Brownstone Cyclone

The Ups and Downs of Home Renovation

Brownstone Cyclone


Our latest post for containing our advice on picking a contractor was published today.


Before starting our renovation we considered ourselves savvy consumers. We knew how to research online, we’d renovated a small kitchen and bathroom in our apartment, and we’d watched hours of HGTV and the DIY network. The reality? When it came time to choose a contractor, we made rookie mistakes—and paid for them with time and money.

To read what we learned checkout out the full post on

5 Steps to Install a Medicine Cabinet

When we first worked with our architect we never thought to explicitly request medicine cabinets in our bathrooms.  All of our small NYC apartments have had them as a means of maximizing space.  We’ve learned the hard way that when you don’t ask you don’t receive.  Because they were not in the plans, the contractor put a plumbing vent straight down the middle of where you would install one i.e. the middle of where the vanity was going.  We had to pay extra for them to change it in one bathroom and decided to leave it in the other.

Before the drywall went up we got a quote from our contractor of a few hundred dollars to install the cabinets. Since we hadn’t purchased it yet, we let them close up the walls figuring I could come back and install the cabinets later. Which is exactly what I did this past Saturday in my daughter’s bathroom. Here’s how.

Tools you’ll need:

  • 3 Foot Level
  • Pencil
  • Utility Knife
  • Drywall Saw
  • Scrap 2x4s
  • Hacksaw, snips or grinder if you have metal studs
  • Sawzall or handsaw if you have wood studs

Step 1: Mark the wall opening with the level and pencil. The cabinet’s instructions should indicate how large of an opening you will need. Be sure to carefully make all the lines perfectly level or the cabinet will be crooked.


Step 3: Remove any wall studs in the way. We have metal studs and sure enough one was in the way so I went to work with my grinder and cut it out carefully. For wood studs you’ll need to do the same with whatever tools you have on hand.


Step 4: Add in some additional blocking for support. I cut three 2x4s down and mounted one on each side and one to the bottom. Most cabinets will have screws which mount into the blocking on the side from inside the cabinet, at least the three I’ve installed worked this way. The stud that was cut out in step 3 will support the bottom of the cabinet but I mounted some more against the drywall for good measure. 


Step 5: Slide the cabinet in and put in the final mounting screws and you are all done.


As projects in my house go this was by far one of the easiest.



Craigslist + RSS = 65% off High End Kitchen Appliances

When we started planning our kitchen I wanted to get high end appliances but my wife was hesitant due to the prices. In the end she is right. Those high-end appliances were definitely out of our budget. I didn’t want to give up so easy and I got to thinking… Maybe we could score some slightly used ones on Craigslist. It turns out you definitely can as long as you’re not in a rush. Here’s how I did it.

The most time consuming part of looking for things on Craigslist is that you have to search on there every day and move quick on the good deals. At first I would run searches every night but then I noticed the RSS link at the bottom right corner of the search page. If you run a search, click the link and then copy the URL into you RSS reader (I use now that google reader is gone) the new Craigslist listings matching your search show up in your feed just like new news articles. Given that I read my RSS feed every morning on the subway, scanning for appliances just became part of my morning ritual.

At first I didn’t find much but every two weeks or so I would hit on a lead. Some good some bad. The worst was a SubZero refrigerator from the early 90s with mildew all over it. The


best was the brand new Sub Zero refrigerator we have now, which came from a couple in Boerum Hill Brooklyn who purchased two penthouses and while combining them only needed one kitchen. This fridge still smelled new and had the all the new hold-everything-in- place tape on it.

The wine fridge took the longest time to find. Most under counter built-in wine fridges are 20-25″ wide and super expensive. There seemed to be only one or two 15” built-in models on


the market. Amazingly, a nice couple on 33rd and Madison were looking to unload theirs and it was in nearly perfect condition.

Our Bosch dishwasher is only a few years old and required me to drive all the way out on Long Island on a Saturday but it works perfect and is super quiet (once you figure out how to turn the cycle completion beeper off).


The range was much older. I’m not sure of the year yet but let’s just say the Viking people no longer had the model in their system. It had been sitting in this nice big home on 19th and 3rd Ave for years collecting dust. The seller was renovating their house house was unloading the kitchen for an amazing discount.

When I got a the 36” range I figured I’d be stuck getting a new full priced 36” hood because what’s the chance of someone selling one in acceptable condition. It took months of scanning Craigslist but eventually the persistence paid off. One night I drove out to Long Island again to meet with some contractor who ended up with an extra one – new in the box!

In the end we saved about 65% off retail for the entire kitchen and got high end appliances for about the same price as nice mid-range appliances. It took about six months to pull together and a number of car trips to look at busted up old stuff. Everything but the fridge is out of warranty. They all have some small scratches as well but now we don’t need to stress about that first scratch.

That said, I think it was completely worth the effort.