Before and After

“Before-and-Afters” are so fun, and I love the way they demonstrate that every room has potential.  Here’s a small sampling of transformational videos. It’s likely there’s a “before” photo somewhere in this mix that looks a lot like your house. Also see our You Tube feed for the latest posts. 

 (Psst: If you prefer no music when the videos play, please lower the volume on your device.)

Talk about a room with a view. Steve had snagged one of the city’s prized apartments, overlooking Gramercy Park. But the last thing Steve wanted was a glitzy makeover. His goal was to create a calm, zen-like home – exquisite in detail but not showy. My favorite things about this renovation are what  we did “wrong” (real-estate rules one is never supposed to break): we made a 1BR into a studio and replaced the tub with a walk-in shower. 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. All she needed was a kitchen that fit the warm nest she’d created (plus some basics, like sorely-lacking storage and counter space, not to mention a dishwasher). 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, filled with charming antiques and flowers from her country garden. 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 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.


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 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.


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.


Short on square footage and closets, Kara’s small one-bedroom had a valuable untapped resource: the ceilings were nearly 12 feet tall. There was no place to go but UP. The other challenge was fixing an ungainly mishmash of random door heights, and an ugly 1970s kitchen shoe-horned into a tiny alcove. The key change was to pull the kitchen out into the central space and turn the old kitchen into a laundry room. A unifying wood frame tames the doorways, and the dead space above is now a large attic for storage. 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 had 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 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 grey stained white oak cabinets, slate floors, and a stone counter that echoes the pines 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.


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.


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.


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.


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 some numbers were accidentally transposed, but no: The bowling alley of a space had originally been the stair 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. Reclaiming all that lost height, I designed a vaulted ceiling with 2 rows of wall cabinets, accessed by a rolling ladder. Cabinets on both sides would have made the narrow space too closed in, so 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.


Clients who’d earlier renovated their kitchen 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 was less than keen on their collection of Mission furniture and primitive masks. (Against the old off-white walls it was just a sea of dull brown.) But once we warmed the space up with bold paint colors, roman shades and new 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.”