to Sweeten to find a contractor who could smoothly navigate the management requirements in this pre-war building and bring a serious carpentry and craftsmanship approach to flow and finishes in the kitchen.

custom wood cabinets

Making real design changes to a pre-war pad can prove rather daunting – many of Manhattan’s most sought-after buildings have deep historical roots, celebrity architect imprints, and cautious alteration agreements that limit updates. Eric saw an opportunity to open up the kitchen in his new place and posted his renovation project on Sweeten — we matched him with Sweeten Expert Alan, a cabinet and millwork specialist who could also manage strict building requirements and oversee all aspects of the project.

For Alan, designing new custom cabinetry to lighten the space was the easy part. Finding a way to incorporate more natural light and reconnect the rooms was the primary challenge. Eric had hoped to take down the entire wall separating the kitchen and living room where the paneled fridge stood, but the building’s interior pipes stood in the way, so the crew decided to open the wall with a large pass-through instead. The team also planned to replace floors throughout the apartment and targeted the old-school linoleum in the kitchen as a starting point.

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Alan stripped the black and white linoleum squares and laid white oak planks down in their place, finished with a glossy clear stain throughout the entire apartment. The cabinets were torn out and replaced with a detailed custom oak set, mostly constructed and completed onsite. Incorporating a lot of glass into the design, Alan created open, closed, and shelving variations in a combination of natural-stained and painted white finishes. The new pass-through provides light from the kitchen window and the living room windows in both directions, and Alan played up the new light with windowed display cabinets above the counter and bar.

manhattan galley kitchen

bar counter kitchen remodel

custom cabinetry

To make the partial wall and new footprint more functional, Alan moved the refrigerator to the adjacent wall and constructed a food pantry to mimic the rest of his oak cabinetry, finished with heavy metal hardware and pulls. Ivory Caesarstone countertops replaced black granite, and an undermount brushed stainless steel sink with matching faucet were installed. Because the kitchen’s back wall is so visible from the living room, the team went with a neutral, luminous glass-tiled backsplash and open shelving above the sink. New stainless steel appliances, including a hefty gas burner, contrast with the warm wood and are easy to keep clean. Alan took Eric’s vision for more light very seriously, adding a number of under-cabinet and recessed sources, as well as a striking ceiling fixture centerpiece. As a bonus, Alan constructed a bar counter on the living room side of the pass-through, perfect for open entertaining.

kitchen open shelving

glass tiled backsplash

oak cabinetry

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