NAME: Chip & Katie
LOCATION: Brooklyn, New York
SIZE/TYPE: Apartment, 1918 co-op
We bought the apartment in the fall of 2005. It had originally been a one-bedroom, but had been shoddily converted into a two-bedroom. The kitchen had been moved to the foyer, and only had two cupboards, a sink cabinet, a stove, and a small refrigerator. It all looked very hodge-podge. We were expecting our second child, so our goal was to maximize as much of the 700 square feet as possible and make the apartment tight and clean. We were drastic. Many of the pictures show the original details of the apartment. Rest assured, the pictures make the apartment look much more charming than it actually was. I¹ve included a few detailed “before” pictures that show up-close the poor the condition of the apartment. As I’ve looked back at these pictures, I’ve asked myself many times if we could have preserved more of the original details. But each time I look back and think about the condition and existing layout of the apartment when we bought it, I feel we made the right decision.
FRONT FOYER/KITCHEN BEFORE
The makeshift kitchen was a mess. It used PVC pipe for the plumbing (illegal in NYC multi-family dwellings), was totally inefficient from a storage perspective, and was a hideous introduction to the apartment. The first thing you saw when you walked in the apartment was dumpy appliances and the bathroom door.
Our goal was to maximize space and hide as many appliances as possible, so it didn’t feel like you were walking into a kitchen. We sealed up the bathroom door, and came up with a design that totally integrated a stackable washer/dryer, a refrigerator/freezer, and a dishwasher. The skinny doors to the right of the refrigerator are pinned and swing open as one unit into a small walk-in pantry that also includes our microwave.
Besides hiding the appliances and sealing up the bathroom door, the other thing that helped make the kitchen seem less strange, was to knock out the doorway leading from the front entry to the living room. By opening up the space, the kitchen area didn’t feel as isolated from the rest of the apartment.
Because we sealed the bathroom door in the kitchen area, we had to open a door from the living room. The old bathroom’s best feature was an old claw foot tub. But everything else was totally gross. The plumbing was old and shoddy, with everything coming out of the walls at crazy angles. The tiles were old and even the clawfoot tub had been compromised because someone had tiled directly from the wall onto its lip. The new layout of our bathroom could not accommodate a tub of that size anyway, so we had to replace it with a smaller one.
LIVING ROOM BEFORE
Knocking out the foyer doorway presented challenges in terms of the floor. By expanding the doorway, the parquet flooring would encroach into the kitchen and no longer match up with the wall. While this would have looked strange, the more critical issue was that the kitchen/foyer area’s floor was 2 1/2 inches higher than the living room floor. You had to take a small step down into the living room. This would not be acceptable because our kitchen table needed to fit in the foyer, and if the floors were at different levels, one of the chairs would constantly be tipping backwards into the living room.
So we decided to replace the floors. Our contractors told us they would have to raise the floor up to the level of the kitchen floor, so we had to cover up the original parquet flooring. We didn’t feel too bad about that. Although the original floors look pretty nice in the pictures, many of the tiles had been replaced with cheap tiles that didn’t match. The condition was poor, and there were many holes and cracks that insects could get through.
All of the new kitchen appliances required electrical upgrades. The apartment’s electrical situation was a mess in general. There were outlets at crazy positions half-way up the wall and the conduit was visible throughout the whole apartment. We rewired the whole apartment and installed recessed lighting because the apartment does not get much natural light. The extensive rewiring was a major reason why we decided to rip out all the original plaster. The other reason was all the mysterious bumps and pipes coming out of the ceiling. We wanted to make sure we knew what was behind there, so we didn’t spend a bunch of money, only to discover that we had to rip through it to repair a pipe or wire we could have fixed during the renovation. Removing the heavy central ceiling fan and installing the two rows of lights also works to extend the living room space and make it feel you have more room to breathe. Just like in the kitchen, hiding appliances works to make the space feel bigger. In this case, it means using a projector instead of having a TV sitting on the credenza. Plus, it’s nice to have a living room that’s not centered around a television.
MASTER BEDROOM BEFORE
We gave the existing closet space of this room to the kids’ room, and built a closet system that extended the length and height of the far wall. On the other side of the room, we installed a wall-to-wall desk with three open shelves that extend to the ceiling.
KID’S ROOM BEFORE
Originally, this had been the kitchen. When we bought the place, it was a depressing bedroom with floors that were again at a different level than the living room. Also, there was practically no storage and a mysterious pipe elbow poking out of the cracked ceiling. Note the strange outlet floating in the middle of the closet wall. We broke into the wall and extended the storage space by claiming the closet of the room next door.