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Do I need an architect to renovate in NYC?

Photos: Sweeten

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The success of any renovation in or outside New York City comes down to the team you hire to do the work. But who exactly should that be beyond a general contractor?  Depending on the scope and scale of your project, you may also need to enlist an architect and/or an interior designer. Below, the experts at Sweeten—the free renovation matchmaking service—break it all down in a handy cheat sheet specifically for New Yorkers.

When you’ll only need a general contractor

A general contractor is the way to go if you’re removing and replacing finishes but keeping major kitchen appliances, bathroom fixtures, walls, gas and plumbing in the same place. This is especially true if you’re comfortable shopping for fixtures and finishes, and working with the contractor and vendors to order materials with the right dimensions and details.

You can do the following with a general contractor, and without hiring an architect:

  • Swap out old appliances for new ones in the kitchen
  • Upgrade kitchen cabinets and countertops
  • Replace or refinish floors throughout the apartment
  • Exchange bathroom fixtures
  • Upgrade lighting

Photo: Sweeten

When you’ll need a general contractor + architect

For more complex renovations, you'll need an architect to draw up the plans and a general contractor to execute the work.

If your renovation includes any of the following, you’ll need both an architect and a general contractor:

  • Making layout changes, such as adding, eliminating or moving walls, or moving rooms around
  • Moving plumbing or gas lines
  • Making structural changes
  • Making electrical upgrades
  • Doing work in a landmark property or one that requires Department of Building (DOB) approvals and architectural plans
  • Gutting your entire apartment
  • Adding a bathroom

When you’ll need a general contractor + interior designer

You can skip the architect and rely on a general contractor if you are simply upgrading the style or efficiency of a room (say, by removing ornamentation to make the space more modern, or adding built-in bookshelves or better closets for storage). However, the expertise of an interior designer can make a big impact on the layout, functionality and style of your renovation.

Hiring both an interior designer and a general contractor is recommended if you’d like help with:

  • Determining the flow of an apartment and how to best make use of the space available
  • Selecting fixtures, furniture, lighting and paint
  • Choosing, ordering and tracking of materials

Photo: Sweeten

When you’ll need them all: general contractor + architect + interior designer

Ideally, if you're gut renovating and redecorating a kitchen and bathroom or entire apartment, you'll want to line up a trifecta of renovation professionals: a general contractor, an architect and an interior designer. You’ll need an architect to design the plans for the new space(s) as well as hire the appropriate consultants and obtain the necessary approvals, then oversee all of the work, plus an interior designer for selection/placement of furniture and finishes and a general contractor to do the construction.

If your renovation includes at least one of the first seven items and one of the last three below, it's recommended to hire a general contractor, architect and interior designer:

  • Making layout changes, such as adding, eliminating or moving walls, or moving rooms around
  • Moving plumbing or gas lines
  • Making structural changes
  • Making electrical upgrades
  • Working in a landmark property or one that requires DOB approvals and architectural plans
  • Gutting your entire apartment
  • Adding a bathroom
  • Determining the flow of an apartment to best make use of the space
  • Selecting fixtures, furniture, lighting and paint
  • Assistance with choosing, ordering and tracking of materials
     

"At Sweeten, we see thousands of renovations, and each one is different. Some people love the gritty details, while others are quickly overwhelmed or too busy to handle it," says Jean Brownhill, founder and CEO. "The common thread of a successful renovation is finding an excellent team; the vetting process for Sweeten general contractors ensures they are great craftsmen and communicators.”


Named “Best Contractor Locator" by New York Magazine, Sweeten is an award-winning, free service that matches homeowners with the best general contractors for their renovation, with support from start to finish. To find more about license requirements for architects, click here, and to see how Sweeten screens its general contractors, click here.

 

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