One Room Challenge: Week 1, The Werkroom Speakeasy Cellar

Oh hiiiii! The Spring 2021 One Room Challenge has officially kicked off and your boys are so excited to have been selected as one of the featured designers!! The next eight weeks are going to be a mix of emotions while we completely transform a space in our Brooklyn brownstone. So which space is it you might be asking….

If you’re just tuning in….welcome!. We’re Barry & Jordan, a loving DIY couple that are now project managers for historic renovation in Brooklyn NY, We also live in a Brooklyn brownstone that we renovated ourselves.

The One Room Challenge you ask!?

The One Room Challenge™ is now on it’s nineteenth season and is a widely anticipated bi-annual event. Each round, twenty design influencers are selected to take the challenge, as Featured Designers, and transform a space in their home. We are still pinching ourselves that we were chosen as one of the featured designers this season! We are huge fans of so many of the past designers and proud to be included among the 19 other extraordinarily talented designers. We’re secretly hoping to become friends with each and every one of them! Thank you Linda Weinstein for making this event possible and for thinking of us to take on this challenge.

The One Room challenge™ will provide participants with a supportive, enthusiastic forum to share the process of transforming a room. The ORC is not actually a competition, but rather a celebration of creativity, inspiration, and a support for the DIY community. We’re so excited to not only follow the featured designers but also see what other projects people are taking on this spring in their own homes.

Ok so what space are we actually doing you might wonder?

We would like to tell you that we had to think really hard about which room to make over, but we knew immediately! It’s a space that we rarely use and cringe a little when we have to so it was the perfect space for a makeover. It’s not our kitchen, or a bathroom, or a bedroom. It’s a bigger space than all of them combined. Drum roll please!……It’s our really scary Brooklyn basement! In fact, here in Brooklyn it’s technically called the cellar.

If you’re visiting our page for the first time, we live in a Brooklyn brownstone! The narrow and stately row houses with inviting stoops on tree lined streets throughout New York (and a few other cities in the northeast). The stoop is the main entrance that takes you up to the second floor, we call the parlor floor. Below that is what is called the garden floor, but is technically the basement, at ground level. Then below that is the cellar, the subterranean space where the home’s mechanicals are, commonly used for storage, where creepy crawlers reign. It’s an entire floor of the home that has a lot of potential, but is often underutilized. That is definitely the case for us. Don’t judge! It’s unfinished and stacked high with lots of stuff that we should have thrown out long ago. Truth be told, we attempted to makeover this space but gave up right after we started collecting more and more samples. It quickly became our hiding spot for pretty much everything and now it’s FINALLY time to get rid of it all and start over! It’s such a good feeling!

It’s time! We want to make this a useful space and we need it. We now run a very busy business designing and managing renovation projects for clients with brownstones of their own and we need a workspace. We have stacks of samples, catalogs, and design inspiration that we pull out to complete a design. We want to spread it out on a big work table in a space that inspires us.

The Before Pictures (there is nothing cute about this space currently… sorry!)

Let’s talk about the necessities:

  • This space must hide some of the ugly basement storage. Currently this room is covered in crap! You name it, it’s probably found in our current basement. We just have no idea where. We will be spending the first couple days just clearing the space out.
  • This space has to act as a laundry area. Our units were placed in the scary space right after we renovated and its a place where we go to wash & dry our laundry and so does our tenant.
  • We must have room to store samples collected to show clients. We have collected a plethora of tiles, hardwood, and other materials that we would like to display nicely in the new basement area.
  • We need an area to work, bring clients, and be inspired. It’s going to be a real challenge but we’re up for this!

So after thinking about this night and day since we were told that we were going to featured is turning our basement into a 1920’s NYC Speakeasy Werk-room! We will actually have a full speakeasy room in the basement. And that space…. folks…. Is still going to be a secret!

We also have some other problems to solve:

  • Our first problem to solve is how do we make a dark space like our cellar into a space that will provide inspiration. Well, we’re not going to fight the fact that it’s a space with no windows or natural light! We’re going to go with it! Our space will be New York speakeasy style. An unexpected space intentionally hidden out of view, but cozy, warm, and inviting.
  • The space has low ceilings, so we want to incorporate this into the design.
  • There are ugly mechanicals that we can’t get rid of (i.e. structural columns, boiler, electrical meters) but need to hide.
  • The foundation walls are exposed and the floor is painted concrete.
  • It’s dark, and needs attractive lighting solutions.


Gotta Get to WERK!

We’re calling it Studio 2B or The Werkroom! We can’t wait to give you more details next week but we’re so excited to build the space and share the process with you. Whether or not you have a cellar (or basement) space that you want to makeover, we hope you enjoy the ride and find some inspiration to transform a space in your home as well.

Next week we’ll dive into more details, talk about all things design, and even update the progress. Obviously we can’t share the detailed plans yet… we gotta leave some suspense! This week we’re focusing on clearing all the crap out! Anyone interested in a stoop sale!?

Follow Along!

One small thing we might have forgotten to mention- we are doing the ENTIRE transformation ourselves! Drywall, electrical, and many other DIY projects. If you’re not already following along on Instagram – ,come check it out,,! We’re even posting weekly VLOG videos on our YouTube channel that you won’t want to miss starting this Saturday! We’ll be providing design details, places to shop for inexpensive (and nice!) materials, and other tricks & tips to tackle a DIY project. We’ll write a blog post a week so subscribe below for updates!

See you on the other side and wish us luck!


Jordan & Barry

Make sure to give each of the other featured designers some love and checking out their spaces- we’re so excited to see what magic they create:

Ariene C. Bethea | At Home With Ashley | Banyan Bridges | Bari J. Ackerman | Brit Arnesen 
Brownstone Boys| Cass Makes Home | Dominique Gebru | Gray Space Interiors| Haneen's Haven 
Home Ec. | Nile Johnson Design | Pennies for a fortune | Prepford Wife | Rachel Moriarty Interiors 
Sachi Lord | Susan Hill Interior Design | This Is Simplicite | Tiffany DeLangie | Victoria Lee Jones  
Media BH&G | TM ORC 

Managing Lead Time’s in a Renovation

Photo: You will want to make sure all plumbing rough-ins are onsite right after demolition.

Lead times are one of the most important things to manage in your renovation. It’s one of the things that can affect your timeline the most that you also have the most control over. If the materials are not onsite on time to be installed it can create a delay. That delay can create delays in the installation of other items as well. Over the course of a months long renovation repeatedly losing time on things like this can drastically affect your timeline.

Fortunately, with a little planning you can avoid costly and frustrating delays. You can also avoid having to choose your finishes based on what you can get in time and not what you might really want. If you are starting your bathroom renovation in 2 weeks and you expect it to take 3 weeks, the custom tile that takes 6 weeks to arrive isn’t going to work! In a major renovation this can be compounded many times over. With every material choice you make the lead time is just as important as the price and other specifications you’ll be looking for.

Give yourself enough time before your renovation starts to choose the majority of your finish items, noting the lead time of each. Create a schedule for your project so that you have a general idea of when different kinds of work will happen. That way you can order items to arrive ahead of when that work will start. Give yourself enough time to receive the materials and ensure they arrived accurately and undamaged.

Custom tiles and appliances are items that we are seeing have the longest lead times during the pandemic

The opposite problem of having some items arrive too soon can also affect the speed of your project. You don’t want big bulky appliances sitting around on your job site before hardwood floors are installed. The construction crew will speed valuable time moving them around from room to room to get them out of the way.

Finally, for anything that has a long lead time get extra! If you run out of the custom tile that took 6 weeks to arrive because you ordered 10 square feet less than you were supposed to, guess how long your tile job will sit unfinished while you wait for more, 6 more weeks!

A note about Covid…

Covid has been having a severe effect on lead times and availability of materials. Manufacturing has been affected, supply has been affected, and it has been changing rapidly. Even if you thought you knew the lead time for some materials it’s worth checking back in. We have seen things go from days to weeks, and weeks to months long waits. We have had to pivot to alternative materials or pay more for items that were less only weeks ago. Things like plumbing fixtures, hardwood floors, and appliances have been severely affected. Double check and keep and eye on how things are evolving to avoid delays.

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Excavating A Cellar

What if an entire floor of your home was dark, damp, and scary. So much so you didn’t want to set foot in it. What a waste of space that you could be using as an office, or a studio, or a gym. That’s what many people are doing with their dark, scary, and damp cellar spaces. One big obstacle is often the height of the ceilings and the solution is usually to excavate and dig down to create more height and add an entire extra floor of livable space in your home.

Before we can go on we have to address the elephant in the room, what do you call it? A cellar? A basement? Both? In NYC, officially, a basement is a story of a building that is below curb level but with at least one-half of its height above curb level. A cellar is a space that has more than one-half of its height below curb level. So typically in NYC what many people refer to as the basement is actually the cellar. The basement is the story of the house, like a garden level, that has windows and doors and already meets code as a living space. So we are talking about the cellar.

A work in progress excavation and benching project

The first thing that you’ll need for this type of project is an architect and a structural engineer. There are many code considerations and structural concerns that need to be addressed, so although we’ll talk about basics, you’ll rely on the professionals to figure out the details.

Excavating your cellar involves removing the slab and a few feet of soil. It’s a difficult and dirty job. The first thing your structural engineer will consider is how deep your house’s foundation walls go. They will likely want to dig a probe hole next to the foundation wall to determine its depth. It’s very common for the foundation walls to not be deep enough below the floor of your existing cellar to extend as low as you might want to excavate. That’s a problem that needs solving. You can’t excavate lower than your foundations walls go.

Cement Benching in place, before cement slab is poured

There are typically two techniques your structural engineer will take to solve this issue: Underpinning or benching.

Underpinning involves carefully excavating the soil under the foundation walls in sections, building forms, and pouring concrete to extend them down to the desired depth. It can sometimes be difficult when your house shares a foundation wall with a neighboring house. Your neighbor may not be willing to give you permission to undermine their home’s foundation to create your cellar home gym.

An alternative would be benching. Rather than removing the soil under the foundation walls, you leave it undisturbed to continue doing the job it’s had for likely over a century, but encase it in a concrete bench. The bench extends all the way around all of the foundation and acts like a retaining wall for the load bearing soil under the foundation footings. The soil in the other side of the bench can be removed to the desired level to create the extra height. One drawback is that the bench is often about 2 feet wide which eats up some of the usable square footage of your cellar.

You can raise the ceilings in your cellar to the same height as the other floors on your home. It’s possible to create a clean, pleasant, and dry space. It can be an entire extra floor of living space. It can also be an expensive endeavor, clocking in at $60,000-$100,000 depending on the extent of the scope. But for most people who take it on, having an entire floor of their home too freighting to enter is a price too high to pay, and the expense is worth it.

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Home Improvement Loan with LightStream

This post is sponsored by ​LightStream​, but the content and opinions expressed here are our own.

Over the past year that we have all been spending a considerable amount of more time at home many people are taking a harder look at their homes. Some parts of it might be a little tired or not as functional as you would like it to be. With a bit of extra time on your hands you might be dreaming up some renovation possibilities! That’s one of our favorite things to do! Many people hit a dead end on their renovation journey once the dream turns into the reality of the cost. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Investing in improvements to your home can be one of the best financial decisions you can make. Usually the cost of smart renovations can be recouped during the sale of your home down the road. But once the reality of the costs start to impact the dream it might cause you to make some sacrifices, but how many sacrifices are too many, and how can you bridge the gap?

Anyone who has a mortgage knows that when it comes to your home, debt isn’t always a bad thing. Improving your kitchen, bathroom, work space, or even your backyard can make an impact on your quality of life and enjoyment of your home now and the value of it for many years into the future. So for many taking out a loan for home renovations is a smart choice! LightStream is one of the most uncomplicated ways to fund your renovation, allowing you to focus on the dream and not the financing.

Many people don’t know where to begin or think that applying for a loan will be a long, arduous process. Fortunately LightStream allows you to apply in 3 simple steps, all online, and you can have funds in your account as soon as today. ( See important details here.)

That means you can get started on your renovation with no delay and you will have the freedom to make the dream a reality.

Budget is one of the first conversations we have with our clients and often it is the most important. Everyone has one, and it almost certainly will determine the scope of the project. In our own home an open kitchen with a big island for entertaining was very important to us. We also knew the impact it would have on our homes value if we want to sell it in the future. Achieving the big, beautiful, open kitchen we wanted involved us removing a load bearing wall and putting up a structural beam. Although it was a big project, it’s a sacrifice we were not willing to make! The improvement to the enjoyment of our space and the value it added was worth the expense.

In some situations using smart debt to finance your renovation might even be a better choice than using savings. Renovating your home can be extremely rewarding but it can also be stressful. LightStream’s lending uncomplicated philosophy and ease of use can help relieve the stress and make your renovations dreams a reality.

Through our special link ,here you can receive a .10% APR discount on loan, if approved #LightStreamLoans. Visit , to learn more.

Happy renovating!

The Lowdown on Leveling Floors

In many old houses walls and floors are not straight, level, or square. It’s something that you learn to live with and occasionally enjoy as a character of a historic home. Watching the dog drop his ball and look in confusion as it slowly rolls to the far wall can be entertaining. Floors often develop grades over the years. But why?! What can you do about it? And how much does it cost?

Why do the floors in your Brooklyn brownstone have grades?

Most Brooklyn brownstones have masonry walls on all four sides. They are very stiff and support the wood joists that pocket into them. The wood joists typically span 17-20 feet and usually have a deflection bearing wall somewhere close to the middle. Because the wood joist is a softer material than the masonry walls over the years it can sag in the middle. So most old brownstones will see the grades all pointing toward the center of the house, the furthest point from the outside walls. So if you’re missing the dog’s toys or just don’t know where all those marbles got to, that is probably where you’ll find them!

All the joists have to be exposed in order to level the floors.

What can be done about it?

This type of sagging usually doesn’t mean there is a structural issue to be overly concerned about. Most of the time it’s a cosmetic issue and can affect the comfort of the space. Having one nice level plane of flooring can be a big improvement to how the space feels. Leveling can be done but it is a big job. It would need to be part of a larger renovation. All of the existing flooring and subfloor will need to come up to reveal the joists.

At this point you can get a good look at them to see if there might be something contributing to the issue beyond the usual settling. Sometimes plumbers cut through them to run pipes. If the damage is extensive it can weaken them. You’ll want to consult your architect or structural engineer for the fix, but usually the damaged joisted can be replaced or reinforced.

To bring the floors up to a consistent level you’ll need to start at the highest point (usually at the masonry walls) and a board can be attached to the joist in a process called sistering. So that the new sistered joist is one flat level surface all the way across. The new board will usually start at the same level of the old joist at the masonry wall and you’ll see a gradual difference until it gets to the lowest point before it slopes back up at the far wall. After all of the joists are sistered a new subfloor and hardwood floor can be installed.

Unfortunately this is rarely the extent of the scope of work required. Since the level of the floor is adjusting up sometimes several inches in the middle of the house all of the door trim and baseboards need to be adjusted as well. This often involves installing all new trim, although if you have beautiful original moulding they can be removed and reinstalled.

One of the more complicated situations that can arise is the level of stairs. Often adjusting the floors up will mean the last step will get higher…sometimes too high to meet code or just to be comfortable. In that case the stairs also need to be adjusted. Sometimes each tread needs to be adjusted or the entire staircase can be jacked up to a new level.

Adding trim to a recent re-leveled staircase

How much does it cost?

If all of this sounds expensive, it definitely can be. Removing and disposing of all of the subfloors and flooring is a big job. Sistering every joist to create one level takes precision. All new subfloor and flooring is a lot of material to purchase. Finally the fallout of adjusting the trim and stairs takes time and skill. Depending on how extensive the scope it might cost $20-30,000 per floor. Some of the work might even already be part of the scope which can reduce what the additional expense ends up being.

Having one nice level plane of flooring throughout a space can make it feel cohesive. We’ve seen it completely transform a space. Depending on how bad the grading is on the floors it is often worth the expense.

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Our Favorite Quartz Stone – HanStone Quartz

Photo: Photo: Bridget Badore @bridgetbadore

Montauk Quartz from HanStone fits beautifully in our kitchen and bathroom.

Photos by Bridget Badore

Choosing stone is one of the most important decisions you’ll make in your kitchen renovation. You can go with something dark and moody or something bright and white. You also have your choice of many types of material like marble, quartz, or granite.

There are lots of options out there but we have our favorite. We like to install quartz because of it’s low maintenance, durability, and stylish aesthetics. Most of our projects are for homeowners who are busy families. They need something that will clean-up quickly and easily without showing stains and etching as you can see in natural stone.

Natural stone is undeniably beautiful, so it was important for us to find a quartz company who makes products that we feel are equally as beautiful. As important as durability is we didn’t want to sacrifice looks!

,HanStone Quartz is by far our favorite. We love the designs and natural looking marbling. Whether we are looking for subtle veining or something more dramatic, we are always excited to bring in their stone for install! It’s affordable for any budget and

A look that we can’t get enough of is running the same quartz that is on the countertops up the backsplash as well. It looks amazing and makes for a very easy clean-up. If you have ever tried to clean spaghetti sauce off of backsplash with a lot of grout lines you know what we’re talking about!

One of our go-to styles from ,HanStone is Montauk. It has a pearl off-white base so the veining appears more subtle than on a brighter white base . It reminds us of the look and vintage feel of carrara marble.

We also love Chantilly. It has a brighter white base and more dramatic veining. It’s a perfect component to white, dark, or wood tone cabinets.

We agonized for weeks over which stone to install before we found Hanstone Quartz in our own home. Now that we are helping other families choose finishes in their homes we are always confident bringing ,HanStone Quartz samples over to them to choose from.

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Maximizing Natural Light In Your Home

Most brownstones or townhouses are narrow and long. Usually 20 feet at the street and 40 feet long. Natural light only enters at the front and back so that leaves a long stretch in the middle with no windows. Squeezing every bit of natural light out of the windows that are there is crucial.

Lighting is very important to design, and no kind of lighting is more important than, natural light. It’s something that no light bulb, no matter how sophisticated, can replicate. Natural light helps any space look warmer and more vibrant. It also makes spaces look larger and more open. A small office or reading nook has an inviting and cozy feel when positioned in front of a window. Suddenly the size of the room isn’t as much of a drawback, but imagine that tiny room with no natural light and it has an entirely different feel.

How can you make sure you are taking full advantage of every bit of natural light entering your home, especially if you live in a brownstone? One of the first things we do is take note of the direction light enters a home. Get a compass out and determine which direction is south facing. The main advantage of a south-facing window is the amount of sunlight you’ll enjoy. As the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, the south side of any house will see the most hours of sunlight during the day in the Northern Hemisphere. Also note the location of trees (considering trimming them) and other buildings that might obstruct the natural light from streaming in. This will prepare you to design your space to maximize the natural light that you get.

Big Reno

Not everyone has the ability to rearrange walls in their home, but it might be the easiest way to help light flow freely. If there is an opportunity you should take it. Even removing a small section of wall can greatly increase the amount of light flowing through. It’s also rarely possible to put in a new window in a brownstone, but it could be possible to replace them with new ones that let in more light. Removing dark trim and anything else that might obstruct them is also helpful.

On the top floor it could be possible to add skylights to rooms. We added a big skylight to a bedroom we have with no windows and it’s now the brightest room in the house! If the room isn’t on the top floor try a sun tunnel. It’s a long tube that can go from a skylight on the roof, through a wall, and opens to a room on the next level down. It might only be done during a bigger renovation, but it doesn’t add that much expense if work is already being done.

No Reno Necessary

Many people have window coverings that are permanently installed to cover some of a window. Look for options that extend beyond the window that can completely open to reveal the entire glass.

Position furniture to take advantage of better natural light. Create spaces that give you the best opportunity to soak up the rays in your own home. Place a comfy chair and table next to a south or East facing window to enjoy a cup of coffee or tea in the morning to start your day off right. Position furniture in a room you might spend much of the day in to maximize the natural light you will get.

Not all rooms are created equal when it comes to the amount of natural light it gets. You can’t change the fact that some rooms might be north facing, have a lot of tree cover, or possibly another building blocking light. Make sure those rooms are painted with light neutral color. Don’t be afraid to use white! There lots and lots of shades of white. Think Scandinavian design. They are pros at dealing with very little natural light. Any Scandinavian designed space will include white walls, light wood tones, natural elements, and small pops of bright color. It’s the perfect solution for keeping a space light, bright, and airy even when there is little natural light.

Try going up one sheen level on the walls and ceiling to help bounce light around. We are fans of a matte/flat wall paint but in our north facing bedroom we painted the walls and ceiling with satin paint. There is a slight sheen to it when the light hits it the right way and it definitely helps brighten the room.

Install a big mirror. Plain and simple, it will bounce a lot of light around a room and can almost give an effect of an additional window.

We like installing interior doors with glass in them to help light move around the space. In our guest bath we installed a vintage door with chicken wire glass and stenciled “WC” on it. It’s a fun feature and brings natural light into the hallway, which is usually a space that doesn’t get a window.

Finally, lose the clutter. One of the hallmarks of Scandinavian design is a cozy but minimal space. Too much stuff will take the focus off the natural light and how it strikes the surfaces of the room and on all of the stuff filling up the place.

Whether or not you can go as far as moving or removing walls there are so many ways to take better advantage of the natural light entering your home. Even some simple changes can improve how your space looks and feels. So take some action and soak up those rays!

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Ikea #DIY Hack. Making Over an Existing Piece of Furniture

Before & After of our DIY Ikea Hemnes Hack

This #valentinesday we’re embracing our strongest love/hate relationship ever….. Ikea!

We all have that one Ikea piece of furniture that’s been with us a little too long. For us, it’s the Hemnes 3 drawer that’s hiding in our guest bedroom. We decided it was time for a little #diy love-makeover. This makeover cost us under $50 and took us just a couple of days to make! Now, we have a new “old” dresser


  • Cordless drill & drill bit
  • Stapler & staples
  • Paintbrush
  • Clamps (or tape to hold the moulding in place while the glue dries
  • Jigsaw
  • Mitre Saw (Alternatively: Fine saw & mitre block)
  • (If you don’t have power tools and don’t want to get any, you can take the drawer fronts to a local wood store and they might cut it for a small fee.)


  • Ikea Hemnes Chest of Drawers (we have had ours for over 8 years!)
  • Handles –we got ours from House of Antique Hardware
  • Cane Webbing- Amazon (cheap and ships fast!). Make sure you order a little overage
  • Moulding for Cabinets- we picked up simple 1/4″ rounds at Home Depot. Our advice is to get one that is on the smaller side and doesn’t feel too large in the drawer.
  • Sandpaper
  • Wood filler
  • Wood Glue – this is our favorite wood glue
  • Paint – we went with Clare Paint Greyish. Clare has our favorite colors to elevate any space. We love that this color is a mix of grey, white and green!


You will want to get everything out of the drawers. We have been hoarding a lot of our clothes we don’t usually wear in these drawers. So this gave us the perfect opportunity for some early spring cleaning. Once everything was cleared out, we removed the drawers and then took off the existing hardware. It’s Ikea, so you won’t need any special tools for this – a screw driver will do! Remove the cabinet fronts and make sure to keep the screws for them!


Next, cut the square holes into the drawers. You’ll want to decide how much border you want around the webbing. You don’t want it to be too narrow otherwise it could leave the drawer too weak and don’t forget that you also still have to have enough space to attach your new handles, too (if you will be using handles!)

We went with about 2″. Measure all the way around and draw the square you’ll be cutting out onto the drawer front. Now you’re ready to grab your jigsaw and start cutting! If you don’t have any power tools you can bring this to a local wood shop and they may be able to cut it for you. But we recommend having a few handy tools around and maybe this is a good project to get your toolbox started! Before you can start cutting you’ll need to drill a hole inside the area you’ll be removing that’s big enough for you to insert your jigsaw blade. Carefully cut out the square and try to follow the lines exactly. Don’t be discouraged if this is difficult at first if it’s your first time using a jigsaw you’ll need a bit of practice. You will also be putting trim around the cut edge to hide some imperfections.


Sand all edges with sandpaper and make sure everything is as smooth as possible. Since the edge where you cut will be unfinished (and possibly with some imperfections from the cutting) you’ll want to hide it with moulding. We used a 1/4 round trim to give it nice curved edge detail. You need a miter saw or a miter box to cut the moulding on a 45° angle and miter it at the corners. If you’ve never done this before our advice is to get an extra couple of lengths of moulding. It’s a little tricky and you might have to re-do a few of them.

Assemble the moulding into the cutout to make sure it all fits. If it’s not perfect at the miter joints and if there are small gaps where the moulding meets the cutout it’s OK! We’re going to fill it with some wood filler before painted. Glue the mouldings onto the cut edge and use clamps to hold it into place until it dries. If you don’t have clamps just hold it in place for about 2 minutes and it should be good from there. It should be dry enough to continue after a couple of hours, but we waited until the next day.

When it’s dried, fill any gaps, uneven cuts, or chips from the cutting with some wood filler and let it dry before sanding everything so that it’s smooth and ready to prime and paint. The wood filler is sand-able and paintable so you won’t see these imperfections after it’s painted.


When you’ve finished all cutting, glueing and filling it’s time to give everything, including the entire dresser, a sand with some 120 grit sandpaper. We just did ours by hand!

Sanding the surface will roughen it up ever so slightly and provide a good base for the paint to stick. Give everything a wipe down to make sure it’s dust free before painting.

Now we could have used primer (might be recommended) but we were working with Clare Paint so that we know is a durable paint. We skipped priming since the existing cabinets were white and just decided to give a couple coats of fresh paint. Don’t forget that you also have to sand between every coat of paint to remove any imperfections, air bubbles and provide more little grooves for the next coat of paint to stick to.


When you’ve finished painting and everything has thoroughly dried (give it a good 24 hours just for good measure) you can start to update your Hemnes dresser with cane webbing. Flip over the front of your drawers and staple a piece of webbing over the opening. Cut and measure the webbing first! Also, we made sure to flatten our webbing a couple days in advance. It comes rolled up and will be hard to work with if it’s constantly curling up on you.


Once everything is looking like its back to being a dresser, drill the holes for your new handles. We used these beautiful handles from House of Antique Hardware which meant that we had to drill two holes into each of the larger drawers and one each in the smaller drawers.

TIP- we could have spent another couple hours measuring exact screw locations for the hardware but we just used painters tape to mark the screw holes and then transfer that from the tape onto the the drawers! This will save you so much time and be more precise!


We’re absolutely in love with how this Ikea Hemnes dresser with cane webbing turned out! It’s fitting right in with our vintage botanical room and the dresser has a whole new life that we will enjoy for several more years!

We’d love to know what you think of our Ikea Hemnes dresser with cane webbing! Let us know in the comments below! Make sure to check out our Instagram for more details!

Spacekit- An Easy & Fun Way To Decorate Any Space

Spacekit has transformed our dull, dark hallway with a bright pop of color!

A big battle in our home is color. Barry loves the grey’s while Jordan likes it bright & colorful! Our hallway leading to the coat nook has always been a dull, dead, and dark space. No more! (Jordan won ) .

We just installed customizable wall decor from SpaceKit and it’s giving so much life to this space. Space kit couldn’t be easier: shop & design, unpack & install, and snap art panels into place! It was a fun project to design and install it. We’re also already looking forward to changing up the pattern when we’re ready for something new. But right now we’re liking the pops of color it’s bringing to this formally big white wall.

The installation process doesn’t damage any walls so if we wanted to move it to another room we could with no sign of where it was left. The unique connecting system comes with leveled adhesive clips that just stick in place and the panels pop in. You pick a place to start and build out from there. It can be as big or small as you like by adding or removing tiles. It literally took us under 15 minutes!

Here’s a video of the entire process from Spacekit! It couldn’t have been easier: shopped and designed online, unpack & install, and have fun putting the piece together!

There are several options for patterns and colors and you can put together the design yourself on their online tool. We highly recommend giving it a try on their website: #spacekit #spacekitdecor

USE CODE: BB20 for 20% off a one-time purchase per customer.

Designing For Small Spaces

Everyone’s got one. That small and possibly awkward space that just isn’t nearly as functional or beautiful as you would like it to be. Maybe it’s a tiny powder room or a guest bath. Is it your kitchen or office? Or maybe it’s your entire apartment! Any room or home that is short of square footage can be a challenge to design. How do you squeeze every bit of space out of it without a cluttered look? Whether you are renovating or rearranging, we have some tips!

Customize Your Storage

Off the shelf storage solutions are great but only go so far. If you want to truly use every inch of space you’ll need to take it a step farther. Basically it comes down to creating space for the way you live and work. If you’re an inspiring chef have organization for your spices and gadgets, if you’re a book or record collector have dedicated storage that makes you comfortable to continue collecting, if you’re a designer or artist have space to organize your brushes, pencils, tools, and a workspace that keeps you inspired. Use space under seating, above cabinets, behind or above doors, there are a few options you likely haven’t considered. If you have a space that is too shallow for an off-the-shelf unit building a shallow storage can be incredibly useful for the right items.

Build Up

In New York City, where some spaces lack square footage they make up for it in ceiling height. Build up! If you can’t reach it, store things that you don’t use often like the expensive juicer that takes half a cabinet that we got 5 years ago and used 5 times. Or have a step stool or attractive ladder on the ready when you need it.

Closet Culture

If you are lacking in closet space (who isn’t!) make sure you are squeezing every inch of space out of it. Invest in a closet organizing system to turn your small closet into something that rivals many walk-ins. If you have a standard 48” wide closet and install double handling in ¾” of it, you now have 7 feet of hanging space. Maybe there is room to squeeze in a shelf or 2 and possibly some of our favorites, coat hooks!

A recessed niche and nook will give any room extra character! It’s also a great use of space.

Nooks and Niches

You might know that we love a niche! They just make so much sense. If you’re renovating and building a wall, it costs nothing (or very little) to take advantage of the space in the wall and build it with a niche. We’re fans of putting them in the bathroom by a vanity, or in a bedroom over or next to the bed, or in a hallway where the walls are almost always useless. Books and other items can be tucked away and you can eliminate the need for additional pieces of furniture.

We utilize our kitchen island and dining room table as both a eating area and a work space.

Dual Purpose Furniture

Don’t crowd your room when you can have furniture that can do double duty. A dining table can double as a desk with a long bench seat that can tuck neatly under when not needed. Keep the seating flexible. Your living room likely doesn’t always need seating for 10. Floor poofs that tuck under a coffee table can easily be pulled out to squeeze in the guests (post pandemic obvi).

Declutter and Purge

Get your Kondo on and purge! If you don’t wear something or use it over the course of a year, do you really need it? Do you have too much stuff? Have a stoop sale. Invite your friends and maybe some of your stuff you may not want to part with will find a nice new home and you can visit. Remember, less is more!


Don’t underestimate the role lighting can play in helping your space appear larger and more appealing. Especially when combined with the above mentioned recommendations. If you layer lighting it can help define areas within the room and make it feel cozier and more purposeful. A single center light fixture creates a bland generic space. Instead install a library lamp over a shelf or picture, use a reading lamp in a corner, or use a directional pendant that creates a pool of light over a table.

Your space might not be sprawling but it doesn’t mean that it has to feel cramped. Smart storage, furniture, renovation, and lighting choices can create a very comfortable and cozy space you won’t mind sharing with your stuff!

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A New Year, A New Dollar. Renovating in 2021

It’s hard to believe it’s been about a year since we all carved our office spaces out of our living rooms and bedrooms. We spent more time in our kitchens than possibly ever before, cooking, baking, and realizing it’s not the most ideal space. And then with all the extra time at home dreaming up ways that our homes can be improved. Is 2021 the year to renovate? One of the biggest unknowns to answer that question is the cost.

Let’s jump and explore the costs of renovating some of the most popular rooms in your home that might be driving you crazy right now. Obviously costs will vary depending on the size of your space, finishes you chose, and scope of the work, but we thought it might be helpful to have a basic understanding of what it’s costs to renovate a room. We provided a range. The lower end of the range is for inexpensive finishes, but not necessarily the absolute cheapest thing. You might not want that. The upper end of the range is for high-end level finish, but not necessarily the most expensive luxury items you can buy. The sky’s the limit.


Who doesn’t want a beautiful or at least a functional kitchen! It might be one of the most popular rooms at the top of renovation lists. It also might be one of the most expensive. It often involves removing a wall and opening up the space. Even if not, cabinets, stone, and appliances are all expensive items. Fortunately, it is also where you get most of the bang for your buck! An updated kitchen can dramatically increase your enjoyment of your home and its value when you might sell it. Prices can vary dramatically as you can see depending on materials. This is for a typical kitchen with about 10 cabinets. If your kitchen is smaller you can adjust down.

Cabinets: $7,000-$30,000 (Ikea to custom)

Counters: $3,000-$8,000 (simple quartz to natural stone)

Appliances: $8,000-$12,000

Faucet and sink: $1500

Backsplash tile: $1,000

Lighting: $1,000

Hardware: $500

Construction, Labor and Installation: $10,000-$15,000

Total: $22,000-$68,000


A beautiful and calming bathroom is one of the best ways to make sure you get your day started right and you unwind at night. Making sure it sets the mood right can make a big difference in getting you started in the morning and peaceful in the evening. It’s usually the most plumbing heavy room in the house. So depending on if you want to reconfigure a renovation can get costly.

Plumbing fixtures: $2,000-$5,000

Double vanity: $1,500-$5,000

Tub: $1,000-$3,000

Tile: $600-$2,000

Lighting: $750-$1200

Hardware: $300

Construction, Labor, and Installation: $9,000-$12,000

Total: $15,000 – $28,000

Basement Finishing

Are you scared to go into your basement? It is full of creepies and crawlies and generally nowhere you want to spend a considerable amount of time, if any? We hear you. No matter how many of those kinds of basements we go into we don’t spend any extra time than necessary. It doesn’t have to be that way! With a bit of finishing you can add an entire functional floor to your home! Sure you’re not going to necessarily make a bedroom down there (please…unless it has a window, light, air, and meets other code requirements) but having an organized clean space for storage, a laundry area, maybe a gym, a craft space, you name it! The possibilities are endless.

Walls and drywall: $15,000

Lighting and Electrical: $4,500

Floor tile, cement sealing: $5,000

2-piece bathroom: $8,000


We said the kitchen is often at the top of the renovation list, but might the office have climbed up to the top as well? After a year from working from the dining table or the couch you might be ready to commit. WFH life doesn’t seem to be ending anything soon.

Built-ins: $5,000-$15,000

Desk: $250-$2500

Lighting: $300


If you have had a nice outdoor space for the past year you are probably really thankful for it, if you haven’t you probably never wanted anything more, and if you have outdoor space that wasn’t in shape to use it might be most painful of all. A deck or backyard makeover can give you a much needed outlet to get outside starting this spring.

Deck – Here in Brooklyn a deck usually needs to be made of non-combustible material like steel, concrete, and tile. The typical steel deck you find on a Brooklyn townhouse ranges from $20,000-25,000.

Backyard Makeover – You can always DIY your backyard like we did! But most people have a beautiful image of a backyard with hardscape, softscape, planters, and with new lighting incorporated. In that case you might want to hire some help and you can expect to spend $8,000-$25,000 depending on exactly what you want.

We know this is a quick overview but we’re excited to break down the reno cost and process for each room in upcoming blog posts! Let us know if you have any suggestions for projects that we missed! Happy renovating in 2021!

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A Year In Review: Adieu 2020

2020 is a year we are all anxious to put behind us! Not just because of its difficulties, but also because of many reasons we have to be hopeful for 2021. At the end of any year we always like to reflect on the lessons we’ve learned and the good things that have happened. Like everyone, we spent more time at home in 2020 than ever before and it gave us the opportunity to tackle a few big projects at our place! We thought we would reflect on what we’ve done and prepare for some exciting projects we’ll tackle next year!

Backyard Makeover

We realized early in the year that we would be spending a lot of time at home over the summer. Our backyard was something we always planned to redo in the future once the renovation was complete. After a major renovation tapped us for funds we needed to get creative to make our backyard beautiful on the tiny budget of $2000! We think it turned out great and boy was it a lifesaver this year! We grew grass in Brooklyn! Check out ,,part 1 and ,,part 2 of the full post.

Custom Kitchen Storage and Shelves

For the last year we had a big empty blank canvas of a wall in our kitchen. It’s a project we saved to give us time to figure out exactly what we wanted to do. It was a challenging space. For starters, it’s huge. We knew anything we did would be a big feature of the entire house. We went through many ideas before we finally settled on a design. We needed storage, but we wanted the project to compliment the rest of the space. We came up with a streamlined design that solves the challenges of dealing with the old fireplace bump out and a not so ideally placed radiator.

Now that it is done the more we look at it the more we love it! The tall storage on the right is exactly what we needed and we love the dedicated space bar space on the left. The white oak veneer and flat cabinet doors have a bit of a modern Scandinavian design feel. The feature that really makes it all work are the 2 upper shelves that change in depth to minimize the bump out and tie the 2 sides together. Check out the entire story ,,here.

Stoop Makeover

As you might know, someone stole our front stoop newel post 2 days after we closed on our house! It was very sad that something that was there for 130 years was gone! It has been on our list to replace since. Our stairs also needed a little TLC. They were slowly chipping away more and more since they took a beating during the renovation. We also had the deteriorating masonry beneath the stairs repointed so that they can last another 130 years! Not to mention it’s now usable storage space for us. ,,Read all about it!

Basement Laundry

We don’t even have an answer for why we waited so long to install a washer and dryer in our basement! Even though it is still a WIP it might be one of the biggest transformations for us personally! The connection was there but we needed to install venting and build a new wall. The rest of ,,this project is on the list for 2021!

New Business

One of the biggest things to happen to us in 2020 was starting a new business! We both officially became full time Brownstone Boys! We manage and design renovation projects for others. It’s been fun and rewarding helping people realize their vision for their homes! This was a huge thing for us. We both quit our full time jobs in the middle of a pandemic and now we work together as life and business partners!

Next Year

We’re excited for 2021. We have more projects at our place, lots of exciting renovations, and we’ve even hopeful for the world!

We are going to continue our basement makeover, hope to install new windows, and redo our roof and cornice. We also have a few fun DIY design projects to keep us busy.

We are grateful for the opportunity to share our renovation and home improvement story! Thanks for reading, commenting, being part of our reno family!

From our stoop here in Brooklyn, we wish you a healthy and wonderful 2021!

With love,

Barry & Jordan

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SimplyCyn Reno House Tour

After nine months of a full gut renovation, #simplycynreno is complete! Come inside this stunning home and see some incredible transformations in this full tour! We say “beautiful” at least 100x cause … well, it just is! From a construction shut-down due to a global pandemic and homeowners giving birth to twins, there were SO many obstacles and challenges during this renovation. It truly takes a village to renovate in NYC and we’re very thankful for our wonderful partners, collaborators, and craftsmen who took part in this project. Most importantly, thank you to @simplycyn (& hubby Les) for taking a chance on us.

We’re in love with this Brooklyn home and can’t wait to see the magic Cynthia & Les (River & Kai too) create inside over the years.

Welcome home! xo,

Jordan & Barry



Quartz counters- Chantilly by HanStone Quartz

Cabinets- Semihandmade

Open Shelves- The Build with Ethan @thebuildwithethan

Appliances- Fisher + Paykel c/o AJ Madison

Faucet- Vigo

Pendants- Art + Interior

Hardware- Buster + Punch

Parlor Floor

Lights- Kalco Lighting

Hardwood Floors- PC Hardwood Floors

Windows- Architect & Lifestyle series Pella

Stairs- LJ Smith Staircase

Moulding- Ornamental Moulding & Empire Moulding

Paint- Sherwin Williams

Powder Room

Ellington Tile- Walker Zanger

Custom White Oak- The Build with Ethan


Tile- Custom Mosaic by Walker Zanger

Glass Opening- Pella

Garden Apartment

Lights/Fixtures/Faucets partnered with

Counters- Hanstone Quartz

Appliances- AJ Madison

Door Hardware- Schlage

Primary Bathroom

Barn Door- Rustica

Shower Glass- Mirage Shower Glass

Tile- TileBar

Vanity- custom by The Build with Ethan

Hardware- Buster + Punch

Sconces- Kalco Lighting

Guest Bathroom

Tile- Walker Zanger

Bath Fixtures-

Building Custom Shelves and Cabinets- A Year in the Making

Anyone who has gone through a major renovation might relate to having a project or 2 (…3 ‍♂️) saved after it’s finished. Our biggest saved project is the big empty blank wall across from our kitchen. We planned on installing cabinets on that wall but the old fireplace bump out complicates it. We didn’t want two disconnected cabinet units on both sides and felt we needed a design that minimizes the effect of the bump out. Over a year later we have finally tackled this project!

The Wish List

We desperately needed storage! We didn’t build a single closet on the parlor floor of our house. That left nowhere for the broom, vacuum, and or even Zuko’s enormous bag of food! We knew we needed some deep (ish) and tall cabinets.

We also didn’t have a place for our bar and ended up with bottles on temporary racks so that was important as well. Not too mention we haven’t even invested in nice wine glasses because we don’t have a place to store them.

Finally, we only have one upper cabinet dedicated for dry food storage and really just needed additional pantry space.

The Design

This was the hard part. We stared at the blank wall for more than a year before we figured it out. We made many sketches. We consulted designer friends. And we went through a lot of ideas.

The fireplace bump out and a radiator on the left side made it a difficult space.

These features always dictated the design. What helped us to figure it out was to ignore the bump out and radiator completely. Functionally we couldn’t ignore it but from a design perspective it solved the problem. We decided we would design as if it was a flat wall and then work it around the difficult features.

Overall the key elements of the design are a Scandinavian feel with flat front cabinets in a white oak veneer. There are tall 90” cabinets on the deep side, and cabinets & opens shelves spanning the middle and opposite side. The shelves and cabinets inconspicuously step back in depth over the fireplace bump out and seamlessly hide the radiator. It’s simple, but it accomplishes all of our goals. It gets us tall storage, gives us a place for a bar, provides ample pantry space, and minimizes the effect of the bump out. It’s a nice contrast to our grey shaker kitchen cabinets and white walls.

The Build

The entire wall including the fireplace bump out is all original masonry and has been plastered over many times through the years. As you can imagine that leaves the walls very out of plumb. We took a lot of measurements but also knew it was going to take a lot of tweaking during installation.

The cabinet construction is melamine interior boxes (to save a bit) and white oak veneer fronts, panels, and shelves. The hinges and push openers are from IKEA (also to keep the costs down, but we have used their hardware many times and trust the quality). We finished the white oak veneer with an extra matte clear polyurethane. The radiator has a grill at the bottom and the top for air flow.

So our vacuum and broom now have a home, our whiskey collection has room to grow, and Zuko even has his own shelf for treats! Equally as important we love the design and the way it integrates into the rest of our house. Now that this project is crossed off the list that only leaves a couple (…3…is the list growing?!) more!

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Renovation Budget Planning: Change Orders

There will always be surprise costs during a renovation once floors and walls are open

Budget planning is one of the most important parts of a renovation, at least for most of us! Costs can easily get out of control. Even if you get your contractor quote set and finishes all spec-ed, many renovators go into it trying to guess what might come up during the process. Will there be surprises hiding behind the walls or under the floors? Or will you have a change of heart in the design? Or what about adding things to the scope of the project? How much should you plan for and where are the common expenses?

We always recommend planning for all of these categories. Unexpected expenses are coming and chances are that no matter how strong your resolve to not make design changes or add additional scope of work, most people do. You’ll become very familiar with the term: Change Order.

A common additional cost in older homes is replacing or sistering joists cut by plumbers

Common Surprise Expenses

Once the walls are open, the joists are exposed, the wiring is in view, and the plumbing can be seen. You can expect something will need to be unexpectedly repaired.

Most renovations don’t include replacing floor joists in their bathroom renovation, but here in Brooklyn we don’t remember a bathroom floor that didn’t need joist repair or replacement. In a 100+ year old building no doubt it has gone through many renovations over the years. Plumbers are notorious for chopping straight through joists to run pipes, weakening the much needed structural features and causing sagging in the floor. If your building has multiple bathrooms it will compound the expenses.

Some renovators buy a property and on visual inspection the electrical might appear updated, only to open the walls and see it connected to ancient wires. In fact, depending on how big your renovation is most electricians will want to replace everything to pass inspection.

Termite damage, moisture issues, plaster repair…etc there is a lot of opportunity for unexpected expenses. You’ll want to go in with a budget ready to go. It will make finding them a little less stressful.

Most renovators change design choices during the course of renovation

Design Changes

No matter how much you think you won’t want to make changes in your design choices, you can bet that you will. There are things you can do to avoid it. Make sure you look at all of your finishes and design choices together. Gather samples and take them over to your space to view them in the exact location. If you can’t get a physical sample (or even if you can), put together a lookbook with photos of the finishes all on one page. It will give you a great idea how everything will go together. You’ll reduce the chance that something might not be right once it’s onsite and installed.

Once things are built and finishes are in place it’s inevitable that a few things might not be what you expected. Your reasoning might be that this is your chance to get it right and you’d rather spend the extra money now to not have to redo it later.

Adding Scope of Work

Once your renovation starts you’re going to be very aware of all things designed around you. At a restaurant you might love the tile or lighting, or you might see a reclaimed wood floor in a magazine that catches your eye. You might stay at a hotel that has an indoor/outdoor patio with a large glass slider that you now must have. Most renovations increase scope of work during the project. So it’s best to give yourself a bit of room to work in some of these changes.

Example of a spreadsheet we use with estimated costs, quoted costs, and added change order costs

How Much to Plan for?

Change orders are going to happen. If you go into your renovation with no room for them in your budget, you can bet you’ll be going over. We recommend planning a contingency for change orders of 15% of your renovation budget. You’ll want that available for those unexpected expenses, and if you don’t need it you’ll be able include some of your design and scope of work changes! When your contractor issues a change order expense you’ll know what to expect.

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Trim & Mouldings: A Quick Guide to the Finishing Details

Trim and moulding isn’t just the icing on the cake it’s an important architectural feature of your home and can serve to protect the walls from damage. Mouldings can bring an unfinished renovation to an almost complete space. They can also do an important job of covering the guts of doors and windows after they are installed. 

It can be a confusing puzzle to put together especially if you have original wood or plaster  mouldings. We thought we would share our tips and tricks to putting together a moulding plan that will bring your renovation from incomplete to polished. 

An example of a project where we matched original plaster mouldings with new crown mouldings

Moulding or Molding

First of all we need to discuss something that might be bothering you. Is it spelled moulding or molding? Unfortunately and confusingly the answer is…both! You may have guessed that the old word and original way to spell it is “moulding” but here in the US many words that had that pesky “U” have had it removed over the years. Both spellings are accepted, but some professionals and suppliers choose to go with the old world spelling rather than the modernized US version. Since we love old houses and most of what we write is related to them, we have chosen to stick with the old and more nostalgic spelling. Now, let’s talk a about mouldings! 


The original reason for most mouldings was to cover up gaps where building materials come together. Over time they became more ornate, but their original purpose still holds true. Crown mouldings can bring a feeling of elegance to a room. It can be a simple feature or an ornate focal point. There are many styles but we like to use a cove that can round out the transition where the wall meets the ceiling with additional features above and below it. Some crown mouldings consist of multiple pieces built up to achieve a larger and more ornate look. The height of the ceiling and proportions of the room usually determines how big to go. Many crown mouldings were traditionally made of plaster, and many still are, but it’s an expensive (but beautiful) option. A similar look can usually be accomplished with wood. More on that below. 


Baseboards are installed partly for aesthetic reasons, just as crown moulding hides the area where walls meet the ceiling, baseboards hide the joint where walls meet the floor, which might otherwise be unsightly. But baseboards also serve a very necessary function in protecting plaster walls from getting kicked or scuffed. They come in varying heights and details. Baseboard trim is usually much less ornate than crown molding, though in modern houses both can be starkly simple. Baseboard comes with a large variety of styles, such as smooth, beaded, ornate, and many more styles. Many traditional baseboards consist of multiple pieces. A flat board, sometimes with beading, and a base cap on top that is usually more ornate. Simple modern baseboards may even just stop at the flat board. The height usually depends on the height of the ceilings. We like to do baseboards in the 3”-5” range for low to medium height ceilings and 7-9” range for high ceilings (and more ornate details). 

Picture Frame & Rail

Picture frame moulding can instantly and inexpensively up the character factor in a room. It adds an touch of elegance to a space. The picture rail is a nod to tradition and history and was used to hang wall decor to avoid creating holes in plaster walls. This type of moulding will always curb a modern style to traditional. We like to use a low profile wall moulding to bring in some character but not make things too bulky. 

Door & Window Casing 

Like other types of moulding, casings were originally used to cover the gaps between the plaster wall and the door or window. It’s still used for that, but now to most people a home just wouldn’t be complete without them. Again, you need to consider the rooms proportions to chose the size abs style. You’ll also need to consider how much space there is around your doors and windows. In New York, space is tight and they may end up close to one another or a wall. You should consider the space required for the moulding to understand how big you can go. Usually the door trim will extend all the way around the door and to the floor. Sometimes a plinth is used as a base to the casing at the floor. The baseboard will then a terminate at the casings or plinth. At the top corners, and sometimes even on the sides, a decorative rosette can be used. 

Matching Original Moulding

One of the things that usually draws people to historic homes are their original mouldings. Rather than rip it all out and replace it, to keep its original charm you will want to restore it. But if some are damaged or if you move a wall or 2, you may need more.

Depending on which moulding you need to replicate with determine what to do. Your original baseboards and door & window casings are wood. It will likely be impossible for find your original moulding off the shelf. You can find a close approximation if it, or you can chose to have a millworker recreate the originals. This is not that much more expensive if you go to the right place. Many of the wood product shops in New York even have the knives (the tool used to give a piece of wood the exact feature of your moulding) on hand to match the more popular styles in local homes. If they don’t they can make it for a small fee. Then it’s just a matter of paying for the wood to be cut. 

Your original crown moulding is likely made of plaster. Fixing damaged sections or recreating it will require a skilled plaster craftsman to come into your home to spend many hours working to restore them. It can be expensive work, but the result will be beautiful. Once completed you will look at it everyday and will be glad you did it!

Finally, something to consider is that all the trim in a room should be part of the same family, with similar detail and proportions. If you have elaborate crown molding and very simple door casings, for example, it’s not going to feel right. All mouldings should be in proportion to the room size and each other.

Trim and mouldings serve an important purpose and are part of the architectural detail of your home. They hide the unsightly gaps between buildings materials and protect walls and plaster from damage, all while adding character and elegance to a room. Whether you are creating your moulding plan from scratch or restoring originals you’ll appreciate putting some thought into the plan! 

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Harlem Houseparts

We’re taking you inside a Harlem Brownstone we recently visited! Some parts are available for sale before the home is listed and we have first dibs! Take a first look and if interested in a piece let us know which item in comments . We will follow-up shortly with additional information once we have pricing, exact measurements and other details.

Happy Shopping!

Jordan & Barry

Antique Piano

Hutch with cabinet doors

3 X Marble Fireplaces

Iron Ladder

Lots of wood baseboard, trim, casing, etc…

Iron railing & gates

Original Brass shelf


Antique Stove

Iron newel posts & Large Exterior Sconces

Stoop Makeover Update

Our stoop makeover has begun and we are already seeing some new life to our old stairs and railing. The paint was peeling off the railing and rust was showing through. Our stairs were chipping and cracks could be seen in the layer below. We needed to not only make everything look a lot better but also protect for decades to come.

The tedious process of blow torching iron railing. This allows a smooth coat of primer before painting the iron black

The first thing that was done was to strip the many layers of peeling paint off the iron railing. This was done with a blowtorch and a lot of patience! Slowly and meticulous heating and scraping the paint until the bare iron could be seen. After it was completely cleaned it was painted with a primer that would protect it from rusting. The final step was to apply 2 layers of glossy black paint to keep the water sliding off without penetrating the barrier. It looks clean and fresh with many of the ornate details more visible after all of those messy layers of paint were removed.

Priming the railing was therapeutic and a nice way to enjoy a warm-ish fall day

Next the stairs and stoop itself got the rest of the attention. Here is where we had a hard decision to make. We could either repair and paint our stoop or we could redo the entire brownstone to bring back the definition in some of the design. Our building is painted and not exposed brownstone (and we are still coming off of a major renovation) so although it was a hard decision we decided to just repair and paint our stoop for now. Leaving the full brownstone repair (possibly for the entire house) for another day.

We are ready to install our new newel post but we’re missing the top floret. We searched a local iron yard for the missing piece with no luck

The top layer of painted cement was chipped off, which wasn’t the hardest task since it was already coming off. Then a fresh layer of cement was spread on to seal the cracks and make our stairs attractive and safe again. Two layers of textured paint was applied to form a non slip surface to protect the stairs for years to come.

Under the stoop we needed some serious repairs as well. The 130 bricks that supported the very stairs, as well as everyone who walks up them, needed repointing. We also had some chipping and cracking cement on the walls and ceiling of the entrance area under the stoop. Some repointing and a fresh layer of cement was applied to make the area safer, sealed up, and look much better. We’re now even dreaming of a bike storage area under the stoop!

The last step yet to come is the installation of our replacement newel post that was stolen right after we bought the place! We hope to have it in with pictures to prove it within a few days!

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Finishing a Basement

We’re about to embark on another project at our house. We’re making over our cellar (aka basement) as a laundry room and storage area. Often the cellar is overlooked as an entire additional floor of living space in a Brooklyn Brownstone. While you might not want to sleep in a subterranean room, it’s a great place for a gym, laundry room, craft or artist studio, or even entertainment area. But how do you turn the damp scary head-knocking space into a useful area? Our space is going to be a DIY project but sometimes the project can be much more involved. Increasing ceiling height, reducing moisture, and finishing the space can be as involved as renovating upstairs.

Ceiling Height

Do you need to stand with your head tilted to the side in your cellar? One way to really make it feel like a part of the house is to increase the height of the ceilings. It’s very unlikely you’re going to move the ceiling up, so the best option is usually to dig down! We’ve heard from a lot of homeowners in Brooklyn looking to do that, and while fortunately we don’t have to in our cellar, we wanted to share what we learned about the process and possibilities.

This is a project for the professionals. You usually need an architect to file plans, city approval, and likely structural engineer depending on how deep you want to go. They will start by digging probe holes in the slab at the foundation to understand how low it goes. You can’t dig your cellar down past the bottom of your house’s foundation. So sometimes the foundation will need to be strengthened, a process called underpinning. Another technique is called bench footing, which will provide the necessary support so that the foundation isn’t compromised. The existing slab will be demolished, tons (literally) of soil will be removed, and the foundation will be reinforced (with the method of choice mentioned above) and a new slab poured. Now with your new high cellar ceiling (or lower slab) you carry on finishing the rest of the project.

There were many jobs in our basement that we did with the initial renovation


If you’re going to finish your basement with new electrical, flooring, plaster, and paint, you’ll want it to be as dry as possible. The place where the most water tends to penetrate the foundation walls is in the back. The sides are typically other houses, and the front is usually mostly cement to prevent much water from entering. To truly make the back wall of your foundation impenetrable you’ll want to dig down in the backyard to expose the entire back of the foundation wall. There are many waterproofing techniques that can be used including building a secondary masonry wall or using a waterproofing tar like material. Once the back of the wall is water tight the trench can be filled back in.

The interior of the foundation walls can be repointed all the way around to make sure they are as water tight as possible. It can also leave them clean and tidy if you want to keep them exposed for a subterranean look and feel.

Finally, add a permanent plumbed dehumidifier to keep the air and walls dry.

Inspiration laundry stations for our basement makeover.
1st photo by Julie Carlson for Remodelista

2nd photo by Daniel Kanter for Manhattan Nest

Finish materials

If you want the cellar to feel more like a real room like the rest of the house you can drywall, plaster, and paint. Typically a studded wall is built all the way around in front of the foundation walls. Separate rooms can be created for the utilities to keep them out of the way of the living space. Many people choose to use cement boards instead of drywall just to further protect the space from moisture problems.

You can add electrical outlets all the way around for any appliances and recessed lighting can keep the ceilings feeling high.

On the floors, depending on what you plan to use the space for, you can do anything from putting a functional coat of drylok paint or laying tile or other finishes on the floor. Hardwood floor is not usually recommended because of the potential for humid and wet conditions, even with the precautions we mentioned.

One of the things we need more of in our basement is storage space and a designated area for tools and supplies


Most houses in Brooklyn have the main sewer pipe along one of the foundation walls about 3-5 feet off the cellar floor. This means that other than a washer and dryer, which can connect to the sewer through a hose, most plumbing will require a pump since waste will need to travel up to reach the sewer pipe. NYC code allows for a 2 piece bathroom, sink and toilet, but in our experience showers or bathtubs are not allowed.

Before we get too many ideas for our space, we better get to work on our DIY project. Happy renovating!

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Stripping Paint Off Of A Beautiful Marble Fireplace

Winter will be here sooner than we want and we’re getting ready for a season inside. We need something to hang the Christmas stockings on! Even though our house had a lot of original features, all of the fireplaces have been removed and we are left with the bricked up and useless bump outs on the wall that many will be familiar with. We knew from the beginning that one day we wanted to right the wrong that someone committed who knows how many years ago and put back in a marble fireplace and mantle.

Before & After of a painted marble fireplace we recently worked on

Many marble fireplaces that were once beautiful centerpieces in a room are now inexplicably covered in layers of paint. Some homeowners don’t even know what is under it! Then, as if painting them wasn’t enough to hide them from the world, many are then removed completely and left at salvage yards to be passed over by so many people who can’t see the beauty beneath. After a long search for the right one, we have discovered it will be much less expensive to find one of these concealed beauties and restore it.

We had the opportunity to work on several of them recently and we are ready to tackle the process in our own home!

Here’s the process:

Peel Away has been a great material for us to strip paint off marble.

Tools needed:

  • proper paint stripping covering (paint suit)
  • Gloves
  • Paint scrapper
  • Sponge
  • Bucket (for water)
  • Steel wool
  • Floor protection
  • Peel away (5 gallon)
  • 2 paint scrapers


  1. Dust all remnants off fireplace with broom. Remove fireplace hearth
  2. Carefully (and make sure you’re wearing gloves & have on proper protection) apply peel away to entire fireplace covered in paint. You will want to apply evenly on top of fireplace. Make sure you do not touch the peel away and make sure all parts are covered. We recommend doing one half of fireplace at a time.
  3. Once peel away is applied one half , apply paper covering to fireplace (peel away will provide). You will want to seal entire fireplace.
  4. Repeat steps 2 & 3 for other half of fireplace
  5. Let peel away absorb on fireplace for 48 hours! (The hardest & most tedious part but do not cheat!)
  6. After 48 hours, make sure floors are covered and gloves are back on! Remove paper from fireplace. You’ll notice gobs of paint coming off…. that means it worked!
  7. Take a paint scrapper and carefully scrape remnants into trash can
  8. Add salt mixture provided in peel away tub to clean water in bucket. With a clean sponge, dip into salt mixture water and wipe entire fireplace.
  9. Repeat until all paint is removed from fireplace. You will need to use steel wool & scraper to get in smaller areas . You will also need to change out water.

We’re on the hunt for the perfect marble fireplace and mantel, but we’re not really concerned if it’s covered in paint. With just a few hours of elbow grease we’re confident we can restore it to its original beauty.

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Lead In the Water: Should You Replace A Lead Water Main?

Replacing all of the plumbing is usually on the agenda for many people renovating an old home. If you’re moving around kitchens and bathrooms or if the pipes are deteriorating it’s often best to replace it all. If your pipes are old enough there is also a chance that they could be introducing lead into your water. Lead pipes were commonly used in homes built before the 1980’s. Changing all of the pipes in your home may not solve the problem if the water main coming in from the city’s line is also lead. Many renovators wonder if its worth going through the cost and trouble of replacing it.

Checking our water main to see if it’s lead or not.

A traditional water main hiding in our basement.

How do you know if your water main is lead?

One way to know if you water main is lead is to test the water. A less scientific way would be to take a look at the main pipe. You can locate your main in the basement usually coming in from the front of the house. You’ll see a pipe less than an inch in diameter connected to a small meter. To determine if it’s lead, follow these steps. You’ll need a flat head screwdriver and a magnet.

  1. Pick an area on the water line between where it comes into your home and the meter.
  2. Scrape it a bit with a flat head screwdriver to get any corrosion off.
  3. If it’s silver and shiny in color and a magnet does not stick to it, likely it is lead.
  4. If it’s a dull grey color and a magnet does stick to it is likely galvanized steel.
  5. If it’s a brownish copper color then your water line is copper.

Scraping off corrosion to get a clear view of the pipe underneath.

If you have a lead water main should you change it? That is up to you. To some people it isn’t a concern, to others no amount of lead in their water is acceptable. Many families with kids err on the side of caution.

It sounds like a big, expensive job.

Your water main runs through your foundation wall, under the sidewalk, and depending on what side of the street the city’s main line is on, under the street. It connects to the city main through a device called a tap. There is quite a bit of digging and breaking up cement involved. The extent of the work and cost involved has a lot to do with whether or no you live on the side of the street where the city’s water main line runs. The easiest way to determine that is to look at where the fire hydrants are. If they are on your side it is a shorter distance from your home to the city’s main, if they are on the opposite side, it’s farther. The contractor will break the cement, dig a trench, and change your water main to a copper one. The entire job usually takes a day or 2.

How much does it usually cost?

Changing your existing water main on the existing tap can cost about $6,000-$8,000. The variable usually being the distance to the main. There can also be trees and other obstacles that might affect the price.

You may also choose to upgrade your water main and tap while you’re at it. We use a lot more water than we did 50 years ago. We have more bathrooms with more plumbing fixtures, dishwashers and washing machines than ever before. Standard sized old mains for residential homes are about 5/8 of an inch (this can be looked up in the city’s records on your home). That may be a bit undersized for a modernized home with multipolar full bathrooms and the above mentioned appliances. It’s possible to upgrade to some like a 1 inch tap with a 1-1/4” copper line. This is considerably more expensive due to the DEP permitting required to change the tap on the city’s line. Expect the price to go up to $12-15,000.

A good contractor will get the job done in a day or 2 and will put everything back just like they found it. They will provide new concrete for the sidewalk, patch the street, and close up any other holes they need to dig.

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Labor For Your Neighbor- Make A DIY Outdoor Bench to #Buildthanks (for under $50)

Labor day is coming up and we can’t believe that fall is already approaching! It’s been quite the year already with a global pandemic affecting millions of people. This Labor Day we want to pay it forward with something that means everything to us, community. We’re working with Lowes this Labor Day to,, #BuildThanks and we have a DIY project below to increase your houses curb appeal that you can DIY for under $50!! This outdoor bench is easy to build, will change any space, and an easy way to pay gratitude for a loving community member or neighbor that might deserve it – we can’t wait to share our labor of love with our neighbor, Karen.

We met Karen when we first moved to our block two years ago. After several stoop visits we instantly fell in love with Karen’s generosity, kindness, and willingness to make us part of her extended neighborhood family. Karen lives alone as her daughter is off to college. During these tough times we have been thinking of Karen quite a bit. She is an essential worker and has been going into her job on a daily basis, even when Brooklyn and New York were COVID hotspots. Karen works as an art psychotherapist at a mental health clinic in Brooklyn at a mental health clinic in the Bronx. The clinic requires Karen to be available on site for those patients that are in crisis and need face-to-face sessions. She has also been doing a lot of teletherapy to keep patients safe, but she still needs to be onsite. Karen also runs art psychotherapy groups for a program called Life is Precious for young Latina teens. We walk by Karen’s brownstone on a daily basis going to the grocery store and catching the subway pre-covid. While she has a beautiful home we always thought her front stoop deserves a little love. It’s been a tough past couple months and we are so fortunate to have an opportunity to create a little oasis for Karen to enjoy.

Head over to ,, for the step-by-step tutorial to create the bench.

We hope you have a wonderful Labor Day and we hope you will join us ,,#buildthanks for a loving neighbor of your own!

Brownstone Stoop and Railing Repair

Some of the most iconic features of Brownstone design are the front stoop, iron railing, and newel posts. Without that it just wouldn’t be the same. The week we closed on our house, now almost 2 years ago, on one of our first visits we were shocked to discover that one of our 2 front iron newel posts was missing! We probably walked by it twice before we even noticed. We were in such disbelief that we had to look up photos that we took only a few days before to make sure it was there to begin with! It stood there for 130 years before someone ripped it from its home, within 3 days after we owned it. It was upsetting because it has been our dream to live in a Brownstone, and this is one of the things that makes it what it is. We were determined to replace it. Fortunately the design is a popular one in Brooklyn and it wouldn’t be too hard to find. We weren’t in too much of a hurry since we had a big renovation to get through, but it’s time! In fact, our stoop project had even grown since then.

Shortly after we closed our iron post was stolen. We’re going to make sure its welded together so no one can steal it this time.

The first thing we wanted to do is learn what made it an easy target so that the same thing wouldn’t happen to the other one or the one we replaced. What we learned is that there is a steel rod that extends from the very top all the way into the cement base it sits on. After decades that steel rod can rust and then completely sever. The small cap that sits atop the post can then spin and wiggle. This is what gives away to would-be thieves that it is loose and ready for the taking. Fortunately our other post is solid, and we’ll keep an eye on it to make sure it stays that way.

The new post that we found at a salvage yard matches ours exactly, except it’s painted brown. All of the paint is flaking off. The iron railing and posts need to be painted every few years anyway to prevent rusting. So we are going to install the new post, then scrape everything down, and put on a fresh coat of black paint.

Our stoop stairs have also been slowly chipping away as well. We find that it’s a common occurrence during a renovation. Once it starts it doesn’t stop! So our stoop repair plans include replacing a layer of brownstone over the entire stairs. That’s not a DIY project we feel comfortable to tackle ourselves so we already have a few quotes- ranging from $2000- $4000.

This is the project we were always coming back to once we wrapped up all of our living spaces inside. So it feels great to be moving on to it! Stay tuned and we’ll keep you posted on how it goes!

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How Green Can You Go? Energy Efficient Renovating in Brooklyn and NYC

One thing is for certain in an un-renovated historic Brooklyn home, it’s leaky. And we’re not talking about the roof. Most modern forms of energy weren’t even invented when they were built so energy efficiency had no bearing on the building process. A common goal of Brooklyn renovators is to improve it but many wonder how far they should go. Insulation, solar panels, windows, heating/cooling systems, gas vs electric…Whether you want to do your part to lower your carbon footprint or maybe just keep the energy expenses in check there are lots of eco-friendly options to consider when renovating.

We’ve been interested in the concept of passive homes and set out to learn more about how to achieve the best energy efficiency and to understand what makes sense in Brooklyn renovations. Never heard of a passive home? If not, you’re not alone, but it most certainly is going to dominate the future of building and renovating. New York City updates energy codes every 3 years or so and it’s getting more and more demanding. Everything is moving in that direction. The concept focuses on creating a building that uses very little energy (especially for heating and cooling). Some can even achieve zero (yes, zero) energy expense, and there is a level that qualifies for certification. Even if your goal is not to have a certified passive home, many of the concepts can be used to greatly improve your home’s energy efficiency. Cost and scope of work are big factors in deciding what you can and cannot do.

What’s the most important thing?

One of the first things that comes to mind for most people when they think about lowering every bills are solar panels. They can be part of a holistic approach to energy efficiency but they are certainly not the most important. Passive houses’ main concept is around making the home virtually airtight. On average a home can lose up to 12-15 times the air volume of the house in 1 hour. That is the equivalent of buying a dozen eggs and throwing away 11, over and over again. A home can be certified passive only when it’s reduced to .6 air change per hour. It’s a dramatic improvement and would require virtually no cost for heating and cooling. So the most important thing that you can do and the first place to put money is in creating an airtight envelope.

How to do it?

To create an airtight envelope the exterior walls need to be stripped to the studs/masonry and the ceiling under the roof needs to be opened up. It’s a big job and a major renovation. All areas need to be super insulated with the latest insulating technology that is several times what code calls for. Triple glazed windows need to be installed. Finally, a layer of insulating material may also have to be installed under the cellar slab. This should create a home that is virtually airtight.

Evaluating the roof for solar panel installation

What about ventilation?

The next question is, with such an airtight house, how do you get fresh air in without breaking the envelope? A device called a heat recovery ventilator solves the problem. It takes the warm stale air from inside the house, pulls the warmth out of it, and uses it to warm the fresh air it pulls in. So you can have all of the fresh air you need without letting all of your heat out of the building.

So, what about solar?

Solar can be an important part of the puzzle to reduce your energy use and carbon footprint. If your home is well insulated it is possible for solar panels to produce 100% of your energy requirements during the day. They may even produce more than you need and excess can flow back into the grid. At night when your solar panels aren’t producing electricity you can draw power from the grid, however the cost can be offset by credits you can receive for the electricity that flows back to the grid during the day.

What’s better – gas or electric?

We have good news that sounds like bad news. Your gas stove might have to go. It is the standard belief in most of America that gas is better for cooking than electric. Whether or not you are among those who hold that belief, what is a fact is that natural gas is a finite resource. We inevitably will be using less and less of it. Burning it is not that good for us or the earth. It releases CO2 and other harmful emissions into our homes and the atmosphere, while it only transfers a measly 35-40% of its heat to the pot or pan on the burner. Not to mention that it’s dangerous as it courses through aging infrastructure. A passive house must be 100% electric. Modern induction cooktops transfer up to 90% of it’s heating energy to the pot that is sitting on it’s eye. As long as the energy powering it is 100% from a renewable source (hello solar panels), it has a neutral impact on your carbon footprint. Also, if you talk to anyone who has an induction cooktop, they swear by it. Finally, there are places where there is a moratorium on new gas lines for all of these reasons. It’s only a matter of time before NYC follows suit for new construction and renovations of existing.

How do I heat my home if I can’t use gas?

Have you heard of a heat pump? If you haven’t you will be hearing more and more about them, especially in New York City. There is a movement to install more heat pumps for heating and cooling. A heat pump’s technology is hard for people to wrap their head around. It removes heat from the exterior air and pulls it inside to heat the home. Sounds easy right now while it’s 90 degrees outside, but what about when it’s 20 degrees? Even though you might not want to spend long periods of time outside when it’s that cold, believe it or not there is still heat in the air that the system can use to heat the home. The best heat pump technology still has 100% heating capacity down to about -14 degrees fahrenheit. Pretty safe for even the worst winters in NYC. Also, with your super insulated envelope you might not need to run it much!

I can’t go full certified passive house, but what can I do to improve my home’s energy efficiency now?

One of the leakiest things in most homes are the windows. Changing them for the most energy efficient that you can, and addressing other leaky spots, can greatly contribute to a more airtight envelope. Also, as you change appliances consider converting to electric. As electricity moves away from dirty coal to renewable sources you’re home will be better positioned to capitalize on them.

We’re still learning and technology is still improving, but we’re excited of the direction we’re going. Energy codes will rightly be moving in the direction to remove greenhouse gas producing and less efficient technology. Renovators are becoming more savvy and the technology is becoming more affordable. All things point to these topics becoming a much bigger part of the renovation conversation now and in the not so distant future.

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Top Surprisingly Big Expenses When Renovating a Historic Home

Restoring a historic home is full of surprises! Some are welcomed, like the pocket doors we discovered sealed up in the wall or the 1906 Brooklyn newspaper we found under a bathroom. Some are not welcomed, especially when they unexpectedly cost tens of thousands of dollars!

There are some costs that are big surprises for many people looking to renovate a historic home. They are common, but unlike things like…electrical and plumbing, they aren’t always as obvious if you’re not used to spotting them. Here are our top surprisingly big expenses for Brooklyn historic home renovators.

Some treasure found during demo: original pocket doors & a newspaper clip from 1906

Demolition – It might surprise you to see how expensive demolition can be. It can be a lot of work. And here in New York City debris removal and disposal is a big expense. A gut renovation can easily produce tens of thousands of dollars in demo and debris removal cost.

Demo can add real fast depending on how much debris there is. Plaster work always shocks us when getting different quotes.

Plaster work – Original plaster moldings and walls might be one of the things that attracts someone to buy a historic home. To us they were precious. We were willing to do whatever we needed to do to save and restore them, but we weren’t prepared for the cost! Plaster work is more of an art than a skill. There aren’t that many people that do it and it’s very time consuming. If you see cracks or pieces missing you can very quickly get into the tens of thousands in repair cost. If plaster walls are decaying they will need to be skim coated. When that is done properly it not only refreshes the walls appearance it strengthens its integrity. To skim coat all walls in a 3-4 story brownstone or row house it might be one of the bigger ticket items in your entire renovation.

Floor Leveling– Chances are when you are looking around at renovation projects you’re walking on floors with varying levels of slants or grades. If it’s something that needs to be fixed or just something you want to fix it can be a big expense. Usually it’s done by demolishing and disposing (a big expense in itself) the flooring and subfloor, sistering joists to a single level, then installing new subfloor and flooring. If that was all of the cost it would be expensive, but it’s not. When floors are leveled you usually raise the plane up to the highest level. That means in many places the floor will adjust up, making it necessary to replace or adjust baseboards, window and door casings, stairs, doors, and potentially other items. It’s a big job with a price tag to match.

Structural work – Most people that walk into a home they want to renovate extensively see a wall or 3 that they would prefer to remove with a quick point and nod. But these old homes are held together by their sturdy bones. Some walls are bearing necessary loads from above and some that weren’t designed that way end up doing some of the heavy lifting anyway. Removing them often requires extensive work to transfer those loads in different ways. You may even need a structural engineer to design it, file it, and provide special inspections of the work (a nice chunk of budget before you even start!)

An old home is worth all the money spent into restoring some of the original details. We splurged on the tapestry in the vestibule and our original staircase. Photos by: Bridget Badore

Restoring a historic home can be rewarding. Bringing the old features back to life will almost always be worth it when it’s done. Getting there just might cost a bit more than you might expect when you are first wowed by the history of your home.

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Can You Cool and Heat Your Home Exclusively With A Mini Split Heat Pump?

Now that the summer heat is setting in we’ve been regularly using our new mini split system to cool our home. We had some questions about how good the system and configuration would work. We only installed one 18,000 BTU unit for the entire parlor floor. Even though it is fairly open, it’s about 800 square feet. Recommendations call for much more than that one unit. After some pretty hot and muggy days we can definitely say that it passed with flying colors! It gives the parlor floor a department store level of cool in just a couple of minutes. We even find ourselves turning it off if it gets too cold. The smaller 7,000 BTU units we installed in each bedroom are doing just as well. It has us thinking: could we exclusively use our mini split systems’s heat pump to heat our home as well?

It might be the last thing you want to think about right now, heating your home, but if you’re planning a new AC system it might be the time to consider it. Manufacturers of mini split heat pumps have been touting new technology that supposedly makes it possible to use as an exclusive heating system, but many people still warn against it. Saying instead that it’s really meant to supplement a traditional heating system with the northeast’s frigid temperatures. So which is it?

How Do Heat Pumps Work?

Let’s start with how heat pumps work. We won’t go too deep into the physics of it (because honestly some of the details are even foggy for us!) but unlike traditional heating systems that burn some sort of fuel source to heat water, steam, or air, heat pumps simply (or not so simply‍♂️) pull heat from the air outside to raise the temperature in your home. Yes, even when it is well below freezing outside. That can be hard for some people to wrap their heads around, but even if it’s 20 degrees Fahrenheit outside, there is still enough heat in the air for the heat pump to operate at 100% heating capacity.

Can It Exclusively Heat My Home?

Depending on the brand and features some mini split heat pumps can continue to operate at 100% heating capacity down to -15 degrees Fahrenheit. At some point all of them will provide less heating capacity if it gets cold enough, which unfortunately might be when you need it the most! For those early adopters of the new technology they are betting on temperatures not sinking that low, and it’s probably a good bet. The coldest monthly average low in New York City is 26 degrees. The lowest recorded temperature since 1869 was in 1934 and it was (ironically) -15 F degrees. In the last 10 years, negative temperatures have only been reached once, and it was -1 F. So the bottom line is that if you get the right system you should never experience a situation where you have decreased heating capacity. Also, remember that even if we have a once-in-a-century cold spell it doesn’t mean no heat, just less. Potentially it may operate at 70% heating capacity rather than 100%. If you’re reading this from northern Saskatchewan, maybe a mini split heat pump is not for you.

Other Considerations

One of the advantages a mini split system has over a ducted central cooling system is its ability to be operated in zones. You don’t need to cool parts of your home you’re not using. Obviously that’s much more efficient than cooling potentially thousands of lonely square feet. For heating, we personally feel this might not work as well if you’re using it exclusively. We prefer to have our entire home cozy and warm. It doesn’t really work to heat some rooms and not others (our home is not that big!) So we would likely have all units running to heat the entire house. We also didn’t install units in the bathrooms (nor would most people) so those rooms would need an alternative heating source (heated floors anyone?).

If you’re interested in going green or having a carbon neutral home, a mini split system can be a piece of the puzzle. If you install solar panels and you are able to produce enough amps to run your home and HVAC system you can be a step closer to operating off the grid.

We’ve been stubbornly resistant to considering making the switch to cooling AND heating exclusively with a ductless mini split heat pump, but the better the technology gets (it’s pretty much there), the more we learn about it, and the increasingly positive reviews we hear from those who are doing it is slowly but surely is changing our minds. Maybe we’ll give it a go this winter and report back our own review!

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Recessed Shelves & Niches

We always loved the small touches of character in original homes like built-ins nooks and niches. Some much care was given to creating interesting features and moments in the design. We remember walking through several brownstones in the search for our perfect home and finding interesting ornate niches built into the staircase. Some were staged beautifully with statues, vases, and pictures. But some looked like they haven’t been touched in quite possibly a hundred years. When we purchased our home, there were some beautiful original details, but a lot of what was here originally was removed over the years. We don’t know if the place may have had a few of these architectural touches at some point, but we felt like some areas could use a bit more character. We wanted to put something back into the place to create some of these interesting moments, even if it wasn’t necessarily going to resemble something that was original.

The before and after of the recessed niche.

We painted the niche in a two-tone pink from Clare Paint.

When we bought our place we noticed that the first thing you saw when walking in was an unattractive, very utilitarian door at the top of the stairs that led to the roof hatch. We felt like we could do better as a first impression when walking in the door. We relocated the roof entrance around the side of the wall and built a niche of our own! Albeit a more modern version of the ornate original ones that we loved so much. It cost us basically nothing extra to build since we were doing so much work already. Our hope was to create an interesting feature much like the intention of some of the original versions we loved. We really love the way it turned out and feel that it fits in very well with our place.

Our guest bathroom is one of the few brand new spaces in our home. It was formerly a small bedroom, so we needed to build all of the plumbing and completely transform the space. We were drawn to making it feel like it has been there for many years. All of the finishes and fixtures have a vintage feel. We thought this would be a great place to create another built-in nook. It’s one of the features we get the most compliments on when people use our guest bathroom and again it costs nothing extra to build. It gives the bathroom some interest rather than just having 4 flat and boring walls. It also helps the room feel more like it was always supposed to be this bathroom.

In our master bathroom we built a big double shower that extends across the entire width of the room. It’s the primary feature of the space and we wanted to give it a useful feature that would be the icing on the cake! We built an inset niche that spans the width of the back shower wall, just as the shower spans the width of the room. It’s a useful place for us to keep shampoo and soap bottles, as well as succulents and other items that make our shower more interesting.

The last built-in feature that we created was in our bedroom. This one happened more out of necessity. Our bedroom, like many in Brooklyn, has an old fireplace bump out. The fireplace is long gone. Removed and bricked up in a prior senseless renovation. What’s left is just a 5 foot section of wall jutting out into the room. It made it very difficult to figure out how to place our bed on that wall and the bump out was not centered in the room. . Our solution was to build a wall to extend the length and center it in the room. Now we have a bump out that extends most of the room and is a perfect backdrop to our bed, but it leaves about 2 feet of space on each side. On one side one of our closet doors slides comfortably into it, and on the other side our radiator is at the bottom. We decided that this little space that was created out of necessity would make a great built-in shelf feature! We used an old Ikea table top that was left in our basement, cut it into shelves, and stained them. It cost us a few hundred dollars to have our contractor build the wall, but it cost us nothing to put in the shelves into this special nook. It’s one of the things that gives the room it’s character and something that makes us happy to see everyday.

None of these features were especially hard or expensive to create. Although we know it’s nothing like what original brownstone builders would have done, it makes us feel like we have contributed something back into what is the living, breathing, and evolving (for better or worse) character of our home.

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Backyard Makeover Reveal and Tour

Outdoor space seems more important than ever right now. If you’re fortunate enough to have a backyard, it’s time well spent giving it a makeover. We’ve been working tirelessly in our backyard for the past few months but we’ve been dreaming about it even longer. After going through a major renovation of the house, we had basically no budget for the backyard. We saved up $2500 and set out to transform the space as much as we could.

Our backyard is not only a retreat for us to relax, it’s also a way for us to connect with our friends. Now that pandemic related precautions are lifting we are very much looking forward to social distanced outdoor fun with small groups of friends this summer. We built our space with those 2 things in mind.

After using a jackhammer to take up a lot of cement, relocating soil over our entire yard, carrying hundreds of bags of sand and gravel in, carrying many bags of excess soil out, leveling pavers, and lots of planting, we are finally done! We can’t wait for you to see!

A before and after of our Backyard Makeover. After photo by: Shahnee Naftali

Time for the tour!

Walking out of the back door you step onto our 18×8 foot steel deck. It’s made of steel and concrete to comply with NYC building code (because our deck stretches from property line to property line it must be made out of non combustible materials).

The most important use for the deck for us was cooking and al fresco dining. We have a beautiful grill from DCS Grills (purchased before our backyard makeover) and a round table that expands for larger al fresco dinner parties! We introduced a pop of color with sun yellow chairs from ,,Article.

At the very bottom of the deck stairs you land on our hardscape area. We installed a pea gravel and bluestone patio. We used bluestone that we found in various parts of our yard with pea gravel in between. Pea gravel patios always remind us of Mediterranean gardens so we really like the feel it gives our backyard. This space was designed to have relaxing seating and a fire pit. It’s a bit more comfy than the seating on the deck and you have the feeling of being immersed in all of the planting around you.

Between the patio and the building we built a 24” raised raised flower bed that stretches across most of the width of the yard. On one side are the deck stairs and the other a small path. We painted it matte black to match the deck. We wanted to create some interest with varying height in the garden and also create a separate private space for our tenant. It serves both purposes well!

The back half of our yard beyond the patio is grass! It was dirt…but we seeded a lawn! We had major doubts we would ever see one blade of grass, but we spent time making sure we had the right grass seed. Then after taking care of it like a mama bird takes care of her chicks for 5 weeks we had a full lawn! (Watering 3 times a day!) We used a special grass seed mix for yards that don’t get full sun. It’s dog-friendly and drought resistant (aka us forgetting to water). The seed we used is #769 from ,,PT Lawn Seed. At less than $20 for a bag of seed it was definitely worth the 5 week wait over the more expensive but instantly gratifying option of installing sod. It definitely paid off because it’s a beautiful bright green carpet of grass!

There are 2 more relaxing places to hang it toward the back of the yard over the grass. A hammock and 2 Adirondack chairs.

All the way around the perimeter of the yard are shade tolerant plantings. With help from our backyard beautifier, Jeannette Williams from ,,Loam Brooklyn, we picked out plants that would work well in our yard and provide the relaxing environment we were looking for. We planted Bugloss, Hardy Geranium, Ghost Ferns, Ostrich Ferns, Echinacea, Butterfly Bushes, and 2 Ruby Falls. With Jeanette’s help we got all of our plants from wholesale places, and we are patiently waiting for them to grow in a bit and fill the space.

The last piece of the puzzle, that really sets the mood, are the 2- 60 foot strings of lights running from the house all the way to the back of the yard.

The result has really exceeded our expectations and dreams. We have spent morning, day, and night in the backyard ever since we finished! It was time and money (even with our limited budget) well spent. The total amount we spent ended up being about $2600. It might look a bit more DIY than what the $35,000 quotes we got would have, but we enjoyed the process and now really appreciate the result even more!

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We All Want Something Custom! Furniture and Built-Ins

Our renovation budget required us to get creative to stretch it to the finish line. We tried to combine inexpensive items with some higher-end touches to achieve the overall outcome. Sometimes off-the-shelf items just won’t get you to the gorgeous finished look of that inspiration photo you’re swooning over. We certainly didn’t have the budget to go custom in many places but where we did (and will!) it’s worth it! A custom built-in or piece of furniture allows for personalized design to fit your space and taste. What’s the possibilities, how do you make it happen, and how much does it cost?

Our first custom piece of furniture in our place was our master bathroom vanity. We searched high and low for the right piece. Many that we found were too big for our urban-sized bathroom, which isn’t tiny at 10’X6’, but still requires a compact option. Hours and hours of searching led us to the same styles and look over and over again. Anything that we did find that we liked was either too big or too expensive. We knew what we wanted so we turned to a carpenter. The cost was still a splurge, but we felt it was worth it because it was cheaper than the off-the-shelf options that we liked and we could customize the size so that it improved the feel of the entire room.

In the past we have had a dining table and a coffee table custom built as well. It’s such a great solution to get a one-of-a-kind piece likely for less than an expensive off-the-shelf item. It’s something you’ll have for years and you’ll be happy to talk about when someone admiringly asks, “where did you get that?”

Built-in cabinets and shelving can dramatically transform a space. And sometimes it is the only option. That’s the case for the largest unfinished area of our house. If you’ve seen pictures of our mostly finished space, you probably haven’t seen the large blank wall where something is obviously missing. We do our best to keep it out of our finished photos. It’s opposite our kitchen. We have stared at it more hours than we would like to mention trying to figure out what we want to do. We know we need more storage so we always planned on putting something there, but we just didn’t know what we wanted it to look like or even how we wanted it to function. It’s going to be a large feature of the room. We thought about buying a piece (or pieces) of furniture, but we now know the only solution is a custom built-in. We finally have our inspiration ready and we are going to embark on the project soon.

We are in the beginning stages of designing our custom built-ins across from the kitchen island. Inspiration photo found on Pinterest. Photo by: Remodelista

How To Get Started?

Free your mind and the rest will follow. The best thing about custom furniture is that you can build whatever you want. You don’t have to be restricted to what you’re seeing out there on the store shelves. Start by evaluating your needs and wants. Do you need lots of storage? Or do you want a place to display items? Examine how you live and how you’ll interact with the piece. That is one reason we have waited this long to fill this empty hole in our house. We decided we didn’t want to rush it. We wanted to build what would work best for us and to understand that we needed to live in the space for a while.

Look for inspiration. If you’re like us you might need some direction on the aesthetic. The design was not going to miraculously appear to us in a vision. We stockpiled visual inspiration. We spoke to friends who have an eye for design. And we saved lots of Pinterest pins, Instagram screenshots, and scoured our favorite design inspiration blogs. From there we pulled some features from our favorite inspiration and combined it with our list of needs. We have a concept!

How To Make It Happen

The next step is to find a builder. You can work with a furniture builder, a cabinet maker, a millworker, or a carpenter. One thing that we need for this project is someone to take our concept and put the last few finishing touches on it to make it a reality. So we wanted someone who had the ability to design and build it. Some millworkers and cabinet makers might require detailed drawings with specs for them to build from. Others will take your inspiration and concept and provide the finishing touches and detailed drawings. That is what we need. Fortunately it isn’t too hard to find a builder that will help with the design. You’ll just want to make sure you have a clear enough vision and a solid inspiration to convey what you want.

You can provide detailed measurements or it could be a better idea to have the builder come in person to see the space and take measurements. For furniture, it could be a bit more straightforward. For instance, we knew we needed our vanity to be 55” wide and 18” deep. We could provide that to the builder ourselves and there was no need for him to come out before. For our built-ins, since he will be fitting them into place, it’s best for him to come out to take his own measurements. He will be aware of features that might require some special requirements to fit properly.

How Much Does This Cost?

There is always a less expensive option than building custom. For instance, we’re fans of taking off-the-shelf cabinets and fitting them in to look built in. You might still need the skill of a carpenter but it can save thousands in materials and special skills. Sometimes, like with our kitchen wall, custom is really the only solution to achieve the desired outcome. So for us it’s worth the extra expense. Drawers, cabinets, and other working/mechanical features are what contribute to the cost the most. The type of material used is also a big contributor. For a custom vanity you could be looking at something like $3,000-$5,000. That might be more or less than the off-the-shelf items. For custom built-ins like the ones we want to do in our kitchen the cost could vary more depending on those variables but a range might be $4,000-$9,000 if you keep it relatively simple.

Custom furniture and built-ins might seem expensive but for items that will last decades we think it’s worth working it in a few areas. We can justify it by giving our strapped budget some breathing room in other areas. Mixing some off-the-shelf very inexpensive items with some upgraded custom features will contribute to your overall unique style while hopefully keeping your project affordable.

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Lighting Design 101

Now that we have been living in our renovated house for over 6 months, a lot of people ask us what we would have done differently. One of the things we immediately say is the lighting design. We didn’t make any huge mistakes (well except for the guest bedroom light switch ending up behind the door swing!) but there’s a lot of little things about how we live and interact with the space that we didn’t think about…and some that we did and are happy about it daily. Although we could not have lived in the space to understand the patterns of how we would use it, we could have made the lighting design more livable with a bit more forethought.

Placement of Switches

As we mentioned, we messed up. A renovation is a whirlwind of decisions, choices, and moving parts. Measurements, colors, sheen, door swings, hardware options all come flying at you quickly. There are even 1,000 shades of white to stare at looking for subtle differences. Something was inevitably going to slip by. For us, it happened in our guest bedroom. Once we put in the door we excitedly opened it for the first time only to find ourselves hopelessly searching a blank wall for a light switch. It was behind the door! Fortunately, it’s a guest room that we don’t use often, and we plan to fix it one day, but for now if you want light in that room you need to close the door to turn it on! We could have caught that if we would have been paying closer attention. Although that was a pretty big mistake, there are many small things that can make a big difference if you only spend a few more minutes with your lighting plan envisioning yourself moving around the place. Should the light switches be on the left or right? Should they be on the outside or inside of the room (obviously inside usually but there are certain circumstances that might call for a light switch outside a room) Should they be grouped together or spread apart? Finally, do you want multiple lights on one switch or do you want greater control over which lights are on and which are off with separate switches? Imagine yourself moving through the space, in and out of each room, and think about what would make it easier.

A series of switches and recessed lighting in our renovation. Can you spot which one is incorrect?

3-Way Switches

We decided to put in 3-way switches on all of the lights upstairs and downstairs in the stairway area. When we go to bed we can turn lights off downstairs from upstairs and vice versa. There may also be places that you might want a switch for a light at 2 sides of a room. Our parlor level is pretty open. We put the living area light switch near the front entrance to the room, but now that we realize we spend most of our time in the kitchen it would be nice to be able to control that light from the kitchen area in the back as well.


For us, being able to control the level of light is crucial. Fortunately, it is an easy fix if you want to swap out a light switch for a dimmer switch. Do yourself a favor though and put them in everywhere. We are very happy that we put them where we did (almost everywhere) and occasionally wish we put them where we didn’t.

Recessed Lighting

We cannot lie to you. We are not fans of recessed lighting. Maybe it’s because we decided to stake our claim on a piece of Brooklyn history, and recessed lighting, in our opinion, just doesn’t fit in. We love our plaster moldings and original wood and scaring any of it up with a ceiling full of potholes and channels just wasn’t what we wanted to do. It’s also not the kind of light we prefer. With that said, they have their place! We have a recessed light (one!) in our beautiful master bath double shower, and we put 3 recessed lights in our kitchen where we were already replacing the ceiling. We like them, but we could have easily installed some over cabinet articulating sconces and would have been just as happy, or happier! On the plus side, LED recessed are made to be very low profile and thin these days so they are easy to install in places where they can be useful, like in the cellar, in a closet, or in a shower.

Smart Lighting

Many of the concerns about 3-way switches, switch placement, dimming, and more can be solved with smart lighting. You can connect all of your lights to a hub or an app on your phone through WiFi. You can turn off upstairs lights from downstairs or from anywhere in the world. You can even create schedules and settings that change the lighting around the entire house with a tap(or it just happens automatically.) There are lots of options. You can have a hub with wired or remote connection. You can also just pop out your switch and put in a new one, then connect through WiFi and an app. Or you can even just change the bulb and connect it through WiFi. It’s easy and affordable. One thing to note that you might want to give some thought tops that some smart lighting switches require a neutral wire. Many old homes with replaced electrical end up without it in places because of the difficulty in running wires in existing walls and not trying to open up too many holes. There are some smart light switches that don’t require it but most do. If you are really into the best of the best smart lighting and don’t want to be restricted in your choices, make sure you run a neutral wire to all switches where you want it.

Other Interesting Lighting Ideas

Give a lot of thought to the amount of light you want in your space. Are there places you want more light, less light, or more control over lighting levels? Under cabinet lights (we have them and never use them), closet lights that turn on when you open the door, sconces to throw light up or down in interesting ways, and remember kitchens and bathrooms need more light sources…there are a lot of fun ways to customize your lighting design!


Finally, once you get the lighting design down it’s time to choose fixtures. Your lighting design might even depend on the type of fixtures your want. Pendants over the kitchen island, up-turned or down turned sconces, multiple bulb fixtures and chandeliers, even if you don’t choose the actual fixture while you are doing your lighting design you will want a general idea of the type for each location.

Lighting design is the area that we think about the most when we are asked, “what would you have done differently.” Ironically, many of the things we would have done differently would not have cost a penny more, or would have been marginally more expensive. It just requires a bit more thought and patience to spend time thinking through it. A renovation will throw a lot of decisions at you, many of which you need to make quickly, but this is an area we strongly recommend taking a bit more time to think about.

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Backyard Landscaping and Gardening Update

Tis the season for gardening and planting! The sun is out and birds are chirping and we’ve been working on our backyard makeover the past 2 months. It’s been a really fun 100% DIY project and the perfect distraction from the problems of the world. We have already planned our space, torn out a lot of the existing features, built our hardscaping, and now we are finally ready for planting! Our budget is tiny so we really needed to be smart about choices. Over this past weekend we did a Instagram Live Q&A with our back-yard-beautifier and gardening guru, ,,Jeanette Williams, to help answer questions. We thought we would talk about everything we have learned and provide as much info as we can (with the help of Jeannette of course) to help you get your gardening on too.

Backyard Recap

First a quick recap of where we are in the process. Our backyard was always a project we put off until after our larger renovation was complete. It was a pile of rubble for a lot of it and it was an overgrown mess for all of it. We built the deck as part of the renovation but it wasn’t even a pleasant place to be because the rest of the yard was not very inspiring. We were so fortunate to find Jeannette who is so good at everything we are not when it comes to gardening. We had questions. Can we have grass with a shady yard and a large dog? What kind of plants should we get? What kind of patio/hardscape will fit into our very small budget?

We planned, designed, and started installation. We removed all of the existing features including a lot of cement. We fortunately found some bluestone that we are re-using, we built a large raised flower bed, and we planted grass! Our backyard is already completely transformed and we have one more big step of putting in all of the plantings.

Where To Start

If you’re like we were, you are currently staring at your overgrown or not-so-inspiring backyard just not knowing where to start. Fortunately, the first time Jeannette came over to see our space we developed a clear plan! She suggested that we first just observe our space. Noting where the sunlight falls (we took a picture every hour on the hour of the backyard so we can understand where the sunny spots are). We also gathered inspiration from photos of spaces we loved and tried to envision ourselves in the space. All of this pretty quickly developed into a plan. We noticed that the back half of our yard gets a good amount of sun, while the front half gets almost none. It made it very easy to determine where our patio space would be and where we would attempt to plant grass. We also listed our priorities for the space (relaxing, eating, dog play…etc). It all clicked when Jeannette suggested the perfect inspiration picture and we were ready for the next phase!

Designing The Space

Designing the space is the most important part. It’s where you’ll decide where to build the hardscape, where to put softscape, what plants to go with that make sense for your yard, and of course budget.

We seeded the grass seed from PT Lawn two weeks ago, the grass has grown quite well.


This is where budget was a big concern for us. We were hardscaping a pretty big area from the patio that is under the deck all the way out to about half of the yard. Pavers, bluestone, or flagstone for the entire area would have pushed us out of budget. So we decided to use the bluestone we reclaimed from our backyard and pea gravel to cover a large area for the patio. Read more about our patio installation and budget here, but the goal came to about $800. Flagstone runs about $16-$20 per square foot so we feel that it was a great decision!

We’re making some great progress on our DIY Backyard Makeover.


Once we understood where the hardscape was going we designed the softscape and plantings. Our backyard is fairly shady although the back half gets partial sun. We really wanted grass at least in part of our yard. Jeannette helped us determine where it would make sense to have grass and also to find the right type.

Grass Update! To sod or to seed that is the question! After carrying 145 bags of sand and gravel through our house and into the backyard getting a 2 pound bag of seed was definitely the way to go rather than carrying sod. It was also much cheaper and gave us the ability to really customize the mix of turf seed. We went with a pet-friendly microclover turf mix. It has 4 varieties grass, fescue, and microclover that is supposed to handle pet urine better as well as being drought tolerant (aka us forgetting to water it!). We prepared the area by removing some excess soil, turning it all over, adding 1 bag of peat moss to aerate, an organic lawn starter fertilizer (you could do without this if you have an issue with it), and just hand sprinkling our seed. We cover it all with bird netting so that the birds and squirrels would steal half our seed. You need to keep the seed moist at all times during germination which means watering 3-4 times a day when it’s not raining. We expected that we wouldn’t see any sprouts for a couple of weeks (and perhaps never since this is our first grass seed planting experiment!) but after one week we had a green fuzz starting to form over the entire area. After 2 weeks we had grass that almost needed cutting! We do need to go back and fill in some places either we missed laying the seed by hand or that possibly moved around while watering. Overall it looks great and we’re very glad we went with seed over sod.


One of the things that Jeanette suggested for us to do during the observation phase was to get a soil test. That would tell us if there are any heavy metals or anything that we should be worried about when eating veggies grown in our yard. Covid-19 shut down the labs that could do that for us so we had to proceed without it. Because of that we are not planting any edible plants in our yard right now. We could just bring in some top soil for it but we have moved enough soil around our yard for this year/lifetime. We also want to be sure anything we plant is dog friendly. Our dog Zuko loves to take a chomp out of anything green and we don’t want him to get sick. Jeannette let us know that a few of the plants we liked and suggested were potentially toxic to dogs! We didn’t realize how important of a consideration that should be. Since our yard is shady we also didn’t want to set ourselves up for failure with the wrong plants.

We have beds all around our yard and a large 3’X9’ raised bed to cover. We really want to plant mature plants so we were worried about the budget. Fortunately there were many options that Jeannette suggested that fit our requirements for shade friendly and dog friendly plants.

Here are our choices:

We’re doing ferns and geraniums in the extra shady spots, Bugloss and Budleja Unique partial sun, Echinacea magnus in the sunniest spots, and Eastern redbud Ruby Falls for some pops of bright color.

We’re sourcing plants from a few places but we were able to find great prices and selection at: Natty Garden, Kings County Nursery, Hicks Nursery, and Fanelli’s Landscape Supply.

Plantings Budget: We spent $18 on a 2 pound bag of grass seed. To prep the area we spent $20 on a bag of lawn starter and $15 on a large bag of peat moss. We haven’t ordered our plants yet but Jeannette is helping us source all of the plants and put together an amazing spreadsheet so that we know exactly what we are spending. Plantings for a very full and mature garden all the way around and through a typical 20×50 Brooklyn backyard is costing us about $600!


The design phase is the longest but the installation phase is the most labor intensive. Since it’s a DIY project and we work during the week it took us a couple of months of working on weekends to get to where we are now. Demo and bagging up the existing cement took a couple weekends. Digging, and digging, and digging to remove soil and level the area for the patio area took a couple of days. Installing the gravel and bluestone patio took a couple of days. Removing excess soil and prepping for the grass area took a day. And now we are ready to plant!

Total budget: Right now our backyard makeover which very dramatically transformed our space costs about $1500. We are still working and may add a few things, including furniture, but so far we are pleasantly surprised at how inexpensively we were able to do it. It was a good amount of work but we feel it has been totally doable for anyone even with no experience, especially with help of our gardening guru, ,,Jeannette!

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Budget Kitchen Cabinets With A High-End Look

Kitchens are often the most expensive spaces to renovate. There are a lot of moving parts and pieces that add up quickly. Of those, often the biggest and most expensive is the cabinetry. There is a wide range of options and the sky’s the limit. Fortunately there are also ways to achieve a high-end look on a budget. Since that is where most of us are in our renovation stories that’s what we’ll talk about, although if you’re curious about custom cabinetry prices keep reading.

IKEA Cabinets and Custom Fronts

A very popular and perfectly great option to remodel your kitchen on a budget is to use IKEA cabinets. They are just fine and do a great job. There are also many ways to customize them to upgrade the look. IKEA has several door and drawer fronts that can achieve anything from a clean white Shaker look to a modern Scandinavian slab (more on that in a bit). What has become fairly popular, if not fashionable in its own right, and an even better way to achieve a higher end look, is to use IKEA cabinet boxes (the interior and frame) with more custom door and drawer fronts. If you haven’t heard, IKEA sells the boxes without the fronts so you’re not wasting money by not using them.

If you go with IKEA boxes and fronts you can get cabinets for an average kitchen for $2,000-$4,000. Even less if you don’t get the fronts. That number is deceptively low so keep in mind that there are many more components to your kitchen remodel, but for now we’re just talking cabinets.

IKEA’s cabinetry system is called SEKTION and depending on what fronts you chose they all have their own names. The SEKTION system is modular so you can even mix and match fronts for a 2-tone or multi-textural look. You can even swap out all of your door and drawer fronts with something completely different if you tire of your white shaker after a year or 2. Since the system is so modular and easily customizable, other companies now make upgraded solid wood custom fronts for IKEA cabinets in a vast amount of options. It is an upgrade so they will cost more, but it’s the part of the cabinet you see and it’s what will give you that custom look for close to IKEA prices. Check out ,,Semi-handmade and ,,Reform. You’ll find that using the custom fronts will cost about 20% more than the IKEA fronts but the payoff is well worth it to us.

Unassembled or Preassembled Wood Cabinets

For a similar price as ,,IKEA cabinets there are companies that make nice wood cabinets at a fairly low cost. You can even get them preassembled which can make it easier for you to install yourself in a DIY project. We have used the ,,RTA Store in the past and found that their cabinets were inexpensive (they often run 40-50% off sales), nice quality, and they provided free design and consultation services to piece it all together. You might pay $6,000-$8,000 for this option, including the doors, which is close to where you might end up with IKEA cabinets and upgraded custom fronts. There are many other cabinet companies with similar options. When we used them for our renovation, we upgraded the less expensive cabinets with more expensive hardware. It’s not necessary as there are a lot of low cost hardware options, but for us it added some bling to our kitchen that makes us happy and helped us justify going with the cheaper cabinets.

Custom Cabinetry

Now if you are curious how all of this compares to custom cabinetry here are some numbers. Custom cabinets are a luxury few can afford, but as the less expensive options can come close they won’t compare to the look of beautifully built millwork. Quotes we have seen for custom millwork are in the $25,000- $35,000 range. Or another way to price it out is $1500-$2500 per piece. There are also semi-custom options to explore if you want something in between. With all of the other expenses a kitchen renovation brings it can push your budget into eye-popping numbers.

Putting It All Together

We talked about the cabinet boxes but there are a few more options and components to consider for your kitchen cabinetry.

Inset vs Overlay

Inset Cabinet Doors are set into the cabinet frame and fit flush to the cabinet surface. Many of the beautiful Pinterest photos you might have seen could be inset. It’s a custom look and usually costs more than other options. Everything needs to fit very precisely, so this style usually isn’t an option in the less expensive category.

Full Overlay doors can achieve a similar look to inset since they completely cover the front of the cabinet providing that flat surface look. This is what you can get through IKEA or IKEA with custom fronts.

Partial Overlay doors are similar to full overlay except more of the cabinet can be seen between the doors and drawers. It is a more traditional and less custom look but it is also more forgiving for everything to fit together.

Door & Drawer Front Style

Shaker – Shaker furniture dates back to the 18th century. Shaker-style cabinetry has surged in popularity and is considered to have a modern look that is now becoming so common it’s moving toward traditional. It’s a clean, simple, and timeless look with one recessed panel in the center. A clean white shaker kitchen is a great option and is likely to not offend anyone. You can pop it up by moving away from white and painting the fronts with a custom color.

Slab – The simplest style cabinet fronts are flat slab panels. They are an even more modern look and current trend in kitchen design. The clean Scandinavian look is sure to be a head turner where a shaker kitchen will choose to sit in the background.

Raised Panel – You’ll find raised panel cabinets in very transitional or ornately elegant designs. Rather than the simple recessed panel of a Shaker cabinet, a panel comes back to surface level and can have various ornamentation. Since IKEA and the custom front companies will trend modern you won’t find many raised panel cabinet options there.

Other Components

An example of pre & post cabinets with toekicks and fillers installed.

Photo credit: Chris Loves Julia

To complete your cabinetry’s low cost high-end look you’ll need toe kicks, filler panels, and possibly molding. Custom cabinets will use much less of this since they will be built specifically for your space. These pieces are the key to making your off-the-shelf cabinets look built-in. It’s another area that the custom front option will greatly upgrade the IKEA version. The more substantial solid wood will have an elevated feel. Keep in mind that you will still need to get the toe kicks (custom versions fit on top of the IKEA parts) and hinges if you’re using custom fronts.

We installed low cost pre assembled cabinets in our kitchen and we love the way it turned out. At the time, we didn’t know as much about IKEA and custom fronts, and we would dare to say that if we could do it all over again we might have gone with that option. We would probably have saved some money and we could have customized the look even more. We’re certainly enjoying our kitchen (if you can’t tell!) and are happy to know that there are options for us budget conscientious folks who want that custom kitchen look.

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Choices 2020: Varnish Or Paint For Our Mahogany Front Doors

We installed our new Mahogany double front doors over a month ago. We’ve been debating whether we wanted to paint them or finish the wood. Since then we’ve gotten a lot of rain and we noticed it taking its toll on the raw wood. It was time for us to get some protection on this wood!

Our original double brownstone doors were long ago removed and replaced with a modern single door with filler on both sides. It was an inexpensive and all-too-popular fix in the 70’s and 80’s across Brooklyn as the original doors needed work. Less importance was given to maintaining the historical features and more importance was given to practical considerations of having an efficient and insulated door. We knew we wanted to restore the original double door, but decided that we weren’t going to go as far as having a custom door built to match the original ornamentation. At a price of $10,000-$15,000 it just wasn’t in the budget. We found a 48” double door with very little ornamentation, but we had nice big double paned glass panels, and some recessed panels, in mahogany, which was likely at least the type of wood our original door might have been made of. At only $1500 including the jam it was the best compromise for us.

Since our door was going to be a little bit more modern looking we thought we might paint it a deep dark color. We really like the black and dark blue painted doors we have seen around our neighborhood. Our cornice is painted a dark blue so that is what we made our plan! We were going to paint our doors a nice dark blue.

We bought the paint and it sat untouched for over a month. We were just not excited about painting our doors. The raw mahogany tone was growing on us more and more. We thought it was just too pretty to cover up with paint! So after a month and a half of debating and even a purchased gallon of paint we decided to varnish our door to bring out the natural tone in the wood.

We discussed with several wood restoration professionals what would be the best varnish to use to protect the door. What we settled on was a clear satin marine varnish. Marine varnish is used on the beautiful wood you might see on a vintage sailboat so we knew that it would be more than enough to protect our door from some of the driving rain it can receive.

We used ,,Marine Spar Varnish. We also got a nice new brush and a medium grit sandpaper. We chose a 2-3 day period where the forecast looked warm, bright, and sunny. After taping off the hardware and painted wood around the door we sanded it to get it ready for the varnish. We carefully painted on one coat of the varnish and immediately saw the beautiful tone of the wood come alive! We knew we made the right decision not to paint it. We let the first coat dry for 24 hours and painted on a second coat to make sure the wood would be well protected. The second coat didn’t change or darken the tone we achieved and loved after the first coat.

It’s been 2 weeks since we varnished our doors and every time we walk up to them we still say how happy we are we didn’t paint them! We also know they are well protected and will be looking their best for years to come! Let us know what you think!

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Cookie Monsters- A Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe Adapted From Levain Bakery

There are two things to know about us boys. We love NYC and we love cookies! One of the most iconic bakeries in NYC is Levain Bakery. When you plan your next trip to the city, plan an afternoon in line waiting for one of their cookies. It’s worth any wait. There have been times we’ve waited hours upon hours for one of their warm Walnut Chocolate Chip cookies. We have brought out our inner baker during these Quarantine times and want to share a recipe we stumbled upon. We hope this easy-to-make cookie brings you joy, comfort, and a little bit of NYC into your home!

Let us know how they turn out! Tag your pictures at #whatscookingwithbboys

Levain Bakery Chocolate Chip Cookies adapted from ,,Modern Honey


  • 1 cup Cold Butter cut into small cubes
  • 1 cup Brown Sugar
  • 1/2 cup Sugar
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups Cake Flour*
  • 1 1/2 cups Flour
  • 1 teaspoon Cornstarch
  • 3/4 teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon Salt
  • 2 cups Chocolate Chips
  • 2 cups Walnuts roughly chopped


  1. Preheat oven to 410 degrees.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, cream together cold cubed butter, brown sugar, and sugar for 4 minutes or until creamy.
  3. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each one.
  4. Stir in flours, cornstarch, baking soda, and salt. Mix until just combined to avoid over-mixing. Stir in chocolate chips and walnuts.
  5. Separate dough into large balls and place on lightly sprayed cookie sheet. They are quite large- you will fit probably 4 cookies on one large cookie sheet. The dough makes 8 extra large cookies but , personal note, feel free to make smaller cookies!
  6. Bake for 9-12 minutes or until golden brown on the top. Let them rest for at least 10 minutes to set.

Recipe Notes

*can substitute all-purpose flour for cake flour

*Levain Bakery has stated they don’t use vanilla extract in their cookies. If you would like to add vanilla extract, recipe suggests using 1 tsp. when mixing the eggs in batter.

Budget Backyard Patio and Landscaping

We’ve been very excited about starting our backyard makeover for a year and half! It’s hard to believe it‘s here! It was always something we were going to get to once our main renovation was complete. During that process we were so deep into the project it just seemed like something we would never get to. While we still have lots of projects to keep us busy inside, we can now focus some attention to getting our backyard in shape for summer!

We’ve already thought about what our ,,priorities are for the space. We’ve planned it out and we’re half way through the work! The design will feature a hardscape area for entertaining, a grassy area for relaxing, and lots of plantings.


…Or lack of! This is a post renovation project that really never had an official budget. We are moving to it quite quickly after a major renovation, that of course didn’t leave anything in the contingency fund. So we want to make our backyard as beautiful as we can on pretty much a bit of budget to buy plants, some kind of hardscape solution, and maybe a couple of pieces of furniture. We are hoping to spend about $2500 on the whole thing. It’s almost nothing compared to the tens of thousands we scene some people spend. It should be interesting to see how far we could stretch it!

The Design

Our backyard had an interesting feature that we’ve learned was popular in Brooklyn in the 50s and 60s. A path with 2 cement curbs on the sides framed the yard. It created a small raised bed along the fence and a narrower area of grass in the middle. The path itself felt pretty useless to us and it had the effect of making the backyard seem smaller and narrower. Most of our initial designs kept that feature because we didn’t want to go through the trouble and expense of removing it then hauling away all of the cement. It was feeling a bit restrictive in what we could do with the space so we ultimately decided to remove it. With a borrowed jackhammer and a mallet we prepared for some sore muscles.

We found that lining the path all the way around was flagstone concealed under a thin layer of dirt. Have we found our solution to a budget-friendly hardscape surface? We pulled all of the flagstone up and there were some really large pieces. It wasn’t quite enough build the patio we wanted, but it would save us a lot of money buying pavers and drastically cut down on the expense of hauling away debris. So we planned on working it into the design.

As with many of the spaces in our design we found an inspiration picture, with help from our backyard enthusiast designer friend, Jeanette, that closely resembled what we wanted. In that picture pea gravel was used for the patio area. Although we know it’s not for everyone, we really like the Mediterranean vibe it gives the space. So Jeanette helped us come up with a plan to use our reclaimed flagstone along with pea gravel to create a patio area. It will be very budget friendly and reduce the amount of work it would be removing debris and getting materials.

The back half of the yard that gets the most sun will be a grassy lawn. We’re using a special mix of grass seed that is drought-resistant (aka forgetting to water it), dog friendly (aka Zuko peeing in it), and does well in partial sun. We would leave the outside cement curb that creates the raised area along the perimeter to make room for plantings. The last feature will be an easy-to-build raised flower bed in the center of the patio to create some interest with different heights. It also will provide a separation of space for our tenant to have a semi-private patio as well.

The Patio

To make our flagstone and pea gravel patio we first needed to dig down to provide room for the base layer and gravel layer. To make the base layer more solid and reduce the depth of it, Jeanette suggested that we order a ground grid. It’s basically a 2” deep plastic honeycomb that unfolds to create pockets that would hold the base layer to create a solid foundation. We decided to do a 2” base layer of sand and 2” of gravel/flagstone on top. We ordered our materials (we’re currently staying home because of the pandemic) so that it would all arrive before we needed it.

For the first phase, here are the materials we needed to order:

  • Ground grid $200
  • 45 cubic feet of leveling sand $360
  • 30 cubic feet of pea gravel (less than the sand because of the flagstone)$250
  • Metal landscape edging $45
  • 6 – 2X8X12 boards, 3 – 2X8X8 boards, 2 – 2X4X8 boards and 1 box of 3” deck screws $100
  • 1 bag of lawn seed $18

We dug down 4” moving the extra dirt to the back of the yard, and leaving some in the place we knew we would build the raised bed. We graded it slightly away from the house and did our best to level it off. The next step was to install the landscape edging. This is important to keep the gravel and sand from migrating over into the lawn area. It came in 5’ lengths that slid together to create the needed size. Metal stakes were included to anchor it into place.

Installing the ground grid was super easy. It is shipped in a relatively small box and then unfolds like an accordion to create the honeycomb. It was as simple as stretching it out into place.

The next step was to build the raised flower bed. It was going to act as edging for the sand and gravel so we wanted to get it built first. It’s an easy project any novice with a skill saw and drill can do! Our design is 3 stacked 2×8 boards all the way around with 2×4’s in the corners to provide strength and create and anchor into the ground. Here is what we did:

  • Measure the area and plan the length of all of your boards.
  • Cut all boards to length using a skill saw
  • Screw the base ring of 2×8’s together with the longer side overlapping the edge of the smaller side
  • Screw the 2×4’s into the corners with about 3” sticking out of the bottom to anchor it in place (this is a good time to make sure the base ring is square)
  • We then put the base in place and hammered down the 2×4 anchors
  • Go around and complete screwing in the rest of the boards

Now that the raised flower bed is in, the space is prepped for the sand and gravel installation. This went very fast! We had all of the bags of sand poured out in about 30-40 minutes.

Next we laid out the pattern for the flagstone. We leveled them all using the sand, carefully raising or lowering them (they are all different heights which made it tough to work with) by adding or removing sand underneath.

Once the flagstone was all in place and leveled we just needed to pour out the bags of gravel. 30 minutes later we had a complete patio space! We really love the way it came out. We like the clean look the gravel gives the space. It’s comfortable to walk on and it was easy to install. Best yet we have only spent $950 so far so that gives us a nice budget for plants!

That’s where we are! Our next backyard post will be once the space is finished so stay tuned!

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Choosing The Right Smart Lighting System

** Please note we received Bulbrite Solana bulbs as a sponsorship. The opinions and commentary in blog post are our own.

During our renovation we really wanted to put in smart lighting. We wanted it to connect to our devices, set it on a schedule, adjust light levels from our couch, and have it integrated into other systems. By the time we got around to it we just lost steam on making decisions (there so many to make during a big renovation). We were looking at smart lighting options that required us to change switches, most of which required a neutral wire, which we didn’t install everywhere because our project wasn’t a total rewire of the electrical. It was too much to handle at the time.

So we took the easy way out and had our contractor just install regular switches, knowing we would get back to it. And here we are! Now, we think it was a great idea waiting to choose smart lighting. We have had the opportunity to live in our space and understand how we use the lighting in each room. We know where we need more adjustment in the brightness, where it needs to be warmer or cooler (it is amazing to be able to adjust that, more below!), what lights we want to adjust from our couch (all of them, duh!), and what is important to be on a schedule. Also, and this one is very important, it had to be easy to install. No neutral wire and no hubs. And it had to have a user friendly app interface.

We have different preferences in light brightness. Jordan likes it bright and light while Barry prefers lighting to be very dim and for each area to be contained in its own singular, perfectly crafted lighting source. It requires a lot of adjusting for us both to be happy throughout the day. We do have regular dimmer switches (Barry will not live without them), but it’s tough to find the balance.

Tired of the suspense already? Let’s skip to the decision so we can tell you all about what we chose and how it’s working for us. We went with Bulbrite Solana LED Smart Bulbs! Yep! No switches, no hubs, no screw drivers or turning breakers off, or fumbling with wires, or potentially electrocuting ourselves (high potential ).


First of all, changing our light bulbs is a touchy subject for us. Recently the local power company had representatives on our street offering to change all of our incandescent bulbs to LED for free. Barry shoo-ed them away. We are suckers for the warm glow of incandescent Edison bulbs. They are all over our house. We know it’s incredibly environmentally unfriendly and we’re spending lots of extra money running them. We want to do better, but the thought of cold, bluish green LED bulbs the power company was going to provide replacing our beloved Edison bulbs was too much to bare. Bulbrite makes LED Bulbrite Solana bulbs that look exactly like Edison bulbs! We were very excited to try them out! Like we said, we want to do better! Ok…Barry was skeptical. So we did a side by side comparison. We were shocked. You cannot tell the difference. In fact, the Bulbrite Solana bulbs have a HUGE advantage which we have to skip straight to because it might be our favorite feature.

Temperature Control

How? Who thought of this? I want to shake her/his hand. It’s genius. Not only do the Solana LED bulbs perfectly replicate a warm incandescent glow, you can adjust it to a snowy cold and clean bright white or anything in between! It’s actually very useful. It depends on the light fixture, placement, and time of day. In a chair lamp in the evening a nice dim warm glow is what we’re looking for, but in the frosted globes over our kitchen island the incandescent Edison bulbs we have in them have always seemed too orange, and the regular white bulbs we tried were too cool. With the Bulbrite Solana bulbs we can adjust it to the perfect temperature, anytime of day, and from anywhere. It is seriously amazing. We could go on about this but we have so much more to talk about.

App Controlled

We might have skipped ahead on the temperature control, but we had to, so let’s back it up. Once our Bulbrite Solana bulbs were installed (more on that below) they are all controlled through a very simple and powerful app. Very few clicks are required to make adjustments and they are extremely responsive. Everything you need to do is right there in a user friendly package. So this ticks a big box for us: Being able to control our lights from anywhere, especially the couch. Although there are others uses. There have been many times we have gone out thinking we would be back before dark and leaving our 86 pound baby Silver Lab, Zuko, home by himself. If we left without leaving some lights on for him we came home heartbroken he was alone in a pitch dark house for hours. Though he might not have cared a bit we feel like horrible parents. No more! So having everything in an easy to use app that we control from anywhere is important. If you ever even need to open it, keep reading.

Turn Lights on/off

This one is pretty simple, and you’ve probably already gotten the point, but we need to give it it’s own subtitle. A decade ago if this was the only feature it would be a technological breakthrough. You – can – turn your – light – bulbs – on – and – off – from -anywhere – in – the – world (like the couch;-)).

Control Brightness

In addition to controlling temperature, again wow, you also have complete control over the brightness. We’ve walked down the street at night gawking into other people’s houses. You know you do it too. Some are beautifully lit, but every once and a while there will be one that looks like a hospital room, a-washed in an icy cold bright bluish tinted hum. Barry always says he doesn’t know how humans are existing in there. Maybe it was ok during the day but at night, dim those lights for goodness sake!

Create Scenes

You might have thought that was it. Turn the lights on and off, adjust the brightness, and adjust the temperature, all from the app. If that was all of the features we would be happy as clams. But the best is yet to come. You can create “scenes” with different combinations of all of the above mentioned features so that your settings are all saved and can be adjusted with one click. You can also create as many scenes as you would like. So you can have a dinner scene with nice dim and warm lighting. You can have a morning scene that gradually brightens like a gentle sunrise. You can have a stark bright light in every room for cleaning scenes. A cocktail party scene…a romantic scene…a late afternoon/evening scene (you know when you’re at the restaurant and everyone goes, oooooooohhhhh”)…a book nook scene…a poker playing scene (bright light over table in dimly light room)…we could go on, but you get the picture. Once you set the scene you just tap it and your Bulbrite Solana bulbs do all of the work. “Oh but I don’t want to tap even one button to turn my restaurant inspired late afternoon/evening scene on. Why can’t it just do it itself?! UGH!,” you say? Keep reading.

Create Schedules

She thought so too. Schedule away. Your morning scene can come on everyday, at the time of your choosing. Your book scene can be ready for you since you’ll have a book in one hand and your cup of hot tea in the other (who can tap a button?!). Your lights come on at dusk when you’re out of town so that when you neighbors walk by they can admire your perfectly lit home (don’t worry the bulbs are LED so you are not even spending much on running them and the environment thanks you too). The combination of scenes and schedules creates an endless amount of customization.


Installation comes first, but we had to cover features before we talk about it. If the features don’t tick the boxes who cares about how easy it is to install! Now that those boxes are ticked, we’ll write a few paragraphs on the installation process. Just kidding! A couple of sentences will do. It couldn’t be easier. Download the app, take your old bulb out, screw the new bulb in, it starts blinking, put your WiFi password in ONCE in the app, connect the bulb, give it a name, and assign it to a room. For each bulb you connect after the first one, you just screw it in, turn it on, click to connect on your phone, name it, and assign it. Go get the book and the tea!

How It’s Working For Us

Life is good with our Bulbrite Solana smart lighting. We have found a balance on our varying lighting preferences. We even have new preferences that we didn’t know we had now that we have scenes that automatically come on (the restaurant ooooohhhhh never gets old). Our Bulbrite Solana bulbs have made our home more livable, more enjoyable, and more soothing. It was an easy and inexpensive change for the amount of improvement it has brought to our space. Not to mention Zuko is never left home in the dark.


We sang Bulbrite Solana’s praises. We really love it, but it wouldn’t be fair not to say that there is one thing that we considered. Every choice has pros and cons. For us there was one area that our Solana bulbs couldn’t help with. Simply, we have some lights that do not take light bulbs. We have 3 recessed LED lights in our kitchen and a special LED light fixture (that we love) over our dining table. Very few, but since we can’t replace the bulbs, we can’t control them through the Solana app. This may not be the case for everyone, and it’s not that big of a deal to us, but it really is the only drawback we can think of.

You don’t need to do a major electrical overhaul and change switches, run wiring, or install hubs to have a smart lighting system that fits into and improves your lifestyle. If you can change a light bulb (come on someone in the house can…a friend?…a neighbor?) and you can download an app (I’m sure you got that) you can have every bit of functionality that those more complicated systems do that we would surely electrocute ourselves installing! Actually even more! You can’t change the temperature of your bulbs with those other systems, and that is now a must-have feature for us!

We can’t recommend Bullbrite Solana products enough. Order your Bullbrite Solana lights today!

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How We Chose The Perfect Mattress

** Thanks to the Allswell team for the free mattress. All opinions are our own:

A new mattress was almost as important for us as picking out new appliances. Maybe more! We spend a lot of time in bed. Whether it’s sleeping, blogging or just scrolling through Instagram, you want something comfortable when you want to unwind from your busy day.

We both were full size mattress people prior to our renovation. It’s quite comical now thinking of two grown guys and one 86 lbs lab sharing a full size bed but we made it work for several years. When we bought our place we made a pact that we were upgrading to a queen mattress. A life changing moment, even though to many people a king bed would be standard. This is NYC!

Given living in NYC, room size is always a challenge. Our new master bedroom was the largest room we both ever had. Our room measures roughly 13 x 14. No palace by any standards but for us it’s the perfect size. When planning our bedroom we knew a queen size bed would be the way to go. Now we just had the obstacle of finding the right mattress. You might have noticed there are a lot of options out there now!

Barry always had a Nest mattress and Jordan always had a Casper. We both liked different things about our past mattresses. Jordan loved how hard the Casper was and Barry loved how pillow-like his Nest was but we both knew we didn’t want those mattresses for our new bed.

We spent months shopping, reading reviews, and talking to friends about potential mattresses. The one mattress that kept high on our list was Allswell. It came up over and over again as a very comfortable and very affordable option but ultimately these are the 5 reasons we went with the ,Allswell Luxe Hybrid:

  1. Firm (enough)– We personally think Jordan’s old Casper mattress was too firm. Barry was waking up with some back pain on his Nest mattress and we realized it might have been too soft. Our Luxe mattress is the perfect blend soft and firm. It’s even labeled as a “just right” mattress. After sleeping on it for several months, the firmness is holding up really really well. It’s actually still in a “like-new” condition. We are beyond happy getting into bed every-night and we’re both sleeping so well.
  2. Price– Compared to other mattresses we were looking at, Allswell comes in at a steal. The mattress starts at $645 and shipped directly to your door. It was so much fun unboxing the mattress and seeing it unfold right in front of our eyes!
  3. Signature Quilting with cooling features– might be TMI but we both run hot! With the Plushly quilted top panel with cooling SwirlFoam the mattress runs cool and allows us to sleep comfortably and not wake up in the middle of the night sweaty.
  4. Accessories– Allswell has a great line and product aside from mattresses. We upgraded our mattress with the most comfortable percale sheets, matching duvet cover, and an ,Organic Kantha blanket. Everything was so reasonably priced and the quality is better than we were expecting! For us this is really important for a good night’s sleep.
  5. Customer Service– We have had difficulty with other brands (we’re not mentioning names) answering some of the questions we had in the process of shopping for our mattress. Team Allswell answered all of our questions in the process (ex, shipping, mattress choices, what if we don’t like, etc.) and even helped us decide what mattress to select!

Whether you’re in the market for a NEW mattress or you’re just wanting to upgrade your current mattress, we highly recommend ,Allswell. Give it a try! Allswell has a 10 year limited warranty, 100 day trial and free ground shipping over $35! This is the perfect time to consider upgrading your mattress. We all need good sleep right now.

Here’s your chance to upgrade your mattress (or accessories!) today with 15% off Allswell products* using the code BROWNSTONE15.

*Offer expires 6/30/20 at 11:59PM PST. Offer subject to change or cancellation. Void where prohibited. Cannot be combined with other promotions. Does not apply to previous purchases.

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What’s That I Hear? Soundproofing During a Renovation.

Do you find yourself knowing what TV show your neighbors are binging or worse yet what their daily fight is about? You’re not alone, especially as we are all home more now to hear it. It’s something we considered as we were renovating. We had not yet lived in the place since we just bought it but should we take precautions while construction is in process to sound proof the walls and floors?

It’s a common problem especially in older buildings, and surprisingly even through the masonry walls next door! The good news is that there are solutions. If you already have plans to renovate considering adding ways to soundproof.

What you do to help eliminate sound transmission depends on what type of noise you are trying to reduce. Taking the physics that we frankly don’t understand out of it, there two main ways sounds are transferred. High frequency sound that bounces around and finds any hole or gap to go through and mid and low frequency bass tones that tend to vibrate objects they hit (including the air!). Your plan should include stopping both. Keep in mind that anything that you do will only reduce sound transmission. Short of rebuilding all of your walls and floors with completely different materials specifically with the goal of zero sound transmission in mind, some noise will find its way through.

Diagnosing The Problem

Sound will always find the path of least resistance to travel through. Just like water, any place there is a hole it can travel through. And anywhere materials come in contact with one another vibrations will travel.

Some brownstone dwellers who think they are insulated from their neighbors by a couple layers of brick wall quickly find that even normal conversations can carry through. The first place should be for gaps. Usually a consistent well pointed masonry wall or 2 will do a good job, however after 100+ years there are likely holes and even bricks missing. We can’t even count how many times we have seen drywall or plaster removed from a brick wall shared with a neighboring house only to be able to see directly into the neighbors space! Of course sound is easily coming through. After many decades you never know what state the bricks are in behind the walls until you can see them. If someone did work next door they may have come through to your wall, possibly before it was even your wall. Plumbing and electrical work or just decaying masonry may have created openings.

Maybe you’re living in an apartment building and don’t have the advantage of a masonry wall separating apartments, you still have solutions if you’re renovating. Sometimes it can feel like you are separated from your neighbors by the thin layer of drywall.

The other areas where many people are struggling with sound transmissions are through floors and ceilings. Can you hear every footstep and floorboard creak? A good friend of mine always references the “baby elephants” that live above her in a multi-family brownstone, but likely they are just normal New Yorkers going about their daily lives who aren’t even necessarily heavy footed. The sound transmission is so uninhibited it is all coming through. Unfortunately this is a difficult problem for my friend to solve but if you are renovating a brownstone there are ways to improve it.

So now that we’re all on the same page with the problem let’s talk about some potential solutions.

Masonry Shared Walls

If you are renovating a row house take the extra steps to make sure your side masonry walls are sealed up. If there are bricks missing, have them replaced. If there is missing or decayed mortar, have them repointed. In fact, this is a very good idea outside of noise transmission. The masonry is what gives the building its much needed strength not to mention unwanted pests and rodents that take advantage of openings between buildings. If you have a properly sealed up masonry wall between you and your neighbor you should bring most sound transmission down to acceptable levels for NYC. If you want more protection, skip the exposed brick and put a layer of 5/8” drywall over the brick. Additionally you can add 2 layers of drywall and even sandwich in a layer of acoustic caulk or something like mass-loaded vinyl which will help with the vibration of the adjacent surfaces for the low level frequencies.

Non-Masonry Shared Walls

Same rules apply! You need to stop the high level frequencies from leaking through gaps and you need to stop the low level vibrations. Acoustic caulk can help fill any gap or space and a double layer of drywall sandwiched with something to stop the vibrations will create a barrier. This would work well if you could have a solid wall with no interruptions, but that is unlikely. There are going to be outlets and light switches creating a sound super highway right through your new sound deadening walls. For this it is possible to install air tight gaskets behind the electrical outlet plates.


If you lifted up an original floorboard you would likely see that it is sitting right in top of the joists, then a layer of air, and the ceiling to the floor below you. There is no barrier to stop or even slow down vibrations and there is very little to stop high frequencies from leaking through. If you have original floors that are in good condition that can be refinished we would never recommend ripping them up just to sound proofing. Hearing a footstep, or a creak or 2 is part of the charm of living in these old buildings. There are modern concrete buildings for those who have a low tolerance. But if your project includes replacing floors it’s a great opportunity to add some sound proofing. Adding insulation and extra layers of material is what is most effective. Laying a subfloor with sound dampening underlayment can at least give you something to slow it down.

Interior Sound:

Are your neighbors not the only noisy contributors to your space? Sometimes the problem is coming from inside the house! Add extra drywall (if you’re renovating), use an acoustic caulk to seal all gaps, and add solid core doors with a sweep.

Outside Sound:

Replacing windows is your best renovation solution to reducing outside noise coming into your home. The more layers the better. Windows with 2 or 3 panes will greatly reduce the amount of noise coming through.

There’s a huge range of potential solutions and costs to go along with it. There are even companies that specialize in sound dampening and engineers who can test for the problems. People spend hundreds of thousands on solutions like acoustic barrier insulation, walls and ceilings hung on vibration-absorbing rails, and floating floors that still only reduce sound transmission. Some solutions that might work 99% of the time in other places may not work for your problem. The bottom line is that we will live with some sound transmission in a place like NYC where we are in such close proximity to other people and noise sources. There are practical steps we can take during a renovation to make sure it’s at a tolerable level. You’re going to hear a few things from next door, unless you’re willing to move to your own 100 acres upstate, but good luck with the crickets!

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Sometimes You Just Need Banana Pudding …

This banana pudding will change your life. We hope you’re following the #stayhome movement. We’re doing our part to flatten the curve and definitely going a little stir crazy. One thing we know, this banana pudding will change your life and make you have a better day!

So here’s what’s cooking with the BBoys…

Big Note: This recipe require some time for perfection. You don’ t wanna rush it!You will want to break this recipe into three parts so we recommend making it the day before you want to eat it.

  1. Make Pudding- let it sit for up to 5 hours
  2. Make Recipe Below- let it sit for another 8 hours
  3. Plate/Serve- we recommend Mason Jars! (we really love Mason Jars)


  • 1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 1/2 cups ice cold water
  • 1 (3.4 oz.) box vanilla instant pudding mix
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 4 cups sliced ripe bananas
  • 1 (12 oz.) box Nilla Wafers


  1. In a large bowl, beat together the sweetened condensed milk and water until well combined – about 1 minute. Add the pudding mix and beat well – about 2 minutes. Cover and refrigerate for 3-5hours or overnight. It is very important to allow the proper amount of time for the pudding mixture to set. It will be watery if you don’t let it set up long enough.
  2. In a large bowl, whip the heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the whipped cream into the pudding mixture until no streaks of pudding remain.
  3. Dessert can either be made in individual portions or in a large glass bowl. We recommend a large bowl then plate into small mason jars after cool.
  4. To assemble dessert, select a large wide glass bowl (we used ikea) or trifle bowl with 4-5 quart capacity.
  5. Arrange 1/3 of the Nilla wafers covering the bottom, overlapping if necessary. Next, layer 1/3 of the bananas, and 1/3 of the pudding mixture. Repeat twice more, garnishing with additional wafers or wafer crumbs on the top layer. Cover tightly and allow to chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours – or up to 8 hours, no longer (because bananas will start to brown – see Notes for tips on preventing browning).

***The reason the recipe says to serve within 8 hours is that the bananas will turn brown as they oxidize. There are a couple of things you can do to make not brown as fast:
1) Squeeze a half lemon (juice) over the cut bananas.
2) Try to keep them airtight. The less contact with the air the less they will brown.
Source: Magnolia’s Bakery Cookbook

Our Top 5 Ideas For DIY Projects While We #StayHome

Stay home but stay busy! There are several DIY projects that we have had on our list and we’re using this extra time at home to make them happen! Need inspiration for a project of your own? Here’s our top 5 DIY project ideas you can work on while you #stayhome!

Some projects might require some materials you don’t have. You can order anything you need from the safety and comfort of our couch. Some projects don’t require any materials at all. They just require the motivation to get up and get them started!


Get your Marie Kondo on and purge! Uncluttering can be one of the most therapeutic things you can do with your time. Not only will you have the satisfaction of shedding unwanted clutter and completing a project, you’ll feel great about your lighter lifestyle. This is very easy to accomplish without needing any additional materials, but you can take it a step further and order a new closet system, drawer organizers, or shelves for your basement. We highly recommend ,,MDesign for home organization. Just pick your space(s) and decide if it just needs some TLC given to it or if it needs more.

One of our biggest organizing projects is tackling our basement. It’s still in reno disarray. At one point about 75% of our stuff was down there. Once we were done with the bigger reno project, we only selectively moved up the stuff we wanted. The rest stayed. It’s time to decide what we want to keep, organize it, and throw the rest out. We’re adding shelves, cabinets, and eventually a laundry area.


Spend some time browsing ,,ETSY sellers from all over the country and the world from your couch. Find a vintage painting, or new mid-century dining chairs. Many people who sell online also have brick & mortar small businesses that are probably suffering right now so they would appreciate the business. You can even filter by location and shop locally. For us there are so many shops based in Brooklyn to support.

No extra funds right now, no problem. Maybe you have some interesting things in storage you can repurpose. Paint an old wooden chair, side table, or picture frame a new color. Maybe it’s just time to rearrange some furniture. If you have a few bucks you don’t mind spending just one very inexpensive item might be inspiration to rethink a space.

New Life

On your next trip to the grocery store or bodega grab a succulent, an aloe plant, or some fresh flowers. Brighten up your space and introduce some new life with some new plant babies.

If you have outdoor space (lucky!) don’t forget that we are days away from April! You might need it this spring more than ever. While you’re at the grocery, pick up some veggie & herb seeds (we love growing tomatoes, herbs like rosemary and thyme, and hot peppers!). If you have pots or planters get them set up and ready. If not, it’s a very simple thing to order online. You can even order a bag of potting soil. Gardening, even if you only have a couple of pots in a window, can be very calming. Plus with all of the cooking we’ll be doing at home for the foreseeable future it will be nice to have some fresh herbs.

Our biggest #DIY project is our backyard. We’ve already removed a lot of hardscaping and cement and now we are building a patio before we start planting. It required redistributing a lot of soil. It’s been a welcome project to distract us from mindlessly watching the news. We’ve spent entire days back there soaking up the sun and feeling very accomplished about what we’re doing. We had the concrete hauled away and picked up the compost we needed right before things shut down. Now we’re ordering some other things we need online: landscape edging, ground grid, leveling sand, grass seed (an eco turf good for pets that is drought (aka when we forget to water it) tolerant!), and pea gravel. That will keep us busy for a while until we need plants.

Plan Ahead

Maybe you have something bigger in mind. You might be ready to update the kitchen & bathrooms. Or maybe you want to add a deck. You might even be getting ready for a full gut renovation. Planning takes a lot of time. Get your thoughts together. Use an app like ,,Magicplan or ,,Key plan to visualize your floor plan. Remember that it takes 2-3 months to get through the architectural/approval stage. Architects, designers, and project managers are working from home and you can do virtual meetings.

Order samples. You can put together your entire design and create a sample bin. This will greatly reduce the stress of making so many design decisions during the renovation. Cabinetry, tile, stone, wood flooring companies and others can all send samples so that you can spend this time making decisions.

Build Something

If you’re handy or want to try to be, there are some simple pieces you can put together yourself. We’re a fan of ,,Donald Judd inspired furniture and have been meaning to start a project of our own. It’s a simple minimalist design. You just need some 1” boards or plywood, a saw to cut, screws, a drill, and a bright colored paint. You’ll have an original and personalized piece that anyone can tackle with an open mind and willingness to learn.

Our building projects are simple as well. If you’ve followed along you might remember the niche feature we built at the top of our stairs. It’s been unfinished for months as we decided what we wanted to do with it. We finally settled on something and we’re excited to make it happen! There are 2 parts to the project. We’re working with an amazing pattern and textile designer who is going to make us a custom wallpaper based on our virtual consultation. It’s a small area so it’s an affordable solution that will be bright and bold. The inside of our niche will be lined on all sides with our custom wallpaper, and on top of that we’ll cut, stain, and install wood bookshelves.

In our backyard, we’re building a raised flower bed which will basically be a wooden box. Pretty easy! But it will have a big impact on our backyard design.

Let us know what fun projects you’re working on. Send us pictures, tag #brownstoneboys and we’ll post on Instagram!

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Extra Time on Your Hands at Home? Planning a Renovation or Home Makeover

We weren’t planning on writing this post today but the times call for a bit of flexibility in our schedules and lives. At first glance it can seem like we all have a lot of time on our hands at home. But with a little thought it can be a productive time as well.

Whether you have been putting off a major renovation, procrastinating on finishing some projects, or if you just want to give your space a new feel you might just finally have the time to get to it!

Planning a major renovation can be time consuming. It also takes a lot of research and focus to organize your thoughts, plan a budget, get a handle on the process, and begin assembling your team.

The first thing that we did was to find inspiration. We utilized Pinterest, Houzz, and other online platform to organize our thoughts for each space and save things we liked. It is a great first step in understanding what you like and the direction you want to go in your design.

Next get out your measuring tape and start laying it out! How much space are you working with? How can you layout your new kitchen or bathroom? Are you removing any walls? We used apps like MagicPlan and Key Plan to visualize your new space to scale.

Time to study up! What are some of the priorities you have to renovate or restore? Below are some past posts we think might be helpful in planning:

Do you have woodwork covered in paint you would like to strip?

Do you need to install an AC system?

What is the skim coating thing you’ve heard about?

Are you putting in a deck?

How do you plan out your lighting?

Are you upgrading or expanding your kitchen?

Are you redoing or adding a bathroom?

Read up! There are currently over 60 posts on our blog about planning, organizing, and executing a renovation and plenty of other sources out there too.

Now that you have your thoughts organized and your space visualized it is probably a good idea to get a handle on what your budget looks like. Understand the costs of everything that you want to do. In our experience, and others we have spoken to, things usually cost much more than you might initially think. But don’t worry! No matter what your budget is there is a scope of project that you can dive into, but that scope might change as you understand costs.

Now that you have your proverbial ducks in a row, it’s time to start talking to the professionals or least preparing to. Depending on the scope of your project you will likely need an architect and general contractor. You might also want to look into a project manager or a designer. If you’re doing a lot of structural work you might need a structural engineer. Your architect would likely bring in some options there but the added expense is something you’ll want to consider and may again alter the scope of your project.

Finally, planning the finishing touches can be the fun part. Or maybe you are skipping the major reno and just doing a bit of a design makeover.

Upgrade those closets!

Do an inexpensive kitchen makeover!

Add storage with a DIY coat nook!

Do a budget furniture mid century modern makeover!

Freshen up with new paint!

And so much more!

We’re moving on with our Backyard Makeover. A perfect project to do while we’re stuck at home

That takes us to our plans! We have several projects that we’re working on. We saved our backyard as one of the biggest DIY projects we’re doing. We’re removing hardscaping, adding soil, laying new hardscaping, planting, and adding lighting. We are also FINALLY going to fill the niche feature we built at the top of our stairs. And our new mahogany front door has sat bare to the world for the last few weeks, it’s time to varnish or paint it before it gets damaged. We’ll keep you updated on how it all goes!

Let’s face it, we have a few weeks at least of spending more time around the house than we may have ever done. While we hope you and your families are healthy and safe, join us in having some fun with some DIY projects, reno planning, and space beautifying! Tag us so we can see the project and share pride in the hard work you’re doing- #brownstoneboys

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Pros and Cons of Tankless Water Heaters

If you have ever been last in line for a shower and were left with luke warm water to start, that quickly turns freezing, it probably wasn’t the most pleasant experience. On the other hand, when no one is home all day or when you’re on vacation for days or weeks there is plenty of hot water to go around being heated and reheated – full tank futilely waiting for you to turn on the faucet at any time. For these reasons and more many people are choosing to put in tankless water heaters, but are they all they are cracked up to be? We looked at our giant 80 gallon tank and wondered what to do.

A tankless hot water system only heats water when you need it.  So if just one person  is taking a shower you don’t need to heat water for 5. Same goes for washing clothes, doing dishes and whatever else you would need hot water for. You might need a gallon or you might need 30 or 40 or 100. There is no limit to how much hot water a tankless system can produce. Sounds great, right? But there are also drawbacks. Let’s explore!

More efficient use of energy to heat water. Since you’re not heating a giant tank of water for hours, days, or even weeks when you might not be home, you’ll obviously save in energy expense. The US Department of Energy says they can us up to 34% more efficient.

Unlimited stream of hot water. You can take 1 or 100 showers in a row and you will most likely have the same enjoyable steaming hot water. (Although see cons for further clarification)

Longer lifespan. Most tankless water heaters will last longer than your average traditional tank unit. They can easily last twice the lifespan of a tank unit and have longer warranties as well. (This is an important note when you consider the cons as well)

Space savings. A tankless system takes up much less space than a large traditional tank system, with much less risk of water damage. This makes it possible to put a tankless unit (or multiple) tucked away anywhere in your house.

Upfront costs. The biggest disadvantage of tankless water heaters is the initial cost. While they can last longer and have lower operating costs that can help offset the higher initial cost, it will take quite some time to realize the savings.

Limited hot water supply. This might sound like a contradiction to one of their biggest pros mentioned above of unlimited water supply, but it’s not. While a tankless water heater will deliver an unlimited stream of hot water, they struggle to deliver a lot of hot water at one time. So while you might be able to take 100 showers in a row if you have the dishwasher, washing machine, and shower going at the same time you might have problems. A traditional tank unit will deliver water to multiple outlets at one time with no problem (though it could exacerbate their problem of eventually running out).

Slower hot water delivery. This is not always the case, but depending on how far your faucet is from the unit, delivery can be a bit slower than a tank unit. With either you’ll need to wait for the water to travel through the pipes but you’ll also need to wait a few extra precious seconds for a tankless unit to heat the water. If you are 2 stories above this might push what already seems like a long wait for hot water from a traditional tank unit past the breaking point. One way to mitigate this is to install units throughout the house (see pros above).

More expensive installation and maintenance. Tankless systems require special venting, rerouted gas lines, possibly multiple units for a larger household, and sometimes maintenance like installing a softener. This can all further offset the operating cost savings.

For us the choice was simple. We had a relatively updated traditional tank unit and weren’t in a position to spend money changing it. If it needed to be replaced we likely would have invested in a tankless system.

If you have had a good or bad experience upgrading to a tankless system let us know about it!

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Renovation Do’s and Don’ts

Now that Phase 1 is complete in our renovation, we can look back and wonder what we would have done a little differently. It also helps clarify a list of “do’s and don’ts” that can ensure a smooth renovation. Truthfully, since our brownstone was built in 1890 there will always be a project to work on. It’s just as much a hobby as a home. So this might be more of a look back in the middle of the process rather than the end. We hope our Do’s/Don’ts list is a helpful resource for anyone pondering a renovation. Let us know if you have any to add!


Make sure you have the right team. (contractor, architect, specialists). It’s one of the first things you’ll do. You’ll obviously be spending a lot of time with these people. Make sure they understand the project, have the skills needed, have a good track record, and are easy to communicate with.

Make sure you have the right floor plan/layout that works. Spend time making sure the new floor plan works well for you and your family. It’s a lot hard work to switch things around mid renovation.

Get together a solid budget and leave room for contingency. There are a lot of surprise expenses that can blindside a renovator. And we’re not just talking about the surprises when you open up the walls. Some decisions you make in the design phase can dramatically impact the budget. Making large structural changes can require the need for a structural engineer and may further require a construction superintendent. HVAC plans may call for a mechanical engineer. And of course construction expenses can add up very quickly. Be prepared to set your priorities and create a budget that leaves room for the inevitable surprises. Depending on the size of your renovation 10-20% contingency.

Make sure your architect really knows your budget. Sounds like a given but we have seen architects get carried away. They can make amazing suggestions and plans for things that are just way out of scope.

Get 3-5 quotes from contractors. You’ll learn something with every walkthrough you have with a contractor. Quotes can vary greatly. Some contractors have crews of their own rather than subs for certain things which can lower costs. Some have more experience in areas that might especially help in your project. You could easily see some quotes come in double from others. Getting 3-5 quotes will help you understand the full range and put you in the best position to choose the quote that works for your project the most (hint: that is often not the cheapest one)

Plan on lots of things taking longer than you expect. City approvals, landmarks approvals, plumbing inspections, finishes selection, material delivery…etc. Things along the way will create delays. If you expect them and build in extra time it will be a much less stressful.

Find some projects that can be started before demo begins- get the specialists in before. The 2-3 month design and approval stage can be a frustrating wait of inactivity. It’s also time that can be used to get a head start. Wood stripping, stain glass restoration, roof repair, brick repointing…etc there are some projects you can get a head start on before permits. (Obviously consult your architect and contractor to be sure)

Put some thought into the electrical plans (lighting, switches, and outlets). This is one of the areas you may inevitably end up wishing you made some changes. Are all of the switches in places that make the most sense for you. Are there outlets exactly where you need them?

Organize your inspiration photos so you have a good sense of what you want. For many people, going through a renovation will require making more decisions in a short period of time than any other time in their life! It will take time and you’ll want to think things over as much as possible. Start organizing your thoughts early so that you know what you want later.

Have at least weekly meetings with contractor team but remember they need their space to work. Hopefully you selected a contractor team that is easy to communicate with and responsible enough to provide some autonomy. You likely won’t be onsite daily, but it’s a good idea to set a weekly walkthrough to review what has been done the previous week, what issues have come up, and what will be done over the following week. At the same time, it’s probably not the best idea to micromanage your contractor on a daily basis. You want them to work smartly and efficiently and should be able to trust them to get the job done. If you don’t then you might not have the right team.

Order finishes with proper lead times and the right quantities.
Some finishes have longer lead times than others. If you don’t other enough of that custom tile to finish your bathroom you might have a 6-8 week wait for more (whoops!)

Make sure all holes are sealed when walls are open. It’s NYC!
Ok the one place we will micromanage our contractor. We need to see that all holes are sealed tight before cabinetry is installed and around plumbing. It’s New York City and something will find its way in if there are any gaps.

Go on a vacation to escape for a couple days. We recommend somewhere tropical.


Don’t live in a construction zone. We know it’s tempting. Budget is tight and a months long camping trip in your own house might sound fun, but the process can be stressful and this can easily cause it to spill over into unmanageable.

Don’t have a hard deadline to finish. Lease expiring, previous home sold, baby arriving…etc. if you give yourself a hard deadline to have to finish the project with no back up plan you’re level of stress and relationship with your contractor (and probably your spouse!) will be pushed to it’s limits. It will likely be worth the expense to have some lease overlap…etc so that you have some breathing room.

Don’t get too many subcontractors involved. Try to find a contractor that can do as many thins as possible to avoid having to coordinate with too many other service providers.

Don’t use all “off-the-shelf” finishes. Get something unique in the space. To control budget and timing there are a lot of standard finish items that are great, but make sure you get creative with some custom or just upgraded pieces to give your renovation some interest.

Don’t change your mind and your plan throughout the process. It’s one of the biggest causes of delays. Changing finishes, configuration, and plans mid renovation will slow things down to a crawl. Make decisions early so that you have time to let them sink in so that any changes are made well before what phase starts.

Don’t put off work that can easily be done while walls are open and unpainted. Budget might require you to push some items to future projects, but make sure it’s things that make sense to do once the main renovation is complete. Some common bad examples are adding AC or moving walis. You will destroy a lot of recently finished walls and floors. If your walls are opened, this is the time to hide the wiring/cables. Before the floors are finished it is the time to move walls. Before the walls are closed up it’s the time to put in new plumbing. Maybe some better things to put off adding new windows or putting on that steel deck. Those are things that likely won’t require you to undo what’s already been done.

Wow that is a lot! But there is always more! going through a renovation can be a rewarding experience but we can also be difficult and stressful. Fortunately there are many things you can be aware of before the process starts to make it go as smoothly as possible. We hope this helped!

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A Mid-Century Modern Makeover on a Budget.

After we spent months renovating our home the last thing we wanted to do was move back in all of our old furniture. We have some great vintage pieces that will go anywhere we do, but much of the rest had seen better days. It’s a great time to refresh and renew to fully realize the vision of the new space. Or maybe you’re not renovating at all but your domain just isn’t inspiring to be the space of your dreams. Furniture and decor is the final layer and can make or break a space.

We spent 8 long and rewarding months renovating our place. There were countless hours obsessing over tile, light fixtures, and other finishes. Throughout the process we needed to be very careful to find the right things while staying within a pretty limited budget. At the end of the renovation furniture was no exception. We love the mid-century modern aesthetic. Furniture with a minimal, streamlined, and sleek look. Tapered legs and geometric balance with organic influences. We aren’t alone and authentic pieces can be pricey, but we were tapped out on budget after pouring so much into the renovations. We decided we would mix in some new pieces to our current collection of vintage items.

One of our secret weapons that is an amazing resource for mid-century modern style is AllModern. It got us thinking, what if we could furnish and decorate an entire room in a mid-century modern style with a limited budget, and what better place to start than a living room.

We picked our favorite pieces from AllModern any (or all) of which we would gladly have in our living room. They all have the clean lines and minimalist look of classic mid-century modern furniture. Here are some of our picks!

These types of items make a great budget-friendly and stylish base to build on. From there we would add some unique items from thrift stores and vintage shops. Grab a stack of vintage books, a couple of plants for your mid century modern inspired planters, find an old painting for the walls to compliment your modern print, and choose a couple of inexpensive items from the 50s or 60s to accessorize that speak to you the most.

What you will produce is a look worthy of a Don Draper photo shoot at a fraction of the cost. It a classic look with a comfortable feel.

Do you have a mid-century modern look? We would love to see! Send us some inspiration!

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Budget Backyard Makeover

As we write this it is 55 degrees outside in February! In New York! Terrifying global warming concerns aside, it has us really looking forward to our upcoming backyard makeover. We want it be ready to go as soon as we have consistent nice weather so the time for planning is now! After just finishing up a major renovation we are going to have to get very creative to make the space we want on a very limited budget.

We initially spoke to an exterior design and landscaping firm to explore the option, but with eye popping quotes that rival our interior renovation we are making this a DIY project. It will be one of our biggest, but we will have help! We’re working with a great landscape designer to help maximize the space for what we would like to use it for while working with the interesting existing features. Jeanette Williams, a backyard enthusiast has listened to all of our needs and came up with some amazing options. The labor will be all us (and we’re excited for it!) maybe some friends, and maybe a hired hand at times.

Our backyard has some existing and head scratching features that we are going to try to work with instead of going through the trouble and expense of removing.  There is a cemented trench or walkway (quite the mystery) that goes all the way around the yard. It leaves a 12-24” raised flower bed area around the edge of the yard, which we can put to use. In the middle of the walkway is a raised area that is currently dirt, although pre-construction there a fair amount of grass, where the other features will be.

This is the first round of renderings that just arrived from Jeanette and we are excited to share! From these we can easily pull together the features that will be the best for us. Our main priorities are for it to be dog friendly, have great relaxing and entertaining space, with lots of plantings that are beautiful but easy to maintain.

Three exciting renderings from Garden enthusiast, Jeanette

Dog Friendly
As you might know, we have a 90 pound lab that loves to run around and play ball. It’s already hard to do that in our small backyard with such a large dog, so we would love to have some space for him.  He is also very hard on grass. We need a solution for him to have some fun back there without ruining the place. It’s also his potty area so we’re talking about making a puppy powder room area with rocks so that he isn’t ruining plants and grass. He actually is really good at going where he is supposed to so we’re hoping that if we build it he will go.

Hardscape for Easy Entertaining
All of the fireplaces have been removed from our house. We really wish those who came before us left at least one, but there all gone so there will be no fires inside. But one of the central features for us outside will be a fire pit area with seating that can double for entertaining. We’ll have a hardscape area with pavers laid to create a flat surface. We would like it to be surrounded by plantings to create a relaxing vibe.

Plantings That Have Easy Maintenance
Our backyard is north facing. That is probably the first consideration for us to think about when it comes to plantings. It means it doesn’t get direct sun for much of the day. We’re trying to avoid too much hardscape and would really like there to be some grass. But lack of sunlight and maintenance has us seriously thinking about skipping it or at least reducing the amount. The last thing we want is to put in grass that we will always be fighting to stay healthy if it’s not getting enough sun. So we’ll be monitoring where the sun light falls throughout the day over the next few weeks.

Personal Space

We want to create an area for our tenant and a space for us. Not that we won’t also share, but we would like our tenant to feel she has her own space and we would like to feel we have ours. We plan to do that with strategically placed plantings that create two separate spaces.

Some other features will include a 6 person table and grill on the deck for dining, stringed lights across the entire area, and  a vegetable garden (sunlight permitting.

We’re just getting started with this DIY project but planning is important! Let us know if you have any tips or suggestions about how to best create our backyard dreams on a very limited budget!

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Why is Skim Coating Plaster Walls So Expensive?

There are two four-letter words that stoke fear into budget-conscious renovators‘ minds. They come up all too often in New York City renovations with its abundance of prewar architecture. The often necessary but expensive “Skim coat”.

It’s part of the territory if you’re a fan of old buildings with plaster walls. They are durable enough to last for decades but at some point they will require repair. It’s a time consuming, messy, and expensive process but when it’s done correctly it can restore necessary integrity, not to mention making them crisp and smooth again.

Seeing the eye popping cost of the process made us look further into it. There are several ways it can be done. It’s important to understand the basics of the process when getting quotes. It’s one of the items we have noticed widely varying costs from different contractors and professionals. How could one person quote $7,000 when someone else quotes $40,000 for the same line item that simply reads: Skim coat walls.

Let’s start with why it might be necessary. If you have plaster walls and ceilings you might have dings and holes after years of bumping things into them. That’s easy enough to to repair. Or you might also see cracks forming or even plaster pieces cracking and flaking off. Obviously a bigger problem. An experienced plaster worker can get a feel for the integrity of the wall with a simple tap, looking for the right bounce back of his finger and listing for a hollow sound. If the walls haven’t been repaired since they went up over 100 years ago chances are they are due.

A common way to skim coat walls is to cover them in a thin layer of drywall mud or plaster and smooth out with a trowel. This can be done in multiple layers, preferably with as little sanding as possible, until the dings and holes are smoothed out and the wall is renewed. It works great if your walls just need to be refreshed and the small dings covered. If you’re walls are cracking and pieces of plaster are coming off, putting another layer over them will very quickly suffer the same fate. You’ll see cracks in no time. We found that the cheaper quotes used this technique. It’s not wrong and still requires skill, it just wasn’t what was required for the walls we were repairing.

For cracking plaster that needs integrity restored its a much more involved process. Loose plaster needs to be removed and cracks are opened. A fiberglass mesh is applied and often something to fill the deeper areas and glue it all together like Plaster Weld. Once the wall is prepared in this way so that the integrity of the plaster is strengthened then the skim coat can go on in layers. The best plaster experts will do the layers with minimal sanding, to cut down on dust. It is definitely a skill that is acquired from years of practice. The result will be a wall that is smooth and new looking but with the underlying structural integrity so that the pesky cracks don’t just return in a matter of months.

It’s time consuming, messy, and requires a lot of skill. Because of that it is indeed an expensive job. It can be tens of thousands of dollars for a 3 or 4 story brownstone and in some cases might be as expensive as drywalling the place, but no doubt one of the things you fell in love with when you bought your house were those beautiful plaster walls that you probably thought just needed a little TLC. Well, they do, and that TLC might just be one of the most expensive line items on your renovation quote. It’s also an area to be very careful of when you see quotes much lower than others. Not to say that some service providers might just be charging less for the weeks of labor it might take to compete the job, but it’s probably a good idea to ask them exactly what the steps are in the process they will follow to repair your walls.

Plaster has been used as a durable and beautiful wall covering for hundreds of years. The charm of Brooklyn’s brownstones and row houses are these original historical features that still exist inside and out. We love to see original plaster walls and moldings and definitely spent more budget and time restoring ours. Let us know your experience restoring yours!

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How We Found The Perfect Kitchen Faucet

Our kitchen is one of our favorite spaces in our house. Although many people are moving toward traditional closed kitchens in a separate space to hide away any cooking mess, we are big fans of an open kitchen that allows for easy entertaining for the cooks! The center of our kitchen is a large island covered in a beautiful marbled quartz with a deep farm sink. The focal point of the island, and the absolute center of our kitchen, is a gorgeous show-stopping faucet.

Truth be told, we ordered several faucets before we settled on the one we ultimately chose. Our requirements were to have a pull down faucet with sprayer, in a matte brass tone (and the right tone), and something simple and elegant to fit into our kitchen design. The first few we ordered missed on one or more of those requirements. They were not the right finish, too clunky, or just not streamlined feel. We sent them all back!

We needed something that was modern, clean, and contemporary, but not too distracting since it was going to be the focal point of the room. We needed something that was a modern brushed gold or brass tone, but not something too shiny or too yellow toned. We needed something easy-to-use with great pull down technology and flexible retracting hose, not something clunky and difficult to manage. We needed something easy to take care of that cleaned up quickly and wouldn’t require extra maintenance. Finally, as you might know, we renovated our place on a tight budget and we needed a faucet that fit all of those requirements that didn’t break the bank.

So what faucet did we go with?

The Kraus Oletto Single-Handle Pull-Down Sprayer Kitchen Faucet in Brass!

It’s the perfect balance of everything we were looking for. It has a modern and clean style, it’s the right matte tone of gold (although it comes in various finishes), it’s easy to clean, and it functions beautifully!

One of our favorite features of this faucet is the QuickDock mounting technology. This is a really cool feature that allows you to install the faucet entirely from above the counter, as opposed to having to crawl underneath and mess around with screws and nuts and bolts while lying uncomfortably on your back in a small dark space. This is perfect since plumbing projects are usually not DIY for us. We felt really confident with the process and installation took minutes with everything included in the box: water supply lines, optional deck plate (which we didn’t use), and all mounting hardware.

Kraus built this faucet to fit into a busy lifestyle like ours with technology behind delivering a great daily experience. The finish helps prevent water spots and fingerprints so we don’t need to polish it after every use. The pull down glides in and out smoothly with the nice touch of a braided nylon hose that is flexible to pivot around our large farm sink. It makes normal daily tasks easier by providing greater mobility but won’t droop overtime. The entire faucet has a solid feel that makes it really nice to work with.

After weeks of back and forth with other faucets we knew this one was the right on as soon as we opened the box and we had it installed minutes later!

If you’re completely renovating your kitchen, or if you just want to do a quick upgrade to your fixtures (it can go a long way!), this Oletto faucet from Kraus USA in a brushed brass is a great choice.

Hot and Cold: AC and Heat Options To Consider When Renovating

We grew up in Las Vegas and New Orleans (Happy Mardi Gras!) Although we’ve both been in Brooklyn for decades now, we grew up with very different types of heating and cooling systems that usually focus more on cooling a space rather than heating it. Here in New York it’s often the opposite but they are both important. Traditionally these old buildings focused on heating, and they relied on the masonry walls, tree-lined streets, and tall windows to cool it. But today you’d be pressed to find someone renovating one and not putting in a AC system. The question that has come up for us: does putting in a cooling system change the thought process on how to heat your home?

If your place hasn’t been renovated in a while you likely have a steam, hydronic, or forced air boiler to heat your home. All three are tried, tested, and effective for heat even in very low temps. New construction or older buildings that have been gut renovated may have a central HVAC system delivering both heating and cooling through ducts. In our case we had a hydronic boiler delivering heat through baseboard radiators. We didn’t like the look of them and wanted more traditional exposed radiators. So we changed all of the radiators and piping that delivered hot water to them. But that didn’t help us cool the place! For that we installed a mini split system throughout the house. We didn’t want to run the bulky ducts necessary for central AC or a Unico system.

We went with an LG mini split system that also has a heat pump for heating. We have the radiator system running to heat the place regularly, but occasionally if we want to speed up the process or just make it even cozier we’ll turn on the mini split in heat mode. In not a very long time at all it is so warm that we forget it’s even winter outside.

It’s raises the question, could we just heat our home with the mini split units? Many people have asked and the consensus has been that you could use a mini split system to supplement but not necessarily as a primary heat source with the low temperatures we can get in the northeast.  Our mini split system specs say that it has 100% heating capacity to 5 degrees and “continuous heating operation down to -13 degrees”. That leads us to believe that our mini split system will not effectively heat when it is below -13 degrees. Nevertheless, some people are doing it. And we have heard no complaints from those that we know that only have a mini split system to heat their home. Apparently the technology is getting better for heating so that in the near future, if not now, heating with a mini split system will be a safe choice.

How much does a mini split system cost to install? It can vary depending on what brand you go with and some installation details but a 4-5 unit system might run you $4,000-$7,000 and installation could run $12,000-$18,000. Keep in mind costs for additional electrical work and drywall/plaster repair where the lines are run.

We’ve also seen a lot of places with a ducted forced air heating system. You may have seen the old grates on walls and floors that carry the warm air to each room. For AC, rather than install a mini split system you can just add an AC coil to use the existing ducts for cool air. That option is likely a lot cheaper than installing mini split units which will need electricity and drainage run to them with a lot of drywall and plaster repair once they are installed. To add an AC coil to forced air heating system it can run $10,000-$12,000.

The last option that we have seen recently is installing hydronic radiant floor heat with a mini split system for AC. It’s seems like a combination that will deliver a comfortable feel but not necessarily be budget saver to install.

Anyone have any experience with heating exclusively with a mini split system? Or do you have any other ideas on the best way to configure an HVAC system?

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Brownstone Doors – Replicating What Once Was

One of the most distinctive features of a Brooklyn brownstone is the double entry doors. They are usually two tall 24” doors with glass panels and decorative moldings. There is sometimes a transom above them or occasionally the door itself follows a curved arch of the facade above.

If they are still there and in good condition after over 100 years after they were installed then you’re lucky! Unfortunately, as it goes with pretty much anything after that much time, they require a lot of maintenance. Since these are no a standard affair they require very specialized skills and can be expensive to repair. And even more expensive to replace. It usually runs $10,000-$20,000 to have your very own custom set of Brooklyn brownstone double built. Because of that it’s very common to see these beautiful double doors replaced with a less expensive standard single door (of the type you might see on the shelf at your local home improvement store) with wood panels on either side to fill the larger space. 

Unfortunately our original doors were long gone when we got our place. It was a big priority for us to at least restore our place with a set of double doors. If you have followed along you might know that we renovated our place with a very low budget. Building custom double doors to match something similar to what might have been original at a cost of over $10,000 just wasn’t an option. So we found a company, Midwood Doors, that could provide a more standard size double door that wasn’t especially ornate but at least echoed the original look and feel. We measured the opening from where we could see the original wood posts on either side. It was 52″ wide so we knew the standard 48″ set of double doors would fit even with the frame, which was also provided.

Once the doors were framed we added the door trim, insulated with spray foam and then added the door moulding.

After a wrong set of doors being delivered, and then our original wood choice being unavailable, we ended up with an upgraded Mahogany door. Even at first sight these doors aren’t trying to pass for the originals, but they look great in their own right. They are tall and heavy with long stately glass panels. The only decoration is a small inset panel on the bottom of each. They’re simple and clean but echo the original idea of what was. The cost? An affordable $1500.

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Pros and Cons of Wall Mounted Toilets

As you scroll through beautiful bathroom design inspiration photos you might notice a recurring theme. What is it that makes these pictures of bathrooms of your dreams so clean, modern, and sleek? As you look closer you might notice that rather than the sometimes bulky, space-eating floor mounted toilets there is a space-saving modern beauty mounted to the wall! Popular in Europe for their space saving qualities, the wall mounted toilet first made its way to restaurants, bars, and public bathrooms in the US and have recently become more popular if not the latest trend in bathroom design for homes. We considered it for our renovation and have spoken to many other renovators who are doing the same. So what’s the pros and cons? And how do you go about getting one of your own?

Some visual reference for wall mounted toilets. We LOVE the simplicity and visuals for build out. Left photo: Toto Middle Right photo: Comparison photo- Kohler


Modern and Space-Saving

As we mentioned, wall hung toilets have a very streamlined, modern look. The main reason is that the large and bulky tank of a floor mounted toilet is hidden in the wall. The gives you the ability to eliminate the space required for the tank and even the several inches of space behind the toilet, resulting in up to 10”-12” of additional floor space in the bathroom. 

Custom Heights

There is not much you can do to customize the height of a floor mounted toilet. They do come in a couple of different options: standard  height and comfort height (which is a few inches higher). A wall mounted toilet can provide greater flexibility since it can be mounted at whatever height you would like. 

Easy to Clean

Since a wall minted toilet sits above the floor clean up is a breeze. With no difficult or impossible to reach spaces you can more quickly and thoroughly clean. 

More expensive 
The biggest con to a wall mounted toilet is the cost and effort they take to buy and install. Many times the tank and wall mounting assembly is sold separately from the actual toilet which will also run more than a floor mounted toilet. Steel is usually used to mount and provide the strength necessary to support the weight. This might not be as big of a concern when you are building the a entire bathroom but when you’re retrofitting it can be a very intrusive renovation. The water and waste lines will have to be relocated, the wall will need to be opened up considerably, the studs might even need to be relocated (especially in older homes), and the floor will need to be repaired where the toilet sat. You’ll also need to know if you have 2×4 or 2×6 studs before ordering the equipment since the sizing will be different. 

Harder to Fix
There‘s no opening the lid to jiggle the mechanicals or easily replace a part. The tank is sealed up in the wall. If something goes wrong the trouble and expense to fix a wall mounted toilet could be much more.

Less Options
Since wall mounted toilets are still gaining in popularity in the US there are much fewer options. Only a few companies are selling them and the ones that do only have one or a few models. We checked out the Kohler, Duravit, and Toto versions. 

Ultimately we decided to go with a more streamlined version of floor mounted toilets. We fell in love with the simple, clean and streamlined Miseno high efficiency two-piece elongated chair height toilet with the slow-close seat. We weren’t going for too much of a modern sleek aesthetic in our place, and as you might know we were on a pretty tight budget. Our floor mounted toilets fit in well with our design. But our research will not be wasted as we’re pretty sure one day when we are designing and renovating a future space we have the opportunity to sleek it up with a wall mounted toilet. Are you in the market for one now? Have you installed one and have any feedback?

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Top 5 Hacks For An Inexpensive Kitchen Renovation

Our budget was maxed out just on the construction expense for our renovation so we had to get creative when buying finishes. We managed to put together the look that we wanted on a much lower budget than anyone said we needed. The kitchen was an area where were able to save a lot so we thought we would share our top 5 inexpensive kitchen reno hacks!

Reproduce An Inspiration

Having a designer was definitely not in our budget (although we did have designer friends stop by for some friendly advice along the way). We found a kitchen design early on that we loved and planed to take a lot of inspiration from. You might have a few saved on Pinterest already, choose one or a few! No doubt your inspiration picture will be a kitchen with more expensive finishes. For instance, we loved the exact pendants in our inspiration picture, so we researched and found them. Unfortunately, we needed three and at $1,200 each they were way out of our budget (more about that below). We set out to accomplish a similar look and feel as our inspiration photo at a much lower cost. We did all of the design ourselves and felt confident with our inspiration photo as a guide. 

DIY Pendants and Lighting 

As we mentioned above the pendants in our kitchen inspiration photo were out of budget and we just didn’t see anything that we liked in our price range. Everything seemed a little too generic and we wanted something a bit more unique. So we decided to make our own pendants from parts we bought from a lighting parts wholesaler. If you’ve never wired a light before, you’re not the only one! We haven’t either, but there is a wealth of knowledge online and we were able to get it done. We love the way it turned out. The other lighting upgrade we were able to DIY was our under cabinet led lighting. Inexpensive and easy to install!

Easy Built-In Open Shelving 

We really wanted to incorporate some built-in open shelving. Custom millwork was just not in the cards for us. We went with all standard cabinetry. To accomplish and open cabinet look we got a cabinet finished on the inside, turned it on it’s side, and left the doors off. We built in a shelf and love the way it turned out. It looks built-in but for a fraction of the cost. We wanted a natural wood element as well so we left room for one floating wooden shelf as well.

Less Expensive Upgrade For Your Cabinets 

We used pre-finished and pre-assembled cabinets. Our cabinets are real wood but we got them inexpensively. We used the RTA Cabinet Store. We elevated them by upgrading the hardware. The hardware we went adds something bling and we also mixed and matched styles on different cabinets for more interest. It’s also possible to get lower priced cabinet boxes without doors from IKEA and upgrading the doors from a company like Semihandmade.

Counter Remnants 

One of the other big expenses in the kitchen can be counters. It’s also where you can really establish a higher end look. While we worked with an amazing stone company for our kitchen counters, we learned that going to a local stone fabricator and browsing through the remnants they have from other jobs is a great way to save. We did that for every other piece of stone in our place and can easily see it paying off big in the kitchen. You can get a really high-end marble, quartz, or other natural stone for a fraction of the cost. If the remnant isn’t large enough for all of your counters consider doing something different on an island.

There are ways to save on almost everything you’ll need for any renovation. These are just some things we thought of to drastically reduce the cost of finishes in a kitchen reno. Let us know if you have any other ideas!

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How To Strip Paint Off Of Original Woodwork.

We love sharing our reno and #DIY project stories. And we love hearing from people that are inspired to take on project of their own. By far the topic that we get the most emails about is the process of our paint stripping. So many people out there have beautiful historical homes with woodwork that is buried under decades of paint. It’s a tough and messy job and people have asked how our paint stripping specialist got it done so well! Our woodwork – bannister, window casings, door casings, and shutters all look amazing now that they are seeing the light of day from under all of that paint. 

Before we dive in we need to start with a word of caution. There are dangerous chemicals involved not to mention the possibility of lead paint. The process she follows may not be for everyone, but it certainly does the job. If you do strip wood please only handle with most care. We recommend a professional if a lot of wood is to be stripped and it is probably a good idea to do it when no one is living in the house. 

We were so so lucky to find Maria, our wood stripper, who has been stripping wood for over 30+ years and has handled every sort of wood, issue, and chemical in the industry. We recently caught up with her at a new job she’s working on to get a better handle of the process. 

Here we go!

Items necessary for paint stripping: left- chemical, center top- denatured alcohol, top right- steel wool, bottom left- respirator, bottom center- heat gun, bottom right- tools

Items necessary:

– Gloves (lots and lots of gloves). We recommend latex under cloth gloves
– Respirator. You want a good one that will cover the entire mouth. Chemicals will be used and who knows the history of your paint.
– Heat Gun- a durable one
– Steal Wool
– Tarp/Plastic
– Cheese Cloth- full box or large sponge- your preference
– Wire Brush
– Other tools used to scrape, scrub and clean
– Chemicals recommended: US Government Stripper, Zip Strip, Jasco, Rock Miracle

– Denatured Alcohol


1. Heat Gun the wood you will strip- this will help the paint warm up and remove some layers
2. Remove any paint that has been removed with heat gun
3. Apply Chemical- use a spray bottle-  Let chemical sit 10-15 MINUTES
4. Clean remnants with cheese cloth or a large sponge- After the heat gun, the paint will hopefully come off in layers. Cheese cloth is a good material to swipe the chemical off. It will fall on the tarp that should be well taped to the area you are working in.
5. Use wire brush or steel wool to get areas that are more delicate and hard to get in large quantities.

6. Wipe wood down with something like Denatured Alcohol and continue to clean with steel wool.

This process removed every speck of paint from our woodwork, even in detailed places with lots of crevices. We’re sure that there are other tools used, maybe even some that are safer. If something worked well for you let us know!

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New Year New DIY Projects

We’re starting the new year off by planning some of our 2020 DIY projects. The majority of our renovation is finished and we can now enjoy our space and dive into our list! When a major renovation is finished it can sometimes be surprising how much work is left to do to create your dream living space. We have already checked off some of our list but we have lots to do in 2020!

Pantry/Storage Wall

We intentionally left the wall opposite our kitchen as a blank canvas. We know that we need more kitchen storage and more storage in general. It’s a big blank spot to build it! It’s a large space and anything we build will be a major feature of the parlor floor, so we want to make sure we get it right. On our list are pantry storage, tall storage, and a bar area. Features that make it a challenge are an old fireplace bump out (those are always annoying to plan around) and a radiator. We’ve been through more designs than we can count, and still haven’t found the right thing yet, but we’re getting close! 

Art Niche

When we bought our place there was an unattractive door leading to the roof hatch at the top of the stairs. It was the first thing you would see when you walked in the front door. A good friend of ours inspired us to make that space more of a feature worthy of the first glance it will get from guests. We built the niche with a custom library light above it, but we have gone through several ideas of what should fill it. Shelves, a plant wall, and A piece of art have all been on and off the list. When we find the right thing we’ll know it! 

Basement Laundry Room

We opted not to put laundry in our main living area. There just wasn’t a good space to put it. We would have had to carve the space out of something else. Every square foot of space is precious! We also already have a laundry hook up in the basement and it’s relatively clean and dry down there. So our plan is to build a laundry area in our basement. The advantage there is that we will be able to have shelves, cabinets, and a counter instead of just a stackable washer/dryer we would have had upstairs. We hoping to get this in soon!

Front Doors 

Surprisingly, one of our favorite feature is the original vestibule door that was stripped of many layers of paint and restored with new glass. It’s beautiful with the old vestibule tiles and plaster features on the walls. It’s all in contrast to the modern single front door that replaced the original double doors at some point. There are panels filling the sides since the single door doesn’t quite fill the space. It wasn’t in our budget to have custom doors built to match the originals (we would have copied from one of our neighbors since our row of buildings match). Custom doors run $10-15,000. While we would have loved to be able to do that, we opted to go with a standard size double door that will echo the originals. They will be delivered soon!


Last but certainly not least for our major projects is the backyard! Our deck is in and ready for us to enjoy but we didn’t touch the backyard. We have lots of ideas and we’ll be completing the design over the next few months to be ready to transform the space in the spring. Truth be told, it probably will be the biggest, most time-consuming, and labor intensive DIY project we’ll tackle this year. Fortunately we have friends with green thumbs to help!

We’re pumped about 2020 and can’t wait to tackle these projects and more! Subscribe below for updates and don’t forget to follow us on Instagram

A Year In Review

2019 was a big one for us. We successfully (mostly) completed a major renovation in less than a year. And we’ve shared the experience through our blog every week! This is our 52nd post of 2019. So we thought we would look back at what’s happened.

After cost, timing of a renovation is the most popular question that we get. Everyone is on a timeline: Baby coming, lease expiring, temporary living arrangements, or what is sometimes the worst – living there during the renovation! Getting a sense of the timing and having the right expectations is important. We bought our place in late October 2018. We started the design and approval process in mid November 2018 and we got approvals done in early January 2019. Demo officially started January 22nd. Then after a lot of work we moved into the space in late August. So construction took about 8 months, with a couple of months of design and architecture work.

We’re spending the week with family and reflecting on the year. So we thought it would be a good time to share a year in review! 

Biggest Surprise: How beautiful the original wood was hiding under all those layers of paint. We knew we wanted to remove the thick layer of paint, but thought we would need to repaint it. To our surprise it was in great condition and we decided to leave it natural.

Best Moment: Uncovering old pocket doors that were buried in the walls! It reminded us of the history of our place and all of the lives that lived here before us. 

Worst Moment: The worst moment for us happened in the week after we closed on the place. Someone stole one of the 2 original iron newel posts from the front stoop! We were so upset to see part of the history of the place go, but it did strengthen our resolve to save everything we can…and the post will be replaced! 

Biggest Lesson Learned: There are a few little things in our place we would have done differently. Most of it stems back to rushing the design phase. We were in so much of a hurry to file with the city, get approvals, and start demo, that we should have giving more though to room sizes and lighting design. Nothing major but things we would do different in retrospect. 

A Surprise Design Moment: Our #diy Green vintage door. The color, the design, the vintage chicken wire glass.. We love it!

Barry’s Favorite Design Feature: The open kitchen and large island! We know some people prefer a closed kitchen, but for us the entertainment value of an open kitchen works well. We almost thought we were going too big with our island when we were designing, but it’s perfect! 

Jordan’s Favorite Design Feature: The lighting! We worked so hard on the right light fixtures (Stickbulb, Noguchi, Barnlight, Schoolhouse, and some vintage fixtures from Etsy) and making sure each one fit the space. We have a mix of the “old & new” theme throughout the space and we think the lighting is an instrumental part in our design theme. 

Now we are excited to turn our major renovation project into more DIY smaller projects. There’s enough work to be done in our Brownstone that we hope you will enjoy in 2020. 

We will see you in 2020!

From our stoop to wherever you are, we hope you have a wonderful Holiday Season!

Jordan & Barry

aka The Brownstone Boys 

You Know Those Annoying Old Fireplace Bump-outs That Make Furniture Placement a Nightmare?

We’ve spent the last year designing and restoring our brownstone. Most of the work is complete and we are going through inspections. That means we can finally kick the contractors out, but the work of making it our own has only just begun. We’ve been working on finishing the spaces and have enough projects left to keep us busy for another year!

Over the past few weeks we have been focusing on our master bedroom. In our original plan for the room we had to solve the problem anyone who has lived in this type of building might be familiar with.

Our place has old fireplaces that have long been bricked up. We would have loved to restore them but it just wasn’t in the budget. It also wasn’t in the budget to remove the bump-out that the old chimneys created. Not too mention that the mechanicals in the basement are using one of the old flu’s for ventilation pipes to the roof, very common in these buildings, but also not our scope to alter. The problem that this caused, as you might be familiar, is that the bump-out can create headaches for furniture placement. In our master bedroom the best wall to have the bed on also had an old fireplace bump-out that ended up not being centered in the room, and was not as wide as our bed. If we would have put the bed centered on that wall there would have been a weird space behind it on one side. No other wall made sense for the bed. We decided if we couldn’t easily remove the bump-out maybe it would be easier to extend it. So we designed a 48” wide wall to extend the 8” deep bump-out. We centered it in the room, which made it the backdrop for our bed. It extends about 2 feet on each side of the bed, which leaves room for nightstands.

This room had original plaster molding that we wanted to keep, so we had the molding recreated and run around the new section of wall. It helped integrate it into the room

So that it feels like it belongs there. We also painted the entire bump-out a contrasting color, a dark blue (Many people ask for the color: it’s Goodnight Moon from Clare).

One of the finishing pieces was something that we planned from the beginning and it’s what really prompted this post since we just completed it. We came across a photo a year ago from a designer friend of ours, Liz Lipkin, showing some custom shelves in a niche next to a bed. The new section of wall we built created about a 28” wide niche similar to the one in Liz’s design and we thought custom shelves would be a great way to use that space and create a feature.

We took our Ikea Wood table and transformed into wood shelves.

Custom floating shelves can be expensive and after a year long renovation we were keen to save a few bucks. While looking though our basement with a fellow renovator friend, Pierre, we came across an old IKEA table top. The wood was unfinished but was pretty nice. There was enough to make the shelves we needed and we thought with a bit of stain it could work. So we measured, stained, and with the craftsmanship skills of Pierre our built-in shelves project is complete!

We finished the area off with a brass mirror, sconces, and nightstands. We feel that we turned what created a puzzle of furniture placement into one of the main features of the room. The bump-out, painted a dark blue, creates a backdrop for our bed and is a great contrast with the light grey bedding and warm leather headboard. The entire wall has a ton of character and although we took the less expensive way out we wouldn’t prefer it any other way.

If we don’t get in touch before next week, we hope you all have a wonderful holiday season!

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Is It A Good Idea To Build A Bedroom With No Window?

There are some givens in the design of a 19th century Brooklyn brownstone. With very few exceptions they are narrow and long. You will almost always open the door to a vestibule, then a foyer, and then a staircase going up the side wall. You’ll have 3 windows across the upper floors and on the parlor floor you’ll have the stoop with front door, and 2 windows. All of these very common layout features create a similar situation that anyone renovating one of these old buildings has thought through. If you want 3 bedrooms on an upper floor how do you fit them in so that they have windows and are a useable size?

We all know the little 5-6 feet wide rooms that end up in front and behind the stairs. They don’t really pass the usable size test. First thought might be to move the wall over to create two more equal sized rooms, but there are 2 problems. That wall is almost always load bearing and how do you handle the 3 equally spaced windows? Even just moving that wall a foot is going to put it right up next to the middle window, and is it really worth the expense of moving a load bearing wall a foot? One creative solution we’ve seen is to create a zig-zagged wall that creates a narrower room by the windows but just over time create more space for the rest of the room.

Sometimes the best place to put a third bedroom is in the middle! Far from the windows at the front and back. Many people wonder if this is legal and how to get it approved, or even how they will like a room with no window. In our case, we planned for a skylight that met the the city’s requirements for light and ventilation. Typically they will require a openable window that is 10% of the square footage of the room. Our middle bedroom is about 9.5X12 so this created quite a large skylight! Everyone who comes into the place during the day comments on it. It really is now the brightest room in the house.

So our middle bedroom is a great size and has lots of light, but the one thing it was missing is a view. No matter how much light our skylight is letting in you still can’t see the trees. So we decided to create our own view.

An amazing artist )and good friend of ours), Lauren Kaelin, painted a giant mural on an entire wall that brings the outdoors in. For inspiration, we sent her vintage botanical prints of vegetable, fruits, and flowers.

We were blown away when she sketched the entire mural out in less than an hour. Then the greens went up. Various shades of leaves and stems. Next came the color. Red tomatoes, yellow lemons, and purple flowers. Finally a wood stain wash over the entire wall gave it a vintage quality we were looking for.

We can’t even explain how this mural changed the feel of this room. All of our guests comment on how they can’t wait to wake up under the skylight and next to that mural. The room with no window is one of the most popular in the house. One unexpected benefit is the glimpse you get of the mural as you walk up the stairs and onto the top floor.

We were as worried as you might be to build a house with a bedroom with no window. But it gave us the opportunity to creatively solve the problem. The skylight makes the room brighter than any other and the mural gives it one of the best views in the house. We ended up with a room that has a personality of its own that makes us glad it doesn’t have a traditional window. Guests welcome!

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When Do You Need A Structural Engineer?

Many new homeowners walk through an old Brownstone with aspirations of creating a large open space. While we are fans of keeping original details and not removing too much of the original structure in some buildings it does sometimes make sense to open it up. We kept our structural changes very light so we didn’t require an engineer. And good thing too because we definitely didn’t have the budget for that additional expense.

Many brownstones and townhouses in Brooklyn are over 100 years old. Dramatically altering the structure requires some rethinking of much of the existing support and adding new support. A structural engineer is sometimes needed to ensure your new home will be safe for you family to live in, but when do you need to bring one in?

The old walls and beams in a Brooklyn brownstone were built to last. It really is remarkable seeing the bones of an old building still solidly going strong after 130 years. Based on how extensive your structural changes are your architect will know when to bring in the services of a structural engineer, but here are some common examples:

– If you are creating an opening in an existing bearing wall over about 14-15 feet, you most likely will not need one, but beyond that it is likely that you will. We pushed it to the limit and replaced a bearing wall with a 14 foot header in our kitchen. It was the most extensive structural work that we did, but our architect was able to handle it without calling in an engineer.

– It’s common in some renovations to remove the bearing wall completely and reinforce the joists to span from party wall to party wall. This typically involves doing the same thing on all floors from the ceiling of the floor where the wall is removed to the roof. In that situation you’ll most likely need a structural engineer to determine the reinforcement necessary on the existing joists, and also the ability of the masonry to support it.

– Another common time a structural engineer is needed is when a large opening is created to the exterior of the building. If you’re dreaming of that large wall of windows with a slider to a deck, chances are a structural engineer will need to determine how to build it while keeping the remaining bricks in place to hold up the building.

– There are also existing structural issues you can inherit when you buy a place and other times that it might be necessary to have an engineer.

These are all things that are important considerations when budgeting. It can be a major expense ranging from $5,000-$20,000, not including the actual work. Then on top of that, depending on how extensive your changes are, you might even need a superintendent to be onsite inspecting the progress. This can add thousands more.

It can all be worth it depending on the finished result you’re looking for. But if all else fails remember that the closed kitchen is making a come back so maybe you don’t need to remove that wall after all!

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Adding Character With A Custom DIY Coat Nook

For better or worse we opted not to carve up our floor space on the parlor floor with a coat closet. We didn’t move many walls on this floor so there just wasn’t a great place to build one. Every place we considered was obviously interjected into the space. But we still have coats! And so do our guests! So one of our projects over the past few weeks as it gets colder was to build our long planned coat nook.

When you walk into our front door, you’re greeted by our amazing original staircase and bannister then beyond that are the stairs to the garden level that wrapped around behind them. Except those stairs now lead down to a locked door to our rental unit and the basement. Since this is an area that will be rarely traveled we thought it was a perfect place to create our coat nook. 

We also wanted to make a feature out of what would have been a dead space. One of our secret weapons in home renovations to inexpensively add character and create a feature are wainscoting panels. Extra molding and shelves can create even more of mudroom feel, but in this case we wanted to keep it simple since it is a hallway that will be used even if not that often. 

We went with a beaded recessed panel that echos the shaker cabinets and doors we installed but has a bit more detail. The same baseboard wraps around it with the same semi-gloss paint to create a cohesive look. 

We mounted two custom library lights angled back toward the wall. They create some drama in the lighting plan and signal that the nook is a focal point. The final essential component are the six vintage (triple prong) coat hooks screwed into the panels. It gives us room for 18 coats, and more if we double up! 

Before and After of the new paneling and DIY project

It was a fun #DIY project! We’re happy with the way it came out. It made a feature and focal point out of an area that was dead space. We love the way it looks and it has done a great job keeping our coats off of furniture (and the bannister, and the floor… ). 

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Let’s get Lit- Blending Modern Lighting With 130 Year Old Details

In the 1880’s when our place was built it was most likely lit at night by kerosene lamps, candles, and possibly even gas lamps. We sometimes lose sight of that picture of what took place on these streets and between these walls so long ago: Roaring fires in the wood burning fireplaces, horse & carriages clacking down the cobble stone streets outside, and the flicker of gas lamps and candle light. Fast forward 130 years and our modern light fixtures are hanging from the same medallions (or at least in a similar spot) that those original fixtures hang. 

With that in mind we really had no intention of veering far from the original plan and adding recessed lighting to our place. We have original plaster moldings and ceilings in most rooms and we were happy to have regular light fixtures with no need or desire to have recessed lights that would require altering them. 

On the other hand, there are a couple of areas that in any restoration most people would want to modernize: Kitchens and bathrooms. So if we were going to entertain recessed lighting anywhere those would be the places. 

In the kitchen we made a game-time decision to drop the ceiling a few inches to solve a plumbing issue in the bathroom upstairs. We also installed an LVL beam in this area for support where a bearing wall was removed. The beam was drywalled and visible, so it separates the area where the ceiling would be lowered and makes it easily unnoticed. Even though our house was built in the 1880’s we wanted the kitchen to feel modern, inviting, and yes, well-lit. The lowered ceiling would give us the opportunity to add some recessed lights. Since we were already altering the ceiling and it is in an area that is being modernized we decided to add the recessed lights.  Just three, and we wanted to make sure they were as streamlined and low profile as possible. 

The ceiling only needed to be dropped a few inches and we didn’t want to go any further than that. We found some great 4” LED low profile lights from Nadair.  They can be installed with very little room and are only about a half inch thick. They are also sit flush to the ceiling so we liked how they would blend into the room. 

The other area that we wanted to be modern is our master bath (our guest bath has a vintage feel). We redid the ceiling to level it off because the ceiling that was there (not original) was noticeably slanted. The shower of our dreams that we built has modern charcoal hex tile and is glassed up with a frameless enclosure. We needed modern and low profile lighting as well. We installed one 6” Nadair LED slim recessed light in the center. It really completes the shower and bathroom. 

Even though we went out of our way to restore as much of the original features that we could, we modernized the places we needed to. Although recessed lighting doesn’t always fit into a Brooklyn brownstone, we felt it was a good opportunity to bring the place up to a modern standard of lighting.  We have nothing but respect for anyone who restores a 100+ year old building with attention to historical detail in every place, but for us restoring our place was also about making it comfortable and livable. So we are really happy with the modern feel of the kitchen and master bath, and creating a modern lighting plan there was an important as well.  

In other kitchen lighting news, some of the last things to be installed in our house are finally up. We couldn’t find the right pendants for our kitchen island that were in our price range, so we decided to build them ourselves! For these lights we didn’t want them to have too much of a modern feel. We wanted them to blend the modern kitchen with the historic mouldings and details. We bought each individual piece of the pendants, wired them, assembled the fixtures, and hung them. Our secret weapon was Antique Lamp Supply. They have thousands of different lamp and light fixtures pieces that can create pretty much any look. They also have some great how-to guides to help with the process. 

Finally, the last part of our kitchen lighting plan are some simple under cabinet lights from Nadair. They are low profile and easy to install. They complete the modern and comfortable feel of the kitchen.

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Closets- Organization & Storage options

Our brownstone is spot on with the usual measurements of 19’x 40’. In our duplex we have a living/kitchen/dining floor and then a bedroom floor. We chose to build 3 good size bedrooms rather than have one that is only big enough for a desk or a single bed. The compromise we made is that we don’t have a walk-in closet in the master. Anyone familiar with NYC/Brooklyn real-estate might be able to back us up when we say closets are a very touchy subject and sometime you just don’t have any closet.

We built 2 reach-in closets side by side. They are shallow closets, just the minimum for hanging clothes, so they leave lots of space for bedrooms. This made closet organization very important. We really had to maximize the space that we had or we would never had fit everything. We found out that adding the right organization could basically make our two reach-in closets feel like a walk-in with over 12 feet of hanging space and room for shelves! We also have other closets that would serve as overflow for clothes as well as other storage.

We are both people who need to feel organized to keep out heads clear, but we both have different philosophies on organizing a closet when it comes to hanging vs shelves for folding. We needed a little of each but it was also going to make a difference for us when it comes to how happy and organized we would feel about our closets. We looked at a few different closet systems that do some version of all of the above, but decided that California Closets was the right choice for us. One of the things we really liked is that they send out a professional closet organizer (Debbie!) for a consultation! We needed it!

Here’s some tips to getting it right!

1. Purge – Use this an opportunity to get rid of anything you don’t want junking up your new organized closet. If we didn’t wear something in over a year we put it in the donation pile.

2. Plan it out – Think about how much hanging space you need, how much shelf space, do you want drawers, do you need show storage, are you a hat person like Jordan…etc. Debbie was amazing at helping us think about everything that we needed.

3. Visualize it – After Debbie took the measurements of our closets she popped them into a computer program so that we can visualize the space in 3D and pop in/out different features.

4. Lose the wire – If you send your laundry out for dry cleaning or laundering you probably get it back on wire hangers. Those found themselves permanently in my closet. Wooden hangers are relatively inexpensive and go a long way in making you feel good about your closet space.

5. Keep it neat – Give yourself a fighting chance by thinking ahead to how you can keep your closet organized for the long term. Will you keep your folded sweaters neat on shelves or do you need drawers? Do you have enough hanging space so that you aren’t jamming clothes in?

We are feeling organized and happy about your new closets! We feel like we turned our small reach-in closets into a huge walk-in with the amount of space and organization we have. Do you have any great closet organizations tips? Comment below!

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Stairway to Heaven – Finishing Off Our Staircase with a Runner

We faced some tough decisions early on in our renovation on what to restore, what to repair, and what to replace. Our place is 130 years old and has had several renovations over its lifetime. Each one no doubt chipped away more and more at the original charm. We wanted to restore as much as we could and were very careful to save as many features as possible even if we needed to recreate some things. The last renovation before we bought it created a 5 bedroom duplex with no care given to where walls cut through moldings and sloppy paint jobs on the woodwork. No place could that be seen more than on the original staircase and bannister. 

This week we put the finishing touch on the stairs, a new runner. Stair runners are sometimes a touchy subject. Maybe they are bit too close to carpeting for some people. For us it was a good solution as we wanted to restore our original stairs but didn’t have the budget to take it further. Rebuilding a staircase is expensive!

Our stairs have a lot of character. They have definitely seen some stuff. There were multiple layers of linoleum held in place with adhesive and metal strips with screws. On top of that was a layer of carpet nailed and stapled down. All of this has taken a toll on the original wood underneath. Once we removed all of these layers we sanded the stairs to see what we were working with. We were pleasantly surprised at how nicely they came out. They were still left with lots of holes and some discoloring, but overall looked better than we thought with a lot of character! Other than some scars from past atrocities the other thing that really shows their age is their squeak. Each tread tells a 130 year old story with well every step! 

We very briefly considered the option of rebuilding the stairs but they are very solid so it was big expense we really wanted to avoid. Also, so much of the originally features we’ve never seen but know where there have already been removed we were really happy to keep what we could. Squeaks, scars, and all!

We knew we needed to finish them some way or they would have been a bit too rustic. We also have an 85 pound dog that slips and slides his way around wood floors. Our solution was to find a very attractive runner that would fit in with the era and style of the place.

Fortunately we came across Annie Selke. They have a herringbone runner from Dash & Albert in a light grey and off-white that was perfect for the space. The color, pattern, and texture fit right in with our old stairs. 

Modern construction typically has 36” wide stairs and rug companies make runners to fit. Our old stairs are a little narrower at 31” so we had to have the runner cut and bound. We found a local company to come out measure, bind, and alter the runner so that it was the right size for our staircase.

We just had it installed and all of our problems are solved! The stairs have a much warmer and more finished look, the squeaking has been reduced a lot, and Zuko (our four-legged Labrador) can run up and down without slipping or losing his footing. We feel like one of our favorite features in the house has just had the icing on its cake. 

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Our Halloween Treat- Final Inspections!

Now that all of the major work is done in our place we are having all of our final inspections done. It’s an interesting place to be in the process because in addition to building our place to be our home we have spent a lot of time building to match the approved plans so that we can pass inspections. It’s been a big part of pretty much every detail.

Our architect warned us months ago that just because a plan examiner approved our plans it doesn’t mean that the field inspector will approve. It’s a scary thing to think about as you go through a multi hundreds of thousands of dollars renovation. But it’s just one of those things you deal with while renovating in NYC. Expect the unexpected. Which may not be that unexpected at all if you were warned like we were from our architect.

So here we are. We just found out that even though the plan examiner approved our plumbing plans one way, the field inspector wants it filed another way. It’s not that anything is wrong with it. It was built the right way and is perfectly safe. It’s just a difference in the filing. The unfortunate thing, that anyone renovating in NYC would probably understand, is that there is a cost.

After the first half of the renovation the final inspection is most likely what will create the biggest surprises. It’s frustrating, but if you expect some curveballs, and put a bit of money aside for them, it can be just part of the process.

We’re hoping this the is last hurdle for us! Other than that we have been crossing off little projects and setting up the space. Lots of updates to come on organization, design, and decorating!

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Closed Kitchen Comeback: Is An Open Kitchen Right For You?

When we set off on our renovation journey one of the things on the top of our list was an open kitchen. We love the look of having a show-stopper kitchen being seen from the living area and we really wanted the easy flow and entertainment quality of having an open space. Most of the people we speak with who are in the middle of or about to start a renovation are looking for the same. But there are a growing number of people who are looking for a more traditional closed kitchen. 

For quite a while now, many designers, architects, and homeowners have been touting the benefits of open kitchens. But all that openness has been around for a while, and for some the pendulum is now swinging back the other way. The traditional feel and private space of a closed kitchen is again becoming more popular among renovators and house hunters.

There are benefits and drawbacks to both.

Open Kitchen
It’s safe to say that by far most people prefer the open kitchen. Whether that is from countless home renovation shows that create open living plans or just the way folks want to live, it’s the more popular option, at least for now. If you’re renovating with resale in mind it might be the way to appeal to the most buyers. 

The Pros

  • It’s gives the ability for anyone in the kitchen to be part of the activities that are happening in the living area.  
  • It creates a great entertainment space with easy flow to/from the “heart of the house“.
  • Makes the space appear larger by creating longer sight lines. 
  • It allows more natural light to flow through the space since walls are eliminated. 

The Cons

  • If you’re a messy cook, your mess can be seen by all guests in the rest of the living area.
  • Opening up walls and creating open plans are some of the more expensive renovation items.
  • It’s a departure from a tradition living plan if you have a historic home.

Closed Kitchen

Traditionally, not only was the kitchen separated from the living area by walls, it was often on a different floor. Many of the brownstones in Brooklyn had the kitchen on the garden level while the main dining and living areas were one floor up on the parlor level. “Closed” doesn’t mean claustrophobic or small. It just means that kitchen access is separates by walls and doors. A closed kitchen can still be large and beautiful. And food prep and cleanup is hidden from view.

The Pros

  • Food prep messes and cooking odors are confined to the kitchen. 
  • Closed kitchens can have more storage and countertop space since there are more walls.
  • If you are renovating with walls as they are this can be less expensive than structural considerations of removing them. 
  • It’s is a more traditional layout and the dining and entertainment experience is more formal.

The Cons

  • The cook is separated from the fun in the living area. 
  • The space can feel more closed off with less natural light (depending on your layout.)

What’s the right answer?

If you are renovating, then the world is your oyster. It’s completely up to you what works best for your family and whether or not resale is important. You may even feel that a closed kitchen is better all around and for resale for your home. That is beauty of renovating. You have the ability to create a space that works for you.

There are even ways to have the best of both worlds. You can have a pass through, pocket doors, a peninsula, or any other partial separation. 

We are loving our open kitchen and have already had the chance to enjoy the space and flow while entertaining friends. Whatever you choose just make sure to enjoy your space! 

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Finishing Touches

Whenever we talk about “finishing” our renovation project someone reminds us that it will never be completely finished. We’re almost to the 95% complete mark, which I guess is where it will always be. While that may be scary for some, we’re perfectly happy about it because…well, we love a project, and we’ll have plenty to write about. We also have taken on a couple of additional Brownstone Boys renovation projects and can’t wait to share that with you too (spoiler: they are some big beautiful brownstone reno’s!) 

The most tediously frustrating parts of a reno project are the few weeks in the beginning and the few weeks at the end. In the beginning you can’t wait to start ripping things apart, but you have to sit idol waiting for permits. At the end you’re ready to start enjoying your space, and you can see the light,  but there are lots of little things to get through and you have to get through them before you can clean (so much cleaning) and make the space livable. That’s where we are now. Deep in the punch list weeds. 

All major projects are done. The place looks great! But our list of little things is so long it’s hard to see the end. We thought we would give a few recommendations on that finishing list.

Don’t Be Shy

You should have a long punch list. Your contractor expects it and it’s important to make sure you not are having to do this after your project is “complete.” Our list consists of things from filling gaps to removing and replacing tiles. It’s all possible. Don’t live with anything you won’t be happy with for the years you’ll live in the space. 

Save Some Time And Money

There are some things that don’t fall into the scope of what our contractor should be doing for us, but “the guys” are here and we’re taking advantage of it. We have some brick walls that are hard to drill into to hang mirrors, shelves, and pictures so we are having them do it. I’m sure it’s saving us a few headaches, plus we will have plenty of things to keep us busy. The more we can have them cross off our list- the better!

Check Everything 

Make sure everything is in working condition. Run the AC’s, heat, dishwasher, washer/dryer, fridge/freezer, ice maker, all bath fixtures….you get the picture. Don’t find out something doesn’t work once they are out of the building. Sure they can come back, but it will be a lot easier to get it done while they are there. 


There is a fine layer (and in some places quite a bit more than a fine layer) of dust on pretty much everything. We are very ready for a deep post-construction cleaning. We’ll have a crew come in and clean the place from top to bottom, but it’s useless to do that until we are done with the punch list. Some of it involves a bit of sanding and repainting that will create more dust.

Check It Twice

We’re getting through our punch list and when it’s done, we’re going through the list one more time. The second round won’t take nearly as long but we know we’ll find a few more things. Scuffs, gaps, and mistakes will show that we missed the first time once the place is cleaned. 

We’re really excited to be in the final few weeks of our larger reno and looking forward to moving on to some smaller projects and working on the design. More updates next week!

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Keep It Glassy! Shower & Tub Enclosures

If you are building a new bathroom, especially if you have a nice walk-in shower, you will probably want to have a glass enclosure. Ours was just installed and we couldn’t be more thrilled about it! So we thought we would talk a bit about the process, options, and pricing. 

A glass enclosure to a shower or tub will instantly transform the way your bathroom looks. It will create a nice open and airy feel, provide for a comfortable if not luxurious experience, and show off your beautiful tile or stone you spent so much time picking out! 

So here are some options & tips we learned along the way…

Frame or Frameless

If you have ever wondered what makes the glass in one bathroom look modern and attractive and another not so much, it might be the lack of a frame around it. It makes a big difference in creating an open and modern space.

Having the frame around the glass is going to add strength. The frameless will be fixed to the wall and floor, so the corner there will be very sturdy. The opposite corner at the top will be floating pretty far from where the glass is fixed so it will have some play. It’s possible, though unlikely, that a hard fall against it can take the whole thing down. So it’s just something to be aware of, but mostly likely not something to be concerned about. There is also a semi-frameless options which improves the look, but still adds strength. 

One way to get a lot of strength and still keep a modern look is with a grid enclosure. They have a bit of an industrial feel and could really fit in nicely in a modern loft type space. Or if that is just the look you’re going for. 

Clips or Channels 

The way your glass is fixed to the wall can also make a difference in the finished product. You can have 2 or 3 clips securing it to the wall, or it can sit in one long channel that is fixed to the wall. We feel like we see more clips these days but we also like the clean look of the channel.


There are several options when it comes to the doors. The door can not only adds to the look that you’re going for but has some functional implications as well. Here are some of the options:

Hinged Door

Your shower glass will consist of one or more fixed panels and a door. The door can be hinged to a fixed glass panel or to the wall. It provides a modern look and easy access in and out of the shower. The shower door has to swing out (in case someone falls inside to provide access) so you will get some drips from the door on the floor when it opens. You also need to make sure you have space for the door to swing, which is always a consideration in NYC. 

Sliding Door(s)

You can have double or single sliding doors. This can be good if you want access from multiple sides or if you don’t have the space for a door to swing out. It also keeps everything pretty tidy with no drips on the floor as a hinged door will. It sometimes has connotations of older sliding shower doors and will be framed since the doors will need a track or mechanism to slide on.

Bi-Fold Door 

It’s not the most popular option but you can also have a bi-fold door on your shower. It might be useful if you don’t have a lot of room for a full swing door, but you still want to go frameless.

Splash Panel

You could even go doorless! A splash panel is a single pane of glass that will keep (most of) the water in the shower but the entrance will be open. It creates an even greater open and airy feel. The drawback might be that depending on the configuration of the shower and glass you could end up with a few splashes outside.

Glass Options

Now that you have decided what the configuration and door access will be, you have lots of options on the glass itself. There are options to include textured, opaque, or specialty glass. No doubt the vast majority of us will go with a clear glass, but you even have a couple of options there. Plain clear glass is just great for the most of us, but if you want to upgrade you can go with Starphire glass. Sometimes called “low-iron glass” because it contains only ten percent of the iron regular glass contains. Starphire is ultra-clear and brilliant in a way regular glass is not. During the manufacturing process, the green hue is removed that is normally visible at the edges.


Once your shower or tub has tile and/or stone installed you can have a shower glass company come out to measure and walk you through your options. We worked with Mirage Shower Doors. The team was great! We knew exactly what we wanted, so they came by for measurements and only 7-8 days later the glass was installed. It is spot on what we wanted.

We went with a frameless shower glass in regular clear glass. We did a hinged door with one fixed panel of glass. We have clips securing the glass to the tile and a handle in a matte black finish. Very happy Boys! 


It could vary depending on your choices, but we would recommend budgeting $2,000-$3,000 for your shower glass. 

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Central Air Conditioning VS. Ductless Mini Split

We’re having some warm autumn weather. It’s been so nice we even sneaked away to go to the beach last weekend. With the late summer we’re having, since we moved upstairs we also have needed AC. Our place didn’t have an AC system when we moved in so it’s something we added to the project early on.

There’s a few options when renovating and adding a new AC system. The scope of your renovation might help you figure out which system is best for you- a central AC system or a ductless mini split system. 

Central AC Ducted System
Central AC systems consist of an outdoor compressor/condenser and a single indoor unit that pushes air through a series of ducts to vents throughout your home to keep it cool. Temperature is controlled by a single thermostat and heating & cooling typically share the same ducts. 

If you are completely gutting a place and the original features, plaster, and mouldings aren’t something that you’re keeping you might want to build in a ducted central AC system. The advantages are that you have control over the temperature of the entire home and it’s usually distributed evenly and comfortably. The upfront cost can also be a bit lower. 

It can be difficult to run the ducts throughout your home if you aren’t gutting the entire place. It can also be less efficient because the ducts can leak over time. 

Mini Split system 
A ductless mini split system also consists of an outdoor compressor/condenser but instead of connecting to a single unit that pushes air through ducts it connects to indoor units in each room that distribute heat or AC throughout a home. Each room’s temperature can be controlled individually, which makes mini splits an attractive option for those who want flexible control and all-around comfort.

Mini split systems are becoming more and more popular in New York. They are great for adding a system where one doesn’t exist because they are not as intrusive to install as a ducted central AC system. If you are doing a restoration (say a Brownstone ;)) and the thought of cutting through original features, plaster, and mouldings makes your heart hurt a bit this might be the option for you. Rather than large ducts carrying cool air though the ceiling and walls, there are small tubes carrying refrigerant and a small drainage tubes. We found it very easy to hide them in the walls without disturbing one plaster moulding or anything else important to us. In addition, since mini split systems are controlled in individual rooms, they can help save money by cooling or heating rooms on an as-needed basis.

The main disadvantage of buying a mini split system is the cost. Although mini split systems are more expensive than other systems to install, they offer significant savings in the long run. Because they do not rely on ducts to operate, mini splits eliminate the surprise costs that come with leaky or uninsulated ducts.

Window Units
Can’t forget about these! They might not be on your radar if you are going through a renovation, but in New York they are impossible to ignore. You’re probably familiar. It’s by far the cheapest, loudest, easiest, and least attractive option. They do a bad job of distributing the cool air evenly, but they do cool well. They are quick and easy to install and the least intrusive option since you just pop them into the window with no ducts or pipes that need to be run. Although, I guess the big box staring at you from the windows could be considered instructive.

Our Pick….
We decided on a mini split system for our place and it’s going online this week. Just in time for an almost 90 degree October day. We worked with our friends at AJ Madison and went with an LG system. So far we love the size and shape of the units. They are slim and attractive. Later this week when they are on we’ll let you know how they’re cooling!

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Sorting Through Kitchen Counters Options

The kitchen is the heart of the house, they say. For us (and many folks) our kitchen is a big feature of our renovation. We wanted it to be big and open. We even sacrificed a powder room to get it. We wanted something that would be seen as a major feature. We also wanted a big island with seating because no matter how large or small it ends up being it is where everyone ends up hanging out. One of the most important features of a big and open kitchen are the counters and we wanted to get it right.

There are a lot of options out there for kitchen counters. We have experience we a few of them and we’ve researched and spoke to professionals about many of them. Depending on your design aesthetic, the durability you need, and the price point you’re targeting there is something out there for you. But how do you sort it all out? Here are some of our thoughts on some of the most popular options out there.



We love a Carrara marble counter. From a purely aesthetic perspective it’s the top for us. Every time we see a big slab of Carrara in a house, restaurant, cafe…etc we melt a little. We used it in one of our prior renovations and for looks it did not disappoint. 


Marble can be susceptible to etching and staining. We wrote off the warnings that we heard when we chose it last time, and we shouldn’t have. So many glasses that were left on it left etched rings and even the smallest drops wine left stains. Lemon juice, tomato…I don’t think any liquid was safe. Maybe if we were harder on it or waited a few years it might have all evened out but we ended up selling it after only 2 years and had to have it re-honed and sealed before we did. …but it’s looks great! 



Quartz offers the beauty of a natural stone but since it’s engineered it is much more durable. It is resistant to staining, etching, heat, and scratching. It’s available in a wide variety of colors. These days the quartz that is made to resemble a natural stone does a great job of it. Even the cararra marble versions achieve a very close look to the real thing. 


Although they are getting better and better most still have an artificial look. Marbling just isn’t the same as the real thing, although it’s developing a following of its own and the intention isn’t always to mimic the natural stuff. It’s also a little pricey, but with the increased durability- it can be worth it. 



Concrete counters can give an industrial look to your kitchen. They are edgy and have a crafted feel. They are versatile and can be created in any shape. They are durable and with the best of us can even develop a bit more character as they get older. 


Concrete needs to be sealed regularly so there is some maintenance. As you can imagine, it’s also heavier than other options so additional support is sometimes needed. Also, because it is hand crafted, with a multi-step process, it can be a bit more expensive than other options.



Granite is a popular option. It comes in a wide variety of colors and patterns. It’s durable and stands up well to wear and tear. 


It’s popularity is a turn-off for a lot of people. For some it conjures up images of the suburbs. It also should be sealed regularly to resist staining so there is some maintenance. 

Stainless Steel


Stainless steel is an interesting option. It definitely creates a distinct look and has a commercial kitchen feel. It’s very durable and resists staining, scratching, and heat wear. 


It’s an expensive option. It also has the unfortunate side effect of creating a noisy kitchen. You’ve probably heard the sound as you dined in a candle lit hushed restaurant and the kitchen door swings open allowing the distinctive metallic clanging of pots and pans banging around on it!

There are others to check out too: Soapstone, butchers block, solid surface and some others are worth considering.

Our decision

As much as we love it, after our last experience with Carrara marble we wanted something a bit more durable with a bit less maintenance. But we didn’t want to sacrifice the look. Plain white counters just didn’t have enough character. So we found an amazing Quartz that reminds us of our favorite marble…. but we might actually like it better! We went with HanStone Quartz in the Montauk color. For us the key to the right quartz is finding one that does a good job with the engineered marbling. The one we chose has the soft grey undertones of Carrara, but still bright enough to contrast with our grey cabinets. Since it’s quartz it will be very durable so that we aren’t running around grabbing our guests drinks as they sit them on the counter. 

Our counters were just installed and our jaws hit the floor. They exceeded our expectations by miles. Unfortunately they are covered now for the next few weeks while we are finishing up the project. It’s one more thing (a big one) that we’re so excited about putting to use in just a matter of weeks now! 

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A Difficult Decision: Choosing The Right White Paint

We didn’t plan on writing an article on paint, especially since our place will be mostly painted white, but given the amount of time we have spent trying to pick white paint and to get the sheen levels right we felt like we needed to! We’re planning on letting the architecture and original features of our house speak for themselves with a nice clean white paint on the walls and ceilings. It will make the richness of the original wood pop and keep it classic looking (although we’re going to sneak in a pop of color in a few places). Choosing a white paint is easier said than done because there are a lot of options ranging from cool to warm, creamy to bright, and everything in between. 

We have a lot of wall space with high ceilings that will be painted the same color since the plaster mouldings cove the walls into them so we wanted to get it right. There is already a lot of warmth in in our place with all of the natural wood so we want to compliment it but not make things too warm or creamy. We also prefer the warmer glow of incandescent bulbs in our lighting and that will warm up the place no matter how bright the paint is.

If it wasn’t daunting enough to pick paint colors from thousands of options, you also need to decide on a sheen. Gloss, semi-gloss, satin, matte, or flat are the most popular options. They each have areas where they are better suited. We’ll give you the run down but first let’s talk about color. 

We decided to go with Sherwin-William’s paint. We like that they have local stores with professionals to discuss options with. They also have a literal book of different whites to choose from so we knew we would find one that would work well for us.

Some of the Sherwin-Williams paint colors we short listed: Greek Villa, Alabaster, Snowbound, Pure White , Extra White and High Reflective White


Snowbound is too warm and Alabaster too creamy. Greek Villa was a finalist for us, and probably what we would have gone with if we didn’t have the warm wood and lots of incandescent lighting. Despite its name Pure White is the perfect balance of warm and cool for us. It has a grey undertone that works well for our space. We recommend getting a few different colors in pints and trying them on your walls (or on a primed piece of sheetrock inside your place that you can move around if you don’t want to mess with the walls). Your lighting conditions and other factors might make it look completely different than the swatch you see in a store.


As you know, a lot of our original woodwork will not be painted. It was painstakingly stripped of many layers of paint and it is looking beautiful in its natural state, but we are being careful not to have too much wood. Our baseboards, doors, door casings, and our wainscoting coat nook will be painted out in a clean white. We are pairing the Pure White walls and ceilings with Extra White on the painted woodwork in semi-gloss. It’s a bright white, but not the brightest they offer.


The sheen you pick for your paint is almost as important as color. It can really change the feel of the space or the create contrast. We’re fans of flat paint on most walls. It bounces almost no light and we just like the look of it. It also goes really well with a semi-gloss contrasting paint on the woodwork. Some may warn you against flat paint on walls because traditionally more reflective sheen paints were easier to clean. Scuffs would wipe off and it would usually last longer. Flat paints these days are made to clean up pretty much just as easily, but if you have kids or expect a lot of wear and tear it might be something to think about. Another reason to go up to a matte or satin sheen level is if you do want to bounce a bit more light around the room. We decided to go up a sheen level in our master bedroom. It’s in the back of the house and there are a lot of trees out the window so it doesn’t get as much direct sun. So it brightens it up a bit and makes it look a little bigger. 

Adding a Pop of Color

So far the 3rd floor is mostly painted out and it looks great. The Sherwin-Williams flat Pure White on the walls and ceilings is the perfect tone. And the gloss Extra White on the wood is a great contrast. Now it’s time to add a couple of pops of color! 

In the guest bath we got a vintage door with frosted chicken wire glass. It’s a quirky feature so we wanted to highlight it. We painted it a shade of green from Sherwin-Williams called Isle of Pines. We’re not “green” people but this green color looks great with the matte subway tiles and vintage black & white theme of the bathroom. Its a nice warm green and really gives the pop of color that is necessary.

We’re not done yet! We have a few other features that need some color. The library/artwork niche at the top of the stairs and the coat nook at the bottom will get some color. For now, it will be painted white and we’ll have some future projects to look forward to.

It’s hard to believe we are putting paint on the walls! We’re close but still so much work to do! Look out for more updates soon. Thanks for reading! Subscribe below and make sure to follow us on Instagram!

Walking On New Ground

There has been a couple of things that have been a long timing coming but are things that we’ve been very much anticipating. Even though they are relatively small developments they are a big step (pun intended) forward to completing the project. And we just plain feel good about them getting done. 

Refinishing Stairs

If you’ve read some of our other posts you probably know that we have been busy restoring the the original bannister and newel post. It all looks amazing, but this entire time there has been ugly old carpet layered on top of linoleum or some kind of vinyl on the stairs and risers. It has been something we looked at and sighed almost everyday. Well the carpet, vinyl, linoleum, and the glue that held is all together is now off! 

The stairs are original so they definitely don’t look new, but we’re happy with the shape they are in. Sure, they have holes were other surfaces have been installed, scars, a couple of gauges, and a charming squeak with every step that will definitely wake us up in the morning as we stumble downstairs for coffee. They’ve seen a lot over their 130 year old lives! We’re going to extend it a little more and strip, sand, and refinish them. We’ll take the squeaks and scars as a bit of character. 

Deck Surface 

So maybe this one isn’t such a small development. You probably know that one of the things we (as we’re sure anyone else would be) are most excited about is our new deck! Well this week we can walk on it for the first time! The steel has been steadily going in over the past few weeks (with a minor set back to fix a footing) and now the deck surface and stairs are in! We need railings and a bit of finishing and we are 100% done with it! 

We did something a little different for our deck surface. It’s common to pour cement and then lay tile on top. It’s not a bad solution because it gives you an outdoor room kind of feel. But our renovation is being done on a tight budget and tiling adds a chunk of money on top of what is already a big expense. We decided to pour the concrete all the way to the top and have a concrete surface at no additional cost. We plan on painting it with a concrete paint that will give it a clean and smooth (ish) finish. 

These are small developments but big steps for us. They are still a work in progress so we’ll keep you updated.

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Finishing and Protecting 130 Year Old Wood

A few months ago we wrote a post about the process stripping layers upon layers of paint off of our 130 year old woodwork. The bannister, door & window casings, and shutters are all original and were caked in paint. Poorly painted we might add. Drips and globs everywhere. We had it all stripped hoping we could at least get it to a point that it could be repainted without the many layers, drips, and globs. We thought if we were lucky we could possibly leave some of it natural. Well we were lucky! Or we just had a very good paint stripper. We were shocked when we saw the beautiful wood under all that paint. It hasn’t seen the light of day in decades and now it’s beauty is out in the open for all to see. Now it’s time to continue the restoration process to repair and bring the wood back to life. 

After seeing how great the wood looked natural there is no way we are going to repaint it. That left us with a little bit of a problem. There are some places where we needed to repair or replace some part of it. That means we needed to find or make matching pieces and match the wood color the best we could. 

The first thing we wanted to address was the newel post. It unfortunately had some bad repair jobs over the years. Some pieces of moulding were missing or damaged. The entire thing also had a reddish tint either from a bad paint or stain job over the years, or because it looks to be a different type of wood from the mahogany bannister and someone might have been trying to match it. We had a very diligent and skilled specialist that worked on it methodically for a couple of weeks. He reproduced smaller pieces of moulding, tediously sanded out the red color, and carefully stained the new wood to match the existing. It looks great! We can only imagine how many people this newel post greeted as they came through the front door over the 130 years it was there. It’s amazing to see it shine again. 

About 50% of our place has the original baseboards. They are in two pieces. A lower 8” board with an decorative set of groves running down it, and an upper rail. We were faced with the difficult choice of taking out what was there and replacing it all with something new. We just really didn’t want to do that. Our goal has always been to restore as much as we could. Taking out so much original detail to replace it just wasn’t going to work. So we started looking around to see if we could have the original baseboards reproduced. We went over to Adriatic Wood in East New York, Brooklyn with a couple of samples of our baseboard. We don’t think it’s very unique. It’s probably very similar to many other Brooklyn houses built around the same time. They searched what they had in stock and unfortunately they didn’t have it. We were left with only one option, having them reproduced to match. Adriatic has many “knives” on hand that can cut new pieces. If they didn’t have the knife for our moulding already they would need to make one. For this to be an affordable option we needed them to have it. We left our samples there for them to search for a match. A couple of days later we got a call and they had it! Very affordably we were able to have our original baseboards recreated!

We had a new problem. We now have brand new wood baseboards to install next to 130 year old baseboard. The wood would always be a different color. We are also aware of the amount of natural wood we were now going to have and didn’t want it to over power the

place. We decided that we would paint all of the baseboards white while leaving the banister, original vestibule door, window casings and shutters, and door casings natural. 

We were also missing a few spindles from the bannister. They were hilariously replaced with much smaller and completely different store bought versions. We knew there was a small chance we could find some matching ones that were ripped out of some other poor Brownstone at a salvage store, but Adriatic was able to spin us up some new ones on matching mahogany for a very reasonable price. We’re happy to say our bannister is now complete!

Our next step is to protect the wood that we’re leaving exposed. We don’t want to put something on it that would change the color or make it shiny. Several people recommended Tung oil as the best option. After the paint stripping process it left the wood needing a light sanding. We sanded one of the window casings and tested the tung oil to see how it affected the wood. It came out great! It gave the wood a bit more depth but didn’t change the color (or sheen). 

The next step will be for us to sand the rest of the window casings, door casings, and window shutters. Then oil them all to protect and bring it all back to life. Our work is cut out for us.

The entire process took a lot of money, time, and effort but we already see it paying off. The original wood is now one of the best features at our place. We’re so happy to see it out from under all of that paint and we know that it’s going to look beautiful for years to come. The natural way.

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Choosing The Right General Contractor For Your Renovation.

As we have gone through our renovation, and spoken to many other people who are in the process, it’s clear to us that one of the most important decisions you can make in your entire renovation is choosing the right general contractor. It can be a very frustrating situation if you make the wrong choice. It isn’t just about finding a great general contractor but finding the right general contractor for your project.

Different GC’s have different strengths. There are contractors that are really good with gutting and modernizing a space and there are contractors that are good at restoring and bringing back the history in a place. Sure one can get the work done in the opposite scenario but it doesn’t make them the best for the job.

Is your renovation ultra modern with glass railings and concrete floors or are you restoring a 150 year old bannister and original parquet floors? You’ll want someone who will be able to offer you the most support and expertise for your job. 

Do you want a contractor who also has a lot of mill work skills?  Not all of them do, they might sub contract it out. That’s not always a bad thing, but if your project has central features that involve mill work it could be an important consideration. Are you fixing an apartment that was flooded from your upstairs neighbors broken pipe? You will save yourself some stressful moments if you find the right person. 

What about budget? If you have a more limited budget there are some contractors who will be better and more willing to work with it. It doesn’t always mean you need to accept lower quality work. No more than paying much more always mean higher quality work. It just depends on where you put the money you have and potentially finding less expensive ways of doing things. There are several places in our renovation where we had the same work done by changing the plan a bit to find a cost savings, without sacrificing on the quality.

Finding the right person can be a challenge. Our advice is to take your time. Interview several GC’s. Ask them questions about not only what type of work they have done, but what time of jobs they enjoy. A contractor that is passionate about restoring historic properties might be the person to go through your historic renovation with. 

Ask around for recommendations. If you know someone who did a similar job and had a great experience that is a good place to start, but be careful not making it the most important consideration. 

We’re big fans of forums like Brownstoner and have been introduced to several GC’s and service providers that way. You might not always know someone personally who can give the right recommendation so it is a good way to connect with people who can. Designers, architects, and other professionals in the industry you might be working with will also have great recommendations.  Don’t take these lightly, but do your own homework and ask your own questions as well. 

You and your contractor are going to go through a lot together. GC’s kind of become your family throughout the process. There will be good moments and there will be some not so good moments. There is no question about it. Make sure it is someone you feel comfortable with. You need to know that they will be honest with you and you can be honest with them. Other than a matching skill set, great communication is high on our list for a must-have traits. You’ll want to communicate often and effectively with your GC. If you don’t feel that way in the interview process it certainly isn’t going to get better once the project starts. Make sure they have the communication skills you are looking for.

Going through a renovation can be a stressful process. Make sure you have a partner in a GC that you’ll want to work with throughout the whole renovation.

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Deck Access Options: Replacing a window or adding a slider.

Over the past few weeks we have been really excited to see our deck being built. One of the things that we are looking forward to the most about our place is unwinding at the end of the day by lighting up the grill, having a glass of wine, and enjoying the outdoor space.

Adding a deck is on the plan for a lot of renovators. It’s one of the things that people reach out to us the most about. Unfortunately, it can easily slip out of budget. It’s all relative. Adding a deck is up there with increasing the number of bedrooms and bathrooms for the amount of value it can add to your place…if not more. So it’s usually a good decision and not only for those evening glasses of wine. 

It was a high priority for us to have one so we found ways to make sure we could squeeze it into the budget. One way was by saving on how we created the access to it. It’s popular to create a large opening for a glass slider or double door, but we went with the more budget friendly approach of installing a glass door in place of a window. For those of you who are in the same boat we thought we would share the things we considered. 

Here were our options:

Option 1: Replacing a window with door. This option only requires demo of the window itself and bricks below it. The lintel above the window can stay in place and none of the masonry above and on side of it is disturbed. 

Option 2: Creating larger opening for glass slider or double door. This option requires a lot more structural work. Our favorite architect, Dick Boschen of Boschen Design, describes the process this way: ”Typically, you can make a big opening by taking out the brick between any 2 of the 3 windows (for most Brooklyn townhouses that have 3 windows across the back), and adding a beam (or lintel) that spans the whole new opening.  But you have to make sure the wall above doesn’t collapse into the hole you’re making, so it’s actually done in the opposite order.  First they make the beam, then they remove the wall under the beam.”

So now that we understand our two options let’s consider a few things.


As you can imagine option 1 will get you an easier time at the DOB. You aren’t changing anything structural about the exterior of the building, so it’s possible to do this on an Alt-2 (DOB less involved in the specifics of your project). Although you’ll need to send a letter to all of your backyard neighbors letting them know about the project. The letters need to be sent and date stamped through certified mail a couple weeks before you file and need to be provided when you do.

For option 2, Dick says, “you must have an Alt-1 filing (DOB more involved in your project).  That’s because you’re doing structural work that could hurt workers, residents & the public in general. So the D.O.B needs to know that 3 main issues have been considered: 1. There is a lintel above the window that can support the weight above. 2. The work doesn’t weaken the remaining wall. 3. Temporary shoring is planned to hold up the building while the work is being done.” You’ll need more drawings, more inspections, and this will no doubt bring more problems.

Scope of work

Obviously from the description above option 2 is much more involved. That’s not even taking into consideration the shape of the brick to support the new features. A lot of times almost the entire back of the building is rebuilt for it. Option 1 might be a day or 2 of work and won’t compromise the existing wall.


The cost for option 1 is minimal. Demo of the existing window and bricks might cost $1,000, the cost of the door and installation might be $2,000 (depending on the kind of door…etc).

The cost just for just the work for option 2 is likely to be a minimum of $15,000, with the wind still blowing through the new big opening you created (as Dick put it). There is a lot of glass to buy, which will cost several thousands dollars, not to mention a more expensive installation. We would assume option 2 might cost $20,000.

Original features

One of our considerations that might not be the case for everyone was the original wood moulding and window casings we would need to remove. We bought our 1880’s brownstone because we loved those features. We would have lost 2 window casings and probably some plaster moulding above it to have a larger opening. We‘re looking forward to seeing the new glass door inside our original window mouldings!

If you already have a big project and are filing an Alt-1, you have the budget, and you‘re not concerned about saving original features it could be worth the effort of creating the larger opening. For us, it was an easy decision not to.

The other area we found to create some savings is in the decking material. More about that soon! Thanks for reading! Subscribe below for updates and don’t forget to follow us on Instagram.

Moving Up!

We kicked off our renovation in January 2019. Seven months later and we are weeks away of having some rooms finished. But don’t worry, we’re not going anywhere! There is plenty more work to do and more projects coming. 

For the past 10 months we’ve been living in the garden apartment. Fortunately it’s a completely separate space free of construction dust and has given us the ability to keep a close eye on the construction upstairs. 

Not even a month in, we wrote about how to finish your renovation project on time…or close to it. Ordering materials on-time,  meeting with your contractor regularly, limiting mid-project changes, and making fast decisions were among some of the things we wrote about and tried our best to do. In these final weeks our communication and direction with our contractor is higher than ever. 

With the major part of the renovation getting close to being done. It’s time for us to start some projects in the garden rental and move upstairs. Fortunately the 3rd floor bedrooms and bathrooms are just about done! Our plan will be to move up to the 3rd floor while we are finishing up the parlor level. We would be the first to warn any renovators not to move into an unfinished space, but we are so close to being done! There won’t be any construction on the floor we will live on and we’ll be past the dusty stuff on the parlor level as well. To make this happen we will be working though a long list over the next few weeks. We are reviewing a list of items that we need completed at the start of each with our contractor, and then meeting again at the end of the week to make sure it all got accomplished. 

There are 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms on the 3rd floor so let’s take a look at where we are. 

Guest Bath

The guest bath is about a day of work from being finished. The sink needs to be installed, claw foot tub shower curtain ring needs to go in, and a few bits and pieces need to be completed like grouting some tile that needed to be removed for the tub installation. We also need to install a vintage door and prep it for glass installation next week. 

Front Bedroom
Once the walls were up in this room not much else needed to be done. Once the the closet door and trim are installed and the  baseboards are completed we’ll be ready to paint

Middle Bedroom
The room with no window ironically is now the brightest room in the house with the 40”x40” skylight installed and finished. We need a few pieces of baseboard installed and the closet door put in and we’re good to go!

Master Bedroom
This week there will be a lot going on in the master bedroom. We needed to replicate and replace sections of the plaster moulding in this room where walls were removed. We’re right in the middle of that. It’s a process and will take a few more days, but after that we’ll be ready to install the rest of the baseboards, closet doors, and trim to finish the room. 

Master Bath 
Truth be told we might be using the guest bath for the first week or 2. There is a good bit of work to do and one of the reasons is because we didn’t follow our own advice! The beautiful tile in our master bath is hand made from Fireclay. We thought we ordered enough but we didn’t account for as many cuts as we needed and ran out. Ordering more had a long lead time since it’s handmade. So we have been at a standstill for 5 weeks. The tile is finally in and so we can finish it up next week! The custom vanity is onsite and ready for sinks and stone. The shower and door saddled are measured and being cut. The last thing that will go in is the shower glass. It’s doubtful this will get installed before we move in, but it won’t be long after.

Finally, we need to remove the ugly carpet that has been protecting the stairs through the renovation, sand, and refinish. We’re also plan on installing a runner. We’re not expecting the stairs to be in the best condition and we have an 80 pound lab that will slip and slide down the stairs without it! 

It’s hard to believe we are crossing the last items off the list for the 3rd floor. Timing is so crucial right now that it’s even more stressful than usual, but we are encouraged by the amount of progress we’re making every day.

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Let’s Talk Money- Budget for a Renovation Project

One of the most stressful parts of a home renovation are the finances. Costs can add up quick, especially when you’re renovating a historic property. Many people go into it with either no idea or the wrong idea of what they are going to spend. While the costs can vary depending on the scope of the work and finishes, we thought we would share at least our experience with how much is needed, what some of the biggest ticket items are, and where some savings can be found. 

We’re renovating two floors of a three story 1880’s Brownstone. We demolished several walls, moved the kitchen, added a bathroom, added a deck, and redid most of the electrical and plumbing. Most of the walls (and plaster on them) are staying so it certainly isn’t a full gut, but it’s a lot of work and probably a common scope for many other historic home buyers.

The rule of thumb we’ve heard from several people when considering a property is $100,000 per floor. It might be possible to get the job done with that budget but we think a better rule of thumb would be $125,000-150,000 per floor for a typical Brownstone that is about 20×40 (or $175-$200 per square foot). 

One of the first things you’ll do (read about how to get a project started here) is find an architect to draw up the plans and handle the filings. The city has made it increasingly difficult and as of July 2019 just added new regulation that requires the plumbing drawings to be filed separately from the architectural drawings. So now additional drawings need to be done. While this is probably a great thing to regulate large builders and big construction projects, this increases the costs and time it takes to get through the process for 1 or 2 family home owners. (There may be exception that will be in place at some point but right now there is a lot of ambiguity around it). Expect your architectural fees to be between $10,000-$20,000 and timing of 45-90 days depending on if you are filing an alt-1 or an alt-2. 

Hopefully by the time you have your plans approved you also have a General Contractor lined up and ready to start. This will obviously be your biggest expense. It will include demo, carpentry, electrical, plumbing, plaster, and paint…among many other things. Generally you can expect to get done what you need within the $175-$200 per square foot range. We aren’t talking about finishes yet because that won’t be included in your GC quote. Building materials and labor will be included and this is where a lot of your money will go: 

Demo: $10,000

Demo is expensive in New York. Everything has to be hauled out of your beautiful tree-lined Brownstone street without a disturbance to your neighbors. You can plan on at least $10k of demo. Possibly more if you are removing all of the flooring. 

Electrical: $20,000-$35,000

It’s very likely that some or all of your electrical will need to be replaced. This could even include upgrading the amperage or even the main connection to the house. Adding electrical plugs, fixtures, switches…etc.  

Plumbing: $20,000-$30,000. 

Hopefully you’ll have the ability to keep your kitchens and bathrooms on existing wet walls. If so, that will help keep the expenses down a lot. 

General Carpentry: $100,000-$125,000.

Building walls, adding structural beams, fixing/rebuilding stairs, framing, door & moulding installation, drywall, flooring refinishing/installation, plaster and paint.

Kitchens: $20,000-$25,000.

If you’re buying a house in Brooklyn like we did, chances are it’s at least a 2-family. So you’ll need at least two kitchens! Installing cabinets, tiling, and installing counters. (This is just the construction costs and not finishes.)

Bathrooms: $30,000-$40,000.

As with kitchens, you’re likely to have at least 3 if not 4. You’ll need to build showers, add tubs, toilets, vanities, and lots of tiling. (construction costs)

Other stuff: Stripping paint off original woodwork? Adding in plaster moldings? Restoring original woodwork? There are a lot of specialists you’ll have come in for work you probably don’t want your contractor doing. This is where we added the most expense above our initial budget. These are tough jobs that require a lot of skill and patience, so they aren’t cheap. Wood stripping $10-12,000, plaster moldings $10-15,000, wood restoration $5-8,000. 

Adding a deck seems to be on most people’s list of priorities and we don’t blame them. If the duplex is upper you’ll want access to the backyard. Also, adding a deck and outdoor space adds a ton of value! There are a lot of Department of Buildings regulations (read about all things NYC deck’s here) and you might know that a legal deck in NYC needs to be non-combustible, which makes it considerably more expensive than building a deck in the suburbs. Although there are many ways to increase the costs, you should be able to add a deck for around $25,000. 

Roof – A new roof could cost you $13,000-$15,000 or you could get away with adding another layer on top of the existing for $5-$7,000. You wouldn’t want to skip this while adding new drywall, plaster, and beautiful finishes that will be damaged by a leaky roof. 

Windows – Are you replacing windows? If so plan on spending $13,000-16,000. 

Floor leveling – If your very lucky you’ll find one of the few historical buildings that still have perfectly level floors after 100 years of settling. Since that is unlikely, your next decision will be deciding if you are ok with it or if you want to level them. It’s a big job. All joists will be exposed and they will sister in at a slightly higher level to even out the floors. It’s possible to level certain spots but this can get complicated. It also creates work in other areas that you might not have been planning on like baseboards and more plasterwork. We would expect it to cost $10-12,000 per floor. It could be worth it. It just depends on how uneven they are and what you’re willing to live with. 

Finishes – The fun part! The stuff you’ll see. Kitchen cabinets, flooring, tile, vanities, plumbing fixtures, doors, and light fixtures. Prices can vary greatly. But if you break it down into 3 levels: cheap, mid, lux we would say to plan for $50k, $100k, $150k respectively. 

You’ll want a contingency of about 10%. Hopefully you won’t need it, or better yet maybe you’ll get to use it on something fun rather than burying it in the walls to fix cut structural joists like we did. In any case, if you are buying an over 100 year old building save yourself the stress and expect to find a few additional items not on the initial list. 

Where to save: Has anyone skipped down to this section? We have been fortunate to pay the low end of each of the ranges we provided. First and foremost, find the right contractor. Shop around and know how much things should cost (see above!). Also consider a project manager. It might seem like an additional expense but it doesn’t have to be. Many times they can find efficiencies, make sure you’re not overpaying for things, and save money by preventing delays and trouble shooting as you go. We are managing our own project and spend quite a bit of time on it. 

Here’s some other best practices we’ve found: 

  • Make sure your materials and finishes are ordered on time when your contractor is ready. 
  • Don’t overspend for things like cabinets and tile. You can achieve a high end look with low cost materials. 
  • Set priorities. We could have doubled our budget. For instance, instead of opening up a huge glass slider to the deck, we’re just putting in a door where a window was. 
  • Keep some of the character! Old wood work and things with some flaws give the place some cred. We chose not to level all of our floors and just took care of the worst parts. 
  • Keep kitchens and bathrooms relatively in the same place. We kept them as close to the wet walls as possible (but we were even able to add a bathroom where one didn’t exist). 
  • Don’t do everything now. We’re living with the 5-7 year old windows, but might change them in a couple years. Shop around! We shopped around like crazy. We sometimes got quotes twice as high as we ended up paying for things. 

So many people reach out to us weekly and we’re happy to help! If you have any questions about your project or just don’t know how to get started shoot us an email and we’ll point you in the right direction. If you have any cost saving tips we missed key us know!

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Kitchen Week!

The past 2 weeks have been all about the kitchen. We removed walls and had the space prepped months ago so it’s really nice to see the finishes going in. 

The Plan

Our place had a a bathroom and bedroom across the back of the building where we wanted to put the kitchen. We removed several walls to open up the space, one of which required a 14 foot beam since it was a structural wall. The space is now open from the front of the building all the way to the back and across either side. The kitchen is 14 feet wide with a 7.5 foot island. 


We’ve had white cabinets in all of our previous apartments. They’re great and can make your kitchen bright and airy, but we wanted to do something a little different this time. It was an easy decision for us to chose a grey shaker style cabinet and we are so happy we did! They are all installed and look so nice! We got them from the RTA Store in upstate New York. They offer a wide range of options for not much more than IKEA kitchen prices especially you catch one of their sales. We went with a solid wood preassembled cabinet.  They were delivered with a few scratches but so far have been great to work with to get that resolved. 

We saved a bit by designing and measuring everything out ourselves rather than having a cabinet company come out to do it. Assembling cabinets is always a challenging job but we got them in pretty easy. The fridge panel was sent out too deep and too short (we got the tallest one and it was still too short). We got a little creative, cut a couple and it looks great. 


We could not be more excited about our Fisher & Paykel appliances arriving this week! We love their clean lines , flat panels and handles, and streamlined look. Having appliances delivered definitely means we are in the final stages of the project! We already know they are going to be beautiful.

Pantry & Storage

We have a lot of beautiful cabinets but we are still lacking storage. We always planned on building in additional storage on the wall opposite the kitchen, but the plan has changed several times. Right now it’s a blank canvas, but it’s challenging because there is an old fireplace bump out right in the middle, and a radiator on one side. Our first plan was to build a wall of cabinets and open shelves, but one of the things we needed the most is tall storage.  We’ve reconfigured it a few times, but the plan now is to move in and decide how to build this out as a future project. In the meantime, we’re looking for inspiration! Let us know if you have any!


Our kitchen lighting is already taking shape we installed some ultra thin recessed lighting over the kitchen from Nadair. We love it because it sits very flush with the ceiling. It blends in and very low profile and dimmable! We’re also putting in 3 pendants over the island that we’re assembling ourselves with with parts from Antique Lamp Supply

Counters and Backsplash

The stone slabs are ordered and template is being taken this week! We’re going with a light marbled quartz from HanStone Quartz called Montauk. The backsplash will be a white 2×6 handmade tile from Fireclay in a herringbone pattern.

We’ll finish it all off with a farm apron sink from Nantucket Sinks and hardware from Rejuvenation. We’ll update you once we make more progress on that. We can’t wait!  Subscribe below for updates and follow us on Instagram (@brownstoneboys)! 

Living In The Living Room

We’re in the last few weeks of our renovation, so in addition to scratching things off the very long list of construction items, we’re thinking about furniture placement. This has us revisiting the layout of the parlor floor and we’re combating a problem many Brownstone (and townhouse/row house) owners have: where to put the couch! …and by extension…the entire living area so that it works for our lifestyle.

Brownstones, townhouses, and row houses are long and narrow. Usually 18-20 feet wide, but 40-45 feet deep. With the stairs and foyer area usually being 6 feet wide, that leaves about 12-13 feet width for the living area on the parlor floor. In our case, we have 12.5’ and since we opened up the space to the back of the building we have the full depth of 40” to plan our living area layout. 

Other than those dimensions, there are other features to work around that usually create a problem. A common one is the large double doorway that leads into the room from the foyer and the original fireplaces (or the remnants of them). 

We’re couch and TV people. As much as we like to entertain and want a great space for it, for us that consideration doesn’t take priority over our daily routine of relaxing on the couch and watching some Netflix. So, with no apologies to those who believe a room shouldn’t be designed around the TV ( we know we’re not alone!), one of our requirements is to have the couch opposite it. Therein lies the problem. 

Of course, we designed the layout with a plan, but we cant help but to rethink it right now. We’ve seen a lot of ways to configure the space. After looking at many, many places we have noticed some recurring themes and we can’t help but chuckle at some of the solutions. So that leaves us considering our options. We thought the best way to understand how others have configured their spaces was to take a little real estate tour! Here’s what we  found, let us know if you have any other ideas!

The couch jammed in the corner technique

At first thought, it probably makes the most sense to put the living area in the front of the building close to the front windows and the entry. But one of the most difficult considerations is the short space that the double doorway from the entryway creates in the front. It usually just sits about 7 feet from the front wall. In our place the fireplace bump out is opposite the double door. That doesn’t leave enough space between the two to comfortably have a full sized couch positioned facing one of the walls.

The tiny loveseat technique

We told you some of these had us chuckling. The space is narrow and if you want to maximize floor space and minimize furniture this might be for you, but that couch will not fit two grown dudes and a 85 pound lab, so it’s not for us.

The grand sitting room technique 

This is the way we would assume the builders of these places intended the rooms to be used. It is a parlor, made for sitting and hosting guests. And with no TV to waste your life away watching you would sit and look at your guests as you speak with them and sip a Tom Collins or Sazerac. Although it sounds and looks amazing,

The living area in the middle (the current front-runner!)

This solution is our current plan. It gives us the ability to have the couch facing the TV. The drawback is that the living area is not a pass through space. The main walkway to the back of the building (for us to the kitchen) will go right through it. Is that too much of a price?

The couch in front of the door

How do they get in there?

TV haters

Good for these guys. Only the quiet of their thoughts, a good book, and each other to keep them company (TV room is probably in the basement).

Floating TV

These folks thought long and hard about how to solve this problem and no doubt found this solution/contraption floating in the open air.

If it wasn’t for our Netflix habit we would probably go for the grand sitting room. We would create a perfectly defined area with a couch and chairs facing one another centered on our no-longer-existing fireplace bump out. But since that option won’t work for us, we’re feeling like that leaves us with the living room in the middle. It was our intention from the beginning, and unless there is a brilliant option out there that we haven’t considered yet, it’s where we’re headed. We have a good 13 foot wall to comfortably put a couch with the same amount of wall space opposite for the TV area. That means we’ll put the dining table in the front. It’s actually sized pretty well for it. So we’ll have to live with the longer walk from the kitchen to the dining table and also the fact that the living area will be a pass through space. For us, it’s not a bad trade off, but we are totally open to ideas and suggestions!

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Getting A Renovation Project Started.

We’ve spoken with a lot of new home owners who close on their place and then look at one another and think, “now what?!” How do we find a contractor? Do we need an architect? Where do we start? All questions we get weekly. Understanding even a little bit of the process can help relieve some of the stress of starting a new renovation. 

It may seem obvious but the first thing we would suggest is to make a list of what you want to do. How many bedrooms do you need? Do you want to increase the square footage and build an extension? Are you moving the kitchen or the bathrooms? Are you opening up any walls? You’ll need to at least have a basic list of the scope of the work as you move forward and have other conversations. 

Another thing we usually suggest thinking about first is if you will need a project manager. We’re managing our own project and I would say we’re spending 7-10 hours a week on it, if not more some weeks. There is so much to do even if you have a GC doing the heavy lifting. Some people just do not have the capacity (or possibly the knowledge) to manage their own project. That is where a project manager can come in. It’s good to make this decision first because they can also bring in a team (architect, GC, designers, other skilled tradesman) which can help as you will spend a lot of time trying to find the right people. 

Whether or not you use a PM the next step would normally be to start interviewing architects and general contractors. Ask around for recommendations! Choosing the right GC might be the most important decision you make. If you can find someone who you know has done good work it can relieve a lot of stress and potentially avoid some frustrating problems. If you are using a PM they may have one or several GC’s to work with. 

Your meetings with general contractors will give you a lot of info about what you’re doing. For instance, if you’re removing walls what structural changes you need to make?  Do you need new electrical and what is the status of the plumbing? If you are adding bathrooms, moving kitchens, building an addition or new level what will be the structural implications? 

Before you choose a GC, you’ll also want to consult with an architect. If you’re moving any walls or changing the configuration you will most likely need to file with the department of buildings. In any case, an architect can offer some great advice on what needs to be done and what the costs will be. The architect will draw up the plans, facilitate the city filing, and can work directly with your GC. The architect and GC (and project manager if you are using one) are usually the first members of the team. 

Are you confident in your design skills? If so, it is certainly possible to make all of your own design decisions. If not, you might want to consult with an Interior Designer. Remember there are so many little details to bring together that you might not think about yourself. An interior designer can help you realize your vision and will have ideas that you wouldn’t have thought of. 

Keep in mind that you might need to pull in other skilled tradesman along the way. In our renovation, we had to find someone who specializes in plaster moldings, wood stripping, and custom woodwork. It was just outside of the scope of what our GC would be able to do. Before we’re finished I’m sure we’ll need to find some other specialists. 

Once you have the GC chosen and the architect working on the drawings, it is very important to get a good understanding of the timing of your project. You’ll need to consider where you’re going to live while it’s in progress. Anyone who has moved into a place before the renovation was complete would probably recommend against it. You don’t want to put yourself in a situation where you are stressing about rushing the finish. You will have delays. Plan for them, expect them, and they won’t cause as much stress.

We’re sure you started discussing budget from the very beginning, but based on the quotes you received from your GC and architect you can start fine tuning it. Keep in mind that the quote from your contractor will most likely not include the finishes. Cabinets, counters, tile, light fixtures, doors, bath fixtures, and many many more things will need to be purchased. A project manager or an interior designer may be able to help with this part.  We ordered everything ourselves and it took a considerable amount of time. 

Give a lot of thought to your floor plan before you have the architect draw up the plans. Every change will cost money. Once the plan is approved with a DOB an expensive amendment would need to be filed. 

Speaking of the DOB, this is one of the biggest headaches for renovators. Plan on the filing process taking a least 2 months (if handled properly). We recommend working with an architect who will personally go to the meeting with the plan examiner. In our situation, we think that saved a lot of back an forth and also may have avoided some objections. 

In the few months that it will take to work with your architect and file with the city, start choosing your finishes. This will take a lot of time. Go to showrooms, start a few Pinterest boards, go to open houses, do whatever you can to try to understand what you like. This is where many people see delays in their project. Not from the city, or the contractor, but in making their own decisions. Remember that there will be a lead time for many items. Once you chose that tile you want it could take a month or even 2 to get it. If you don’t order it on time, or if you don’t order enough, that is where the delays can start adding up. 

Having the opportunity to create your own space can be rewarding. We are constantly reminding ourselves that we will only have this opportunity once (or maybe twice…3 times ;)) in a lifetime. It can be stressful and it is a lot of work, but remember as often as you can to enjoy the process and have fun with it! We’re about a month out from finishing the ground work (fingers crossed!) and using this time to reflect on our first home together. We’re very excited!

Getting the Grout Right

We spent a lot of time picking out tile for the bathrooms. We visited several tile stores, saved lots of photos on Pinterest, and listened to advice of designer friends. We chose tiles that would compliment the place and each other as well as work toward the master design plan. But other than the hours we spent choosing tile there is another decision to be made to make it look it’s best that’s not to be underestimated: Grout joints and color. 

The grout color can bring the tile color out, show off or hide the pattern, and with to minimize dirt showing. Matching the grout color to the tile will blend in for a more uniform look and a contrasting grout color will highlight the shape and pattern of the tile. We also had to decide how wide the grout joints would be. Sometimes a wider grout joint can be as much as a feature as the tile itself. 

The tiled areas are in our place are two bathrooms and the kitchen backsplash. Our choices are mostly classic with a few modern touches. 

Guest Bathroom

In the guest bathroom we chose a classic hex floret for the floor and a classic subway tile for the walls. All of the tile is in a matte finish. We wanted the grout to contrast the tile and show the patterns, but we didn’t want stark a contrast with too dark of a grout color. Darker grout also has an advantage of not instantly looking dirty like a light color grout can (although we’ve been warned against too dark of a grout in a shower because the soap can leave a white residue – can’t win!) We went with a medium grey grout to contrast the white subway and hex tile as well as the black hex tile since it’s lighter. We love the way it looks and think it’s a perfect happy medium.

Master Bathroom

For the master bathroom we went with something a little bit more modern. We got beautiful handmade tile from Fireclay Tile. The floor will be a charcoal grey 4” hex and the wall will be 6” square matte tile. Since the tile is handmade it has an amazing variation in size, shape, and color. The 4” hex creates a great pattern that we love, but the room is not huge and we don’t want it to take over. We went with a grey color that would show the nice variation in the overall make the tile look lighter but not contrast too much. It’s slightly lighter than the tile itself. Now that it’s grouted the pattern can be seen but it is not overbearing. Since there is so much pattern in the floor we are going with a very light grey grout color to blend with the white wall tile. They are in a matte finish which can be prone to staining if we use too much of a contrasting color. We’ll be using grout release even though it’s a lighter grout. It really is amazing to see how the grout color transformed the look of the 4” hex tile in the master bathroom. The slightly lighter grey brought together the various shades in the different tiles and made the varying sizes and shapes more cohesive. 

Kitchen Backsplash 

The kitchen backsplash is all about the pattern. We got a white 2×6 handmade tile from Fireclay that will be installed in a herringbone pattern. We definitely want to show off the pattern with a contrasting grout so we’re going to do a darker charcoal color. The tile has a bit of gloss so we aren’t too worried about staining but we’re still going to use grout release. 

So far the full guest bathroom and the master bathroom floor are grouted! We’ll update you once the master bathroom walls and kitchen backsplash are done!

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When one door closes…

The first impression you get of a house is often the front door. It can be inviting and add to the curb appeal or it can detract. The same is true of each room in the house. The impact of having beautiful doors is often underestimated. They are one of the last things we’re ordering, but definitely not the least expensive or impactful. Custom front doors can add up to $10,000. That’s just not in the budget for us.

The first door that you’ll see is also the most expensive and hard to find for us. The traditional double front doors to our house was unfortunately replaced by a modern single door with filler on each side. We feel that we need to restore the double doors to retain the original look of the brownstone. It’s been important for us to restore any original details that we can, but in this case replacing is “restoration”. Our first thought was to find a set of doors that were salvaged from an old house. We thought it would be great to have an old set of doors that we could restore. Unfortunately, it was difficult to find some that would fit and the amount of restoration work they would need made them very, very expensive. The most important thing for us was to make sure the front of our place retained the original look of double doors. We found new wooden custom doors that we could get made to fit that will be easier to install and less expensive. It’s disappointing to not have vintage doors but we think the doors we’re getting will look great and give us the same effect, without breaking the bank. 

There is only one door in our house that was here when we bought it that is staying. And it’s a beauty! The original second entry door that we had painstakingly stripped of multiple layers of paint. It looks beautiful now that it’s stripped, although it does need a new pane of glass.  

 We found old pocket doors built into one of the walls we removed but sadly we don’t have a place for them. We won’t have interior doors downstairs since everything is open, and they are too tall to be used upstairs. We plan on keeping them and hope we can find a use for them one day. 

Most of the other doors in the house were replaced with cheap modern doors in one of the prior renovations. For the bedrooms and bathrooms upstairs we are replacing the cheap modern doors with simple shaker solid wood doors with 3 or 5 panels. Most are standard sizes so ordering them was relatively simple and inexpensive. We think they will give us a custom high-end look and a touch of modernity since they will be shaker style. 

Finally, we are replacing one of the rear windows on the parlor level with a single glass door with a wood frame. We decided to keep the original molding around it so the door will be fit into the existing space. 

We’re excited about how all of our new doors are going to complete our space, and we’re excited about the fact that it means we getting close to being done! But there is still lots of work to do! The cabinets were just delivered today and the wood floors have been sanded and stained! We’re looking forward to keeping you posted.

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Water, Water, and Water.

If you were anywhere around New York City in the past 2 weeks you know the enormous amounts of water that fell from the sky. Torrential downpours almost daily. We have had the place for 6 months now and this really gave us the opportunity to understand how the place is handling water. I guess we could be annoyed that both skylights (one new one) dripped water. We could have even been annoyed that all of the work in the backyard caused water to back up into the garden apartment back door.  We were, but we’re also thankful that we had the opportunity to understand these issues that need to be fixed before we close up walls and finish the rest of the floors. 

Our roof, as most old buildings in the area, has many layers over the past years. We think that water may be getting in somewhere and traveling between the layers to the skylight cutouts. We have a specialist addressing the issue and patching what needs to be patched…and ultimately may need to add yet another layer. And another cost. Redoing the roof completely is just not in the budget right now. 

As you know, we demolished a mudroom off the back of the building and have been breaking up concrete to dig the holes for the deck footings. Then it rained. A lot. We know need to regrade the entire area. But we now know that we need to remove more of some of the odd concrete features to allow for better drainage. 

While we’re talking about waterproofing, a lot of work has been done in the bathrooms to prepare for tile installation. We’re keeping the original woodwork around the windows but need to make sure the wood is ready to be in a wet room. We removed a pieces of the wood base in the window woodwork to water proof before we reinstall. We’re also either going to paint the wood or just put a sealer on it to deal with the the moisture that will be in the room.

Looking on the bright side for the weather we’ve had to deal with the past few weeks was hard, but we found a few! At least, we didn’t have to water the outdoor plants. Fortunately, it has cleared up and we have our first taste of summer. We headed to the Hamptons for the weekend and we’re looking forward to  finally having the deck footings completed now they aren’t 8 foot holes filled with water! We expect the deck to go fast over the next week! 

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New Life for our Hardwood Floors

The hardwood flooring is one of the things that is the most important for us to get right. It’s one of the largest surfaces in the house and it can really change the look of every room.

The existing flooring was laid about 5 years ago. The original planks are under it, but they are unfortunately not in the best shape to expose. The new flooring is 3 1/4” solid white oak hardwood with a white wash finish. The finish makes it almost look like it’s not real wood. It’s one of the things we immediately knew we wanted to change. At first we thought we would get all new floors. We spent a lot of time looking at different options, some of which got very expensive. Eventually we realized that the existing flooring is actually in good condition and we could just get more if it to fill in the gaps very inexpensively. Of course it would be in the horrible white wash finish so we would sand and refinish it. This saved us thousands of dollars. Since we would keep much of the existing floor we only needed to purchase about 400 additional square feet (the place is about 1600 square feet total).

Now that the second story floor is sanded we can see what it will look like and we are very happy with it! Once the white wash finish was removed, the beautiful white oak wood shows through. The next step will be to refinish it. We have the option to choose any color and any sheen level that we would like. We spent the last couple of weeks thinking it over. Seeing what the wood looks like under the finish really helped!

We want the place to look light and airy while staying true to its history. So we don’t want to a dark stain on the wood. We love the way it looks now so we are going to keep it natural and just put a finish on that will protect it and bring out the color and grain of the wood.

The next step is to chose what sheen level we want. We’re using Bona waterbourne finish and it comes in four different levels of sheen: (least shiny to most shiny) extra matte, satin, semi-gloss, and gloss. We personally never liked the look of super glossy hardwood floors. They were more common a decade ago and we associate it with cheaply remodeled New York apartments after seeing it in so many of them. Recently the trend seems to be a more matte finish. Any house, hotel, restaurant, bar, or cafe I’ve walked into and salivated over the floors they were matte to the point of reflecting almost no light. It may not be for everyone but we’re going with the extra matte! The most popular finish is satin but even that reflects light at about a 40%. The wood will have a natural sheen on its own so we will count on the wood to do its thing and will use the least shiny finish.

Bona says that the sheen level doesn’t affect durability but we’ve heard that a matte finish doesn’t show dust and scratches as much as glossier floors. Since we have a 90 pound lab who loves to run and slide on the floors we’ll need all the help we can get! We’re going to use Bona Traffic HD, which will provide commercial levels of protection.

If the floors just looked they way they do since they were sanded we would be completely happy! We’ll be putting the coats of finish on this week so we’ll keep you posted on how it looks!

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Tiles, Counters, and Hardwood… Oh My!

In the past 5 months a lot of demo and building has been going on, but the next few weeks are going to show the biggest transformation so far! That’s because we are now working on the stuff that you’re going to be able to see when we’re done! Work is finally happening for the tiling, hardwood flooring, and plaster.

It’s crunch time to make decisions on the surfaces and we’re on it! The last thing we want is a delay in the project if we can’t make up our mind, so here goes!

Hardwood Flooring

We bought the place with 3 1/4 solid white oak flooring with a white wash finish installed throughout. It certainly wouldn’t have been our first (second, third, or fourth) choice. We thought about taking it all out and getting something new, but it’s solid wood floors that are in decent shape. We decided to just fill in areas with the same floor (it’s a fraction of the price of any of the others we were considering), sand, and refinish them. We already sanded one of the boards that was removed with demo and once the awful white wash finish is off it’s beautiful white oak wood. We’re planning on just putting a matte natural finish on it to bring out the tone and make the place light and airy. Does anyone recommend a stain they prefer or love?

Kitchen Counters

We’ve already ordered our kitchen cabinets. The cabinets were one of the first items we ordered from the RTA Cabinet store. They have been sitting in their storage unit and are ready for delivery! The cabinets are a simple grey shaker cabinet. Picking out the kitchen counters was something that could wait, but we planned on a white quartz to contrast with the grey cabinets. Similar to our kitchen inspiration picture from Branca & Co. We found HanStone, the quartz company we wanted to work with, and noticed that their quartz with marbling is so beautiful. We’ve always been suckers for a carerra marble countertop. So we ordered a few samples and feel that we can’t go wrong with any of them! They are all in the white family but some have more marbling which gives them a slightly grey tone. We were worried that choosing one with too much marbling might make for a grey on grey effect with the cabinets…but one of them keeps standing out to us. Even though our cabinets are grey, we really like the one that looks the most like carerra marble. After a lot of consideration and asking many people their opinions, the one that we think we’re going to go with is the one with the most marbling with the carerra look: we have decided on the Montauk finish.

Master Bath

Our master bath inspiration photo sold us on this charcoal hex tile a while ago. Then we found Fireclay Tile. They have the most beautiful handmade tile. We knew we wanted to get our tile from them. We received an amazing sample package with several options included with finishes, tile shapes and the perfect sample of colors. They had the matte hex tile we wanted for the floor and the far shower wall. For the side walls, we wanted something white to contrast with darker tile. We also didn’t want something with too much of a pattern since the hex will be busy enough for the room. We decided to go with a simple 6×6 white tile laid in a brick pattern. We think it will go really well with our midcentury modern custom vanity. Especially with the contrasting grout color.

Guest Bath

Our guest bathroom is going to be brand new. There was not a bathroom at all where we’re building it. We really wanted to make sure it blended in with the rest of the house. Since our master bath has a bit of a modern look with the charcoal hex, we’re going classic in here. Maybe even a bit vintage. We’re doing matte hex florets on the floor with a matte 3×6 subway tile to chair rail height and bull nosed at the top. All from our friends at Brooklyn Tile & Design.

I’m not sure which one of these finishes we are the most excited to see go in! It’s all going to be so beautiful and we’re slowly getting packages by the day. We wish we had some after pictures to show you now. The first step of the tiling process (the mud layer) started just a couple of days ago and hardwood flooring starts this week. We can see the finish line now and finally seeing the finishes come to life. It’s going to be such a transformation. Check out our Instagram account for pictures and videos of the process!

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Woodwork Plans

We’re at a very exciting point in the project! Over the next couple of weeks we’re going to make some serious progress on finishes that we’re actually going to see rather than pipes and electrical that will be behind the walls. Bathroom tile, flooring, and woodwork will start going in! We’re currently trying to decide how much of the original baseboard we should keep and how much will need to be replaced.

Right now the place has about 30% of the original baseboard in place. Really just in the foyer up the stairs and also below and between the windows. Much of it is missing for various reasons (kitchens & bathrooms being moved…etc). We hoped that a local lumber supplier known for stocking typical Brooklyn wood molding supplies would have it. Our woodwork is all very common and typical in old Brooklyn houses. We also have a couple of missing spindles on our staircase railing that we hoped to find there too. Unfortunately we struck out on all of them. But we have a plan!

We were told about a carpenter that can make us new spindles by copying one of the existing ones. The cost is about $100 each so an acceptable fix since we’re only missing two. We think they are mahogany, and we just match the wood as best as we can. We think two new spindles will look beautiful matching the existing ones and certainly much better than the completely mismatched ones that are there now.

The baseboards are a different story. Since they no longer stock our baseboard (although the gentleman at the store said that people have come in looking for it hundreds of times) our only option would be to have it custom made. We only have about 30% of the original baseboard so that means we would be making quite a lot of it. Probably 250 feet. It will cost thousands of dollars. Alternatively, we could buy all new solid oak baseboards for a few hundred dollars. We have made our best effort every step of the way to retain original features even when it was considerably more expensive than replacing it. This time though we are leaning toward the latter. Since there is so little of the original baseboard left, and the cost is so much more to reproduce the missing sections, it just seems to make more sense to replace it all.

Right now we are thinking that there are a couple of places where we’ll keep the original. Especially up the staircase. We’re going to wait until the new baseboard is in to make the call when we see what it looks like with the original next to it.

The good news is that no matter what we decide to do with the baseboards we’re absolutely keeping all of the window casings, door frames, shutters, and the OG banister! They are still in the process of being stripped and coming out beautifully!

It’s hard to believe that finishes are being installed and it’s making us really excited that we are so close to the end!

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Feeling Insecure: Working Out Our Security Issues.

It’s pretty scary being woken up in the middle of the night hearing foot steps above your head in what should be an empty apartment under renovation. That’s exactly what happened to us about a month ago.

We’re living in the finished garden lower level rental while we renovate the duplex upstairs. It’s a construction site with permits displayed in the windows. It has always concerned us that it is an attractive target since it makes the building appear empty. We’ve winced at the sound of creaks or neighbors a few times, but this time there was no mistaking the sound of someone walking right above us. In disbelief, I got up opened the garden unit door to the common area that is open to upstairs and said something (I don’t even remember what). I heard quick footsteps, and then the unmistakable creak of the old original entry door opened and closed. Somehow the police arrived about 90 seconds after we called them, they found the intruder gone and the front door left ajar.

As break-ins go, it was pretty innocuous. Nothing was broken and nothing was missing. We also still don’t know how the intruder got in. Was it someone who had access (there was only a combination code lock on the front door and many people had the code from contractors to former tenants…we know…), did we actually forget to make sure the contractor locked up on their way out that day, or did they come in through an unlocked window or even the roof hatch!? Regardless, we needed to vastly improve our security situation.

First, the next morning we had a locksmith come out to add a dead bolt to the door. We also had a lock put on interior second vestibule door. We secured the roof hatch with double latches (don’t laugh but it was previously completely accessible), and made sure all windows and skylights had working locks. But we still didn’t didn’t feel completely safe. We needed a security system.

We’ve heard good things about all of the newer WiFi based systems on the market, but after our scare we didn’t want to compromise on security. So we set out to find a system that would help us feel safe, but also be easy to use, affordable, and fit into our lifestyle. Please note this is not an add! We’re not getting any promotional items from security systems. We are just two guys that genuinely care about the security in our new home.

The first thing we did was try to understand if the WiFi based systems would work for us over a traditional security system company. We did our homework, read lots of reviews, watched YouTube testimonials, and spoke to neighbors and friends. We came to the conclusion that although there aren’t wires connecting the sensors to the base, for us it felt just as secure. In fact, a lot of the traditional company systems are wireless now too. I suppose there are ways of interrupting the system if you truly want to, but this isn’t Danny Ocean’s crew we’re dealing with, and anyone with those skills isn’t out for our $500 TV. Many of the systems have cellular and battery backup if the wifi or electricity is down. Bottom line, you open a door or window, or trip the motion detector, the alarm goes off and police are notified. Plus these systems are unbelievably easy to install and very affordable.

We looked at SimpliSafe, Ring, Nest, and for good measure ADT and Brinks. We planned on getting a video doorbell, WiFi enabled door lock, and smart light switches so we wanted to find something that would integrate everything together. It was important for us to be able to manage the system through an app. We also wanted to put up a couple of security cameras.

We pretty quickly eliminated the traditional companies. For various reasons they weren’t a good fit. The cost for monitoring was more than double some of the others. The apps and interface were lacking and for us. There wasn’t an upside at all. Nest didn’t seem as far along with their system as SimpliSafe and Ring. So we were down to two. Both were relatively similar; built for ease of use with user friendly apps. We found that Ring had better camera options and more integrations for other devices. Not to mention their monitoring is only $10/month. Which is a quarter of what the traditional companies wanted.

We installed the sensors on the doors and windows, the motion detectors and cameras are in place, and we even got a connected smoke/fire detector so if we aren’t home to hear an alarm the fire department can be notified. We have not once had to enter the code on the keypad because we turn it on and off through an app (I armed the system from Barbados last weekend). Yes, sometimes we even ask Alexa to do it for us. We also have spoken to one another through the exterior security camera 2-way speaker on the front of the building more than once.

We’re now sleeping better knowing the deadbolts are locked (trust me we double check every night now) and if anyone opens a door or window, or even walks around upstairs, the alarm will scare them away and police will be notified. Truthfully, it still took us about 2 weeks for it to sink in that when we heard a noise, as long as the alarm isn’t blaring, it is not someone waking around above us. It’s worth it for the peace of mind as much as the extra security.

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Deck Designing: Part One

One of the things we are the most excited about for our renovation project is adding the deck! Outdoor space is such a rare and precious benefit in New York and we can’t wait to have this as part of our space. We’re happy to say that as of this week it’s designed and currently in production! This was always going to be one of the last parts of the project so it’s a big milestone.

Quite a bit of preparation has gone into the site. We demolished a small mudroom extension off the back of the building to make room for the deck (among other things). That’s gone and a fence is up along the neighbors yard in its place. We still need to work out how to finished the slab where the mudroom was that will be under the deck for our tenants patio. Most likely we’re going to have to remove some strange cement features so that we can grade the slab and let it drain into the soil.

Designing the deck with our contractor was quick because we had a really good idea of what we wanted. NYC allows decks to extend 8 feet from the back of the building and can be the width of the building as long as it’s not combustible. So the dimensions were pretty easy. We also wanted horizontal railings because we like the modern and more high-end look it gives it. So those decisions were made.

The floor of the deck was one thing we weren’t sure what to do with. We’ve seen a lot of decks in Brooklyn (mostly in developer reno’s) with tile on it. It makes for a nice outdoor living room feel. Typically it requires concrete to be laid as the base for the tile. That also adds a lot of weight and requires larger iron beams. Another option was to just leave it as diamond cut steel, but that seemed unfinished. We decided to go with a aluminum decking with a composite boards screwed in on top. We decided on Trex as we have heard great things about it. It didn’t add any additional expense to building the deck and we feel it will be a durable and attractive surface.

We also need to build access from the parlor level out to the deck. Currently there are 3 windows along the back of the building. We opted for the less expensive option of just demolishing some of the masonry below a window and putting in a glass door. We’re excited about that going in over the next few weeks.

The final part of the design is the lighting. In addition to some overhead string lights we have also added some electrical work to the backside of the Brownstone. We’re going to put have one industrial gooseneck light from Schoolhouse next to the door that should light up the whole deck space. We think this light will add the perfect balance of design and making sure the space can be accessible in the night.

Apparently it’s going to take a few weeks to fabricate offsite and then very little time to assemble onsite. Our deck is part of our overall project with our contractor and that line item is just under $25,000 including the steel fabrication, install, and decking. So this is only part ONE of our deck story! We’ll keep you posted as it starts going in!

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No Plans For This! Making some final decisions on construction surprises.

For every big project, planning only gets you so far. There are some things that pop up and quick decisions need to be made. We just had a meeting with our contractor and went through a long list of items we needed to make a quick call on. We’re excited about because it really marks one of the final stages of the project. We’re getting closer and closer to the end!

Problem 1

As you most likely know, our place is 130 years old. Let’s just say that pretty much nothing is straight, level, or plum. It all adds to the charm of restoring original features, but there are some areas where it just wouldn’t look right if we didn’t correct it. We felt that way about our master bathroom ceiling. We’re building a new double shower and the tile is going to the ceiling. Since the shower is new the tile will be level. If it goes up to the crooked ceiling it would be very noticeable, especially with the odd shaped tile we are using. There will be a straight line of the tile right next to the slant of the ceiling. So we are constructing a new leveled ceiling in the master bathroom. The drawback is that it takes a few inches off the height of the ceiling, but we feel like it’s an acceptable trade off for a bathroom.

Problem 2

Since we’re doing an Alt 1 project with the city, we need to comply with a lot of codes that other brownstone owners just ignore. One area is the wall we are building to separate the upper duplex from the lower apartment. We’ve written about it in the past and a lot of readers contacted us with photos and even offers to visit to see theirs. Most people just enclose the lower stair case in a wall with the door at the very bottom of the stairs. This would be our preferred way of doing it, but unfortunately for us it’s not possible. City building code says there needs to be a 36” landing at the bottom of the stairs before the door. So that means we’ll need to build a landing and take that space out of the entry foyer to the lower garden apartment. It’s going to create a bit more of a cramped space, but we’ve looked at all of the options and we have not been able to find an acceptable alternative. So we made the call to move forward with the landing.

Problem 3

Where we tore down the mudroom extension on the back of the building we now have two slightly different height cement slabs. We don’t have the resources right now to completely excavate and redo the entire slab. We are going to put a reinforced thin layer over the lower section to match the height of the smaller section. We’ll need to grade it to drain naturally into the soil at the far end. It’s not a perfect solution but it will give us one surface that will drain away from the house.

Problem 4

Our electrician followed the drawings for lights, switches, and outlets accurately. Which is great, except the drawings that were done before construction started didn’t reflect every detail to the conditions on the ground now that we are well into the project. Kitchen pendants had to be moved slightly, other lights needed adjusting, switches needed rerouting to avoid destroying plaster. They weren’t thrill about all of the changes but it only took a half day to correct the problems. The last thing we wanted to look at every day once we are doing is a slightly off centered light fixture! A half day of work is worth it!

Problem 5

This is one that we still aren’t exactly finished with yet, and may not end up with a solution we are 100% happy with. Similar to the problem we had with the crooked ceiling, 100+ year old buildings will inevitably have grades on the floors. They all sort of sink from the rigid outside masonry walls to the more giving wooden joists in the middle. We’re fortunate that our floors aren’t too bad. We’ve learned that a 1” difference isn’t that noticeable and can even be found in new construction. Most of our floors are within the 1” acceptable difference, but there are a few areas that are a bit more. We’ve discussed options with our contractor and unfortunately there aren’t any great ones for us. There is of course the very expensive and thorough option of removing all of the flooring and subfloor, sistering joists to one level and having one flat surface to install all brand new flooring. You might remember that we’re on a pretty tight budget for the scale of this project so this might be the best option but at $25,000-$30,000 it’s just not going to work for us. Frankly, the cost of the debris removal for this option isn’t in the budget for us! So since our floors aren’t that bad, we are mostly likely going to opt to spot fix a few areas with some creative subfloor tricks and enjoy the charm of having some grades in the floor in certain areas! We’ll just look at it as our way of paying homage to the 130 years of foot steps that creaked around the place.

We’re in the home stretch! Our contractor estimated 2 more months until we’re at a “good finishing point”. Lol. Honestly, we’re moving fast so it won’t be too far off, we’ll take it with a pinch or two of salt.

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Finding a place for all the “STUFF”

Most people have a lot of stuff. While we are serial purgers and travel light, we still want to comfortably fit all of our stuff but also make our place attractive to future owners. We may have made some choices that are not too “stuff-friendly” so we are trying to take advantage of space as much as possible.

We were able to find a couple of places to add closet space. One of the bedrooms upstairs didn’t have a closet at all (was it still a bedroom?), so we added one. We also added a small linen closet in the hallway. This ensured all the bedroom had proper storage and were legal.

We opted not to put a closet on the parlor level. We can certainly see how many people might think that is a mistake. Frankly, there wasn’t an obvious place to put one. Anywhere we would have put it would have chopped up the space. So we are going to do without one. But we’re getting creative in a few areas!

On the parlor level we are creating a coat nook (almost mudroom area) behind the stairs. We’re making it a feature by putting up some wainscoting, coat hooks, with library style lamps on the wall above. There will be plenty of room for coats and some frequent shoes. We think it’s going to look great and it will be tucked away in an area where no one would need to be otherwise (unless we want to get to the basement).

Upstairs we are using space inside the walls to build storage. At the top of the stairs we’re taking advantage of the roof ladder closet to build in a bookshelf into the wall. It will have the same library lamp above it that’s above the coat nook on the same wall downstairs. This will give us a place to keep books and display some travel finds, as well as being an attractive feature that can be seen as you walk in the front door.

On to the bathrooms:

In the master bath, we built a long wall-to-wall nook in the wall for shampoos and soaps. It also creates a dramatic backdrop for the double shower.

In the guest bath, we took advantage of space in the wall to build in a quirky open medicine cabinet where we’ll get some vintage bathroom accessories to display and a candle or two.

Other than that we have a semi finished basement where we can store all the stuff we want! Our place might be a little light on storage but we’re hoping our creative ideas give us just enough and will create some interesting features.

Things are moving fast and we expect a lot to happen over the next few weeks. Walls are being closed and floors, kitchen, deck are going in! Thanks for reading! Please subscribe below for updates and make sure to follow us on Instagram.

Searching for Strippers: Woodwork Restoration

It’s hard for us to believe at this point that coming into this project that we didn’t plan on stripping our woodwork. It was so far out from all of the other work that needed to be done that it’s just something we didn’t think much about. As the walls move into place, the plumbing is tucked away, and the shape of our home is showing through it started becoming very obvious that we couldn’t just add to the many layers of paint on the original woodwork. All of the details are clogged, definition is missing, drips and clumps are everywhere. So we set out to determine if the wood could be restored to a natural finish or at the very least stripped of the many layers of paint to be repainted with a clean, neat, and crisp single layer of paint.

After a quick conversation with our contractor we figured out that this is a specialty item that would require someone with the technical expertise and a passion for it. Just like the plaster molding restoration, it’s more an an art form than a construction project. We had more people come through to give us quotes on this than we did for general contractors. The estimates were wildly different. No doubt for different levels of how the work could be done.

We needed a starting place. We had the opportunity to visit some new friends and neighbors who recently moved into their renovated brownstone in Bedstuy that they bought from a developer. The woodwork in their place was stripped and left with natural finish. It looked really beautiful, so we got a recommendation for the wood restorer that did it. He came by and really loved our place and thought our wood would restore beautifully. He had a vision for the finished product and quite the process to get it done. As much as we would have loved to fully restore the wood to the scope of what he wanted to do, it was outside of the scope of our project and budget. He basically wanted to remove the majority of the wood, restore it off-site, and then reinstall it. As he was talking dollar signs were flashing through my head. This is an add-on for us and not part of our initial project. It may have been the best way to do it, but at $90,000 (a full third of our entire budget) it just wasn’t a possibility for us. It was encouraging to find out that under all of those many layers of paint there is beautiful original wood that one day could see the light of day but disappointing that we might not able to afford to see it.

We didn’t give up that there might be another solution for us so we went the other direction and had painters that did wood stripping as well take a look. They might not be experts in wood restoration, but we hoped they would at least have the knowledge to strip paint. A couple of them did not bid the job at all, probably because it’s a hard and dirty job. Then we got a bid for about $6,000 and one for $2,000. Happy that we were getting bids within budget, but skeptical they wouldn’t work out, we decided to give the $2,000 bid a chance. As can be expected, it was obvious after a couple of days that there was just no way that this guy was going to get it done. He didn’t have the technical expertise or the capacity for it. We called it off and went our separate ways. The $6,000 quote was now busy with other projects (or perhaps reluctant to take ours on) so we were back to the drawing board.

We decided to leverage the new network and community we’ve built since starting this project and blog. We’re not the first to have this problem to solve. Others have come before us and would have results that can help us. So we put it out there. We got back a bunch of great recommendations, and had another round of bidders come through. The first came highly recommended and we found out that he does a lot of work in the area. He took a full inventory of every window, shutter, baseboard, spindle, and moulding. He also thought our woodWork would restore beautifully. We were on pins and needles for a few days waiting for his quote with fingers crossed it would work out. At this point, it has become even more of a priority for us to get this done. There is just no way we could live with it as it is but it would be very hard for us to increase our budget for it. The quote came in at $23,000. Although I’m sure fully worth the cost, still just not in the cards for us. We were disappointed again but hopeful since we were still waiting for a couple of quotes to come back. Both seemed very knowledgeable and able to do the work. They showed passion for the project and seemed to be very interested in it. They two quotes came in at $8,000 and $9,000. We were immediately relieved to have two viable options. The $8,000 quote came back first and they were ready to start that week. So we moved forward!

We’re a week in and the results are amazing. We were floored when we saw the beauty of the wood that was installed over 130 years ago and enjoyed by the first owners of the house showing through after decades of being hidden away.

This might be some of the hardest work being done on our place. It’s painstaking, slow, and must be done by someone who respects the wood. It’s fascinating to watch. The first step is to remove the majority of the paint with a heat gun and to carefully scrape the wood. Then a chemical stripper is applied and steel wool is used to scrub off the remaining paint. A wire brush is used to get into the tiny crevasses and intricate designs in the wood. Then a solution of denatured alcohol and water is sprayed on and more scrubbing and wire brushing is done.

They are moving slowly and deliberately through the process and it’s one of the things we have been the most excited to see at the end of each day. Time will tell if the wood underneath will be in good enough condition to leave natural. So far the results have exceeded our expectations and we’ll keep you updated throughout the process. If you have any tips or tricks we would love to hear them! Just comment below.

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Capturing our Inner Designer

We went into our renovation with a strong idea of what we wanted to do…and on a pretty tight budget. So we decided to act as our own designers. We do have some designer friends who are helping out with advice along the way, (and the power of Instagram!) but ultimately for better or worse it’s all us! We hope that we end up with something we can really be proud of because it will be a product of our own design. So while we juggle demo and construction decisions we are also steering things toward our desired end result and picking out finishes. As many novice designers do we’re using inspiration pictures and platforms like Pinterest. You might be able to relate!

Most of the overall design was done before demo started, although there are so many details to think about that we are only now getting to a point where the majority of the decisions are behind us. Much of our place doesn’t need us to get in the way of what is already there. We just need to bring back to life the 130 year old decorative design. We’re restoring the plaster moldings and stripping the many layers of paint from the woodwork. Although this isn’t requiring us to purchase anything new, it is expensive work to have done. Our overall reno budget, including many of the finishes is right around $250,000. Most of that is going to construction, so it really means we have a very tight budget for finishes.

For the kitchen and bathrooms we are basing our design on some inspiration photos we feel are very similar to our own vision. We found these through social platforms, finding designers that we like and following their projects, visiting other finished projects in the area, and popping into showrooms throughout the city. We are using these as a guide and finding more budget friendly products to achieve the look.

Through our blog and social accounts we‘ve also had some other opportunities to take things to the next level. We’ve met some great people and we’re able to go to some inspiring events. We were invited to the Architectural Design Show that was held at Pier 40 in Manhattan. There were over 400 brands snd vendors displaying everything from custom furniture to appliances, ceramics, art, and lighting. It was really amazing to see so much inspirational design in one place! We also met some new friends and ran into some old ones!

One of the designers that made a big impression on us was Stickbulb. They make beautiful light fixtures using salvaged wood, like some that was used in the water tower of the oldest skyscraper in Brooklyn. They mill the wood to it’s beautiful original luster with LED lighting to form what they call a Stickbulb. They can the be connected in various shapes and sizes creating a very unique and beautiful fixture. We really love how each one of their lights tells a story and is connected to a long history of the wood they were made with. Last week we had to privilege to get a private tour of their studio in Long Island City, beer in hand from the brewery next door.

We toured AJ Madison’s beautiful showroom in Brooklyn for appliance inspiration, we had a design consultation with our friends` from Brooklyn Tile and Design, and we have had the opportunity to tour dozens of other Brownstone’s in the area. The fact that the end result will be our own vision realized makes the process more fun and we’ll produce something that we will proud of. We can’t wait to see it!

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Danger! Asbestos Remediation.

One of the steps in many renovations is testing and removing the dreadful asbestos. Asbestos is a natural mineral that has been mined and used for centuries because of its durability in buildings. Because of its carcinogenic nature it is now banned from use. While contractors and builders no longer use materials containing asbestos it is tracked in several older buildings that have not been renovated. It can range from a small inconvenience to a major expense to have it removed. We just recently went through the process of removing some from our place and we got a lot of questions so we thought we would fill you in on our process.

Asbestos was used in a lot of construction materials between the 1930’s through the 1970’s. Even though our place was built well before that time period, there is no doubt some work was done during these decades so it was bound to be found somewhere. One place you can bet on finding is in the roofing material. The roof had to be redone at some point when asbestos was used. Typically the new roofing is just layered on top of the existing. So even if the roof was redone after asbestos was used the asbestos layer is under there. If you’re not going to touch it, its fine to stay right where it is , but if any of the work requires it to be disturbed it’s quite the process and will be expensive.

Before the initial paperwork is filed with the DOB a licensed asbestos inspector needs to take samples and test anywhere demo work is being done. Since any renovation is going to include some plaster demo, that is a place you really don’t want to find it. Fortunately for us it was only found in the roofing layers.

There are 3 places where we’re doing demo and needed a asbestos remediator to remove the roofing material. The mudroom extension on the back of the building, a few square feet of the roof where we need to enlarge a skylight, and a small hole for the plumbing ventilation pipe. It took hours of setup and about 30 minutes to actually remove the affected area. It costs us $5,000 for work that really would have been a small and quick part of the larger project.

We we’re fortunate that we only found it in the roof since we aren’t doing a lot of work that requires demo there. There is definitely potential to derail a renovation project if it’s found in more substantial places.

We safely and legally removed the asbestos containing materials that we are demolishing for our project. We‘re fortunate it wasn’t found in other places, but we also know there is a chance we’ll need to go through the costly process again if we want to completely redo our roof one day. So the caution tape may go back up one day!

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A Room With No View

A traditional Brooklyn brownstone is about 19’ X 40’ (as is ours) give or take a few feet. There are nice big windows in the front and back, but there are rarely windows on the longer sides if you’re in the middle of a block of townhouses like we are. That means you only get natural light at the front and back of a long narrow space. It’s not a problem at all if it’s opened up with no walls. There is lots of light throughout the space. Most brownstones originally had big double pocket doors separating the parlor rooms so light could get through. Upstairs, though, where the bedrooms are, it’s a little trickier. Many townhouses will have two bedrooms across the narrow front or back of the building. That usually leaves you with one pretty small room. As you might know if you‘re following along we decided to put a guest bathroom in the smaller front bedroom. There is a guest bedroom in the front next to the guest bath, and our master bedroom is in the back next to the master bathroom in the same configuration. So that means we are going to have a bedroom in the middle of the building with no windows! Many people have asked us if this is possible and how we are handing it.

The department of buildings requirements say that a natural light source (among other things) needs to have an”aggregate transmitting area”of at least 10% of the square footage of the room. Which basically means your windows need to be 10% of the square footage of the room. The requirements say that it can be a window or a skylight among a few other light sources. Ventilation requirements are a bit different but basically if you have the proper natural light sources and they are openable (ie. window’s or skylights) it should meet the requirements.

There are 2 existing skylights in our middle bedroom, but unfortunately they fall just shy of meeting the requirements. So we’ll be cutting into the roof! We’ll be creating more skylight to bring it to where it needs to be. This creates more problems that need to be solved. There is a fire code that says we need to have 6 feet of uninterrupted space (no skylight, roof hatches…etc) on the roof for a firefighter to get from the front of the building to the back. Whatever configuration of skylights we go with, we will need to make sure we create that 6 feet of space. Finally, our roof, as most Brooklyn brownstone roofs that have been re-done many times over the past century have an asbestos layer in it. We can remediate up to 10 square feet of it without making the scope of the work and filing requirements even more complicated.

I feel like it’s a pinball machine of problems to solve, but our architect has it covered! We have a plan approved by the department of buildings for one skylight that is large enough to meet the air & ventilation requirements, while leaving the 6 feet of uninterrupted roof space, and also requiring only 8 sq ft of roofing material to be disturbed. We’re also looking forward to having a guest room that will be bright and sunny with a brand new openable skylight to flood the room with light. We’re happy with this layout because it gives us an additional bathroom, but we still have 3 good sized bedrooms, all with plenty of natural light. We’re excited to see it taking shape!

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It’s Electric-al!

Our place currently looks like an episode of Stranger Things. Wires are hanging from the ceiling and weaving through the walls. They bundle together where holes are cut and then disbursed to fixtures or switches from there. With all said, it’s moving pretty quickly and even just getting to the electrical phase feels like a major milestone. It’s one big step closer to closing up the walls!

There is a lot of electrical work to be done. We’re rewiring the entire Brownstone and fixing some interesting prior work. There are a handful of light fixtures and outlets that are staying in the same place, but 90% are new or being moved. The current place of the switches honestly feels like someone intentionally wanted us to walk the entire room to find a switch. There are single switches everywhere rather than being grouped together and sometimes were even installed behind doors! Imagine this : open the door, feel for the switch on the wrong wall in the dark room, bump into furniture, close door, curse the person who decided installing the switch behind the door was the right thing to do. No thanks!

Interestingly, there is only 20 amps running to the main panel in the duplex. We need to upgrade that to at least 60 amps. Even more interesting, for some unknown reason the previous owner ran some things in the garden rental unit from the duplex panel 2 levels above rather than from the panel in the actual garden unit. It’s a bit of a mess, but we are happy to get it straightened out.

Upgrading the lighting is one place where we feel we have a big opportunity to create the design and aesthetic we want. Even where the mouldings and woodwork will be original a modern light fixture will bring the place up to 2020. We’re going to have a nice big chandelier above the dining table, three pendants over the kitchen island, and sconces with Edison bulbs (we’re still fans ) in the hallways.

Another area we have the opportunity to modernize is by installing smart switches on all of our lights. We’re big fans of dimmers (Barry hates bright light) and while it can be more costly we feel it is more than worth the extra expense. We’re going to keep it relatively simple and opt for WiFi enable dimmer switches that can be controlled through a smart phone app and set to schedules and timers. We’re going to skip the more upgraded option of installing a central hub and control panel. I’m sure there are advantages we aren’t aware of, but being able to control almost every light in the house from anywhere in the world (or just the couch) is plenty for us. Honestly it will take some getting used to as we have never had such modern technology in a house but dimming all lights on the parlor level with one click from the couch might not take too long to become our norm.

Finally, a big part of our plan is to run electrical for a mini split AC system. We’ll post more about this later, as there were some considerations in deciding when/if to do it, and we expect it might be an ongoing saga as we go through inspections. Should be interesting, but we’ll have electrical run for a unit in each bedroom, the living/kitchen area, and the outdoor condenser.

That’s where we are for this week! Things are moving fast so we’re looking forward to updating you again next week!

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Half Time: Project Update

We’re about half way through what we hope will be a six month renovation. This week we thought we would catch you up on where we are and the timeline on how we’re hopefully going to stay on track.

It feels great to be able to see how everything will come together. Two months ago there were so many walls and different types of flooring that it wasn’t hard to visualize. Demo is done, the place is cleaned up, and we are well into building. Almost all of the new studs are in place so now the space is pretty much in the shape of the finished product. The plumbing is about 90% in and just about ready for inspection.

On the parlor level the floor plan is opened up and everything is in place. There is still a big scar where the previous owners built a kitchen, but it is ready for sheetrock and a plaster job by our friend Jason at Urban Plaster. Just beyond that our kitchen is coming together. All of the plumbing is in for the island sink and dishwasher, and the gas is in place to the stove. You can also see the plumbing for the master bathroom upstairs but more on that later. We’re waiting for a steel bracket to come in to put up the beam in the ceiling so that the temporary support wall can be removed, but that should happen this week. Regardless of that, now that about 4 walls are down in this area we can really see how open it will be and how much light we’re going to have with the 3 big windows. Over the next couple of months one of these windows will become a glass door leading to a new deck. We plan on starting that process in April and would like to have the deck in by the end of May.

At the top of the stairs on the second level you can immediately see the new plan. We moved the roof hatch door from the top landing so we can create a feature bookshelf there since it’s of the first things that can be seen when you walk in the front door. The hall door to the bathroom that will be the master bath is framed and ready to close up, and there’s is a new door opening to the middle bedroom.

In the master bedroom the walls are framed, closets are in, and the door to the master bathroom is opened up. There is a bump out from the old fireplace chimney that we are extending to be symmetrical in the room and to create a backdrop for the bed. The master bathroom next door has all of its plumbing in place! One if the features we’re most excited about is taking shape! Our beautiful huge double shower is going in with the valves and waterproofing in place! We’re looking forward to having a nice big window to being in lots of light with a leafy view to the backyard.

In the middle bedroom, what was an awkwardly huge closet is now split into two with half going to the room next door. The ceiling is completely gone waiting for the skylight work we need to do to meet air and light requirements since this room doesn’t have a window (although it will be one of the brightest rooms in the house with the amount of skylight area it will have!)

In the front bedroom, the new closet is framed, but otherwise there’s not much work to be done here. Next door one of our proudest accomplishments is taking shape! We are building in a new bathroom where there was just a small bedroom. All of the plumbing is in and it’s ready for fixtures!

Over the next two weeks we expect things to move very quickly. The beam in the kitchen will go up, plumbing will be inspected, and we will start on the electrical. Soon after that we will start closing up walls and putting in flooring! In early April the steel fabricator will come out to measure for the deck. We have high hopes to get the majority of the work done by the end of June.

What you can‘t see now but represents many hours of work is also mostly compete. It’s one of the things that often delays this type of project. All of our finishes have been chosen and most have been ordered. Kitchen cabinets, appliances, bathroom fixtures, faucets, tile, flooring, light fixtures, doors, light switches, and even furniture are chosen and queued up to be installed! We’re excited for you to see it all!

We’re looking forward to keeping you posted! Thanks for reading! Subscribe below for updates and don’t forget to follow us on Instagram!

Where No Man Has Gone Before: Adding A New Bathroom!

We’re adding a new bathroom where there was not only previously not one, but there is also no plumbing in that area of the building. There are a few interesting challenges to solve to make this possible. Doing it in an over 100 year old building only adds to to the challenge.

We have the traditional small bedroom that is over the entry vestibule and foyer of pretty much all Brooklyn brownstones. The dimensions of the room are 10’x 6’. So it‘s only big enough to be an office or nursery. It can’t really function as a legitimate bedroom. The inside wall is a structural wall so it’s difficult to expand it to the room next door without a lot of work. For us the obvious choice is to make it into a bathroom!

The first and biggest challenge is just getting the plumbing to the area. The only way to do it is to run a water and sewage stack up 3 floors from the basement. Fortunately our main sewer line runs along this side of the building so we just needed to go straight up. The only unfortunate part is that we’ll need to build a small box in the corner of the foyer and it needs to go straight through our beloved original plaster mouldings! BUT…we do have Jason with Urban Plaster our amazing plaster restorer that will wrap the box with the same mouldings to make it look like it belongs there. At least as much as possible.

The next challenge was building in the plumbing in the floor of the room. It needs to cross over several joists. In the kitchen we are building a soffit that will accommodate the plumbing for our master bath. We’re giving our cabinets a built in look so we were already building a soffit. We definitely don’t want a soffit in our foyer right over the entry further destroying the moldings so we need another solution. Our architect suggested notching the tops of the joists just enough to run the plumbing. He gave us strict instructions on how much they could be notched so that we don’t compromise their integrity. We think its a great solution to streamline the plumbing design and not add any unattractive features to the place.

Just running water and sewage to the room isn’t enough! Every drain needs to be vented as well. The other vent to the roof is too far away to get to and would require more big ugly soffits to run across the stairwell ceiling. So we are cutting a hole in the roof and venting straight up. A further challenge is that our roof, as in many old houses, still has an asbestos layer under the new layers that have been put over it. So now we need to have an asbestos remediator come to cut the hole, although we also need them to cut a another hole for a skylight, and remove the roof from the mudroom we are going to demo. So we’ll use the same company and they will just include it in the larger paperwork later.

Finally, we have the challenge of designing a brand new bathroom to fit into a 130 year old house. We don‘t want it to look modern and out of place. The design will have a vintage feel. We’re going to have traditional hex florets on the floor, a cast iron claw foot tub, a vintage cast iron utility sink, and the classic subway tile. We are even toying around with getting a vintage door with opaque chicken wire glass…but still trying to decide if that is too much. What do you think?!

We‘re excited to see our new bathroom starting to come together! Thanks for reading! Please subscribe below for new post updates! And don’t forget to follow us on Instagram!

A long, long time ago in Bedstuy: discovering the history of our Brownstone.

The renovation is moving along nicely! We get excited with every stud and pipe that gets installed! This week we’re taking a break from the construction fun to talk about the community and history of our neighborhood. It’s been amazing to learn the rich history of our building and also experience a warm welcome to the neighborhood (and our street). It’s one of the best things about living in Brooklyn and why we decided to create our home here. We’ve got to give credit to a couple of friends and readers who have commented on our blog or social media who know far more about the architectural history of Brooklyn than we do!

It started with one of our first Instagram posts. We assumed our place is over 120 years old, because the public records from NYC Department of Buildings track back to 1899 and it was here at that time. Someone commented that our place looks like an Amzi Hill building. That made sense because he designed a lot of the brownstones in Stuyvesant Heights. Recently though a local reader and new friend of ours, Morgan Munsey, contacted us with even more detailed information of the history of our place including pictures of the builder and a census showing the original owner! Turns out it was built by Gilbert De Revere. He was one of the many carpenter/builders active in Brooklyn in the 19th century. In the Bedford and Stuyvesant Heights areas, he was responsible for a large row of houses on Decatur, Madison, MacDonough, Macon and Halsey Streets. He seems to have used drawings by architect Amzi Hill but often did not give him credit. Apparently, it was common practice to buy drawings for one project and keep using them over and over for other projects. He gave Amzi Hill credit on the first few houses on our row and then Amzi Hill’s name fell off. It seems like a shoe manufacturer, Angelo Casey, his wife, and 2 daughters were one of the first people to live in the house. It also appears that Mr. De Revere may have met his demise right around when our building was completed. A local newspaper reported in April of 1890 that he died of an “aneurysm of the heart” right here in the neighborhood when he took his horse and buggy out for a spin. 

Learning this really brings to light how we don’t just own the wood, stone, and land that make up our place but there is a rich history and sense of community that comes with it. The people on our block have pride in it. There are monthly block meetings where a variety of topics are discussed including upcoming spring planting! Apparently our block even made honorable mention for Brooklyn Botanical Garden’s “Brooklyn’s Greenest Block” and we’re making a run for it again this year! We are so looking forward to being a part of this community and being actively involved in our block association.

As we pick out tile and light fixtures it’s easy to forget that we are working to restore what has been home to many people over 130 years and is part of a larger history of Brooklyn and Bedstuy. That’s why we’re here in the first place, and it makes it even more exciting to leave our stamp on what will hopefully be herer for another 130 years. 

If you’re not as much of a Brooklyn history buff as we are…back to to the renovation fun next week! Make sure to follow us on instagram for the latest updates and check out our YouTube channel for weekly updates on the reno project. Happy Weekend!

Plaster Problems: Restoring Original Mouldings

For many of us when we step through the double front doors of a historic Brooklyn brownstone we feel a rush of excitement to see the charm and character of original features. The high ceilings and tall doors, the grand banister and woodwork, the huge windows with wooden shutters, and of course the sometimes ornate plaster mouldings. One of the things that attracted us to our place the most is that we have really nice original plaster mouldings throughout a lot of our brownstone. They aren’t overly ornate, but they gave us that feeling of something that is special. The parlor level is especially nice. There’s a crown moulding on the wall and ceiling with a cove. There’s also a ceiling picture frame in the living room. The plaster isn’t in an amazing shape, you can see where it has been repaired over the years. Our contractor suggested that we should just rip out all of the ceilings out and replace it all with new crown moulding. We appreciate the suggestion as it solves some problems, but we just think it would be too sad to lose all of the history and character in favor or sharp new mouldings that can be found in a new construction condo.

When we were looking for our place we also stopped by to see a few developer renovated buildings. They are beautiful, but most of the original features are removed in favor a modern open space. The main wall that separates the foyer stairwell and the living area is typically gone. All of the ceilings are new. Fresh new mouldings are up with recessed lighting and central air & heat. It looks great and sometimes it’s done very well, but we want our place to look like a 18th century brownstone as much as possible. So we are going to pass on the recessed lighting and central air in favor of our original mouldings and 18th century character!

Our mouldings won’t be perfect. They have been painted many times and there are a few spots where you can see that it has been repaired. There are also several places where we need to restore them as we reconfigure a few spaces. It’s not something that we have done in the past and it was really interesting learning about the process. We have about a 12 foot section that needs to be restored in our living room, about 8 feet in the kitchen, and about 10 feet in our master bedroom. We looked into matching with new moulding, but we decided that the new moulding would be too much of a contrast to the old. We also looked into fabricating a replication and having our contractor install and plaster, but we were worried what the finished product, especially the cove, would look with having a different moulding fabricator than the installer.

Finally our friend Jason from Urban Plaster stopped by to take a look at our place. He is able to take moulds, fabricate the mouldings in a way that they will resemble the old ones (less definition to account for the many layers of paint). He will finish the plaster work, restore the cove, and blend the new sections in with the old to get the best finished look possible. Our mouldings are not especially ornate, and Jason often does much more intricate work, but it still an expensive part of the project. We’re expecting to pay $5,000-$8,000 for all of our plaster work (depending on the extent). This is not in our original budget, but we decided that it’s just too important to finishing the project that it’s worth the extra expense.

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Construction Surprises

Our place is over 120 years old, probably more like 130. The DOB started keeping records in 1899 so many brownstones in Brooklyn show that date on record even if they were built before. We were fully expecting to find some surprises once we started opening walls up, although we were holding out hope that there wouldn’t be anything major. With this old of a building there were several that could have sent our dream crashing down to reality. Well the walls are open and we can see most of the surprises we think we’ll find!

There definitely is good news and bad news. The good news is that the place is in overall decently good shape. Most of the people we have had in and out doing work have commented that the bones are good.

We have already repaired the termite damage in the basement we found during the inspection. Fortunately it was limited to about 6 feet of the main structural beam. Sounded pretty scary to us! We had a termite inspection once the basement ceiling was open (its semi-finished) and everything else looked great. The new beam is in so we’re relieved to be past what had potential to be a larger issue. We’ll schedule a termite treatment in the spring just to be safe.

As we expected there were some other surprises. The first surprise is on the parlor floor where originally there was a wall with pocket doors separating the front parlor area from the back parlor area (where we’re building the kitchen). Because of this wall, the original crown moulding, picture frame moulding, and ceiling cove define both spaces. The pocket doors and most of that interior wall are gone, but there is still a header and a small four foot section of wall on one side. Fortunately the original plaster moldings are still there. We’re removing the four foot section of wall but not the header. It’s definitely something that a developer or anyone doing a bigger renovation would completely remove. The problem is that if we remove it we would lose a lot of the moldings and the cove on the ceiling that we are determined to keep in tact. We could put up new moldings but we like the ones we have!

So we have 2 problems. The first is structural. Someone did some plumbing directly above the header and cut right through one of the floor joists. So it needs to be repaired before we remove the section of wall. Unfortunately the master bedroom wall is directly over where the joist needs to be repaired so we needed to temporarily remove it. It’s a relatively easy and inexpensive solution. But we don’t want one of our floor joists cut in half so it’s something that has to be done.

The other issue in this area is cosmetic but ironically much more expensive. If you‘ve seen some of our before pics. You might remember that there was a small kitchen built in the middle of the parlor floor. A soffit was built that covered some of the moldings next to the four foot section of wall. Unfortunately when we took down the soffit the moldings and ceiling weren’t in great shape so we need to have them repaired. The repair requires some skill to replicate moldings to match as best as we can the existing ones and then to finish. Fortunately our friend Jason at Urban Plaster is a plaster master and will be skillfully handling the repairs!

There were a couple of other things that need to be addressed as well. Most likely the same culprit removed the support for a joist that doesn’t tie into the brick sidewall. So now it’s floating there unsupported! We’re working on the best option to repair but as our contractor explains in the video below we have a couple of options. Most likely we’ll just support it on the wall that will be built below it against the brick where all of our kitchen plumbing will go.

Finally, the last issue we’re working on (best described by George below) requires us to get creative to support the LVL header replacing the wall that we removed to open up the back area for our kitchen. Basically, we need to bolt into the brick to create the support.

Believe it or not that’s all the surprises we’ve had so far. There’s still some potential for a couple more to pop up so we think at this point we’re through the woods, or at least the thickest part of them.

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How To Finish Your Renovation Project On Time…or close to it!

Now that we are 2 weeks in and pretty much done with demo, we are figuring out the art of renovation timing. Everything has a lead time and and it’s a lot of work having to make major decisions on finishes, configuration, fixtures, and everything else that comes along with it. One of the things that can hold up a renovation the most is having difficultly making design decisions or not doing it early enough to account for lead time. If the contractor is ready for tile and we don’t have it on site yet, it can cause a significant delay. Do that with several things and you can easily find yourself doubling the length of your renovation. Fortunately, we have been saving things we like and making decisions even before we closed! There is always more though and we are scrambling right now to make the final selections to make sure we’re on track.

Our renovation, which we would describe as a partial gut, is quoted at 4-6 months. Although that could easily be doubled. There are plenty of projects that take 9 months, a year, or more. In fact, most probably do. I met with our contractor once after he came from another client who was crying in his truck about it! That is always running through my mind so in addition to generally managing the process, we’re trying to do our part by making sure that all materials are onsite when the contractor is ready for them. Even though we just finished demo, and their is plenty of building to do before any of the finishes go in, we are scrambling to make all bath fixture purchases so that the plumbing can be built. We might be a week behind and if we’re this far behind on all of our other areas that will definitely start adding up.

We’re learning lessons and trying to stay on track as we go. Here’s some tips we’ve found so far. Let us know if there is anything that held up your project we might need to consider.

Talk to your contractor about a timeline of when things will be needed.

You might think you have more time than you do to make decisions. Sit down with your contractor and go through a general timeline so that you know the order of when your finishes will be needed. Keep in mind something take longer than others, and you’ll want to give everything the proper amount of thought before living with it for years to come.

Start getting an understanding of what you want very early.

You will find that you need to make A LOT of decisions. It can be overwhelming. You’ll need fixtures, finishes, and flooring. Configuration for multiple bathrooms, kitchen, laundry, outdoor space…and more. Each room takes considerable research and prepare to be torn between several options. Also be prepared to change your mind on some things a few times.

Don’t try to make all decisions at once.

You will get overwhelmed very fast if you try to take on everything on at once. We make decisions pretty quick and tend to be on the same page and it’s still a lot! Tackle one room at a time, but keep an eye out for things you like for other areas. Whether or not you’re a pinterest person, start an account and start savings things there. When you get to the kitchen is will be very helpful to have a nice kitchen folder of pictures saved already!

Understand your lead times.

Some things have a lead time of days and other things have a lead time of months. Will there be any custom pieces (we couldn’t find the bathroom vanity we envisioned so we are having it built)? Kitchen cabinets can have a month or 2 lead time. Some flooring can as well. The last thing you want is to sit around for 2 months waiting for something to arrive when it could have been prevented with a little research. This also comes into the picture when you figure out the quantity you’ll need. If your tile has a month and half lead time and you don’t get enough that can delay other parts of your project.

Schedule a weekly meeting with your contractor

Meet weekly with your contractor to talk about what was done the week prior and what will be done the following week. You can learn about anything unexpected that came up, what you might need to make a decision on, and of course hold him accountable in case he falls behind. If things start slipping it’s much easier to catch up on small scale than when you’re weeks behind.

To make things even more complex you’ll want to be aware of the reverse as well! If you don’t have somewhere to store cabinets and appliances you might not want them to arrive before you’re flooring is in or it will be in the way. I think we would recommend being on the side of having things early, but speak with your contractor about what would be a big mistake to arrive before they are ready.

Time is money! The longer our renovation goes the longer we’re paying a mortgage without living in our place or renting out our garden unit. We’re going to be moving as fast as possible, but we have to expect some unforeseen things to hold us up.

Decks! Costs and Considerations.

While walls are still coming down during our demolition process, we wanted to write about something we are the most excited for in the renovation- our new deck!

When going through a renovation there’s a lot of things that take priority and there are things that are nice-to-haves. The kitchen is usually a big priority. Maybe having enough bathrooms or a nice master bedroom/bath. To have a powder room or not to have a powder room. For us a deck off the living space is just as high priority as all of those other things. Outdoor living in Brooklyn during spring and summer is a must!

Our plan is to build a deck across the back of the building off the kitchen area. While 20 years ago it was very relaxed, the city has gotten very strict recently. Since we’re filing with the DOB we have to be prepared for inspections. In any case, an illegal deck can be an issue when it comes time to refinance or selling the property. It’s important to get an architect and file for a permit. We’ve heard and read various different things about this, and it also seems like their is some subjectivity to what you can get approved. The NYC DOB deck requirements are governed by NYC Building Code §3300.

NYC Deck Requirements

– The deck can extend 8’ from the back of the building.

– It can extend to the property line on either side if it is made of non combustible material, otherwise it needs to be 3’ from the property line.

– Railings need to be 42” high

– Support at least 40 lbs. per square foot.

– Anchorage with no nails and bracing at the beams

– No storage underneath.

– A permit is required

Our approved plan is for a fully legal steel deck 8’x19’ with stairs to the back yard.

Deck Height

A lot of decks in Brooklyn end up being built with a couple of stairs up from floor level. It’s better than having no outside access at all but we want to make sure we can walk straight out with no stairs. We are going to remove an existing window and put in a glass door. Although the window is tall enough to pop in an 8’ door, we decided to demo the masonry below the window to floor level so we won’t have a step up. It’s a little more expensive and is considered exterior demolition so we needed to notify all our neighbors, but we think it’s worth it! We are also demolishing a small mudroom on the garden level for several reasons, one being so that we can extend our deck in place of it.

Deck Material

The requirements for a deck that falls within 3 feet of the property line are that it must be made from non-combustible materials. That means that most legal decks that span the parlor level of a townhouse are made from steel frames with wood components built on top. Ipe is a popular wood for decks that supposedly lasts the longest. There are also wood composite products such as Trex. Considerations should be if it meets requirements for the placement of your deck, how long it will last, and the type of upkeep required to maintain it.

Loss of light downstairs

Garden apartments struggle for light and most people who we show around the place comment that the deck will not help. That’s true and is a consideration, but it’s too important to us for that to hold us back! Since we’re demolishing the mudroom we’re going to put in a nice glass door that should counter some of the loss of light. We’ll also give the garden tenants access to the backyard so hopefully that will be a selling point.

Deck Access

One thing that we’re compromising on is opening up a larger opening in the back of the building for a glass slider. We’ve seen a few places with it and it’s very nice, but we have a limited budget so something had to give. The amount of masonry that needs to be done was cost prohibitive for us. So while a deck is a must-have, the larger opening is something we can easily compromise on.

Cost and value.

For many people looking for property having nice outdoor space is a must. I remember a few years ago when I was hunting for an apartment with outdoor space the inventory was low. I saw the same people at every open house because they were after the same thing I was. There were bidding wars on all of them and they all went to well over asking (sometimes $100k+). While we are spending $20,000 on a deck, we think the return will be many times that if we sell in a few year. The costs are for the steel fabrication and installation including excavating for the posts.

We expect our project to be done at the beginning of summer and we are looking forward to being able to immediately get out on our deck! Does anyone have anymore more deck advice, do’s or don’t’s, legality issues, or anything else to share?

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Let The Demo Begin!

We are a few days into demo and it’s moving fast! Walls are down and we’re seeing the place really open up. We have had a few surprises so wanted to share. After working for months on plans and approvals it’s really satisfying to see progress!

On the parlor level the wall that created the bedroom that was added is completely gone. The kitchen is demoed and the bathroom is mostly gone. Since our place was renovated a few times over the past few decades it was great to see some of the original walls underneath. One of the biggest surprises was finding the treasure of pocket doors closed up in the walls! Unfortunately we are removing the wall they were in to create our new kitchen, but we will use them somewhere else in the house. 

On the top level, our master bedroom is taking shape. The walls that created a small hallway that was carved out of what will be the master bedroom are out of the way. We can see how large the room will be. We’re creating 3 bedrooms and they are taking shape. At this pace we should be done with demo in just a couple more days. 

The last thing that we are designing is the guest bathroom. Based on some very helpful comments from readers we decided that it is important to work a shower into the space. Just having a claw foot tub/shower combo isn’t very convenient for guests. We are trying to figure out the best way to achieve the look we want without busting the budget. Our initial idea to create a large wet area with a shower and freestanding tub was too expensive so we need to scale it down. We think the best option is to use a tile-ready shower base in the shower area with curbs and glass on both sides. If anyone has any advice let us know!

We did a walk through and made a list of all of the finishes we need to buy. Light fixtures, doors, hardware, appliances, flooring, an entire steel deck . Our tight budget is getting a workout! If you know of any places to get great deals we would love to hear!

Check out our Instagram feed for lots of demo photos and videos! Thanks for reading! We’ll update on where we are in a week!

Contractor Shopping: How to choose the right one.

Our renovation project is approved, our neighbors are notified (DOB requirement), and we are ready to get a contractor in the building. We provided the architect’s detailed drawings to the contractors that we were considering so that they can build out their quotes. If you’ve followed along you know we have a tight budget. We had to adjust our project several times to make sure that we stay on budget. We hoped we were going to spend about $200,000 on the labor and rough materials (so basically the contractors proposal not including finishes). However we knew that was going to be a stretch. Our first choice for a contractor was one that we worked with on a past project. We’re familiar with his work but we know that he can be a bit more expensive. His proposal came back at $270,000. We thought about continuing to cut down our project, but we are down to the necessities. So, we decided to bid out the job. The process got us thinking about what our shopping list for choosing a contractor should be. Price is important but there are so many horror stories we’ve heard from bad contractor experiences. How do we put ourselves in the best position to avoid that?

1. Price – Most contractors figure out their pricing based on cost of materials, labor, insurance, complexity of the project…etc. So when they run the numbers they shouldn’t be too far off. However there can be some key differences in figuring out the price. Do they sub work out? Or do they have crews that do all trades? We need to be able to pay for our project, so either we need to reduce the scope or go with a contractor that bids within budget.

2. Communication – Most of the horror stories I’ve heard are around contractors not showing up, falling far behind schedule, not returning calls, and generally not being available. The communication before starting is a good indication of the kind of communication you’ll get during the project.

3. Reviews – Any experienced contractor should have tons of reviews out there. There are websites like Brownstoner, Houzz, HomeAdvisor, Angies List, and others. Surprisingly one of the ones I felt the most comfortable with was Google. You have the ability to click on the reviewer and see other places they left reviews. It was pretty clear that they were real people (you never know). 

4. Past work/referrals – Most contractors have websites (although I don’t necessarily think a basic or low-fi website in the construction industry to should be looked down upon too much) with photos of past work. You can also ask for referrals to speak with before moving forward. 

5. In person meeting – I know that we are going to spend a lot of time with our contractor throughout the project.  There will be stressful situations and lots of decisions to make. I want to make sure that the person can explain things clearly, make recommendations, and be generally easy to work with. The in person meeting helps with getting an understanding of how the person communicates and how those stressful conversations might go. 

6. Knowledge – At this point in our project, we’re very familiar with every part of it. As we walked around with our contractors and talked about each area it’s very easy to understand how much knowledge and experience they have. I had a few questions ready to ask for each area to see how they respond. 

7. Licensing and Insurance – Most general contractors are, but obviously it’s important to confirm. 

We’re not professionals, but those are the things that we thought were important. If there are things that you would consider let us know! For now, we have selected a contractor based on the items above. We found someone that is not only very close to our budget, but he has been excellent at communication, has great reviews and prior work, our in-person meeting went great, he seems very knowledgable on every area of our project, and has already been very helpful. Since we are skipping working with the contractor we have worked with in the past we tried to be as diligent as possible. There is a bit of unknown nerves working with someone new, but we feel that it was more important for us to not have to cut more from the project. 

After months of planning we finally have a demo start date of Tuesday, January 22! Subscribe below for our weekly project update!

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For the past 3 months we have been in the design and planning phase. We spent a lot of time in (and out) of the house figuring out how we wanted to configure things. Our architect was also hard at work translating that into drawings and a plan that the New York City Department of Buildings would approve. We had the curveball of a 1936 document changing the scope of our project. Many changes and alternations came along with that.

We are happy to say that with the help from our amazing architect we have gotten approval on the project to start swinging hammers! Along the way there were a few questions we posed to you for ideas. We thought we would update you on the decisions we made (with your help!), the compromises we needed to make, the alternations required to appease the DOB, and the finalized plan for the project.

Opening Up The Floor Plan Or Saving Original Walls

One of the first questions we posed to readers was whether or not we should tear down the wall separating the living area to the main stairwell. It’s a configuration of pretty much every brownstone or townhouse in Brooklyn. The trend with developers is to take it out and put in structural support to create a really open space. Unfortunately a lot of original details, as well as the intentions of the great 19th century Brooklyn architects, are lost. Even before our post we came to the conclusion that we should keep the wall and your response was unanimously in agreement!

Large Kitchen or Tiny Powder Room

Ideally we would have liked to have a powder room on the parlor level. In our initial design we included it, but the only practical place to put it was in a place that required a smaller kitchen. Any other way to configure a kitchen or powder room would have required too much plumbing or gas work for our budget. The choice was between having the powder room or a larger kitchen. All of the great suggestions and comments were about a 50/50 split. In the end we decided that the larger scale kitchen with no power room would work best for us and create the scale of kitchen we wanted for the space.

Separating The Owners Duplex From The Garden Rental

Even though our building is already configured as a 2-family, the garden rental has complete access to the parlor and upper floor duplex via the main stairwell. There is no wall or door. We got lots of great suggestions and even photos sent on how we can solve this. Unfortunately there is not a solution that is perfect. Adding a wall anywhere is just not ideal, especially when it’s as tight of an area as the stairwell. We initially thought we would build this wall under the parlor level stairs with a door to lead to the garden level and basement (we will have laundry there). This problem is certainly not unique to our house. After a couple of readers reached out with photos of their space, we decided that the better option would be to build the wall and door on the garden level. This will make our space less cramped, and we won’t have to lose details that we love on the original stairs and bannister.

Tearing Down A Useless Mudroom

One of the results of the DOB finding that 1936 document is that we will need to bring some things up to code that have already been built. At some point in our building‘s 120+ year history a small mudroom was built on the back of the garden rental at the exit to the back yard. This ate up one of the windows and now the garden unit‘s large living/kitchen area does not meet the light and ventilation requirements. There are some tedious changes we could have made to the unit to bring it up to code (building a drop wall around the kitchen, enlarging the opening between the kitchen and the living room…etc) but for the money we would have spent on that we decided that it would be better spent tearing down the mudroom and putting in a glass door. This brings the garden rental up to code for light and ventilation. It also had the added advantage of giving us the ability to build a larger deck upstairs while increasing overall light the deck will take away from the garden rental. Win-win!

Oh the DOB

Our architect did a great job anticipating what the DOB would take issue with and how to resolve. One area that created us a particular issue was in the middle bedroom upstairs. Since it’s in the middle of the building it does not have windows, however it gets a lot of light and even air through 2 nice openable skylights. Unfortunately they were just a few square feet too small to meet the requirements. Complicating things, our roof turned up positive for asbestos. It’s in decent shape and we are not ready to change yet. We can disturb up to 10 sq ft of it (through professional remediation of course) without having to redo the entire thing. The initial plan was to just put in a third skylight however there is even a further issue as the fire department requires at least 6 feet wide clearance with no obstructions (skylights, roof hatches…etc) from the front of the building to the rear. The solution is that we will now have 3 skylights (or one large one) in a row.

Only the beginning

The fun has only begun! The DOB has approved our plan, but now we need to build it out per the drawings and make sure everything will be approved by the city inspectors that will come into the building. Our certified letters are sent to our neighbors letting them know demolition is starting soon (another requirement!). The plan we have is really a starting point as there are things that can’t be seen on the drawings. There are also things an inspector may take issue with that the plan examiner did not. Sounds fun? We think so!

We technically have started with demolition (here’s a video clip of us removing half of the existing kitchen) but our next spot will be all the hammer content you ever dreamed of! We’re ready!

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Battle of the Bathrooms- Old vs. New

Jordan and I are pretty aligned on most of our design choices. Picking out tile was a breeze. We are eyeing a few light fixtures and both have the same favorites. No arguments over furniture. We both love vintage charm as well, but other than restoring original features of our house, up until this point we haven’t added more to the historic detail. One of the only things that we are actually adding to the house is a guest bathroom upstairs. So our challenge is to make something that will be brand new fit with the house and our style. I’m pushing for some serious vintage features since our master bath will be more classic and modern. I think I have Jordan coming around! 

The top floor of just about every brownstone basically has the same layout. The stairs are in the center of one side of the building. The width of the stairs & hallway are typically about 6 feet (give or take a few inches). The wall from the hallway to the rest of the building is structural. This creates a space in the front and back of the stairs that is about 6 feet wide (in the front this would be above the vestibule). Some buildings have a little mini bedroom or office there. Some open up the wall to the neighboring bedroom to create an L shaped room. Some build in bathrooms or closets.  Our building is currently configured with a bathroom in the rear and a small bedroom in the front. We think the room is to narrow for a proper bedroom. The dimensions are 10′ X 6′. It will fit a twin bed at most. We think it’s the perfect size for our guest bath! So we are going to renovate the existing bathroom as the master bath and build a brand new guest bath in the front. Below are some details to out bathrooms- we like to think of it as battle of the bathrooms.

Master Bath
Currently the bathroom that will be our master bath is the only one on the top floor and has access to the hallway. We are going to close up the hallway entrance and restore a previously closed up entrance from what will be the master bedroom. Jordan loves the look modern hotel bathrooms (inspired last by a stay-cation at the 1Hotel Brooklyn). While it will have some vintage touches, overall it will be classic and modern. The room is 10’X6′. We’ll have a glass double shower on the shorter wall, a new toilet, and a double vanity. The finishes will have a large charcoal hex tile on the floor and then running up the shower wall, with a 1″x 6″ off-white tile on the wall with the vanity. All of tile will be from Chelsea Arts Tile & Stone.

Guest Bath
Since the master bath will be modern with it’s glass shower, I’d like to go full vintage in this bathroom! We’d like to get a old pedestal sink, a clawfoot tub (this is practical too because it will go in front a window), bead board wainscoting, classic black and while small hex florets on the floor, and light fixtures to match. The toilet will of course be new. It could be a bit overboard I guess, but I think the end result will just make us very happy.  We’ve already seen what we need at a local salvage yard. All of the fixtures will require some restoration. Also, I love wainscoting and I’m determined to get some in the house somewhere!

Some of the original details were unfortunately erased from out place over the years, so we love the idea of putting some back in a new feature. I’m going to keep working on Jordan and we’ll see how many vintage items we can work in! In the meantime, if you have any tips or tricks in restoring a pedestal sink and clawfoot tub let us know!

With that we are rounding out the design phase of our project. We’ve gone through a couple of rounds of revisions with the DOB and at this point expect to get approval to start in the next couple of weeks. If you have followed along we’ve shared many of the design choices, problems, and resolutions we have had. Our next post will be the results of all of the great feedback we have received and decisions we’ve made along the way. Fingers crossed we will start demo the first week of January (we’re still waiting for our Christmas present from the DOB)! 

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10 Questions with the Brownstone Boys

We’re proud to have been featured by our friends at Bed-Stuy Local (! Check out their interview with us below and head over to their site for more!


,The Bed-Stuy Small Business Hustle – “The Brownstone Boys”

Today, we are posting our first small business profile! We plan on doing as many profiles as we can of small businesses in Bed-Stuy. If you know someone who we should profile, or if you would like to be profiled, please do not hesitate to reach out at!

Who are the Brownstone Boys? Tell us about yourselves.

We’re Barry and Jordan aka The Brownstone Boys. Jordan is in marketing for Ample Hills Creamery and a food tour guide. Barry works for a startup software company. We met about 2 years ago. Barry has owned a few apartments over the past few years with the dream of buying and restoring a classic Brownstone. Jordan shared that dream so we decided to take this adventure together.

In one paragraph, describe what it is that you are doing.

We bought a 2 family brownstone in Bedstuy. It has many original details but it’s in need of restoration. We’re excited to make it our home. We are going to restore everything that we can and modernize where we need to. We’ll have a brand new open kitchen, a large master bedroom, completely renovated master bath, a new guest bath, and new parlor level backyard access with a deck.

How did you choose Bed-Stuy?

Barry has lived in Bedstuy for the past few years. It has become his favorite neighborhood that he has lived in. Jordan also fell in love with the architecture of the neighborhood (and Saraghina!)  and ended up spending much of his time in Bedstuy when not at work. We chose Bedstuy because we love the neighborhood, the architecture is beautiful, the community feels welcoming, and it’s still a place you can buy a building in brownstone Brooklyn at a relatively affordable price compared to other neighborhoods.

What do you love about Bed-Stuy?

Aside from the beautiful architecture, we love the sense of the community. It’s rare to have a neighborhood where everyone still says “good morning” to one another as they walk by. We came back to the place this past week and some kind stranger put a holiday bow on every single gate on the street!

Did you have experience in renovations before you started this project?

Barry renovated a 2-bedroom apartment a couple of years ago, but that wasn’t nearly as extensive as this project. Jordan has been involved in several renovation projects at work but never his personal home! So we are definitely not professionals.

How is everything going? How long have you been working on the project?

We’ve only just begun! We closed on the place about a month and a half ago. We have been working with our architect on the design and DOB approval process.

What unexpected hiccups have you encountered along the way? How did you work through the issues?

The DOB has already thrown us a couple of curveballs. When we originally filed they found a document from 1936 that showed the building with a different configuration than it is now. So we had to file for a different type of approval that caused more design work and will require more inspections (and of course, more costs). We also found some termite damage in the basement that needs to be repaired. Once we start some of the demo in the place we are expecting to find some other surprises as well!

Do you work with local businesses in Bed-Stuy? If so, who do you recommend and why?

We are falling in love very fast with every single restaurant we have been trying- Grandchamps being a new favorite! We are going to try to use as many hyperlocal businesses as possible for the renovation. We pretty much need everything! Any and all recommendations are extremely helpful!

Are there still deals to be had in Bed-Stuy? If so, where?

We think so. Prices are definitely rising very quickly in Bedstuy, but it’s still possible to get a beautiful building for $1.5M or less. Just a couple of miles away in neighboring neighborhoods a similar building would be twice that. The eastern part of Bedstuy between Malcolm X and Broadway is the best bet for still finding a deal in the neighborhood.

If someone is looking to embark on the same journey, what advice would you give them?

Act fast. We think that Bedstuy prices are going to continue to rise. If things continue it will be harder to find something. Then find a good contractor and architect. It makes such a big difference to avoid hiccups and resolve them when they pop up. Also, enjoy the process!  It can feel stressful but it’s not something that you get to do many times in your life. Building your home while restoring a piece of Brooklyn history.

For people who don’t have skills in renovations which of the following would you recommend and why? 1) Buy a pricey, but fully renovated brownstone from a developer. Or 2) Buy a place that needs a gut renovation, hire an architect and general contractor, and get it done on your terms.

Our preference is obviously the latter. We don’t have a lot of experience in renovations, but we’re really looking forward to making the place our own. We looked at a bunch of developer buildings in the process of finding our home, they usually opt for taking out so much of the original detail and there are so many things that are done without a lot of thought.

Where can people find you and what can that do to help your project?

You can follow us on our blog at We are being published weekly in The Brownstoner and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook @brownstoneboys. We’re really looking forward to making Bedstuy our new home and hope you enjoy our renovation journey!

Goodbye Mudroom: A renovation issue turned into a win-win.

One of the things we are looking forward to the most is enjoying our backyard. Right now only the garden apartment has access. So we plan on building a deck on the parlor level and popping in a door where one of the windows is currently. We’ll have stairs to give us access to the rear portion of the yard. There is a small mudroom tacked onto the back of the building where the garden apartment has access to the backyard. It’s been causing us a few problems and we finally figured out what to do with it!

The deck will be at the same level of the parlor floor so we’ll have a bit of brick to remove under the window. We have the option to build the deck a bit higher so that there would be a step or 2 up. This would avoid touching the brick at all, the window is tall enough, but we really like the idea of walking out directly onto the deck with no steps. We would love to open it up to have a larger slider, but it’s one of the areas we needed to compromise because of budget. That would create a lot more construction to create an opening and structural support for the bricks above. It may be a future project.

The mudroom at the garden level has a slanted roof with a basement vent. There is no way to build the deck with clearance to sit above it, so our plan was to build it next to it. The DOB allows a deck built of non-combustable material to extend 8 feet from the back of the building. So building it adjacent to the mudroom would give us a 8’X11′ deck with stairs to the yard. We were a little disappointed to not have the deck extend all the way across, but again one the things that we were going to compromise on to keep the budget down. But it looks like we’re making a change to the plan. 

Our friends at the DOB had issue with the light and air requirements in the garden rental since one of the 3 rear windows is now a door into the mudroom. The 2 remaining windows do not meet the light and ventilation requirements for the square footage of the room so we were going to have to make a couple of alterations to the garden apartment to compensate. We weren’t planning on spending any money in the rental because it is in great shape so it wasn’t something we were happy about. We think we have a better idea! If we demo the mudroom and put in a glass windowed exterior door if would solve our light and ventilation issues and give us the ability to build a bigger deck upstairs. The additional cost is negligible because we were going to have to spend a few thousand dollars on the alterations to meet the light and air requirements if we keep the mudroom. 

We’re excited about the change as it seems to be a win-win. The garden apartment gets a new glass door to let in more light and we get a bigger deck! The only drawback is the loss of the mudroom space to the garden apartment, but I’m sure our tenants will appreciate the extra light and outdoor space that can be private to their unit. It also clears up having to prove to the DOB that the mudroom preexisted 1961 because it was not filed. So win-win-win!

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One Big Happy Family? Separating the owner’s duplex from the garden apartment.

Our building has a few interesting challenges that we need to solve as we complete the design. We’ve been working on one situation and we have some ideas but we haven‘t fully decided how to resolve it yet. Our building is configured as a garden level 1-bedroom rental and a parlor/topfloor duplex. The garden level entrance under the stoop opens up into a common hallway with a staircase that goes up to the parlor level. The one bedroom apartment is self contained and there is a door off the common hallway. The issue is that if our future tenant climbs the stairs from the common area they will be in our duplex apartment. So a wall has to be built. We’re trying decide where.

We’re not excited about building a wall. We want it to be the least intrusive to the space as possible and for it to seem like it belongs there. There are also some really nice original details on the bannister and stairs that we would potentially lose with some of the options. Closing the stairs up all together is also not an option because we could still like access to the basement where we will have the laundry. We’re hoping some of you may have had a similar problem that you’ve already solved or may just have some great ideas!

OPTION A- Build the wall on the parlor level under main stairs. With this option the wall would be on our level. We could extend the Wall down from the bottom of the staircase to the floor so that you can see into the stair well that goes to the parlor level. There would be a door at the top of the stairs. We think this option could look like it belong there, especially if we match the moldings and woodwork that is on the bottom of the stairs. It also has the advantage of hiding what would be a dark staircase to closed door. If we chose option B the drawback is that we are closing in space on the duplex level. We would also lose some nice detailing and we would need to remove the bannister railing that separates the parlor hallway from the stairs below.

OPTION B- Build the along the garden level stairs. This option would put the wall on the garden level. We could keep the openness in the duplex stairwell and entry. We could also keep the parlor level details and bannister in tact. The drawback is that the lower stairs that would be visible from the parlor hallway would be closed in and lead to a closed and locked door. It has the potential to be dark unless we figured out a way to cleverly light it. We would also need to completely remove the bannister from the lower stairs. Instead there would be a wall with a simple handrail.

OPTION C- Build a wall at the garden level entrance. This option would be nice as it wouldn’t require us to alter the stairs or bannister at all. We could just build a wall in the garden level common hallway that would separate the stairs from the part of the hallway that rhe tenants have access to. So far we have not been able to figure out how to do this without further reconfiguring the garden apartment. The current door is too far back to be able to build a wall in a place that makes sense.

Options A & B seem to be the most viable options. We aren’t particularly excited about either of them but we need to separate the apartments. Are there options that we haven’t thought of? Or should we go with one of the ideas we have? Let us know what you think!

Options A & B seem to be the most viable options. We aren’t particularly excited about either of them but we need to separate the apartments. Are there options that we haven’t thought of? Or should we go with one of the ideas we have? Let us know what you think!

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Dealing with the DOB: 1936 came back to haunt us!

In our first post, so many weeks ago, we talked of realizing our dream of restoring a Brooklyn brownstone and finished that post with a dose of reality. We knew coming in to this project that the house itself would present problems of its own (even before we closed we found termite damage in immediate need of repair in the basement) many of which have not presented themselves yet, but expected that dealing with the DOB would be one of the more frustrating parts of the process. We closed our first post with that expectation of a future post about that topic AND here it is!

Our building has been renovated within the last decade. There has probably even been work in the decades before. As the vast majority of 2-3 family brownstones that predate 1937, our building does not have a certificate of occupancy (CO). It was not required before 1937 and supposedly there has been no work done to require one since. We do have a letter of no objection from the DOB for the use of our building as a 2-family. That gave us the ability to close with our mortgage in lieu of having the CO.

With our drawings and plans complete, our architect went to the DOB for approval. We hoped to get approval on a alteration type-2 assuming no major work has been done. Unfortunately the DOB, produced a piece of paper from 1936 (!) showing our building with a garden and parlor duplex and a 3rd floor rental. The problem is our building has a garden rental and a parlor/3rd floor duplex. This is the way we want it, and we did look at many buildings that were configured the way the DOB shows ours. If we would have bought one of those buildings we most certainly would have converted it to have the parlor level as the main duplex living space. So we went back to the drawing board to submit our plans not only for our duplex renovation, but to straighten out the configuration of the building on file. This means we now have to do an alteration type-1, which means having city inspectors come in to find everything in the building that is not up to current codes.

Please keep in mind that we are not professional designers or builders. We have a great architect and a trustworthy contractor, and other than that we are 2 guys with day jobs navigating what will most likely be a complicated renovation of a very old building. We’re also all for bringing things up to code and ensuring the place is a safe place for us and our tenants to live. So the DOB regulations are important and we will certainly follow them. With that said, they don’t make it easy in so many areas. Many of the things we will now have to do will be frustrating and expensive.

Our updated drawings and plans have been submitted to the DOB. Our architect addressed everything he could in the design. Now, we are currently waiting on receiving what we are expecting to be a very lengthy list of objections that we will need to include in another revision of drawings before we can get approval to start. Our fingers are crossed that there aren’t huge issues that will be costly and difficult to resolve. We’ll keep you posted on what happens!

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Kitchen Conundrum: What’s more important the kitchen or a powder room?

We’re working on one of the more fun parts of our project, designing the kitchen! We probably don’t have to tell you how important it is. Heart of the house, right? We know what we want. We have so many photos pinned on Pinterest. So why don’t these renderings from the cabinet company look like we want them to?

If you’ve seen our floor plan you know that we are moving the kitchen to the back of the building and removing a couple of walls to open it up. The stove and fridge will be on one wall with the majority of the cabinetry. We’ll have an island with the sink and pendants above it. On the opposite wall we’ll have some 12” deep cabinets and some open shelving. This wall has an old fireplace that has since been bricked up and covered. It’s bumps out into the room so we had to get creative. We also plan to have a small powder room next to the kitchen.

As we looked at the renderings there’s some obvious things we worked out right away that will help improve it. We want to make sure the cabinets are high enough for the height of the ceiling.  Those narrow (12″) cabinets are too long and skinny. We’ll use moldings and a small soffit to give it all a finished and more built in look. We will do our best to choose the right style of cabinetry and hardware. But there is something else that has been in the back of my head about our design ever since we laid out the floor plan. Now that we are actively designing the kitchen it has come to the front. The scale of the whole thing seems off. The width of our kitchen, the main wall of cabinets and appliances, is only 11 feet. That seems narrow for the scale of a 3-bedroom duplex with a level exclusively devoted to an open living space. 11 feet might be just fine to fit in all of the necessities, and I’m sure it could be very nice, but the fact is it just isn’t the look that we are going for. We wanted something larger in scale. We wanted the kitchen to be a showcase of the renovation and the home in general. So we have a conundrum. How do we increase the size of the kitchen and where do we get that space?

Before we settle on this layout we’ve considered other layouts for the kitchen. Turning it 90 degrees so that the island faces out toward the living room (not a great idea because the main kitchen wall is on the back wall where there will be two windows and a door to the deck), turning it 180 degrees so that the main wall of cabinets and appliances is on the opposite wall (tough because the wet wall is on the other wall since there is now a bathroom. Moving all the plumbing is expensive). We’re left with one potential option, scraping the parlor level powder room in favor of expanding the kitchen.

I should tell you that I’m biased. I wasn’t a fan of having a powder room from the beginning. Although everyone else thought we should have one. Our architect said we’re not going to want to go upstairs everytime we need the bathroom. Our real estate agent said for resale it would be really good to have a powder room on the first level. But it’s a tiny little room. 2’11” x 5’. You could sit on the toilet and wash your hands. It’s also right next to the kitchen and dining room. For obvious reasons that’s not great when you’re having a dinner party. Go upstairs. Have some privacy. We get the other arguments too. We just need to make a decision. Do we want to have a tiny powder room and a kitchen that is smaller in scale than we wanted (and think should be) or do we want to have a big well designed kitchen and climb the stairs to visit the master or guest bathroom (which we’re really looking forward to designing with a vintage tub, vintage pedestal sink, and tiles to match! Check back for more on that one!)?

In the 11’ kitchen, the microwave is over the stove, there is no room for a hood because we need the cabinet space, we don’t really get the open shelves we wanted because we would sacrifice vital storage space. The island would be less than 6’ and I don’t think we would even have a full 36” on either side for access to the kitchen. On the other hand, If we scraped the powder room we could extend the kitchen to 14’ and the island would be about 8’. All of the above things we wanted would be possible and the scale of the kitchen would be fitting to the open space.

We’re obviously leaning toward the larger kitchen and sacrificing the powder room to the renovation gods. Are we making a mistake? Is having a bathroom on this level that important? Or do you think the show stopper kitchen is worth the sacrifice? Let us know what you think!

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Squeezing Our Dreams Into Our Budget

We’re in a holding pattern right now waiting for DOB approval to get the sledgehammer out. Our architect is doing a great job managing that, and our contractor is sidelined waiting for approval. So this downtime in physical work is a perfect opportunity for us to plan out our budget. Our renovation is especially exciting because all of the projects are a product of a lot of our own dreaming. We’ve decided to use our vision, our plan, and our tastes for the design. Much of this came from inspiration over the course of the last couple of years. I think it can be summed up this way: We wanted to buy a brownstone, with original details, restore the history, and modernize the finishes.

Someone commented on our first post on Brownstoner and said that they hoped that our story is not one of “a million dollar renovation with exotic finishes, super-expensive European appliances and the over-the-top bespoke stuff.”, but rather one that will be “relevant to readers.” That couldn’t be more the case. Words used by our contractor and architect to describe our budget are: “modest”, “tight”, and just straight-up “not enough”. But I’m confident that we’ll get it done and this will be our dream home.

Our tastes are classic. We are going to keep it simple and we’ll need to find savings along the way. The key will be to splurge in a couple of areas so that our renovation seems high-end, but stays within our “tight” budget. We’ve already scaled some things back to limit the construction and we may need to do that again. We’re going to try to be smart about buying with discounts. Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday are on the horizon and this is a perfect opportunity to take advantage of 20-50% off. We’ll need it! (We will have an entire Black Friday shopping list coming soon so look out for that!). We want to reproduce some high-end designs we’ve stalked, with less expensive and discounted materials. It’s likely we’ll make compromises or put off some projects until after we move in. Despite our contractor’s warnings, we’ve settled on a plan and we think we can accomplish it, but if not we’ll adjust. But we do have priorities of things that have to get done.

Our building has a garden rental and a duplex on the parlor and 3rd level. We’re leaving the garden rental as-is (it’s in good shape) and renovating the duplex. Currently the duplex is configured as a 5 bedroom with 2 bathrooms. The parlor level as expected has the living room next to the entrance (with original structural wall separating the entry and staircase that has original woodwork and other details remaining! See previous post for that story), the kitchen in the middle, then a non-original wall with a bedroom in the back, with a full bath next to it. The parlor level plan is to demo the existing kitchen, the wall between the bedroom and kitchen, the full bath, and the wall separating the bedroom and the bathroom.

After the demo we will have an open space from the front of the building to the back. The kitchen will go across the back of the building with the main water/gas wall on the wall where the bathroom was. A powder room will be next to the kitchen. The living and dining area will be one open space. We’re building a deck off the back, and popping in a glass door where there is now a window. We know this is an additional expense but we feel it will be worth it in the long run.

Upstairs there are currently 4 bedrooms and a full bath. The plans are minimal. We’re moving one wall to create a larger master bedroom in the back, renovating the existing bathroom as the master bath, and creating a guest bath in the smallest bedroom that is over the vestibule (you know the one).

A month ago I would have told you we were replacing all of the hardwood flooring and leveling the floors (they were replaced a few years ago with solid white oak flooring in a very light white-washed finish that has to be changed). We were also going to open up a larger opening in the back of the building for a glass slider. But the budget has altered these 2 things as well as a few others. We are happily going to refinish the floors and live with a couple of slants (that will save us probably $20-25,000). It also gives us the advantage of not losing a lot of the original baseboards (which saves on that as well). For the deck door, we are saving thousands by using the existing opening for the window and just having a single door rather than a slider (saves us about $7,000-$10,000 and a lot of annoying structural work).

Those are the big overall projects. Some of the smaller things that we think will go a long way are: removing the carpet and restoring the stairs (who knows what’s under there), removing the baseboard heaters and installing radiators, stripping the layers of paint off a lot of the woodwork including the original interior window shutters, and we’ll create some interesting features and nooks. For instance, at the top of the stairs in a place that can be seen as soon as you walk in, there is door that leads to the closet where there is a ladder for roof access. It’s not the worst, but a good friend of ours (who designs spaces for a global clothing brand) suggested that we move that door around the corner and create a space to hang a great piece of art (or a bookshelf nook). It will cost a bit to do that, but I think the effect will be worth it.

So that is the overall scope of the project. We originally posted this without mentioning our actual budget. The reason why is because it’s still a little bit of a work in progress. We may need to adjust a bit. Several people have reached out wondering. Mostly because they have their own projects and they are very curious about what others are spending (or targeting to spend). As of now, not having actually started the project, we are trying to keep our renovation at or under $200,000. As we progress we’ll share details on each area one at a time. Look out for more! Subscribe below to be updated for new posts and don’t forget to follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest!

Tear Down This Wall.

While we were hunting for our brownstone to renovate, we also looked at some recently renovated buildings, mostly by developers. The trend is to tear down walls and open up the entire parlor level floor with a huge slider leading to a deck. Sounds nice. Walking in you are greeted with a bright, open, and airy space. We didn’t want to buy a developer renovated building, but we took that design idea with us when we thought about our renovation. All of the unrenovated buildings still had their original entries with stairwell and structural wall separating it from the living room. Our initial plan was to tear down that wall and create the type of open, airy space we saw in the renovated buildings. After we closed and spent some time in the building our view started to change. There are so many original features that would be ripped out with the wall. Large double doors, woodwork and moldings, plaster features and a curve on the living room ceiling. We really started to question our plan. 

We like to walk down some of the brownstone streets in Brooklyn at dusk. Just as the interior spaces start to light up and it’s a little easier to stalk around gawking in. The original features can be seen in all of their glory. House after house retained its parlor level structural wall with the history in tact. Woodwork gleaming and painted out. Tall stately double doors inviting guests into the space. Intricate plaster work on the ceiling. I would bet that if we asked any of those homeowners they wouldn’t dream of losing that just to gain a bit more of open floor plan. It’s sinking in more and more that we should get in touch with the history of our place instead of tearing it out in favor of what developers have decided is the modern look. 

So we visited our empty brownstone and wanted to really get a feel for all of the original features that are still there. (See the tour in the slideshow below). Unfortunately our place isn’t overflowing with original details. The fireplaces have been closed up long ago. The flooring was replaced a few years ago, fortunately with solid white oak flooring, but in an unfortunate finish (we’re going to refinish). So it’s even more important for us to keep what we have. In the vestibule there is beautiful original mosaic tile and plaster work in the form of flowering rose bushes. All of the original door casings and baseboards are there. The medallions, moldings, and plaster on the ceilings are in tact. The original banister and stairs welcome you into the building. As we feel more and more connected with the building we starting to dread parting with any of it.

Then there is the matter of the budget. You’ll find as you read our posts, we are happily renovating with a limited budget. There will be many cost saving decisions made throughout our renovation. I look at it as a win-win. Not only do we get to keep the history in tact if we keep that wall. We’re going to save probably over $25,000 between taking down the wall, supporting it structurally, and all of the finishing work that would need to be done in its place. 

The verdict: I’m happy to say we’re keeping the wall, and any other original features we can!

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How much should an Architect cost?

With the closing behind us and our dream of owning a Brooklyn brownstone a reality, we’re ready to transform it into our home! Truth be told, I’ve spent a lot of time working on the floor plan myself the last 2 months while we were waiting to close. I used an app (Magicplan) for free to put it together. Although the building is a 3 story 2-family, we’re only renovating the upper duplex.

Now we just need an architect to take that plan we put so much thought into and make drawings that the Department of Buildings will approve. We also pretty much have all of our finishes nailed down so we don’t need the services of a designer. We needed an architect who technically knew what they were doing, has experience facilitating DOB approval, moves quickly (first mortgage payment rapidly approaching), and is highly communicative. I spoke to an architect/designer combo who gave me a $28,000 proposal, with other DOB filing fees on it as well. Since I feel like we just needed someone to translate our floor plan to DOB drawings we were paying for more than we needed. I found a forum on Brownstoner where someone spoke of architect who did what seemed like a similar job, Dick Boschen from Boschen Design. I called his office and was immediately transferred to Dick himself. I had a great conversation with him. He understood what we wanted to do (technical experience), had a lot of experience in our type of project (including DOB approval), he loved that I already had a floor plan put together (I can see an architect not liking that), and in addition to immediately taking my call at 5pm he gave me his email for me to send over my notes (highly communicative). I sent my notes and he sent back a proposal for $7,000 plus DOB filing fees and likely some hourly fees along the way. We would expect the final bill to be around $15,000. So with an additional $12k in our pocket with the savings from the original architects proposal we moved forward. We already have a first draft of the plan and the asbestos inspection is done. Drawings should be filed within the week and expect a post shortly on dealing with the DOB in NYC .

The Close

It’s been our dream for years to buy and renovate a Brooklyn brownstone. The tree lined streets with charming 19th century architecture. The rows of stoops ready for a coffee in the morning or a glass of wine in the afternoon. I’m pretty sure we’re not alone in wanting one for ourselves. There are only a few areas left in Brooklyn within easy range to Manhattan that still have the charm of a brownstone neighborhood with an affordable (relatively) price tag. In Bedstuy, Crown Heights, and Bushwick you can still buy something for $1M-$1.5M for what costs $3M-$4M only a mile away in neighborhoods like Fort Greene, Prospect Heights, and Park Slope. But the window is closing and rush is on.

The Brooklyn real estate market is a double edged sword. It’s usually a sellers market. Listings can go for over asking (sometimes well over) and competition to find a place and win a bidding war can be fierce. That makes it hard to get into, but the payoff can be huge. Some neighborhoods appreciate 20-40% in a year. It’s possible to buy an apartment and sell it a couple of years later (2 years as a primary residence to avoid capital gains) and make a nice chunk of money. I know because I’ve done it 4 times with 1 and 2 bedroom condos. Including one I kept for 2 years as a rental. Now everything is sold and with cash in hand we’re finally at a point to make the move.

We searched for months (really years if you count the hours most days I spent on Streeteasy). As any property hunter knows, there were long days on weekends going from open house to open house in the 95 degree humidity. Most Brooklyn brownstones are between 100-150 years old. Some that we looked at haven’t been updated in decades. The scope of a renovation of a place that needed to be gutted down to the shell of the building (with costs of over $400,000) was terrifying. Some were just renovated by a developer with generic finishes and most of the history erased. It was hard to find a good balance. We wanted to take on a renovation we could handle to make it a place of our own and produce something we can sell in a few years at a profit. We held out hope that each one we walked into was going to be the one. We had one pretty devastating bidding loss. Then a place we bid on and won but then backed out because it wasn’t really what we wanted (it was basically my rebound). Finally on a day I’m pretty sure I was dragging Jordan around in the humidity we found a 2-family beauty, on a treelined street, in a neighborhood just starting to have coffee shops, bars, and restaurants popping up. It was moderately renovated a few years ago as rentals, so not the quality we wanted, but fortunately many originally details were intact. This place would give us the ability to do a renovation that we could handle (fingers crossed), at a price that we could afford, but still in a neighborhood we didn’t have to wait too long to be a place we wanted to live in (Stuyvesant Heights). We lucked out that 2 prior offers feel through. The the seller was ready to get into contract. We put in an offer in the next day and had a deal by that night.

Not that everything has gone to plan. The inspection revealed some pretty bad termite damage to a structural beam in the basement that has to be replaced (-$10,000 off the sales price ;-)) and I’m sure we’ll find some other issues when we start tearing the place apart. With the closing scheduled in just 2 days, we’re about a month behind with probably more delays on the way once we close. It will be an adventure! We have a lot of hard choices to make, problems to navigate through, new issues to uncover, delays to stress about, and hopefully the realization of a lot of dreaming. We’ll do our best to capture it all here. As we’ve done research over the past years to figure out what we want one of the best resources we’ve found is other renovation blogs. Our hope is that you’ll find our story helpful, or entertaining, or both.