Some finishing touches, finally!

It’s been a while since we’ve published a post but that doesn’t mean we haven’t been working.  The never ending projects and upkeep of a 100+ year old row house still keep many of our weekends busy.

We will soon be finished an external and internal door installation on the ground floor and an exciting TV and laundry room reveal but this week we (me) decided that it is time to pay a little attention to detail.

Our daughter’s room is a perfect example of the transition from child to teen.  There are still lots of childhood paraphernalia hanging around but we’ve recently noticed that dolls and other toys have been surreptitiously moved into the closet.

small bedroom pan finished

The room back when it was empty

So we’d thought we’d kill two birds with one stone by making her room a little more “grown up” and at the same time cover a bare wall.

To do this we used a nifty little App called Mixtiles.  With the App you can create 8×8 square photo tiles that are already mounted on a thick foam core and do not need frames.  It also happens to work well with high quality Instagram photos.  One of my hobbies is taking photos of street art when we travel and they were perfect to use for a teenager’s room because they are colorful and urban.

The wall we wanted to cover was over the fireplace mantle.  This wall is original plaster so Mixtiles photos are perfect since they stick on the wall with removable adhesives and therefore there is no damage and no worries about cracked plaster.

First, I took a page out of my spouse’s playbook and planned where to put the photos using a complex mathematical formula.  Really, I just used my 5th grade addition and subtraction skills.

img_9342 This will also have to serve as the before photo–I always forget to take before photos!

After we had the placement all set out it was easy, just peel and stick.


And that’s all there is to it.  These photos are great because they are inexpensive and when your teen’s tastes change, it is not a big financial investment to change them.  According to Mixtiles, they are designed so you can remove them and stick them someplace else.  I’ll believe that when I see it for myself!

The teen was very happy with the final product:




We did not receive any compensation or product from Mixtiles, we just liked how they turned out.

Brownstone Front Stoop Reno

We haven’t written anything for a while but that doesn’t mean we haven’t been hard at work or hiring other people to work hard!

Last spring we decided that we could not stand our crumbling and peeling front stoop anymore.  The steps got a lot of damage from our contractors bringing in materials in and out of the building and it has probably never been redone since it was built.  As the paint chipped away so too did the materials underneath.

Front of Building

Front of Building when we first bought the place – not in bad shape

Whenever we used the ground floor entrance debris would rain down on us.  Under the stairs was even worse and the smell can only be described as rat death.  There was a large hole that we filled with rocks to prevent rodents from coming up from what we think was the sewer.  When we first purchased our building we did find one dead rat under there.  If that isn’t gross enough, we found animal bones from either rat carcasses or from chicken bones being dragged into there for dinner.


After our interior renovation they were not looking too good.



Ceiling in the entrance was disintegrating.

We took bids from masons recommended to us from a local Google-group that we belong to.  We checked all of the references of the one that we considered and physically went to see the steps that the front runner completed because we’ve learned our lesson on selecting contractors.

The first step in restoring the stoop was to chisel out the brownstone substance (not really genuine brownstone).  Afterwards it looked like this:



Then they clear that away and put a cement scratch coat that looks like this:


Then we waited until the spring for the cement to cure.  We were fine with this because we had stairs that were not leaking and potentially causing foundation problems, and under the stairs was nice and clean.  This process took about four days total for this stage.

When spring arrived the mason came back to put some test colors on the stairs for us to choose and then they put on the finished coat.  They started in the morning and did a few steps at a time so they would be dry by the time we got home from work.  This stage took about four days.



Waiting to dry


Looking good!

stoop done

I took this after photo but not at the right angle to see the neighbor’s damage.

We went with the original design of the steps to match the others on the street.After another week they came back and scrubbed and rinsed the steps and now they look great!

The workers also did a pretty good job of cleaning up afterwards.  They did leave our iron window bars that were under the stair out and someone stole them but we’ve yet to have the perfect contracting experience.  If you put anything metal out front in Brooklyn, it might get stolen.

BUT just when we thought it was all done, we got a call from our neighbor who said the workers cause damage to his building.

pete bulding

Our mason said that this area was intact when he left.  The problem with these old buildings is that as soon as you touch something, something else falls apart.  While we had no doubt that it was intact when he left (and we would have noticed this!), the fact that we did this work definitely was the cause of our neighbors section becoming more vulnerable.  We also suspect that the neighbor might have poked the area a bit.

A tip to remember when doing any kind of renovation is to take lots of before photos of your property and any adjoining a neighbor’s property so that you can prove what it looked like before if you have to.

The mason was great and came back and fixed it so everyone was satisfied.

Now we have to deal with wrought iron railings and fence because they look even worse with the new steps.

If you want cost information for a project like this feel free to message us.


We did not get a discount for writing this post but maybe for the next job so please mention that you saw this post!


Complete rental apartment renovation – check

Yes, it has been a while since we’ve written a post for our blog.  We’ve been in a frenzy trying to get the third floor unit into shape since we found out from our Expeditor that we can rent it out before we get the Certificate of Occupancy for the building, as long as there are no safety concerns.  We had him do a run through and we are good to go.

We did not have our contractor renovate the third floor because all it needed was cosmetic work, which we thought we could do ourselves.  We did hire someone to remove and drywall the drop down ceilings and install the new floors.  We also paid our electrician to do all the ceiling lights but the rest was us and our go to guy, Keith, who we met when he installed our floors.

Here are some before and afters:


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View from back of house into dining – living area

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We used the contractors for our duplex unit to put up fire resistant drywall in the hallway to meet with fire codes.  We decided to close up one of the two doors that lead into the apartment.  In retrospect, and there is always perfect hindsight in renovation, we should have moved the entry door to the left so it would be easier for prospective tenants to get their furniture through the door from the stairs.

Left side of the living area from the back.

Left side of the living area from the back.

We removed the 70s drop ceiling and plaster ceiling (and that added about 9 inches in ceiling height), recessed lighting and ceiling fans.  We demolished the cosmetic archway and that little half wall to the kitchen to give it an open floor plan.  If you recall, we removed all of the floors to soundproof them then installed laminate.  We chose it mainly because it is durable and inexpensive but also because we hated the look of the wood floors we could afford.  We replaced all the baseboard moldings with ones similar to the originals.  To the right, we stripped the plaster off the fireplace to expose the original brick and give the room a little architectural interest.  We couldn’t afford to get this chimney working so it is just decorative.

Living room


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Here we are (above) removing the old linoleum to expose the pine wood floors.  They were not in great shape and we wanted to do soundproofing so they had to go.  On the upside, we put them on Craigslist and sold them to homeowners in Bed Sty so they will have another life.  We removed the half wall and the wallpaper, which was no easy task.

We replaced the window by the refrigerator because it was broken.  We kept the original molding around the window but replaced the baseboard molding and the molding around the double window because it was just easier.  We replaced the permanently fogged glass in 1 sash of double window, which was amazingly cheap at $50 and it now looks like a new window.


We originally were going to paint these old top cabinets and put in a new stand alone bottom cabinet from IKEA with an inexpensive counter top but the more we looked at them the uglier they got.  We thought as long as we are ripping the floor up we should redo the cabinets too and be done with it.  We used the same company down the street that we used for the kitchen in our unit.

KitchenWe went with basic modern wood cabinets so that they would not go out of style too soon. Before you say it, we know the white appliances with the stainless steel dishwasher is not the best look but the fridge and stove were in great shape after a good cleaning.  If they ever fail, we will replace them with stainless, which is why the dishwasher is in that finish.  We extended the cabinets to the ceiling so there is a lot more cabinet space than before and we removed the washing machine to add drawer space.  We were able to get a quartz countertop from a remnant piece from the supplier used by Park Slope Kitchen Gallery and that saved us a lot of money.  It may be white but it is manmade from quartz so it is the most durable.  We were also able to save the tin ceiling with a good coat of paint, some bending and a little painter’s caulk.


For the bedroom it was all basic cosmetic work.  The previous owners had already removed the fireplace mantels and the brick was covered in plaster so we left it. The best news was that we were able to save original plaster ceiling.  We skim coated it to smooth it out and left the crows completely intact. It is amazing what a little paint and new floors can do.


The ceiling before

ceiling after

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We replaced the floor, repaired and painted the ceiling and crown molding.  We installed new entry, closet and bathroom doors.  We re-plastered some of the walls, painted, replaced the baseboard molding and wire brushed and painted the radiators.  We still haven’t found a ceiling light we like, so please ignore that dangling lightbulb.


Below is that small room off of the bedroom that you see in so many brownstones.  The previous owners, whose family owned the house for two generations, told us that when they were growing up two of the children slept in there.  I think that was the norm back then.

Small room off bedroom

When our house was built in 1899 it did not include bathrooms so the bathroom in the rental was carved out in the middle of the unit, and thus was a bit wonky. For some reason (probably to accommodate the plumbing) the installers decided to raise the floor up about 8″ resulting in an awkward step to enter. It’s only door was to the outside hallway which was not fire rated so it had to be removed. We add a new one one into the bedroom–so the tenant’s doesn’t have to go outside his or her apartment to use the loo. Unfortunately there was nothing we could do about the step except make it look better with a marble saddle.



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Right after we closed on the house we purchased a new modern toilet and vanity sink for a great price from a woman who was combining two condo apartments in Boerum Hill. The original plan was to reglaze the tub and try painting the tiles but when it came down to it we thought now is the time to replace the tub and tiles. We had an incident in our previous condo where the tub in the apartment above us rusted through around the drain and caused damage to our ceilings in three rooms before the source was discovered. The tub was old and we did not want to take that chance so we renovated the whole room with the help of our handyman and now everything is shiny, new and clean.  Much to our chagrin, we did a better job installing the tiles here than our contractor did in our unit!


Finally, we added a stacked washer and dryer to the laundry closet that used to only have a dryer.


We are so happy the apartment is finished but sad that we will no longer be able to use it for our daughter’s slumber parties and as a laundry suite.  Now the next challenge is renting it out to a good tenant!