Home School Giveaway #8: Tips for Renovators and Design-Conscious Renters


Home School is a series of design stories and giveaways we run in partnership with Sweeten.com, a curated marketplace for renovation projects. Sweeten hand picks the best interior designers, architects, and general contractors, then matches them to your renovation projects. For the latest installment of Home School, Sweeten founder Jean Lauer talks about finding a great place to renovate and tips for design-conscious renters who aren’t in the market to buy. Read on and enter at the bottom for a chance to win a home design prize package worth over $4,000. Details below.

When it comes to shopping real estate, we’ve all heard the classic rule of thumb, “location, location, location.” So, what happens once you’ve got location covered? What other qualities of a home can help determine its potential, especially when we’re dealing with a fixer-upper?

1. Work with a broker who has both market knowledge and creative vision.

After renovating. Photo (above, bottom): From Design Brooklyn (Stewart, Tabori, & Chang, 2013). Courtesy of Michel Arnaud.

After renovating. Photo (above, bottom): From Design Brooklyn (Stewart, Tabori, & Chang, 2013). Courtesy of Michel Arnaud.

There are many benefits to renovating a new home, which is why more than two-thirds of all home renovations occur within that first year of purchase. We recently chatted with our friend Lindsay Barton Barret, a Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker at Corcoran, whose distinguished career has landed her countless awards; recently she was named one of Wall Street Journal’s 2013 top 250 real estate professionals by transaction volume, nationwide.

Lindsay’s knack for design lends her a natural advantage in her field, and through her work, she has seen many clients purchase homes that need gut renovations, just like the one above, which is featured along with some of her other clients’ homes in Anne Hellman’s new book, Design Brooklyn: Renovation, Restoration, Innovation, Industry. When asked for her thoughts on the role of resale when renovating, she said something we weren’t really expecting from the broker’s perspective, but were certainly glad to hear:

“Renovating a home for yourself is a unique opportunity to do something creative that you truly love. For some people, they will consider ‘resale’ throughout the renovation process – will this choice ultimately translate into a higher sale price? Or, is this choice so specific to me that it may be a turnoff to someone else? But in my view, a well executed and cohesive vision of a space, however outrageous, or bold, will almost always resonate with someone else if and when it comes time to sell.”

2. Look for a place with “good bones.”


Photo (above, bottom): From Design Brooklyn (Stewart, Tabori, & Chang, 2013). Courtesy of Michel Arnaud.

Photo (above, bottom): From Design Brooklyn (Stewart, Tabori, & Chang, 2013). Courtesy of Michel Arnaud.

A space with good bones is a space that has maximum potential for either a facelift or a full gut renovation — but because having good bones doesn’t always look pretty at first sight, identifying them may not come immediately to everyone. I recommend honing in on characteristics like good flow and circulation between rooms and floors. For example, in the renovation pictured above, even though the entire space has been re-imagined, note that the stairs were kept and are in their original location. You can also look for an adaptable layout where removing or adding just a few walls will dramatically improve the space. Look for good quality building materials, especially at the structural level–for instance floor joists that are 2” x 12” spaced 12” center to center which, fortunately, is a common feature of older buildings prominent throughout Brooklyn. Lastly, be aware of the things that you can’t change without a huge expense, like the height between floors and ceilings, or those things that you can’t change at all, like the “party wall” which separates you from your neighbor.

3. Look for ways to extend natural light.


Photo (above, bottom): From Design Brooklyn (Stewart, Tabori, & Chang, 2013). Courtesy of MichelArnaud.

Photo (above, bottom): From Design Brooklyn (Stewart, Tabori, & Chang, 2013). Courtesy of MichelArnaud.

If you’re like me and have lived in a railroad-style apartment (or know someone who has), you’ve probably developed a keen sensibility to the value of natural light penetration in a space. Even if those days are long behind you, walking into a deep row house could be the most off-putting experience in your search for a new home. Before you draw a hard line at those deep and narrow proportions, consider what opportunities you’ll have to extend the natural light. Is this a non-historic house that has flexibility for adding windows and openings? Are skylights or clerestories possible in certain spaces? Just be sure to look around outside when you’re planning, for any obstructions like walls, trees, a bus stop, or restaurant exhaust that might ruin your new view or cross breeze. Get advice from an architect or another credible source if you’re not sure, so that you don’t miss out on any great opportunities.

4. Look for opportunities to make rooms within rooms.

Photo (above, bottom): From Design Brooklyn (Stewart, Tabori, & Chang, 2013). Courtesy of Michel Arnaud.

Rug by Breuckelen Berber


If you’re not really in the market for either a new home or a renovation at all, there are certainly other, more affordable, ways to invest in your space and change it for the better. Sometimes it’s as easy as rearranging your furniture o swapping out that Ikea dining table or sofa for that statement piece you’ve been saving up for. If you’re in a situation (like many of us are in Brooklyn) where one room has to serve many functions, try making a pronounced effort to define one area with a new oversized painting or one-of-a-kind rug. Even these relatively small changes to the physical or aesthetic design of your space will affect how you interact with it, and can make a huge difference in the way you feel in and about your home – like this example from Breuckelen Berber owners Brin Reinhardt & Nathan Ursch, who were compelled to start their shop after their first Moroccan Beni Ouarain rug instantly became the hearth of their own home.

5. If you’re just not sure where to start, there are two new books to help.


This season brings the launch of two of the most inspired publications about design and interiors. Pick up a copy of Design Brooklyn: Renovation, Restoration, Innovation, Industry by Anne Hellman for an instant fix of renovation inspiration; you can also visit the book’s online precursor, Design Brooklyn. Once your architectural vision is in place, you’ll want to reach for a copy of the Remodelista team’s first book, Remodelista: A Manual for the Considered Home, to fine tune all the interior detailing! More on these fab new books below:


Click here to enter our latest giveaway with Remodelista and Sweeten, which includes a chance to win a vintage Moroccan Beni Ouarain carpet from Breuckelen Berber, a copy of Design Brooklyn: Renovation, Restoration, Innovation, Industry by Anne Hellman and Michel Arnaud,  signed by Mike D and a copy of Remodelista: A Manual for the Considered Home by Julie Carlson with the editors of Remodelista.


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