Everyone loves a good ‘before and after’ story. Entire home improvement networks have sprung up as a result, luring us with the promise of the ‘reveal’ after the commercial break. One thing I’ve always loved about renovating is looking past the ‘before’ and imagining the ‘after’. But the part I especially enjoy is precisely what makes a lot of people squeamish – the DURING. It’s not too surprising the words enduring and during are related; both come from the Latin, indurare, which means to ‘make hard’. Renovating a home is an endurance test to be sure and a guaranteed problem solving challenge. No matter how experienced you are it can be a humbling process. I have to give a lot of credit to my parents – without their renovators blood in me, I wouldn’t be considering such a crazy project, and to Jeff, who seems like a pretty good sort, for taking on the challenge together. At each turn, we keep asking each other, “You still in?” and the answer (so far!) is always, “Yes.”
So for those of you out there who think we’re nuts (and to remind myself I have done this three times before and may survive another and hopefully last one) here are some ‘before & after’ pics of the place I live in now. It’s a five story brownstone in the same neighborhood as our new house and the apartment is on the second floor on what used to be the master bedroom level. The room that is now the kitchen/living room would have originally been the master bedroom for the home, with grand, 12ft ceilings ornamented with plaster cornices. When I bought it, it had last been renovated in the early eighties in a patched together way over an earlier 1960′s job that covered up some 1930′s work that was probably the original conversion from rear bedroom and front sitting room to single floor apartment. First is a picture of the kitchen from when I first bought the apartment.
The next picture is of the bedroom on the left. Look close, and you can see the only way to fit the bed in was up against the wall on one side with the head right next to the radiator. Nice. The kitchen window to the right looked out over an asphalt roof littered with broken bottles. The ceilings are dropped to 8 ft in this photo and the windows are 5 ft tall with bars over them. The overall dimension of the room was 16′ x 16′ with a wall down the middle creating two eight foot wide rooms, the kitchen on the right and the bedroom on the left.
The next photos are of the demolition process. This is the part where things can start to get hairy. In this case, when the crew started to tear down the sheetrock on the ceiling, they discovered that a previous job on the 3rd floor had used the three foot space between my ceiling and their floor above to dump all of the demolition debris from their renovation. Hundreds of pounds of extra plaster, wood, old food containers and trash had to be carted away as the ceilings were carefully pulled down.
The entire renovation, including the bathroom, laundry room, two front bedrooms, new hardwood floors, and central air conditioning was completed at a breakneck speed in only six weeks. We had a day crew and in the evening the sheet rock and plaster crew would come. During the last week there were four crews working at once.
This picture above is a view of the back of the house showing the new window to the left and door to the right that leads out to the new deck built over the kitchen extension of the apartment below. The deck cost $15K and added $70K in value to the apt which goes to show you just how precious outdoor space is in NYC!
The two separate rooms in the back are now one open kitchen/living room/office and the formerly eight foot ceilings are now eleven feet and the whole room is open to the Southern exposure and new terrace.
So what are we in for with the new house? Who knows – could be anything. The things we don’t know vastly outnumber the ones we do. Maybe we will find that bag of money in a wall. Perhaps we’ll discover termites outnumber us ten thousand to one. We live in Brownstone Brooklyn – anything is possible.