According to Halstead broker Brian Lewis, the best thing about this $499,000 Carnegie Hill fixer-upper at 4 East 95th Street is also the worst thing about it: “You have the ability to create your own dream home from scratch here. But you also have to create your own dream home from scratch here. It needs a full gut-renovation. I find that exciting, but others find it daunting.”
Brooklyn-based architect Ben Herzog doesn't necessarily think a full restart is necessary for the space, saying that he thinks that many aspects of the maisonette can actually be preserved (“the floors, for example”) to save both time and money.
Here, Herzog outlines what he’d do to revamp this ground-floor space. His recommendations:
The living room (pictured above)
“You really don’t need to do much here,” says Herzog, explaining that he doesn’t think the room looks all that bad in the photos.
To start, he’d “refinish the floors” to make them look shiny and new. If the paint’s in decent condition, he’d leave the walls as they are, but if a few more coats are needed, he’d make sure to stick to a light, neutral color like the existing shade of white. “I’d rather add splashes of color to the room with the window treatments, art and furniture,” he says. He’d keep the radiator cover white too, essentially to “make it go away. I don’t think it should be the focal point of the room. I don’t want your eyes to be drawn to a bright red radiator cover.” He recommends keeping the beams in the ceiling white too for the same reason.
For the windows, Herzog would add Roman shades or a curtain track with a valance to add an element of privacy, especially since the unit is low and passers-by could easily look in. Shades could also add a splash of color to the room, depending on the buyer’s personal decorating preferences.
As for the lighting, Herzog advises sticking with floor lamps and sconces in order to illuminate the space. “The ceiling is probably a concrete slab” and running wires through it won’t be an easy feat. “It’ll be cheaper and easier to buy a lamp you like and simply plug it in.”
Price: According to Herzog, refinishing the floors should cost $2 to $3 per square foot. A gallon of Benjamin Moore Decorator’s White can be purchased for $69.99. These Roman shades from Blinds.com start at $153. Prices for floor lamps at Lighting by Gregory start at $108. Prices for sconces start at $28. Of course, labor will be more.
Although you can only see part of the kitchen in the listing’s photos, a quick glance at them, as well as at the floor plan, reveal the room to be “totally crackers,” says Herzog.
As it is now, the range sits at an angle outside the actual kitchen—meaning it’s partially in the living room—facing the interior of the kitchen. “The range can sort of stay where it is,” says Herzog, “I’d just move it 90 degrees to the wall instead of how it is now.” With that simple modification, you’d actually be able “to have someone in the kitchen with you.”
Herzog adds that a licensed plumber should probably be the one to actually rotate the range and push it back a few inches just in case any issues with existing gas lines should arise.
Next, he’d knock out the cabinets on either side of the range (which look, according to Herzog, like “knotty pine paneling from your Grandma’s cellar”), in favor of a wall of cabinet towards the entrance to the foyer, as well as a free-floating island for counter space and storage. Said island “can encroach on the living room space, making it a tad bit smaller, but it will make the kitchen into a great room.”
He also notes that this island need not match anything else in the space—in case you dig an eclectic look, décor-wise—so folks should feel free to go nuts and buy whatever floats their boat. “It can be its own monster,” he says. Of course, if you’d prefer a more polished, matchy-matchy vibe, by all means, search for something that looks like it fits in with everything else in the space.
After that, Herzog would take down the shelves above the range to “open up the room.” But since it’s clear that storage space is lacking, he suggests “pantrify-ing part of the front foyer to create shelving for paper towels, etc.” From the picture, you can see that the foyer has “one big opening” closer to the interior of the apartment and “one small one” closer to the front door. Herzog suggests “building a thin wall to make the big opening the same size as the smaller opening, cutting the casing, and putting shelving against the wall there. It’ll look like that niche was there all along just for the storage.”
Herzog also advises updating all of the appliances—the refrigerator, range, and dishwasher—if they’re dated (which is hard to tell from the pictures), as well as replacing the current countertops with Caesarstone because “it’s durable and doesn’t show its wear.”
He’d again advise keeping the paint color light—probably white—so that it “ties into the whole room.”
Price: Herzog believes that knocking out the current cabinets and replacing them with ones from IKEA should cost “around $500 per linear foot.” Should buyers choose to forego IKEA and go the fancier custom route, “it’d be more like $1,500 per linear foot.” Prices for a simple kitchen cart can vary. IKEA sells this free-floating oak island for $399. This one from Crate & Barrel is made of reclaimed wood and costs $1,999. Extending the wall and cutting the casing is “probably $1,500 to $2,000,” says Herzog.
Prices for shelving can vary, but Herzog thinks a system from Elfa or California Closets should run between $1,000 and $1,500. This stainless steel Kenmore refrigerator is just under $600 at Sears. This stainless steel GE dishwasher is $538.99 and this Kenmore range is $611.10, also at Sears. Installing new Caesarstone countertops should cost “about $120 to $150 per square foot,” says Herzog. A can of Benjamin Moore Decorator’s White is $69.99. Labor will be more.
“The floors in here look worse,” says Herzog, “especially near the windows and the radiator. Maybe it leaked once.” For that reason, he’d recommend either “covering most of it with a rug” or taking it out and putting in new wood flooring, possibly with a darker finish to differentiate it from the living room and its lighter colored floors. “I like a dark walnut,” he says.
With the darker floors, he’d go with “something warmer for the walls, perhaps a yellow,” while keeping the ceiling, trim, and radiator cover white. He’d steer clear of white for the walls, noting that going with a pale yellow, instead, can make “it seem like the sun is shining in your room.” To keep actual light out in the early morning hours, Herzog proposes putting “curtains on a track” or Roman shades up over the windows. Whichever you’d prefer.
As for lighting, Herzog once again urges the use of floor and table lamps. “I’m not a big fan of overhead lights in bedrooms,” he says, noting that it can be annoying to be “lying in bed and staring up at a bright light.”
Price: Herzog says that new wood floors should be around $12 to $15 per square foot. This rug can be purchased for under $200 from Overstock.com. A gallon of Benjamin Moore San Diego Cream can be purchased for $69.99. A can of Decorator’s White for the trim, ceiling and radiator cover costs the same. This short blackout curtain panel is $29.99 at Wayfair.com. This track is $28.99. This floor lamp from YLighting.com is $310.50. Labor will add on to these costs.
“A bathroom with a window is great,” says Herzog, adding that he thinks the restroom would benefit most from a deep cleaning session. If they’re working fine—and aren’t disgusting—Herzog advises keeping the toilet, tub, and sink, but changing out the faucets to “something a little nicer,” he says. The current ones “have a very industrial look.” Herzog likes Kohler’s Purist faucet line because “it’s sleek and clean.” But he advises going with whatever faucet you fancy—so long as it has a similarly modern vibe. He’d also replace the shower curtain so that you have something new and clean.
For the walls, he’d go with a calming tone, “like a tan or a light blue” and recommends making sure that your new shower curtain matches it somewhat so it all comes together.
“The medicine cabinet looks kind of crappy,” he says, but it might look fine “if you paint it”—white—“and put stuff on the open shelves” to make the room look a little more lived-in.
He’d keep the wall tile since “it looks like it has interesting corners and curves,” but makes sure to counsel that it needs a good, hard scrub and a polish in order to make it look fresh. The floor tile, however, he’d upgrade, since it doesn’t look to be in the best condition.
Price: This Kohler Purist faucet and handle set are under $400 at Wayfair.com. A gallon of Benjamin Moore Blue Heather is $69.99. A can of Decorator’s White for the trim, ceiling and medicine cabinet is the same. This mermaid-themed shower curtain is $59 at Etsy. Installation of new floor tiling should be around “$20 per square foot,” plus cost of the tile, says Herzog.