Reno Ready

How to brighten a dark apartment in Jackson Heights

By Leah Hochbaum Rosner  | June 14, 2018 - 9:00AM

You'll want to rip up the carpet in this Jackson Heights two bedroom. Beaudoin Realty

Listed for $459,000, this 925-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment at 35-16 82nd St. in Jackson Heights is well priced and a good size, but is much too dark, says Mark Holmquist, an architect based on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. 

“There isn’t a lot of light where the living room is,” he says, explaining that the absence of light in apartment #21—more than anything else—makes it look drab.

In this week’s Reno Ready, Holmquist offers up a number of ideas to illuminate and spruce up this Queens co-op, which can be converted to a three bedroom.


Excavate the living room floor

Floors: Holmquist thinks that there’s probably ancient hardwood flooring beneath the ugly carpet. To save money on an all-new floor, he’d strip and refinish the wood. “I’d go for a rich medium brown, a walnut color,” he says. He likes an in-the-middle shade because lighter shades show wear and tear, and darker tones would seem dingy in a dark room. Stripping and refinishing the hardwood flooring in the entire apartment should cost $10,000-$13,000.

Paint: Holmquist doesn’t care for the peachy-pink shade on the walls, so he’d definitely repaint, after cleaning and repairing the cracks. His preference would be Benjamin Moore’s Decorator’s White, which he calls a “warm white,” in most of the rooms. Painting and plastering the entire apartment will be expensive, around $15,000 to $20,000, but he feels that it’s worth it.

Moldings/Baseboards: Holmquist would rip out the current two-inch crown moldings—which he calls “skimpy”—and replace them with four-inch moldings throughout the entire apartment. “It’ll look more up to date,” he says.

He would also replace all the baseboards since they are likely to have been repainted a ton. “It’ll crisp things up in here and really make a difference,” he says.

New door and window casings are also in order and will help to “clean things up.” He would also paint them Decorator’s White, but would use a glossy finish to make them stand out. New moldings, baseboards, and casings will cost around $15,000.

Wall: Holmquist would like to eliminate the walls separating the “private hall” (as it’s called on the floor plan) from the kitchen, and incorporate that space into the living room. Demo work for the entire apartment will be around $10,000.

Glass doors: These double glass doors don’t really make sense on a bedroom, so he’d replace them with a regular single door and close up the remaining space. Filling in the space will be around $800. This interior door is $169 on

Lighting: “I’d drop the ceiling and get some down-lights in here,” he says. Lights run from $80 to $150, and installation of each light is around $175. Dropping the ceiling would be about $600 to $750 per square foot.

Radiator: Holmquist would replace the radiator cover with a wood one that he’d paint white; this should cost a few hundred dollars.

Window treatments: Holmquist recommends a two-layered approach—“a solar shade (mounted within the frame close to the glass) and a decorative, soft Roman shade on top.” Solar shades from Smith & Noble run about $100. Custom ones will be more, up to $475. A Roman shade will cost $150 to $250, and a custom shade will be pricier, around $750.

Electrical: Holmquist thinks it’s possible that the entire electrical system will need to be replaced. That can cost $20,000 to $30,000.  


Knock down the dining area wall

Wall: “With the linoleum and the chandelier, it definitely looks like they were using this as a sort of dining room,” Holmquist says. If the new owner doesn’t need this as a third bedroom or an office, he suggests knocking down the wall separating it from the kitchen and making a very large open kitchen/dining space.

Floors: Should the owner choose to use it as a bedroom/office, Holmquist recommends pulling up the linoleum to reveal what he thinks will be hardwood underneath. He’d strip and refinish the wood just as he did in the living space. If the owner decides to instead knock down the wall and make this part of the kitchen, then he would continue the kitchen tiles in here.

Moldings/Baseboards: As in the living room, Holmquist would install new crown moldings, baseboards, door casings, and window casings.

Doors: Holmquist isn’t a fan of the old louvered doors on the closet, he would replace them with “simple, elegant” recessed-panel doors. New doors throughout the apartment should cost about $10,000.

Lighting: Holmquist says he would take out the chandelier. If the new occupant decides to incorporate this space into the kitchen, then he’d drop the ceiling to install recessed down-lights since, he says, “you want good overhead, clear lighting.” If he or she opts to keep it as an office space or bedroom, then he’d put up sconces that’ll “shoot light up to the ceiling and create really nice, soft ambient lighting.” These Artemide Molla Wall Lamp sconces are $790 at Modern Planet.

Paint: He’d again select Benjamin Moore’s Decorator’s White for the walls in here.

Radiator: He hates the current radiator cover, so he’d swap it out for a new wooden enclosure that he’d paint white to match the walls. “Some might add bookcases on the sides or boxes for toys,” he says. An enclosure should cost about $1,000.

Window treatments: Holmquist would use a two-layered approach again—a solar shade topped by a soft Roman shade.


How to enlarge the kitchen

Walls: If the new owner decides to open the kitchen to the adjoining dining area/bedroom, Holmquist would demolish the wall separating the two, and relocate the refrigerator to the other side of the kitchen. He’d also like to open up the kitchen more by taking down the top part of the wall behind the sink to create a half wall. “This way, the kitchen window will also bring light into the living room,” he says.

Cabinetry: Holmquist would put in new cabinets. If he keeps the wall behind the fridge, then he’d build a floor-to-ceiling pantry there. “I’d go light because there isn’t a lot of light in the apartment,” he says. If the new owner can afford it, he’d recommend custom-made cerused oak, a natural wood with a finish that enhances the grain. If money’s tight, he’d choose IKEA and go with plain white since “the wood finish won’t be as nice,” he says. Custom-made cerused oak cabinets can cost $35,000. IKEA cupboards would be significantly less, about $7,000.

Floors: Holmquist would install real stone tiles in a slate color. It’ll cost $5,000 with installation; $8,000 if the new tiles will also be put down in the adjacent dining space/bedroom.

Paint: He’d strip the unpleasant wallpaper off the walls and instead paint them the same Decorator’s White as the other rooms.

Countertops: Holmquist would prefer to install Caesarstone countertops in here in a slate color that’ll match the floors. But if the buyer wants to save some cash, he’d choose laminate. Caesarstone costs about $65 per square foot. Laminate would be about $20 a square foot.

Window treatments: Since you don’t need a ton of privacy in a kitchen, Holmquist would put up a simple solar shade.

Lighting: He thinks overhead lights would work well in the kitchen since you really need to see what you’re doing in there, which would require dropping the ceiling. He’d add under-cabinet lighting, as well. These under-cabinet LED strip lights are $34 for four at Wayfair.

Appliances: “They all need to be updated,” Holmquist says, so he’d choose stainless steel pieces that have “a clean, modern look to them.” He’s partial to tall, narrow refrigerators that won’t take up a ton of space in tiny kitchens. He also likes for the freezer to be on the bottom. “Even kids can get into it that way,” he says. 

This Bosch bottom-freezer fridge is $2,159 at Lowe’s. This KitchenAid five burner gas range is $1,149, also at Lowe’s. This GE electric wall oven is $700 at the Sears Outlet. This KitchenAid 30-inch gas cooktop is $1,000 at Best Buy. This 18-inch SPT dishwasher is $385 at The Home Depot.

Sink/Faucet: A new under-mount sink and a new faucet are also in order. This Elkay under-mount sink is $695. This Elkay single-handle pull-down faucet is $290 at The Home Depot.


What's under the bedroom carpet?

Floors: Holmquist says there's likely hardwood flooring underneath the carpet, so he’d pull it off, then strip and refinish the wood, just as he did in the living space.

Paint: He’d pick Decorator’s White for the walls again.

Moldings/Baseboards: He’d also install new crown moldings, baseboards, door casings, and window casings.

Closet: Holmquist would remove the small closet here since he thinks more storage is necessary in a bedroom and it would be hard to make this closet any longer without blocking the window. Instead, he’d build a closet on the opposite side of the room, along the length of the wall, which would cost $10,000-$12,000.

Lighting: He doesn’t like the existing fixture, so he’d put in a new surface-mounted light and add sconces on either side of the bed that’ll “add softness.” Prices for this Cirque flush-mount start at $95 at Lumens. 

Radiator: Again, he’d get a new, custom-made enclosure to conceal the heater. This would cost a few hundred dollars.

Window treatments: Holmquist would also suggest two shades in here—a simple solar shade under an attractive Roman shade.


Repeat the process in the second bedroom

Floors: He’d rip up the carpeting in here, too, then strip and refinish the wood floors underneath.

Paint: He’d go with Decorator’s White in here, as well.

Moldings/Baseboards: He’d mount new crown moldings, baseboards, door casings, and window casings.

Lighting: Holmquist doesn’t love the ceiling fan in here at the moment, so he’d take it down and replace it with a more contemporary piece that doesn’t have lighting in it. Then, he’d put up “simple, non-decorative sconces that just give light.” This white Modern Fan flush-mount ceiling fan is $324 at Lamps Plus.

Closet: “The closet is just crap,” Holmquist says He would have a new one built, and it would also cost $10,000-$12,000.

Radiator: Again, he’d have a new radiator cover made. And since there’s space on either side of the heater, he’d add some storage spaces there, too. This should cost $450 or so.

Window treatments: Once again, to keep things consistent, he’d choose two shades—a solar shade beneath a Roman shade.


Just say no to a yellow bath

“I’d totally gut it,” Holmquist says of this very yellow space.

Walls: First, Holmquist recommends installing moisture-resistant blueboard on the walls under the tiles. He thinks that limestone-colored pre-cut marble tiles would work well here. “If you stagger the joints, it becomes like one continuous surface, like a slab of marble,” he says. “It gives you a more luxurious look.” Blueboard should cost approximately $10,000. These Crema Luna tiles from Artistic Tile are $22 per square foot.

Floor: He’d go with marble here, too, but in a different pattern. “Maybe a pre-made mosaic that’s already laid out in sheets,” he says. This should cost about $32 per square foot.

Tub: Holmquist thinks a new bathtub is necessary here. And if the owner has some cash to spare, he’d suggest getting one with a marble front. This Kohler bathtub is $587 at Marble would “add $8,000 on top on that,” he says.

Shower doors: “I’d probably still do doors here, but on clips, so that all you see is the glass,” he says. Or, if the new occupant prefers, he’d get a single glass panel. “It’s less cluttered,” he says. New doors should cost $800 to $1,000.

Toilet: He’d lose the bright yellow commode. This two-piece Toto toilet is $433 at

Vanity: Holmquist would replace the old vanity with a more modern piece that also offers storage. This Avanity Brooks vanity with marble top and white basin is $1,336 at The Home Depot. A custom vanity would be in the $5,000 range.

Medicine cabinet: “You can buy a simple recessed medicine cabinet and then buy a mirror and have your contractor attach it to the cabinet,” he says. “That way, you’ll get a custom look to it.” This Kohler medicine cabinet is $315 at This frameless beveled mirror is $170 at Lamps Plus.

Lighting: Holmquist would drop the ceiling in here to add down-lights—two over the bathtub that will need to be specially enclosed to keep moisture out, and four or five over the rest of the space.

Fan: “I’d also explore a way to install a bathroom fan to suck out the moisture,” he says. This Air King exhaust bath fan is $114 at The Home Depot.



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