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:

Livingroom

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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

Kitchen

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Bedroom

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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Bathroom

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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!

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

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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!

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Old-Timey Bathroom AKA Powder Room

Pursuit of the High Tank Toilet

My husband was insistent on a high tank toilet in the powder room.  He first showed me an inspiration photo, (see below) which if you look closely is really dollhouse furniture.

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We had recently been to a friend’s 1850’s Victorian home who had their original high-tank toilet and that sealed the deal or should I say our fate.  These toilets are not easy to find.  We tried to find one at architectural salvage places but in the end we bought a new one from The Renovators Supply.

Eventually the day came to install it.

Impediment #1:  According to the website this the toilet can be installed with a standard 12″ rough-in (distance from wall to center of drain pipe). Of course once the floor and drywall was installed and we attempted to install the toilet we discovered this was incorrect. The toilet we had was a rear feed toilet and there was not enough room for the pipe. It probably should have been a 15″ rough-in. Once again it’s best to have all your fixtures in the house before you start construction and double check everything. We contacted the seller who was very helpful and exchanged the bowl for a top feeding version which did fit.

Impediment #2:  Once the bowl was in the plumber (or rather the B team he sent) had never installed one of these wall mounted tanks and had no idea how to do it. With a smirk my husband says, “I’ll do it this weekend.”  I think he likes showing up the “professionals.”

Impediment #3:  After starting the installation it turned out that the chrome pipes that were provided were somewhat shorter than expected. Instead of the tank sitting above your head it would have sat at eye level. That did not have the period effect that we were looking for.  No problem, we bought some extra chrome pipe and extend it. It turns out chrome pipes longer than 1 foot are impossible to find. The good news was that along with the new top feed bowl we got a new chrome feed pipe. My husband got creative and jointed the two pipes together to a long 6 foot chrome flush pipe. Unfortunately, he didn’t have extra chrome pipe for the supply line and had to use copper. It is not perfect and I am sure some Victorian spirit in our house is saying, “why would you expose the plumbing like in our day when you can hide it, you morons.”

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Once the old-timey toilet was in we set out to get the sink and lighting hardware.  Again, we tried to find something old but could not find anything that was the correct size so we went with a 24″ Kasey pedestal sink that ended up matching the toilet bowl perfectly.

HTC 2230The lighting we picked out from Restoration Hardware.  They have great lighting as well as furniture and accessories that mimic the styles from the 30’s and 40’s that we like.  We also had a 20% off coupon, which helped with our choices.  These two lights are both in gun metal grey.  The light over the mirror is a vintage English oval double sconce and the ceiling light is a glass barn filament pendant.

We hope to get an antique oval mirror but for now bought this plain inexpensive round one from Ikea as a placeholder.  The walls are painted Benjamin Moore Oatmeal.

The door and its hardware were original to the house.  The etched glass has the New York State seal on it so someone must have worked for the city and somehow “acquired” this door.  We loved it and were excited to re-use but discovered once the glass was cleaned that parts of it are clear, which is not so desirable in a powder room.  Our solution was to put a rolling shade over it so when it is in use there is privacy but otherwise you can see the glass’s design.

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If anyone knows how to clean antique etched glass please let us know.  As you can see it is still brown in some areas that won’t come clean.  Or maybe that is part of its charm.

Tiling bathrooms – what to know before your contractor tiles

Throughout our renovation we have done most of our research and shopping online,  however, tiles are the one thing where a bricks and mortar store is where you want to go.

When initially planning out our bathrooms we considered what tiles to use.  We still had a box of tiles left from our former condo renovation.  We were happy with those tiles so why not use them again?  Nothing is ever that easy.  We tried to contact the previous tile store we used but, alas, they were out of business.  We looked online and did find the tiles but could not find any in stock. In fact many online tile retailers represented tiles on their website that they did not actually have in stock.

Tiles in our old bathroom - they were Italian and discontinued

Tiles in our old bathroom – we loved them.  They were Italian and discontinued.

We did some research and found a few tiles places that we checked out.  Classic Tile, located in Brooklyn and Staten Island (the SI store is open on Sundays) has a large showroom and a good selection.  Unfortunately, all the tiles we chose there were discontinued, which we were not able to find out until Monday when the store could call the distributor.  We also could not find them in stock online anywhere else.  Next, we went to Mondial Tiles, a family-run business located in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.  They have a good selection of tiles and are also counter top fabricators.  The owner, Alex De Meo, was very helpful with putting together a selection of tiles that worked.

How To Plan Out Tiles

The number one rule in renovation:  don’t assume the contractor knows what you want or will make the same choices. You want to be as specific as you possibly can.

When our contractor was ready to tile, we knew we had to make it clear what tiles we wanted where.  Although we did not choose an overly complicated tiling design it still needed some explaining so we drafted a rudimentary illustration.  We also numbered all of the materials on the drawings as well as with tape so they would know, for example, what grout needed to be used with what tiles.  We were totally prepared, right?  Wrong.

When our contractor installed the cement board around our bath, an unplanned alcove was created beside the tub.  We liked the utilization of this previously wasted space but it had not been factored into our tile order.

alcove on the right

alcove on the right

Picking out tiles and the correct square footage is not enough,  you need to make sure you plan exactly how many tiles you will need both vertically and horizontally along each wall accounting for grout lines as well.  Rarely will the tiles line up exactly with the wall dimensions so they will need to be cut somewhere.  These plans should also account for plumbing fixtures, shelving and any other details that you want your tiles to line up with.

What you need to decide is where you want the cut tiles placed.  If you don’t the tile guy is going to make that decision and you may not be happy with the results.  Sadly, we learned this the hard way and on one wall we had about one inch of space left over and did not like the way the tiler solved the issue.  A further disappointment was that the grout line was slightly crooked.  We haven’t figured out how to fix it other than getting them to straighten the line.

Tile line

There is one other spot where the grout lines do not match up (see below), can you find it?

master bath tile

Overall, we are pleased with our master bath tile choices–once we have figured out what to do with the angry inch.  For now, we (me) will just have to dream about baths in the new longer tub with the built-in shelf where all the shampoo bottles will not be falling off the side of the tub.