NYC Renovation Chronicles

The insider's guide to high-impact, low-budget renovation secrets

By Penny Fallmann May  | March 25, 2010 - 10:35AM
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The Situation

Allison and Peter were a young couple who had just bought a small two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment on the Upper West Side.

They arrived at our first official meeting with the design magazine images they had been collecting for years. There was the perfect kitchen, the most beautiful entry gallery, the very restrained white bathroom, the airy, open living room, etc., etc. They hoped that we would be able to incorporate some or all of these ideas into their “dream” apartment renovation.

At around $80,000, their budget was tight, given that the apartment had last been renovated in the early 1980s. We  needed to find a renovation strategy that would spread their limited budget over the entire apartment.

Here’s the deal

We transformed the entire apartment into a more gracious and consistently pulled-together space by focusing on high-impact improvements and a more modest renovation of the kitchen and bathroom:

  • Instead of gutting the bathroom, we painted it white, reglazed tub, and installed a new toilet
  • Instead of replacing the kitchen, we replaced the butcher block countertop with white caesarstone, and we installed new cabinet doors.
  • We replaced the odd collection of poor quality flat and paneled doors with new solid-wood recessed-paneled ones in bedrooms, bathrooms, and closets. We installed new French doors in the living room and the kitchen.
  • For a more generous and airy feeling, we raised by eight inches all doorways in the public areas of the apartment, from more typical heights of 6’ 8” to 7’ 4”.
  • Instead of replacing all the wood floors, which were in poor condition, we replaced the most visible areas, in the living room and foyer.  We used quarter sawn oak longboards (3 ½”wide max). This grade of oak has a very tight grain and is considered to be the best quality, just like the floors in the galleries at the Met and the MOMA.
  • We painted the brown anodized aluminum window frames white. The dark frames are very distracting. Typically spray paint can be applied to the frames. (Keep in mind that touch-ups are always necessary, given that this is not a factory finish.)
  • We painted the entire apartment white, using the one shade of white for walls and trim but a different finish for each--walls in eggshell, trim in satin. The difference in finish creates a very subtle color change from wall to trim.
  • We installed painted wood paneling in the foyer to set a very gracious tone for the entire apartment. The painted wood paneling can be installed from floor to ceiling or up to roughly three quarters of the wall height.
  • We installed picture molding throughout the apartment to create a continuous line to stop the wall paint or wallpaper. It’s especially effective if there are many irregular ceiling beams, as the picture molding is installed just below the lowest beam.

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