The most crucial step in a Brooklyn townhouse makeover: picking the right team for the job

By Leigh Kamping-Carder  | October 9, 2014 - 12:59PM

Overhauling a mid-19th century townhouse is an undertaking, to say the least, so we’re always curious to hear from people who’ve done it—or are in the midst of doing it. Michelle Cohen, a writer with the real estate blog 6sqft, is one such intrepid renovator: she’s remaking a four-story, two-family brownstone in Clinton Hill and blogging about her experience.

Though the project isn’t a full gut renovation—she’s not tearing the house down to the studs in the walls—it does seem ambitious. Cohen plans to shift the layout, creating a rental apartment with a new bathroom on the garden level, and a three-floor abode for her family upstairs. The owner’s triplex, as it’s called, will include a new kitchen, updated plumbing and electric, a new air conditioning system, new windows and a landscaped backyard, among other things. Also, since the house is in a historic district, the Landmarks Preservation Commission has to approve all the plans.

Above, blogger Michelle Cohen's Clinton Hill townhouse is filled with decorative woodwork

Since Cohen wants to “get the bulk of the big things done in one fell swoop,” rather than live through an endless string of smaller jobs, one of her most important decisions is to hire the right person to head up the project. “The key to success,” she notes, “is to build a stellar team with one person as the main point of contact and as your advocate.”

Undoubtedly good advice, and there are a few ways to do this: hire an architect, who designs the project and submits drawings for approval, and then enlists a contractor to do the work; hire a contractor, who supervises the project and works with the architect; or hire a project manager, who’s dedicated to overseeing the job, and will likely have architects, contractors and subcontractors in his or her network.

Cohen ultimately goes the architect-led route, wagering that the person who draws up the plans will be the best person to execute them. Luckily, us voyeuristic types will get to see exactly how that decision plays out.


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