Location, location, location: That, says New York City-based architect Robert Wilkanowski, is what will bring buyers in to see (and possibly purchase) this $799,000 three-bedroom co-op in Fort Greene at 135 Ashland Place.
However, Wilkanowski suspects that the building itself—part of a five-building complex that was erected in 1957—“might not be in the greatest shape.”
Many older buildings like this one have outdated electrical or plumbing systems that will need to be replaced since they aren’t up to code, he explains. As this can be costly, he cautions would-be buyers to check in with the proper authorities (here, either the co-op board or building management) to ensure that everything is indeed on the up and up.
Also, he adds, “With all this space, you definitely need more than just one-and-a-half bathrooms.”
Below, Wilkanowski sketches out what he’d do to fix up this space. His recommendations:
The living room (pictured above)
“The floor here definitely looks salvageable,” says Wilkanowski, noting that it appears as though it might have been refinished not too long ago. Beyond that, the architect doesn’t think that much can (or should) be saved.
“I see potentially some water damage to the left of the radiator, possibly to do with bad window installation,” he says, noting that the windows appear to be double-glazed, which means that they have to have been a more recent addition as they didn’t exist in the 1950s. And if these current windows are in fact to blame for the problem, he advises replacing them again. That is, if the building gives you permission to do so.
Due to the water damage, he recommends repainting the walls in white or something similarly neutral. He’d also put in new window treatments. “I like wood Venetian blinds or solar shades or even a floor-to-ceiling drape” since each of those options make for a cleaner look. “But that’s definitely a personal choice,” he says.
He’d also put in new radiator enclosures since the current ones “look a little beat up.”
Looking up to the popcorn ceiling above, Wilkanowski suggests scraping off the cottage cheese bits, adding a plaster skim and repainting it with a flat white. The popcorn ceiling, he says, “drags shadows across the ceiling.” Once it’s been repainted, “light will hit the apartment more gracefully.” (Of course, there’s also the worrisome chance that asbestos might be present in the textured parts since using it in popcorn ceilings wasn’t banned until 1977—after this unit was built. If a buyer is really concerned, he can send a sample to a lab to have it tested. If it’s negative, he’s free to scrape to his heart’s content. If, however, asbestos is found, it's important to find a specialist to deal with its removal or just leave the ceiling as is since experts contend that it’s not dangerous if left undisturbed. Simply cover it with a new coating of drywall.)
In addition, while he feels that the room could be brighter, overhead lighting isn’t the way to go here. The ceiling is “a solid concrete slab,” he says, meaning that installing high hats will be a complicated and costly endeavor. And anyway, Wilkanowski detests them. “The trick to good lighting is not to blast light from the ceiling, but to keep it at eye level,” he says. “It makes for a much cozier, homier feeling.” Here, he’d go with “sconces or floor lamps that direct the light down.”
Next, he advises ripping out and replacing the baseboards—the trim running around the walls at the floor—since you can see that a multitude of wires have been stapled to it over the years and because it shows many layers of paint. Tearing them out “will clean it up and make the wall look crisper,” he says.
Price: A gallon of Benjamin Moore Decorator’s White for the walls costs $69.99. Wilkanowski estimates it might cost around $1,800 to skim and repaint the ceiling. A gallon of Benjamin Moore Waterborne ceiling paint costs $39.99. Stock radiator covers, like these from Fichman Furniture and Radiator Covers, cost a few hundred dollars. Custom ones, in the thousands. These George Nelson-designed sconces from Design Within Reach are $335.75 each. Prices for these wooden Levolor Venetian blinds at The Home Depot start at $127. Labor—including potentially replacing the windows, replacing the baseboards and doing the actual painting—will, of course, add on to these costs.
The dining room
First, Wilkanowski advises ripping out the ancient-looking wallpaper, then he’d plaster-patch, skim-coat, and repaint the walls. Probably white to keep up the continuity between the dining room and living room.
Next, he recommends losing the equally dated chandelier in favor of something more modern, like this Logico Single Ceiling suspended light from Design Within Reach.
The floors here look fine, just as they did in the living room, so they can probably be saved, so long as they get a good cleaning.
In addition, Wilkanoski finds the rectangular table is “huge for this room.” Instead, he’d prefer a round or glass-topped table for this space. Both would “make the room feel bigger.” He’d also get rid of the bar cart currently holding the microwave and try to make space for the appliance elsewhere.
Price: Wilkanowski estimates that getting rid of the wallpaper, plaster-patching, skim coating and repainting the walls should be around $1,000. A gallon of Benjamin Moore Decorator’s White is $69.99. Labor will add on to these costs. The Logico Single Ceiling chandelier from Design Within Reach is $1,225. This round dining table from Ethan Allen is $2,279.
First things first, those retro mustard-colored cabinets have got to go, says Wilkanowski. What to replace them with? “It all depends on the look they want,” he says, and, of course, on the amount of money they’re able to shell out. Depending on the client’s budget, he’d recommend going either the IKEA or custom route.
Next, he’d opt for a new stainless steel undermount sink and a new faucet in a further effort to modernize the space. He’d also get a new stove and a new refrigerator—specifically one that doesn’t stick out beyond the counter as the current one does and make the kitchen look even smaller than it already is. A counter-depth fridge would “save precious inches here,” he says. “You could also probably sneak in a dishwasher between the range and the sink.”
Then, Wilkanowski would install under-cabinet lights—not overhead lighting. He feels that ceiling lights “are useless for cooking as they’re going to cast a shadow.”
He’d swap out the existing countertops for stone. Wilkanowski likes a dark stone (like Concordia from Stone Source). “It looks like slate, but is hard as granite and not as susceptible to stains from oil,” he says. For the floors, “if you like that slate look,” he’d recommend Pietra Bedonia, also from Stone Source.
As for where to put the microwave, Wilkanowski says he’d like to think of the kitchen and dining room as “one contiguous space.” As such, he suggests taking the countertop where the sink is and continuing it to the wall where the window is. “It’s a nice way to extend the utility of the kitchen,” he says, noting that that newly elongated counter area can hold the microwave or “some candlesticks or your Seder plate.”
And of course, he’d rip off that old-fashioned wallpaper and paint the walls white instead.
Price: Pricing for these glass-fronted Sektion IKEA cabinets starts at $100. Of course, you’d need to purchase a few of them to fill the kitchen walls. A suite of custom cabinets like those from Seattle-based Henrybuilt are “very expensive, $25,000 and up,” says Wilkanowski. This Kohler undermount sink can be purchased from Home Depot for $600. This Kohler faucet is $325 from Lowe’s, and a Liebherr 24-inch counter-depth refrigerator can be bought for $1,929. This stainless steel range is $674.99 at Best Buy. This 24-inch Bosch dishwasher is $622 at CompactAppliances.com. Under-cabinet lights are a few hundred to install.
Prices for countertops and floor tiles vary greatly, but Wilkanowski estimates it could be anywhere from $30 to $80 a square foot. Or more. The cost of elongating the counter will depend on your chosen contractor, but it’s probably in the thousands. A gallon of Benjamin Moore Decorator’s White costs $69.99. Labor is more.
First, Wilkanowski would rip out the baseboards, as he did in the living room, in order “to clean up the wall.” In doing so, he’d also rip out all the random wires and any unused phone jacks that are simply cluttering up the space.
He’d repaint the walls here, he says, noting that “a warm gray” is calming and conducive to sleep. “But the color you choose is obviously a personal choice.” The ceiling should get a few new coats of white, too.
He’d replace the window treatments, again with wood Venetian blinds or solar shades or a floor-to-ceiling drape—depending on the client’s tastes. He’d also get a new radiator cover here, as well since it looks nicer and it’s safer (for small children and pets).
And while he likes the idea of the table lamps since they don’t shine harshly from above, but are at a person’s eye level when they’re in bed, he doesn’t particularly like these. He’d prefer something with a more modern bent.
Last, he’d exchange the present closet doors for floor-to-ceiling doors. “You’ll get so much extra storage space that way,” he explains.
Price: A can of gray paint is under $70. A gallon of Benjamin Moore Waterborne ceiling paint costs $39.99. Prices for these solar shades start at $68.99 at blinds.com. Stock radiator covers, like these from Fichman Furniture and Radiator Covers, are a few hundred dollars. Custom ones can cost thousands. This cigar table lamp is $335.75 at Design Within Reach. Pricing for floor-to-ceiling closet doors is hard to pin down, but expect to shell out anywhere from a few hundred (for stock doors) to a few thousand (for custom ones), depending on what you like and can afford. Labor, including tearing out those baseboards, will tack on to these costs.
“Thinking economically here, the tub looks nice, so I’d leave it,” says Wilkanowski, noting that he might have it reglazed if only to give it the same shiny new look the rest of the bathroom will have. (Of course, you could replace the tub—this one is just $129 at Home Depot—but installing it can get pricey, especially if any new pipe needs to be laid.) Although he’d keep the tub, he’d still get new tub fixtures and a new showerhead because the ones there now are presumably rather old. He also recommends glass shower doors instead of the grungy curtain because it’ll look more ship-shape.
It’s a little hard to tell the condition from the photos, but Wilkanowski doesn’t think that the wall or floor tiles look too shabby. “They’re kind of quaint,” he says. “You can just get the crud out of the joints and regrout it.” (This’ll be easy to do if you’re handy with a grout saw and have the patience to unhurriedly scour between each tile before applying the new filling. If not, hire someone who’s handy and patient, instead.) But he does think that the wallpaper needs replacing. He’d rip it off the walls and paint them instead.
He’d replace the existing, traditional vanity with a wall-mounted piece like this one. “There’s a space underneath it so you can see the whole floor,” he says. “It makes for a much cleaner look.”
He’d also opt for a new medicine cabinet and a new toilet. “All white, this time,” he says, explaining that he isn’t the biggest fan of the current wood-toned toilet seat.
In addition, Wilkanowski says he’d discard the fault-finding overhead lighting and instead get sconces on either side of the mirror. “Having the light at face level means fewer shadows,” he says. “It puts the light exactly where you want it—at eye level, where it’ll be most flattering.”
Price: Reglazing a bathtub is usually under $100. This Grohe tub and shower faucet combo is $222.75. Prices for new shower doors start at $119.93 at Home Depot. This tub of tile grout is $8.30. A gallon of Benjamin Moore Decorator’s White costs $69.99. This wall-mounted vanity from BathroomPlace.com is $740. This faucet is $160, also from BathroomPlace.com. This Robern medicine cabinet is $1,249. This Toto toilet is under $200 at Home Depot. These sconces cost $335.75 each. Labor will, of course, be more.
There are a number of patchy paint areas here—above the radiator, by the curtain rod, just under the ceiling and the ceiling itself—and these can easily be resolved with a few new coats of paint. Once again, Wilkanowski says to stick with a neutral white or a warm gray that will help you nod off easily and peacefully.
He’d opt for a new radiator enclosure here too since the current one looks tired. “Paint it the same color as the wall so it blends in,” he says.
Next, he’d replace the window treatments, going again with the client’s choice of either wooden Venetian blinds, solar shades or a floor-to-ceiling curtain.
He’d also rip out the baseboards in an effort to tidy up the walls.
Last, Wilkanowski would swap in some new table lamps here as he isn’t a fan of the old-fashioned look of the existing ones. He’d choose something with a more contemporary feel.
Price: A can of gray paint is less than $70. A gallon of Benjamin Moore Waterborne ceiling paint is $39.99. Stock radiator covers, like these from Fichman Furniture and Radiator Covers, are a few hundred dollars. Custom ones can cost thousands. Prices for these solar shades start at $68.99 at blinds.com. This table lamp is $335.75 at Design Within Reach. Labor will, once again, add to these prices.
It appears that this extremely cluttered third bedroom is currently being used an office. Wilkanowski would treat this room the same as the other bedrooms—new paint for the walls and ceiling, a new radiator cover, new window treatments, and new lamps.
He’d also pull up the rug to reveal the wood floor underneath. Hopefully it’ll be just as usable as the flooring in the remainder of the unit, says Wilkanowski.
Price: This can of gray paint is less than $69.99. This can of white ceiling paint is $39.99. Stock radiator enclosures (such as these) cost a few hundred dollars. Custom ones will be more. Prices for these solar shades start at $68.99 at blinds.com. These George Nelson-designed sconces from Design Within Reach are $335.75 each.
First, Wilkanowski would scrape off the out-of-date wallpaper and paint the walls and ceiling a neutral white. Then, he’d replace pretty much everything else in the space—the vanity, sink, medicine cabinet, toilet and light fixture—as it all looks like it’s seen better days.
Price: A gallon of Benjamin Moore Decorator’s White is $69.99. A can of Benjamin Moore Waterborne ceiling paint costs $39.99. This wall-mounted vanity from BathroomPlace.com is $740. This faucet is $160, also from BathroomPlace.com. This Robern medicine cabinet costs around $1,250. This Toto toilet is under $200 at Home Depot. These sconces cost $335.75 each. Labor—including removing the wallpaper and cleaning up the walls—will be more.
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