Making Your Home Feel Bigger On a Budget: Our 5 Home Depot Hacks

Living in New York, we’re no strangers to tiny closets, narrow hallways, and “cozy” charm. But, no matter where you live, it can be a real challenge to figure out how to make the most of your home’s footprint. Whether your first home is a cute bungalow, a 50’s style ranch, a fixer-upper craftsman, or an old-school place like ours, we could all use some more space!

When we closed on our first home in 2018–a classic brownstone in Bed Stuy–we quickly realized the challenge that lay ahead: renovating this modest space with an equally modest budget. 

However, with determination, creativity, and a little help from The Home Depot, we successfully embarked on a DIY renovation adventure, which eventually morphed into a thriving small business!  Now, as the Brownstone Boys, we help folks all over Brooklyn figure out how to maximize their space while sticking to their budgets. 

Here are our top hacks to help you unlock the potential of your new home without spending a small fortune: 

Breaking Up the Basement: 

The basement is often an overlooked area, which, with a little imagination, can add valuable square footage to your home. And as our small business grew, we knew we needed to create more space at our place to host meetings and clients. While our basement had lots of room, with the boiler and mechanicals on full display, it wasn’t inviting or usable. Inspired by the speakeasies of the 1920s, we designed a new slab wall to close off the unsightly mechanicals and create a warm wood look–for less! 

At Home Depot, we grabbed an RYOBI ONE 18V Cordless Miter Saw, some Varathane Classic Wood Stain, and plenty of Furring Strip Board to assemble our new wall. 

Now, with that quick, budget refresh, we feel more comfortable and confident than ever having clients over to our basement workspace. Our takeaway? Sometimes, it’s more efficient and cost-effective to section off an eyesore in the basement so that you can enjoy the rest of the space surrounding it.  

The Power of Color:

When your square footage isn’t budging, color can be your best friend in creating the illusion of openness. We know what you’re thinking–white paint everywhere, right? However, for this project, we relied on the opposite: a dark, Hunter Green Rustoleum paint to create contrast in our bathroom reno.

First, we used our RYOBI Portable Table Saw to get the perfect cuts on the door so we could install a frosted window feature with a vintage look. Then, we got to painting with our gorgeous dark green from HD! 

Painting a smaller focal point (like a door or window frame) in a darker color compared to its lighter surroundings draws your eye in a way that makes a space feel larger by contrast. We love picking up little tricks like this one that allow you to create the illusion of more space using color and natural light. The best part? No need to bring down any walls to make your room feel bigger!

Unleashing Outdoor Potential:

Whether you have a sprawling, overgrown backyard, a small patio, or even a stoop, you can always elevate your available outdoor space! Especially when the weather’s nice, having a comfortable, welcoming outdoor area will make your home’s footprint feel much larger. When we first moved in, our small, neglected backyard was hardly where you’d want to spend a relaxing evening. But, with a bit of elbow grease and some strategic budget buys from Home Depot, we took our yard from forgotten to unforgettable! 

To get started, we brought in this Sun Joe compact push mower to turn our yard into a clean slate. Once everything was cleared up, we grabbed these treated Weathershield planks to create gorgeous planters that would keep our greenery from Home Depot contained and tidy. 

The finishing touch? A scattering of clean marble chip landscaping rock by Vigoro

With just a few budget-friendly changes (and ok, a lot of elbow grease), our backyard has become a favorite hangout spot for movie nights, iced tea with neighbors, and of course, the perfect nap place for Zuko! 

Our three C’s for renovating your Outdoor Paradise: clean, curate, and customize!  

Strip It Down: 

If your first home happens to be an older house (like ours) then you’re probably familiar with painted-over woodwork and finishes, a.k.a the “landlord special”. These bulky, uneven coats of white paint can be an eyesore and give a cluttered, rough look to a room.

When we first got the keys to our brownstone, we knew we would need to do A LOT of stripping to reveal some of the natural wood beauty of our classic home. Wood is nature’s own little trick to make any room feel bigger, thanks to its reflective qualities and elongated grain patterns. 

Using the Wagner Paint Eater, Klean-Strip Paint Remover, and some good old-fashioned steel wool (along with the proper PPE), we uncovered some hidden gems! 

Now, our guests always comment on how the natural wood draws light into our space. This easy DIY brings a touch of the outdoors into your space and adds a great complement to your houseplants or any wood furniture. 

Another quick hack–don’t have any original woodwork in your house? You can create the same effect with a great coffee table, wooden bookshelves, or even side tables, like these from Home Depot. 

Storage, Storage, Storage: 

This Home Depot Hack is for those who are just dipping their toes into the world of DIY and want a quick, cost-effective, and simple solution to free up some space at home. When it comes to creating an open, inviting layout, storage is absolutely essential. 

In Brooklyn, we’re seeing a huge trend of folks repurposing industrial, metal furniture like lockers, cabinets, and shelving for storage. It’s easy to find these items online, at rummage sales, or even at the junkyard at budget-friendly prices! Now, you’re going to need a little Home Depot magic to get these pieces from worn down and rusty to gorgeous and space-saving.  

With these wire brushes from Anvil, you’ll be able to get old, chipped paint off of every nook and cranny. Once your surface is prepped, you’re ready for a few coats of Rust-Oleum 5-in-1 spray paint in the color of your choice!  

We recently worked the same magic on a vintage iron bench we snagged online and we’re so, so pleased with the results

So, whether you’re a first-time homeowner trying to maximize your space, or a seasoned renovator in search of a new project, remember – it’s all about using what you have to your advantage. And sometimes, all you need is a touch of creativity, the right tools, and a little bit of the Brownstone Boys’ inspiration!

Our Secrets (don’t tell!) About the Costs of Renovating a Brownstone

Living in a historic brownstone or townhouse in Brooklyn or Manhattan is a dream for many people. The original woodwork, beautiful plaster mouldings, grand staircases, and iconic stoops on tree-lined streets are too much to just to look onto from afar. You might have come to conclusion that the best path to have one of your own is to buy a fixer upper and build your dream home. Seeing the price tag of available listings is pretty straight forward, but what about the renovation? How much does it cost to restore those beautiful 100+ year old original features, build spaces for modern living, and repair the home to last another 100 years? It’s difficult to even understand if the purchase price you’re looking at is feasible for you without understanding the other side of the equation. If you’re ready to start searching for the right place, we can help! 

A good place to start is trying to get a handle on exactly how much work is needed. There are 2 basic things you’ll want to understand: What the condition of the place is and how much you’re changing the configuration. If you walk in to view a home, the kitchens and bathrooms are relatively where you want them and it appears to all have been modernized in the last couple of decades, you might be able to get away with a smaller scope cosmetic project. If you walk in and see aging mechanicals, deteriorating plaster, crooked floors, as well as a kitchen on the wrong floor and bathrooms in entirely wrong places, then the most likely scenario is that is that you’re going to be doing a fairly large scope gut renovation. That doesn’t at all mean that the historic features and charm would be removed, but it will take some work to restore it all and integrate it into the modern home with historic charm you’re dreaming of.

We have a secret to tell you. It might be the best piece of advice we have for anyone shopping for a fixer-upper brownstone. When you bounce around from open house to open house you’ll see places that you immediately know will be a huge project: plaster falling off the ceiling, carpet that reeks of cat urine, old dirty bathrooms, and ancient electrical panels. And you’ll see places that look entirely habitable: Freshly painted walls, historic charm in great shape, a kitchen that looks like it was installed within the decade (be it in the wrong place), and the electrical doesn’t look like a fire hazard. With the latter you might think you have hit the jackpot on a place that just needs some walls moved and some TLC. You might think, although the price tag is higher at least it is a smaller renovation. Our word of warning is the project size and cost may not be all that different between them. If your plan includes moving bathrooms, creating a big beautiful primary bathroom and closet, reconfiguring bedrooms, relocating the kitchen to the parlor floor where there is none, and adding a powder room – that is a major reconfiguration. After all of those walls are moved the floors and ceilings will need to be addressed, not to mention that crooked floors will look even more crooked next to all of the new features so those might need to be fixed too. You end up re-doing (or resurfacing) most of the walls, ceilings, and floors. Finally, once the plumber and electrician redo half of what’s there for the new layout, they’ll likely want (or need) to replace it all. There is code as recent as the 2,000’s that everything will need to be brought up to. Oh, and what about HVAC? The point is that although a building may initially look like less work since you feel you could move into it as-is if needed, it might very well be the same scope and cost to make it into your dream home as the place with carpet that reeks of cat urine, ancient electrical panels, and deteriorating plaster. So why pay more for the place that only appears to offer you a smaller scope project. 

Since a lot of things go into such a big project, we need a quick way to estimate costs and one of the quickest ways to get a general idea of budget is to use a price per square foot and apply it to the square footage of the home. A price per square foot for the entire house will give you a general idea of the total cost for a renovation and it takes into account that there is a new kitchen, a few bedrooms, several new bathrooms, electrical, plumbing, and HVAC…etc. While it’s not a bad way to generalize the cost of a complete home renovation, it’s really just to give you a quick idea so that you can have an estimation, for instance, if you’re trying to figure out if the fixer-upper you viewed fits your budget including the renovation.  Keep in mind that there may be a feature of your renovation that might push the costs up outside of the price per square foot, one big example of that would be adding an addition to the home which comes with many more costs than renovating within the home’s footprint. For something like that you might want to treat it as a separate line item. Ok! So you’ve got it and just want the numbers, we hear you, and we’re here to give them to you!

One last thing, you should know that we do renovations in New York City and the numbers in some of our examples might be more in line with renovating in New York or other big cities. We provided a range so that you can adjust if you live in a place with a lower cost of living. The low end of the range can be used for areas where the cost of living is less and the high end is for areas where the cost of living is higher. That’s true for contractor and labor expenses, but costs for finish items would likely be the same since we get those items from all over the country and world and many of the suppliers we purchase from are national. Ok ok… the numbers! 

Total home reno price per square foot budgeting:

• Budget conscious reno with low-cost finishes, little to no structural work, and limited to no configuration changes: $125-$175 psf

• Mid-range reno with mostly basic finishes, some upgrades, some structural work, and some configuration changes:  $175-$200 psf 

• Mid range reno with nice finishes, some splurges, a fair amount of structural work, and a lot of configuration changes:  $200-$275 psf

• High-end renovation with structural work, total configuration change, and high-end finishes: $300-$400 psf 

• Super high-end renovation with a name recognition architect, designer, and all high-end best-of-class finishes. $400+ psf

Hopefully you can find yourself in one of those buckets and you can generalize the cost of renovating your fixer upper or existing home! There are a lot of ranges there so if you’re having trouble landing in one, we would suggest that the once in a lifetime dream home you are envisioning is probably in the upper $200’s-lower $300s psf.

If you are adding an addition to the building since there is so much foundation, concrete, steel, and structural work we would estimate that line item at $700-750 psf. 

Now, that gives you the hard costs of the renovation but there are other expenses you should take into consideration as well. Depending on the size of your project you will likely need an architect, engineers, and city filings. Those costs can vary depending on the scope you have but you’ll want to budget $35,000-$60,000 (but it could be higher as well). If it’s a larger project and you won’t be living in the home during the process (we highly recommend that you don’t) you’ll want to include carrying costs like the cost of the mortgage, insurance, utility bills, and/or alternative accommodations while the work is being done. These are all soft costs. 

Finally, don’t forget to include a 10-15% contingency. There are almost always additional expenses that come up during the renovation. Once walls, floors, and ceilings are opened up it’s quite possible that some repairs may be needed that were not seen before. You also may have to or want to alter a design to account for conditions onsite. These items are called change orders. They can be stressful, so if you have a budget included for them it can make the process much smoother. 

Restoring and renovating a historic home can be a perfect path to owning a piece of history. It will have had many owners before you, some who may have arrived at its doorstep in horse and carriage, and it will likely have owners after you. These well-lived homes are often part of a thriving community that we hold dear and being a part of its significant life is something that’s just very special. Happy renovating!

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One Room Challenge: Week 4, The Gathering of Materials

Photo: Repurposed Doors found through a vendor on ebay will be installed throughout the speakeasy


Repurposed doors found through a vendor on ebay will be installed throughout the speakeasy

How are we already halfway through this Springs One Room Challenge!? While a lot of work has been done our list of to-do’s seems like it’s getting longer and longer. Last weekend was hot and your boys spent the entire time in the basement making sure framing was complete. The good news is that we’re done with framing and excited to report that new electrical is in place and drywall has even started to go up! Now we are going to focus on the skim coating, finishing the concrete floors, and making sure all items are onsite – ready to go in. We think (and pray) all the above will go in much quicker than the painful process of getting everything cleared and the new framing that went into it. We definitely did not go with an easy space to transform. The good news is, we’re having a lot of fun with it (even having dance parties!) and we’re making some incredible progress!

Framing complete! Cannot wait to get drywall on the columns in order for us to add some arches

The Laundry area is now framed. This will be the real speakeasy within the speakeasy 🙂

Goal complete! We got drywall up (a little counts, right!?)

While we focus less on the construction-y part of the makeover, something behind the scenes we’ve been working on is gathering all our finish materials! We know that’s what you want to see! Our millwork rendering has been completed and in the hands now of our friend Ethan Abramsom who is helping build our row of custom cabinetry. We decided to utilize additional storage for samples and other items so we will do a mix of closed cabinetry and glass to display nicer items. Think of old school apothecary medicine cabinets! 

We’re very excited that our “werk table” is almost ready for pickup! A new local favorite, Self Made Build, has been building a custom 7’ walnut table that is extendable. We are adding black brackets to the table to tie in the effect of old vs. new. 

We also have been hard at work ordering all our lights, furniture and other finishes that will go in the new space! This can be a time consuming process. There’s a million options out there and we needed a way to find the perfect options and get them quickly.  We’re excited to announce that we’re working with ebay on this space! ebay, for years, has been on our favorite ways to source….pretty much anything!  Here’s why ebay is the perfect partner for us:

Repurposing old windows from a construction project of ours!

The New & Necessary 

There are so many items that we need to find a quick, easy, and inexpensive source for. We need recessed lights, hardware, and door knobs. We were able to find what we needed, save a few bucks, and have it onsite quickly to keep the project moving. 

The Local

That’s right, we like shopping locally on eBay! It’s especially helpful for items that are easier to pick up or have locally delivered. We sourced vintage doors from a seller that is about an hour away and delivers for free. It’s also a great option for vintage furniture items. We love being able to support our local antique shops, salvage yards, vintage stores from our couch in the evening when we have time. 

Our tin ceilings have arrived! So excited to install these beauties from American Tin Ceiling

The Antique/One-of-a-Kind
One of the things we love most about shopping on eBay is all of the one-of-a-kind items. We can find almost anything we want just by searching. And while we love shopping locally, sometimes what we want may not be available locally.  It’s just so amazing to be able to shop at an antique store half way across the country or even in another country if we need to. That opens up so many more options and helps us find the perfect items. We searched high and low locally for vintage dining chairs that we couldn’t find, but we found them in Missouri! 

With 4 more weeks remaining until our big reveal, we need to get back to work!  It’s going to be a long road to get to the end of the race but we are starting to have faith that everything will come together. Your support and energy is helping us get through it all! So a big thank you! We’re also incredibly motivated by the other 19 featured designers and their incredible transformations. Check out their progress and give them a follow! To everyone else taking on the Spring 2021 One Room Challenge, we’re cheering you on from our basement in Brooklyn! We got this!

Media BH&G | TM ORC

If you’re wanting to take a look back to see how we got here, check out our past ORC posts

A very special thank you to our sponsors for this event