Apartment renovations and hacks that worked during the pandemic…and beyond



Making the most out of the forgotten corners of our apartments was one good thing to come out of the pandemic. Photo: Jacob Snavely; courtesy of J Morris Design

When the pandemic hit, no one was prepared for the long hours stuck at home, but especially not New Yorkers. We’re used to making do with cramped spaces used mostly for sleeping because most of our lives are spent at work, enjoying cultural events, eating out at new restaurants, staying up all night in the city that never sleeps! Carrie Bradshaw famously used her oven to store her clothing, not for baking banana bread and blooming sourdough starter. But New Yorkers are nothing if not creative, and over the last two years, residents have been busy making renovations and tweaks to their apartments that helped them not just survive the short term of quarantine, but also find lasting solace in their spaces.

“When people started reaching out to us to help them with different types of projects, we wanted to help bridge the gap between the connection of the person who lives in the house and the space itself,” says Andrew James, co-founder of ABDB Designs, an interior design and custom furniture company. People were spending so much more time living and working from home, realizing their spaces were inadequate for their needs.

“These needs were time-sensitive given how quickly the world changed,” says the interior designer, Jennifer Morris, of J Morris Design. “We have had numerous requests to add desk space to living rooms and bedrooms — even otherwise ignored or just decorative nooks can become perfect work areas.”

As soon as we were all living/working/schooling/Zooming at home together, my family desperately needed separate workspaces. I spent one weekend emptying out our “craft closet,” originally meant to be organized with art supplies but was now, after a decade in our apartment, a trash dump for anything we couldn’t find space for. I threw everything out and attached a desk-height shelf and pulled over a dining room chair. Voila, the corporate closet desk with a Zoom-ready blank white wall! 


Whether for hosting pods or for zoom school, many parents struggled to find separate space for the kids. Photo: Jacon Snavely; Courtesy of J Morris Design

Some people chose to put the focus on the kids: building out good Zoom school rooms, learning pods, or just basic areas that could be used for homework once the threat of homeschooling was over.

“In our Colorful on Classon project the coral-colored kid’s room is an example of super functional yet whimsical design perfect for organizing lots of learning and play materials that will provide endless entertainment,” says Morris. The kids’ rooms were no longer an afterthought, but an important separate functional space.


It’s all in the details! Like with these whimsical cabinet knobs. Photo: Esther Goda

Some people took this opportunity to do the more serious renovations they had been putting off for years. “I wanted the kitchen and bathrooms to look like I was blinded by snow,” Esther Goda says, of her apartment’s renovations. She’s lived in a West Village condo since 1991 when two of her children were in college and the third was in high school. She says the projects she did over time never turned out right because she wasn’t home when the contractors came, and couldn’t supervise. It was a happy accident that she had started the renovations pre-pandemic before the supply chain issues made it impossible for gut renovations to happen.

“I had all the time in the world,” says Goda, “so I was able to shop for things that struck my fancy, like the kitchen cabinet handles, and the bathroom fixtures.”  


Isolation was one of the more difficult aspects of the pandemic and finding creative ways to remember loved ones was more important than ever. Photo: Andrew James

The isolation of the pandemic was unbearable and people looked for ways to find connection while being stuck at home. When it was impossible to see friends and family, ABDB Designs found a way to commemorate loved ones with furniture. A couple in Flatbush wanted to remember a sick grandparent, so ABDB’s designer, Djivan Schapira, used wood from the grandparent’s property in Vermont and created two drink tables for their living room, where they can be reminded of the family they couldn’t see in person.

“You want to feel connected to the things in your home,” says ABDB Co-founder, Andrew James. “If you are in a tough place mentally, if you are healing from injury or any type of illness, being around nature dramatically improves not only the joy you feel every day but the rate at which you heal.” And in New York City, where it might be difficult to get out into the woods, we can bring the trees inside with furniture that incorporates organic materials. 


For those lucky enough to have outdoor space, a solo stove could extend the seasons you’re able to be outdoors. Photo: Eve Simonsen

New Yorkers lucky enough to have outside space looked to extend the time they could spend outside. That meant purchasing heaters, pizza ovens, and trampolines during the early days of quarantine. But it turns out the fire pit is the real winner. Even as restrictions lessen, sitting around the fire will always be a good time. Eve Simonsen, the co-founder of Reunion, a soon-to-be-launched CBD company, bought a wood-burning Solo Stove for her deck and has been using it for everything from Full Moon intention ceremonies (writing things down you want to let go of and throwing it in the fire) to having S’mores with the kids on outdoor movie nights all year long. “It just helps to be outside,” Simonsen says. “It’s created a whole vibe back there. It’s like sitting around a campfire… on a deck…in Brooklyn!”


You don’t need a bathroom skylight to make a sanctuary, but it sure would help! Photo: Jacob Snavely; Courtesy of J Morris Design

Or maybe, at this point in the pandemic, escape is all anyone is looking for. Finding space to carve out in the home for a sanctuary, is as easy as looking in the bathroom. “The bathroom is meant to transport our clients to another world,” says Morris. In one suburban project, they installed a vintage-style slipper tub below an angled skylight to gaze at the moon during bathtime.

But you don’t need a skylight or a big-budget renovation to create a sanctuary. In my case, some bath salts and a stool for my laptop to escape into a guilty-TV pleasure worked wonders, too. 

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