I always think it’s important to see how projects start out, to demonstrate how every room has potential. It’s very likely there’s a “before” photo somewhere in this mix that looks a lot like your house. Click the photo or title above to link through to the videos. (If you prefer no music when the videos play, please lower the volume on your device.)
Talk about a room with a view. Steven had snagged one of the city’s most prized apartments, overlooking Gramercy Park. Even before we renovated, the space took your breath away. But the last thing Steve wanted was a glitzy makeover. His goal was to create a calm, zen-like home that respected the area’s history. All I can say is, the ghosts of this building must be very happy with this wonderfully self-effacing redesign, handcrafted to the standards of the 19th century: original coved beams were matched by a European artisan; wood wainscoting took weeks to perfect; handmade tile, hand-planed walnut floors, reclaimed lighting and hardware are exquisite without being showy. The original steel casement windows inspired the kitchen cabinets, fitted with vintage glass panels and Timorous Beasties wallpaper. My favorite things about this renovation are the things we did “wrong:” we made a 1BR into a studio and replaced the tub with a walk-in shower (real estate rules one is never supposed to break). Yet after it was done, the broker who’d sold the place walked in, looked around for one minute, and breathlessly exclaimed that he could double the price of investment. Fantastic. But Steve’s not selling.
Mary’s garden-level Harlem home was beyond charming, with light flooding in from french doors at the back, and a lovingly curated collection of antiques. She’d already made several improvements before we met: removing some walls, painting the brick white and the ceiling grey. All she needed was a kitchen that fit with the warm nest she’d created. By extending the footprint out to include a small niche between the old kitchen and a closet, we were able to fit in a dishwasher plus sorely-needed storage and counter space. We swapped the stone tiles of the old kitchen for cork that matches the dark wood floors, making for a continuous sweep of color. We kept the original rough-hewn open shelves, carefully piecing scraps to blend into new cabinets, which are kitted out with hoosier hardware. Rather than the usual under-cabinets pucks, three library sconces are mounted to the wall, and the surfeit of fluorescent ceiling fixtures are replaced with more elegant choices. The bridge faucet, curvy fridge and farm sink are right at home with Mary’s vintage dishes and canisters.
Susan has one of those wonderful, sun-drenched, high-ceilinged old apartments that is filled with charming antiques and flowers from her country garden. On any given day, vegetables from the same are ripening on the counter. It’s a warm and welcoming home, but her 1980s formica kitchen was on its last legs, and compared to the other rooms, an eyesore. It would have been a tragedy to install sleek new cabinets, which would have made the lovingly broken-in walls and floors look worn. It didn’t make financial sense to do a gut renovation; what was called for was a sensitive update that would make the whole place look fresh. When I walked in and saw her vintage sideboard, with its warm chestnut color, I knew we had our inspiration. New cabinets, made from reclaimed and hand-distressed Douglas Fir, look as though they’d been built back in the day. Now the kitchen fits with the rest of the home and makes efficient use of the tiny but tall space.
Cathy wanted a kitchen that lives in the here and now but her husband had inherited a cache of beloved antiques that no one wanted to part with. How to resolve those two impulses? Nothing brings old furniture to life like a modern setting, and in this case, the answer really was black and white. Graphic rugs, tile, and sleek modern cabinets marry old to new using this simple palette. Meanwhile, previous “ruinivations” that had chopped off period details mid-wall were fixed. We restored the moldings and doorways of this pre-war gem to their former glory and used shades of grey to highlight them.
Aari & Barbara did a complete gut renovation that encompassed a new kitchen, an en-suite master bath, a laundry room / guest bath, and converted a closet into a bath for their son, Simon. Aari, an architect by training, had already designed a smart floor plan before we met. The idea was we were going to pick out all the tiles and paint colors in the two weeks before construction was due to start. Ha! That’s not exactly what happened: For months, every material and color was fretted over and every choice worried into perfection, with stunning results uniquely suited to them. The glass-backed bookcase, which replaces a non-structural wall, is a particularly nice touch.
Pam and Rick’s duplex penthouse is nearly eye-level with many of the city’s art deco skyscrapers, and the family wanted to capture that famously optimistic vibe when they renovated two bathrooms and a kitchen. Custom touches are everywhere, including an ultra-deep soaking tub with waterfall overflow into the marble shower. This glamorous apartment pulls out all the stops, just like the city itself.
Alex did what a lot of book lovers do: Each time he outgrew the available shelves, he added another bookcase. But then it kind of took over. An enthusiast of the cosmos and space exploration, his prized “Moonwalk” photo was soon buried in a sea of mismatched disposable furniture. He needed a relaunch. This gut renovation creates a modern library atmosphere, replacing random bookcases with carefully engineered built-ins that incorporate media equipment, lighting, a work space, and HVAC units. Reworked doorways and traffic patterns add a dressing room where there had been a cramped hallway, while ribbed-glass pocket doors offer both light and privacy. The new design gives his Astronaut-autographed photo pride of place, and a gilded star map is hand-painted on the entry wall. And, although you’d never notice them, space-age technology and aging-in-place safety features are seamlessly integrated throughout the home.
From the start, it was a battle of the boxes. On the first day I met Kara she said, “Don’t mind the boxes, I’m sorting through all that.” But as a building owner with multiple tenants, renovations and projects to manage, her reality is an endless amount of *stuff* that needs a place to live. Short on square footage and closets, her one-bedroom had one valuable untapped resource: having been carved out of the parlor floor of an 1890s rowhouse, the ceilings were nearly 12 feet tall. There was no place to go but UP. The other big challenge was how to fix the ungainly 1970s remodel that had left a mishmash of random ceiling and door heights, and shoe-horned an ugly brown kitchen into a tiny, ill-ventilated alcove. The key change was to pull the kitchen out into the central space and turn the old kitchen into a laundry room / pantry. Powerful wall fans ensure good ventilation and energy efficiency. A unifying wood frame tames the doorways, and the dead space above is now a large attic that absorbs all the boxes. Refacing the fireplace and adding tomato-red lights, cheery wallpaper and a few hits of black accents snaps this Victorian into modern life.
Louise and Joe have a fabulous place overlooking Central Park, but their 1980s formica kitchen wasn’t cutting it. The only thing we kept was the vintage poster that inspired the European bistro look. A classic black & white checkerboard floor (a la Buster the Cat), gets the lux treatment in cobbled stone. The seating area saw a dramatic makeover with a chocolate-velvet banquette and reclaimed Vienna cafe set. The red accent wall gestures towards the Italian stove, painted at the Ferrari factory.
Having tackled three prior renovations at their city place, it was my pleasure to collaborate on a new kitchen for Mary and Rob’s country house. The woodsy cabin was just that: packed with original pine bead-board, ceiling beams, and a wood floor. It was too much of a good thing. The old kitchen tried to break out of all that wood with white cabinets, but they looked pasted on and overly fussy. Instead, we calmed things down with a transparent grey stain on riff-cut oak cabinets, slate floors, and a stone counter that echoes the trees outside. The modern appliances include an induction cooktop, with a propane burner as backup for times when the power goes out. The enlarged island makes a perfect gathering spot for houseguests but preserves the cook’s traffic patterns.
A few years back, TJ had refaced his kitchen cabinets in a quickie makeover he now hated. He needed a more streamlined look to better match his collection of classic modern furniture. We gutted the room and opened up a taller doorway, then did a budget renovation using Ikea cabinets. Angled corner cabinets are one of my pet peeves, so we straightened the layout and replaced the too-deep fridge and dishwasher with more integrated models. Dealing with a wall vent that fell in the middle of the cabinet run was a tricky issue in need of an elegant solution. The genius idea was to install the same grille used on the over-the-stove microwave (ordered up as a replacement part from the manufacturer’s website). Large-scale porcelain floor tiles pair with a glass backsplash and Caesarstone counter, while bright LED lights swap out the depressing old fluorescent tubes. Drawer bases and sensible pantry organizers mean there’s now never an excuse for the overflowing counters of old.
James and Richard got the classic pre-war home they always wanted, even if you’d never guess that every molding and even the fireplace are new. The super-narrow kitchen is saved by the use of an under-counter fridge and a play of high shelves to make the space feel as wide as possible, while the custom cabinets squeeze storage into every available nook. Sliding doors and open shelves along the aisle avoid what could be a head-banging experience for these two tall gentlemen.
Melissa started with a terrific color sense and a fantastic collection of flea market finds. The apartment featured high ceilings, an exposed brick fireplace, and a bay window, but an awkward 1980s renovation had made the space feel cramped and cheap. An inexpensive kitchen and bath update, plus reworked traffic patterns, brought out the home’s genuine style. The kitchen’s deep palette and stone counters are a great compliment to the warmth of brick, and the open plan makes the space feel expansive.
Christine just needed a simple facelift, which we accomplished with updated furniture, rugs, moldings and paint. We opened a wall for french doors from the living room into the bedroom, and built desks along the windows in both the master and guest bedrooms. A gallery wall in the entry hides the circuit breaker and shows off her photography. Ribbed-glass pocket doors and a slightly altered layout removed an oddly-placed coat closet that was an eyesore in the dining area.
Jim, a newly-single dad, needed to furnish a four-bedroom rental from scratch—and before the school year started. Given the short lead time and desire for a reasonable budget, this was a logical Ready-Made Decorating project. This bland box of an apartment became a warm home via a quick paint job, new door hardware, kid-friendly furnishings, and lots of family photos. Large rugs distract from the too-busy parquet flooring that couldn’t be changed. A custom TV cabinet with hydraulic lift floats in the middle of the room, making an awkwardly long space functional, and the large sectional is great for movie night with the kids as well as game day with the guys.
Lisa had inherited not only her artist mother’s vibrant paintings, but original mid-century furniture by Tommi Parzinger and illustrious decorator Donald Cameron. Partnering with SixZero6 Design, who oversaw the rejuvenation of these museum-quality pieces, a complete rethinking of the space resulted in a more open floor plan, a new kitchen and living spaces, and a palette to compliment the art and furniture.
Greg is not a messy teen, but since his bathroom is the one used by guests during dinner parties, his parents wanted a design that considered this dual purpose. The solution was to swap the tub for a shower—enclosed by frosted glass panels that transform the space into a virtual powder room and act as an amazing lightbox, day or night. Sleek glass and porcelain tiles play off a rough-hewn floor. Modern fixtures make this a bathroom Greg can grow into.
Sue and Jerry decided to reclaim the city apartment they’d purchased long ago and turn it into a pied-a-terre for themselves. Since it was mainly to be used for cocktails with friends while making overnight visits, it needed to look its best at night, and be comfy for morning bagels and reading the paper. Reworking the traffic patterns made for a better public space and a beautiful en-suite bathroom. The bamboo and slate kitchen makes efficient use of a small footprint. Built-in cabinets under both windows add storage and conceal HVAC mechanicals.
How do you marry a modernist sensibility to a penchant for color and whimsy? Easy. They’d already married each other; I just had to design a renovation for them. Jason and Jennifer, clients from an earlier project, got the chance to trade up when the studio apartment next to them became available, offering the chance for daylight that their old apartment lacked. A full-scale gut renovation creates loft-like openness with a wall of windows that fills the new kitchen with sunshine. Meanwhile, an ingenious lighting design behind wooden blinds creates faux sunshine at the windows that open onto an air shaft.
Brooklyn brownstoners Pam and Florian decided to turn their garden-level rental apartment into a sometime home for their father-in-law. This was an extensive gut renovation: The former warren of small rooms and long hallways was torn down to the rafters; the back of the house was opened with glass doors to the patio, and a staircase was moved from one side of the house to another. A shared love of modern design and respect for old houses led us to clean lines paired with the original fireplace, while reclaimed heart-pine floors replaced what had to be torn up during demolition. The layout was completely reorganized using an ingenious system of sliding glass and wooden barn doors. A frosted-glass panel set in posts floats at the entry, creating a space to take off shoes and stash the bicycle without blocking daylight from the single front window.
Clients who’d earlier renovated their kitchen later decided to update the rest of the apartment. Both educators, Wendy and Richard are serious about books, schooling, art and music. With four kids, the dining room serves as homework and craft central, with a desk for each child and two large bulletin boards for handmade treasures. Custom bookcases fill a wall of the living room, replacing freestanding storage. Confession: When we started this project, I wasn’t keen on incorporating their collection of Mission furniture and primitive masks. Against the old off-white walls it was just a sea of dull brown, and even for me, it was hard to picture a happy family-friendly design if we kept them. But once the space was warmed up with new paint colors, roman shades and Nelson light fixtures, things came to life. In the end, I had great fun arranging the masks, dubbing one furry display “the wall of ’70s hairstyles.”
Marlene and Dave desperately needed to redo both their cramped master bath and a hallway bath, shared by their son and daughter. A basic upgrade of the hall bath kept the vintage tub and pre-war vibe, but the master bath called for a complete overhaul and a modern look. Two ingenious solutions: The sink was moved in front of the window (with a mirror hung to block the view from the street) and a folding glass door made the tiny shower workable.
The owners of this kitchen are collectors of beach glass, so when it came time to renovate, the palette and choice of materials was pretty obvious. The old lime green was swapped for a soothing combo of blues and grays, nicely complimenting the custom bamboo cabinets. One doorway is closed off while another is built, better defining the rooms. Clean lines calm the space considerably, as do the long horizontal shelves in the dining room that display their handmade pottery.
Donna, a well-known editor of interior design magazines, decided to give up the suburban life after her kids were raised, and made a conscious decision to downsize from a large house to a studio apartment. Yet no comfort was lost, and some, such as a working fireplace, were even gained.
Larry had two bathrooms badly in need of updating. For the guest bath, he wanted a whimsical retro look to match the original 1950s tub and medicine cabinet. The other, his master bath, was the smallest example we’ve ever seen—even for New York!
A sampling of kids’ bedrooms and bathrooms:
Chris had already created a pastel feathered nest high above Prospect Park, and was ready to update her kitchen to match. The narrow space was hard to maneuver in, with a huge refrigerator blocking one doorway, and curious cats constantly underfoot whenever she tried to cook. Changing the layout opened traffic patterns and clever screen doors (fitted with brass “chicken wire”) allowed for cooking in peace, without cutting off ventilation or making the cats feel left out.
When Chelsea first wrote me, she described her kitchen as being 8′ wide x 22′ long x 12′ high. I imagined the numbers 8 and 12 were accidentally transposed, but no: The bowling alley of a space had originally been the stairway hall of a stately townhouse. When the building entrance was moved to street level, a builder’s kitchen was installed and the ceiling lowered to 8 feet on one end. The client wanted a kitchen styled to match the age of the house, and to double the storage. Reclaiming all that lost height, I designed a vaulted ceiling with a line of salvaged holophane pendants, atop 2 rows of wall cabinets, accessible by a Putnam rolling ladder. Vintage brass pulls trim out cabinets that mix painted wood with stained oak. Cabinets on both sides would have made the narrow space too closed in, but the spare wall space is put to use with an oversized cork board to hold pots and utensils. The tall column that divides the room in two is disguised as a pantry cabinet while concealing utilities. The color of the custom tiles is inspired by a line from the theme song: “The sun pours in like butterscotch.”
Charles had lived in Japan and returned with a collection of teapots and a serene sensibility that he wanted to infuse into the renovation of his NYC apartment. The formerly enclosed kitchen was opened up and the master bath enlarged with a spacious walk-in shower.
Catherine and Conrad were buying their first home and, given their young family, needed a budget overhaul of an upper west side apartment with a seriously odd floor plan. A blonde kitchen with durable surfaces suited their needs and keyed into the airy, almost Scandinavian feel they were after.