Home Care

My Sweeten Story: A Cozy Loft in a Converted School Building

When embarking on his Brooklyn loft remodel, this interior designer stayed flexible

“After” photos by Miao Jiaxin for Sweeten

Homeowners: Alex and Sue posted their loft remodel on SweetenWhere: Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, New YorkPrimary renovation: A full-unit Brooklyn loft remodel aiming to add storage and functionality while preserving the apartment’s “80s loft” aestheticSweeten general contractorSweeten’s role: Sweeten matches renovating homeowners with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and up to $50,000 in renovation financial protection—for free.
Written in partnership with Sweeten homeowner Alex

Elevating the best aspects of home

We have been living in this apartment in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, since 2015. It was the first place we lived together, and it felt like a real 1980s loft, which Sue and I liked a lot. The previous owner was crafty—he’d installed his own kitchen cabinets, and the spirit of the place was very DIY. Sue works in Fin-tech and I am in interior design. We didn’t do much work when we first moved in, thinking it made sense to let the apartment evolve.

The apartment comprises approximately 900 square feet. It had many vantage points, which our cat, who recently passed, really enjoyed. The neighborhood seems to have a lot of building conversions—a church here, a school there, made into residential apartments. Our building belongs to the latter group, and was converted more than 30 years ago. Visitors are often amazed at how wide the hallways are. That sort of space is not something you often encounter in NYC.

Honing in on the shared lifestyle

Looking to build on the apartment’s openness, we made a few changes early on. One was removing a spiral staircase and replacing it with an industrial-use stair; it remains in the same location in the current iteration. Another was taking out an idiosyncratic shelving system that the previous owner had installed. We are both utilitarian, and that aspect of our personalities influences our aesthetic.

We also like this word that the Dutch have, Gezellig, which translates to something like coziness. It’s not a style, per se, but achieving it was a driving force for our renovation. We didn’t want an overly designed space, but rather one that felt considered.

Practical launch pad to renovate

We planned our renovation to coincide with the water boiler warranty expiration. Each unit has its own boiler, and you always hear about these things failing shortly after their warranty goes. We figured we would try to avoid becoming a statistic. The apartment was also in desperate need of an electrical panel upgrade. We wanted to add an in-unit washer and dryer and a shower to our powder room. In addition, the apartment lacked, and desperately needed, built-in storage. 

We posted our project, and Sweeten was a great help in providing a list of relevant contractors. Since I work in this field, I did not utilize other services the company provides. I wanted to complete the renovation within an allotted time frame, and keep within a firm budget. Our Sweeten contractors were great to work with; we had a few conversations before the renovation, and they were very accommodating. 

In the end, we were able to salvage the work and it turned out nicely. It felt serendipitous.

Design tricks-of-the-trade

It is always exciting to see a project on paper come to life, but it is especially interesting when you have an experimental client—in this case, ha!, ourselves. Our contractor convinced me that we should open up the entry foyer, which I wasn’t sure of. But in the end I think sacrificing the extra storage was worth it to expand the passageway. We also separated the passthrough between the dining and living space with an oversized barn door, which disappears when retracted.

We employed other tricks as well. Take the painting and color scheme, for example. We applied a World War I ship-camouflage technique known as Dazzle—which was a way of masking the volume and shape of military ships using geometric patterns—to try to make walls and objects more or less vanish into the space. We used black behind the TV to have it blend into the space. It is also a nod to the blackboard that would have hung on the wall in this former classroom.

We stayed with a pretty strict material palette just because it is easier to manage and is also a fun challenge to stretch the limit of the material. For example, the black countertop and black backsplash is actually a paper-based product that is extremely durable. I also used it as treads for the stairs.

Being flexible during the process

No matter how simple you aim to keep it, in any construction project, there will be challenges to overcome. We moved out of the apartment during the renovation, but I went to the job site every other day to make sure we were moving forward. During one visit, I noticed that the contracting team had framed one of the walls in the wrong location. Instead of losing time having the contractor demolish the framing and restart, however, I decided to redesign that portion of the space. I did it overnight. In the end, we were able to salvage the work and it turned out nicely. It felt serendipitous. 

Paying attention to and working within the process always helps, and given my work, I am familiar with the arc a job follows. Our favorite part of the renovation was the end.  

Working from home for the past year, we were able to enjoy the apartment’s ample flow of sunlight throughout the day. It is great to have a space that works so well and feels not just in sync with the building we live in, but with our entire lifestyle. 

Thanks for sharing your Brooklyn loft remodel with us, Sue and Alex!

Materials Guide

LIVING AREA RESOURCES: Paint in Simply White and Black Forest Green: Benjamin Moore. Industrial staircase: Grainger. 

KITCHEN RESOURCES: Paint in Simply White: Benjamin Moore. Kitchen cabinets and hardware: Ikea Countertops and backsplash (white material from Krion; black material from Richlite; Elkay sink and AXOR faucet: Porcelanosa Refrigerator: Samsung. Dishwasher and stove: Bosch

BATHROOM RESOURCES:  Porcelain wall & floor tile; Vanity and sink: Porcelanosa. Shower fixtures and hardware: Hansgrohe. Toilet: American Standard

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation with Sweeten

The post My Sweeten Story: A Cozy Loft in a Converted School Building appeared first on Sweeten.

Home Care

How to Paint a Ceiling


A modern kitchen with a clay colored ceiling.
Julien Fernandez | GAP Photos

Make your fifth wall pop with a color expert’s how-to steps.

Walls and trim seem to get all the attention when it comes to paint makeovers. Next time you aim to liven up a room with color, look at your ceiling: It may just be the key to waking up a tired room, without a pricey remodel. We aren’t the only ones who like a little color on the ceiling. Dee Schlotter, national color brand manager for PPG The Voice of Color Program, considers the ceiling a room’s “fifth wall,” and urges homeowners to remember it when creating a space’s color design.

Tap into the paint potential with our suggestions for adding color to ceilings. Schlotter suggests going a shade lighter or darker than the wall color for a sophisticated look.

Steps for Painting Your Ceiling

Whichever end of the spectrum you decide on, follow her PPG-approved steps for getting a neat paint job for your fifth wall.

Step 1: Get the right amount of paint

Determine how much paint you’ll need by measuring the square footage of the room. Many paint labels indicate how much square footage one can will cover—typically 300 to 450 square feet, depending on the type of paint.

Step 2: Prep the room

Prep the room by removing furniture and ceiling fixtures and using drop cloths to cover surfaces you can’t move. Get more tips on protecting surfaces in our video, How to Prep a Room for Paint.

Step 3: Start with the ceiling edges

Using a stepladder, begin painting the ceiling edges where the ceiling meets the wall by cutting in with a brush, creating a border 2 to 3 inches wide. Perfect the technique by watching our video, How to Cut in Paint Edges With a Brush.

Step 4: Paint the rest of the ceiling

While standing on the floor, use a roller with an extension handle to paint the rest of the ceiling. Work in 4-by-4-foot sections, starting in a corner of one section and using diagonal or zigzag strokes to cover the section’s surface.

Step 5: Apply longer strokes

Once you cover a section, use the roller to go back over it with longer strokes to even out the paint coverage.

Step 6: Paint a new section

Start painting a new section at the edge of the previous one; before the first section dries, work to blend its edge with the new section.

Step 7: Paint Finishing Strokes

After all the sections are covered, paint the finishing strokes in the same direction, working lengthwise across the ceiling.

Home Care

How to Splash a Bath with Color

dding color to a bathroom—in small accents or large splashes—can have a big design impact

color ideas for bathroom

Adding colorful accents to your bathroom when you renovate is a good way to show your own style and personality. These colorful accents can be in the form of vanities, wall paint, and tile.  By selecting your favorite hue and incorporating it into your next bathroom remodel, you can effectively create any mood/vibe you like.

Here’s how some Sweeten renovators incorporated colorways outside of neutral making a trip to the bathroom a happy event.

Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and up to $50,000 in renovation financial protection—for free.

Bold in blue bathrooms


Blue comes in all shades, making it a good color choice to accommodate many design styles. Sweeten renovators Katherine and Chris needed more space for their growing family. They found a promising two-bedroom in Park Slope, Brooklyn, that they could transform with the help of a Sweeten contractor. Their contractor overhauled the bathroom and the couple decided to add a splash of color with a dramatic blue vanity and storage closet.

shower tile

For their 1,800-square-foot full apartment renovation, Dara and Mauricio posted their project scope to Sweeten and found a contractor to update their bathroom. “In terms of style, we tried to reach a middle ground between our preferences,” says Mauricio. “I chose a more eclectic style for the second bathroom: gray-and-blue patterned tiles on the floor and shower wall mixed with large white subway tiles.”

Peggy and her husband also found themselves in a similar situation in that they couldn’t put off a renovation any longer. Except for this couple, there wasn’t a new baby on the way: the bathroom was leaky and in bad need of repair. They wanted to stay true to the feel of their circa late-1800s brownstone, so Peggy selected classic design elements, including a blue vanity.

When Kate and Daniel redid their bathroom, they went spent a lot of time researching different styles online and on social media. They went with classic subway tile for the walls and hexagonal tile in a royal blue colorway for the floor.

Greens with envy

With so many different shades of green to choose from, it is no wonder so many renovators are finding it easy to pick the one that suits their style. Brooklyn residents Gus and Katherine (above) used a clever mix of tiles for their bathroom remodel, which includes a herringbone ceramic in Jadite for a statement wall.

Fellow Sweeten renovators Kavi and David also selected an unconventional tile for their bathroom renovation. They replaced a subdued floor with a cement Dandelion tile in Lawn/Milk. These hex tiles with watercolor edges and abstract white lines depict sunburst.

Allyson, an attorney who purchased a 1920s home in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, also used green to make a design statement in her bath. “I really wanted my bathroom to reflect my love of travel and combine vintage and mid-century modern elements,” says Allyson. Her Sweeten contractor installed shower tiles in a rich aqua green that features a windblown texture—the idea behind them was to make you feel like you’re surrounded by water.

Orange is the new black

wallpaper, bathroom, home, design, renovation

These Brooklyn homeowners turned to a Sweeten contractor to remodel their apartment that hadn’t been updated since the 1980s. A black color scheme was chosen with a pop of color in the flooring tile. They installed black tile on the wall by the sink, and offset it with a geometric tile on the floor in burnt orange.

women general contractors
Liz and Kevin, residents of Los Angeles, were thrilled with finding a home in SoCal. The catch? The 1923 house had water damage that required the bathroom to be gutted. With the help of a Sweeten contractor, they were able to transform the space into a modern oasis. They took a chance and added a striking backsplash to the sink area. “The orange,” Liz said, “felt like a risk, but a little playful, like us.”

Back in black

Today, a lot of home design blogs are touting “blue is the new black” or “yellow is the new black.” But rest assured black is back—and here to stay. Look no further than Sweeten renovator Veronica’s bathroom remodel. She worked with a Sweeten contractor to update her entire bath after she found a leaky pipe in her Manhattan co-op. She was happy to get rid of the outdated beige tile and old jet tub and replace them with more chic options. By painting the walls black, it lends a modern aesthetic to the room. “The bathroom got very little light to begin with, so I decided to embrace the cave-like atmosphere and go dark,” Veronica says.

When Alicia and Ed got a new dog, Roxy, they realized they wanted a pet-friendly neighborhood. They found a 1,400-square-foot brownstone in Brooklyn but it needed to be renovated. The bathroom had broken tiles and much of the space was outdated and in need of repair. For the guest bathroom, the couple selected a black-and-white color palette. The result is a classic yet sleek aesthetic.

Want to see more? Check out Sweeten’s before & after bathroom transformations.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation with Sweeten

The post How to Splash a Bath with Color appeared first on Sweeten.

Did you miss our previous article…

Home Care

Best Sealants for Roof Leaks of 2021


Sealants for Roof Leaks
Courtesy Liquid Rubber

Sealants cover roof leaks and protect the remaining area from water and sunlight damage. To learn more about preserving your roof, read our review on the best roof sealants.

Roof sealants not only cover roof leaks, but they also provide a protective layer to prevent water and sunlight penetration. These sealants come in many forms, including liquid in a paint can, liquid in a spray can, liquid in a caulk gun, and adhesive tape. They’re also made of a variety of materials, including rubber and polyurethane. To learn more about which type is best for your application, read our review on the best sealants for roof leaks.

Dicor Self-Leveling Lap Sealant

This product comes with four caulking tubes of sealant. The tubes have pointed applicators to make piping the sealant around the roof’s edges, air vents, vent pipes, leaks, and other areas easier. It also works on roof shingles made of a variety of materials, including vinyl, aluminum, and wood.

Check price on Amazon

Liquid Rubber Waterproof Sealant

This five-gallon bucket of liquid rubber has enough product to provide several layers of sealant to a large roof. Once it’s applied, it protects your roof from both water and sunlight. It also has a water-based formula that’s free of solvents, volatile organic compounds, and odors, making it safe for you and the environment.

Check price on Amazon

Flex Seal Liquid Rubber in a Can

This liquid rubber provides both water and UV protection and is non-toxic. Since it comes in a 32-ounce, or 0.25-gallon, bucket, it’s a good choice for smaller roofs or minor repairs. It also has a white color instead of a black one, making it better at repelling UV rays and keeping your home cool.

Check price on Amazon

Gorilla Waterproof Patch & Seal Tape

This sealant comes in the form of tape. Its adhesive backing sticks to leaks or vulnerable seams on your roof to protect them from water. This particular product comes with one roll of white tape, but it’s also available in a black color and packs of other amounts, allowing you to match the color of the tape to the color of your roof and complete larger projects.

Check price on Amazon

Flex Seal Spray Rubber Sealant Coating

This sealant is also liquid rubber, but instead of coming in a paint can, it comes in a spray can, making application faster and easier. It comes in a pack of two 14-ounce canisters and has a clear color, but it’s also available in other colors, such as off-white and white. Like sealant tape products, it’s best for minor roofing repairs, such as leaks and vulnerable edges, because of its small size.

Check price on Amazon

Types of Roof Sealants

Sealants are separated into five categories based on what they’re made of.


Acrylic sealants are designed to deflect UV rays, making them popular in the South and West where roof sun damage is common. They also have a moderate amount of moisture resistance, making them best for sloped roofs because flat roofs tend to create pools of water that acrylic isn’t strong enough to withstand.


This material is highly resistant to water but not as resistant to sunlight, making it best for areas that get a lot of rain and snow as opposed to sunshine.


Silicon-based sealants offer both water and sunlight protection, making them good for protecting your roof from any weather condition. The main downside to this type of sealant is that it’s expensive, preventing it from being financially feasible for homeowners on a budget to buy enough of it to cover their entire roof.


This type of sealant comes as a liquid form of rubber. It’s usually water-based to thin the rubber and make it easier to apply. It protects against both sun and rain.


While most other options are liquid, this type of sealant comes as strips of moisture-resistant material. It has an adhesive backing that you stick onto the roof to cover minor leaks or seal seams. It’s an affordable sealant option, but because of its small size, it’s not meant to cover an entire roof.

Buying Guide

Each roof sealant will vary in terms of water resistance, UV reflectivity, longevity, and application. Read our buyer’s guide below to learn more about these factors, as this will help inform your purchasing decision.

Water Resistance

Every sealant provides some level of water resistance, but rubber, silicone, and polyurethane have a waterproof quality, allowing your covered roof to withstand heavy rain and standing water. However, in order to create a completely waterproof barrier, your sealant will require several layers. Its directions will instruct you on how to do this.

UV Reflectivity

A sealant that can reflect sunlight helps to keep your house cool. This is especially useful in the summer months, as it can decrease air conditioning use and result in a lower electricity bill. Rubber, acrylic, and silicone sealants have the highest reflectivity levels. The color of the applied sealant will also play a role in its reflectivity, with lighter colors being better at reflecting than darker colors.


Each sealant has a varying lifespan, but most last 10–20 years. Tape sealants last this long with one layer of tape, but the remaining liquid types may require several coats, as a thicker coating lasts longer. Proper application is another factor that affects longevity. If you don’t follow the manufacturer’s instructions, you’ll decrease the sealant’s life. Most manufacturers warn against applying their sealant in cold weather, to a wet or dirty roof, or before a storm when it hasn’t had enough time to cure.


Different sealants have different application methods. The tape type of sealant has a self-explanatory application process, but the remaining types may come in a paint can, spray can, or caulk tube. The paint can method gives you a thick layer of sealant along with the quantity to apply it to a large surface area. Spray cans and caulk guns take less work, but they come in smaller quantities, making them best for small leaks.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does the ISO certification on my roof sealant mean?

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) created standards for testing how well a sealant protects a surface from corrosive elements. The scale ranges from C1 to C5, with C1 offering minimal protection and C5 offering maximal protection. It’s up to you to determine how much protection you want your sealant to offer, but if you live in an area with harsh conditions, we recommend looking into a C5 sealant.

Can you remove roof sealant?

Yes. You can remove liquid sealant with a plastic putty knife. If you’re having trouble peeling your tape sealant off with your hands, you can also use a putty knife. However, be careful not to damage the shingles underneath.

How long does it take for a roof coating to dry?

It depends on the sealant’s formula and the weather at the time of application, but most liquid sealants will take between eight and 24 hours to dry.

What is the difference between solvent-based and water-based roof sealants?

Solvent-based sealants are highly resistant to the elements, but they’re more expensive and take more effort to apply because of their thick consistency and requirement of wearing a respirator. Water-based sealants are less resistant to the elements, degrading faster and requiring more frequent touch-ups. However, they’re more cost-effective and easier to apply.

To share feedback or ask a question about this article, send a note to our Reviews Team at [email protected]

Did you miss our previous article…

Home Care

The 4 Best Expandable Garden Hoses (2021 Review)

Expandable Garden Hose
Courtesy Amazon

Expandable garden hoses do all of the work of a traditional hose, but they shrink down into lightweight, portable tubes for easy storage. In this review, the This Old House Reviews Team researched the four best expandable garden hoses on Amazon to help you find the product that’s right for you and your home. The products included in this article are available at various home improvement stores, local home centers, and online retailers like Amazon.

Expandable garden hoses grow to their full length when they’re filled with water and shrink when they’re no longer in use, making them easy to store and maneuver around your yard. To help you find the right hose for your home, the This Old House Reviews Team researched the best expandable garden hoses on the market. In this review, we break down our top picks as well as give advice on how to choose the model that’s right for your needs.

Most Lightweight: TBI Pro Expandable Garden Hose

Weighing a quarter of a pound, this hose is lighter than other options on the market. However, its lightweight nature doesn’t impact its effectiveness or durability, as it has a 3750D fabric exterior and four-layer latex core.

Key Features

Available in 50- and 100-foot lengthsBrass connectorsBlack and orange color combinationFive-year warranty

What Customers Are Saying

The TBI Pro’s 4.6-star average rating comes from close to 2,000 customer reviews. Ninety-one percent of these customers gave the hose 4 or 5 stars. Only 6% rated it 1 or 2 stars.

Satisfied customers praised the durability of this hose, particularly in regards to the brass fittings, which prevented leaks at the connection points. However, some customers had problems with punctures developing in the tubing and found that the company was unresponsive to their complaints.

Best Nozzle Grip: Flexi Hose Lightweight Expandable Garden Hose Kit

The Flexi Hose Lightweight Expandable Garden Hose Kit comes with an eight-pattern spray nozzle. This nozzle has a textured rubber handle for better gripping. The hose can also withstand water pressures up to 12 bars and water temperatures between 41 and 113 degrees Fahrenheit.

Key Features

Available in 50-, 75-, and 100-foot lengthsBrass connectorsAvailable in black, black and blue, green, black and green, black and orange, and black and red color combinationsLifetime warranty

What Customers Are Saying

Over 20,000 Amazon customers have reviewed the Flexi Hose, awarding it an average rating of 4.4 stars. Approximately 84% gave it 4 or 5 stars, while 11% gave it 1 or 2 stars.

Customers who liked the Flexi Hose found it lived up to its promise of being easy to use and store, remaining kink-free even when coiled. Unfortunately, some customers said that the spray nozzle felt a little flimsy. They also had difficulty finding information on the lifetime replacement guarantee.

Best Spray Patterns: Gardguard Expandable Garden Hose

This garden hose comes with a nozzle that has nine spray patterns, allowing you to change how the water comes out of the hose every time you use it. The 3300D polyester fabric cover and triple-layer latex core also make for a lightweight and durable hose, while the included hanger and bag allow for easy storage.

Key Features

50-foot lengthAluminum connectorsAvailable in black and blue; blue and orange; blue, orange, and yellow; black and green; and black and gray color combinationsOne-year warranty

What Customers Are Saying

The Gardguard hose’s 4.4-star average rating comes from over 10,000 reviews. About 86% of customers gave it a rating of 4 or more stars, while 10% gave it 1 or 2 stars.

Customers liked the low weight of this expandable hose, especially when compared to a traditional rubber or vinyl hose of the same length. They also liked the affordable price relative to similar products. However, some reported that the low weight and price was achieved by using aluminum hose fittings instead of more durable brass connectors.

Most Customizable: Flexi Hose Lightweight Expandable Garden Hose

This expandable garden hose is available in four sizes and seven colors, allowing you to choose a model that fits your watering preferences. Like the other Flexi Hose model in this review, it can withstand water pressures up to 12 bars and temperatures up to 113 degrees Fahrenheit for long-lasting use.

Key Features

Available in 25-, 50-, 75-, and 100-foot lengthsBrass connectorsAvailable in black, green, black and red, black and blue, black and gray, black and green, and black and orange color combinationsLifetime warranty

What Customers Are Saying

The Flexi Hose without the nozzle received a slightly lower average rating of 4.3 stars out of 5 from around 7,000 customer reviews. About 82% gave it 4 or more stars, while 12% gave it 1 or 2 stars.

Most customers felt that this hose delivered on the company’s promises, with a few even saying that the most recent design was an improvement on earlier incarnations that had less sturdy tubes and connectors. However, some customers also reported low water pressures or leaks during use.

Buyer’s Guide

Before buying an expandable garden hose, it’s important to consider what features you require out of your model. In this buying guide, we will break down length, material, and other factors that will inform your purchasing decision.


Choose a hose that’s long enough to water your entire lawn and all of your plants. If you have a large yard, you may want a longer hose, but if you only need to water a few plants on your deck, a smaller hose will suffice. Common hose lengths are 25, 50, 75, and 100 feet. However, keep in mind that a hose may not expand to its advertised length if your water pressure is low. For example, a 75-foot hose may only expand to 65 feet when hooked up to your spigot.

Fitting Material

The connectors that attach your hose to the water supply and to the nozzle can be made of different materials.

Plastic: Plastic is affordable, but it isn’t as durable as the other materials.Brass: Brass won’t corrode or rust and is more durable than plastic.Aluminum: Aluminum tends to last longer than plastic but not as long as brass.

Core Material

The outer layer of your hose will likely be made of fabric. However, the hose’s core can be made of one of two materials.

Latex: Hoses with a latex core usually have two, three, or four layers. A core with more layers will give you more protection, but it also makes the hose less flexible.Thermoplastic copolyester: This material is heat-resistant and more durable than latex, but it’s also more expensive.


Some expandable hoses come with nozzles that allow you to change the spray pattern. Pay close attention to the product description of your hose to ensure you know whether a nozzle is included. Some features to look for in a nozzle include an ergonomic design, durability, and several spray patterns. Although it costs a little more to buy a hose and nozzle separately, it may be worth it to find the right model of each one.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some of the disadvantages of purchasing an expandable garden hose?

Here are some of the biggest drawbacks of choosing an expandable hose:

It doesn’t last as long as a regular garden hose.Its material is easier to puncture than the material of a regular garden hose.It’s difficult to repair holes because of its fabric covering.

How can I maintain my garden hose?

To maintain your hose, follow these tips:

Turn the water off when the hose isn’t in use.Store the hose out of direct sunlight.Keep the hose away from sharp objects.Drain the hose after using it.

Can I fix my expandable garden hose if it has a leak?

Most expandable hoses can’t be fixed once they start leaking because of the material they’re made of. If you notice that your hose has a leak, consider purchasing a new one.

To share feedback or ask a question about this article, send a note to our Reviews Team at [email protected]

Did you miss our previous article…

Home Care

Cordless Compact Routers

Fall 2021 Tool Lab, compact routers, Chris Ermides using a router
Tim Soter

This Old House editor Chris Ermides, host of our Tool Lab video series, introduces the latest in routers and provides pointers on how to use them

This article appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of This Old House MagazineClick here to learn how to subscribe

Fall 2021 Tool Lab, compact router from Milwaukee Tool
Tim SoterStandard features:1. ON/OFF switch; 2. Speed-control dial; 3. ¼-inch collet; 4. Spindle lock; 5. Quick-release lever; 6. Gripping surface; 7. LED lights | Worthwhile upgrades: Micro-adjustment dial (A); Dust shroud (B); Soft-start motor; Instant-stop bit; Edge guide; Plunge base

Milwaukee Tool M18 FUEL Compact Router

COLLET: ¼ inch
VARIABLE SPEED: 10,000–31,000 rpm
BATTERY: 18 volt
WEIGHT: 2.95 pounds [without battery]
• Soft-start motor
• Instant-stop bit
• Edge guide
PRICE: $179 [battery extra]

Fall 2021 Tool Lab, compact routers, Chris Ermides using a router
Tim SoterWith the stock clamped securely in place, Chris steers his cordless router along the stock with one hand.As a rule, cords are a nuisance: They pose trip hazards, force you to hunt for a place to plug them in, and ruin your work if they snag on something. That’s why, among the several routers I own, my compact cordless ones get the most use.

It wasn’t always so. When cordless routers were first introduced in 2009, their performance was less than stellar. Motors bogged down in dense stock, and batteries lost steam in long runs; the tools simply couldn’t keep up with their corded cousins. But with more powerful batteries and brushless motors, performance is no longer an issue. Now, even without a cord, the latest generation of compact routers—a.k.a. trim or palm routers­—are up to any task their corded counterparts can handle, including hinge mortising, flush-trimming, and edge profiling.

Because of their small size, these tools are mostly used one-handed, so they’re easy to control, and they allow you to adjust your grip and body position to ensure the best line of sight to the bit. Which means cordless compact routers are not only more convenient than their plug-in predecessors, they’re actually safer to use.

Guide to 18-volt Cordless routers

Makita 18V LXT Compact Router XTR01Z

Fall 2021 Tool Lab, compact router from Makita
Tim SoterMost complete kit

THE DETAILS: The electronically controlled, brushless motor matches torque and rpm to the demands of the work; it maintains a constant speed for all routing tasks. Two-step on/off switches eliminate the chance of an accidental start. The height of the bit is adjusted with smooth rack-and-pinion gearing—scales etched into the aluminum motor housing show the depth setting. Two bright LEDs illuminate the bit and the base.

NO-LOAD SPEED: 10,000–30,000 rpm
WEIGHT: 4.6 pounds [with battery]
FEATURES: LED light, soft start
ACCESSORIES: Kit includes edge guide, plunge base, trimmer base, two batteries, and charger.

DEWALT DCW600B 20V MAX Compact Router

Fall 2021 Tool Lab, compact router from DeWalt
Tim SoterPowerful performer

THE DETAILS: While its bit speeds look low, this router’s motor packs plenty of torque; it can tackle most any job without bogging down. Its soft-start feature eliminates jumps when you turn the tool on, and it stops turning the instant power is shut off. You set bit depth by twisting the tool’s motor housing. A clear Lexan base, the largest in this group, provides reassuring stability and open sight lines. The big motor means the tool’s grip might be too large for some hands.

NO-LOAD SPEED: 16,000–25,500 rpm
WEIGHT: 2.6 pounds [without battery]
FEATURES: LED light, soft start
OPTIONAL ACCESSORIES: Plunge base, dust shroud
PRICE: $199 [battery extra]

Ryobi P601 18V ONE+ Palm Router

Fall 2021 Tool Lab, compact router from Ryobi
Tim SoterGreat value

THE DETAILS: This single-speed tool doesn’t have the sophisticated motor-control technology of the other routers, but the bit’s high rpm will get the job done. The housing is die-cast aluminum, and the base is clear Lexan, for good bit visibility. Users with big hands will find there’s limited space under the battery to grip the tool comfortably. on/off switches placed front and rear make it easy to use with either hand. This tool’s micro adjustment allows you to set bit depth in precise 1⁄128-inch increments.

NO-LOAD SPEED: 29,000 rpm
WEIGHT: 2.8 pounds [without battery]
ACCESSORIES: None offered
PRICE: $69 [battery extra]

Fall 2021 Tool Lab, compact router technique illustration
Ian Worpole

Technique basics

Turn it on and let the bit come up to speed. Place the router’s base on the workpiece, then slowly slide the bit into the edge of the stock. Because the bit spins clockwise, you move the router so the bit’s cutting edges spin into the stock: from left to right when the bit is on the right edge of the stock; from right to left when the bit is on the stock’s left edge.

1. Remove the battery.
2. Engage the spindle lock; using a wrench, turn the collet counterclockwise to loosen it.
3. Insert the bit until it bottoms out. Then pull it out slightly—1/8 inch, at least—so the collet can tighten fully.
4. Reengage the spindle lock. Tighten the collet clockwise by hand, then with a wrench.

Edge Shapers

All compact cordless routers use bits with 1/4-inch shanks. Look for ones with carbide edges, which stay sharp much longer than all-steel bits. Here are the four I use most often.

Fall 2021 Tool Lab, 4 compact router bits
Trims back overhanging edges of countertop laminates, edge-veneer tape, and applied, solid-
wood edges.

Removes sharp corners. A second pass on a board’s opposite face creates a bullnose profile. Lowering its depth makes a quarter-round bead.

Carves an L-shaped edge that increases the surface area of a glued joint. Commonly used in cabinetry projects.

Faster than a chisel, it cuts flat-bottomed mortises for door hinges. To guide the bearing, you need to make a template thick enough for the bearing to ride against it.

Fall 2021 Tool Lab, compact routers, Chris Ermides using a router
Tim Soter

Cordless router safety

Check that the bit is firmly secured in the collet. Verify that the motor body is locked into the base.Secure the workpiece with a clamp. Keep clothing and hands away from the spinning bit.Always wear eye and hearing protection. Wait until the bit stops completely before setting the router down.

Prevent router blemishes


Fall 2021 Tool Lab, compact router in use
Tim SoterFast-spinning router bits (and stiff bearings) create so much friction, they can leave burn marks in the wood. Here are some ways to prevent them:

Dial back the bit’s speed. Move the bit through the material more slowly.Use a climb cut (see below) to remove less material with each pass. Put a drop of oil on the bearing. If that doesn’t work, replace the bearing.TEAR-OUT

Fall 2021 Tool Lab, compact router in use
Tim SoterStandard routing technique can cause wood to splinter or tear out when the bit goes across the grain, as shown. To prevent this, make a “climb cut”: Push the router slowly in the “wrong” direction across the vulnerable edge to limit the bit’s cutting depth. When climb-cutting, be sure to hold the router with two hands because it will want to jump. After rounding the corner, finish the cut as you normally would.

Fall 2021 Tool Lab, compact router edge guide
Tim Soter

The edge guide

All routers need a way to keep the bit from wandering. Often it’s a bearing that rides on the edge of the work. But when routing dadoes, you need an edge guide, above, to keep the bit going straight. Just hold the guide firmly against the edge of the work as you push the router along. To avoid tear-out at the end of the cut, clamp a scrap piece across the bit’s exit point.

Home Care

Renovating Design Trends in Los Angeles

From efficient ADUs to spa-like bathrooms, home interior design in Los Angeles points to simplicity, utility, and going traditional

Modern living room with black painted fireplace and pattern rug
Above) Sweeten renovators and actor Jaime Ray Newman and Guy Nattiv’s LA renovation

Changes and challenges: Home interior design in Los Angeles

Diversity is king when it comes to home interior design in Los Angeles. The city has a sense of history, with styles spanning Spanish Colonial to Mission Revival, Beaux-Arts to Art Deco, Hollywood Regency to streamline 1930s modern. The desire to preserve those design styles is strong, as is the need to make homes liveable for today. Nationwide, COVID-19 inspired a shift in homeowner priorities, what rooms and features are important. Fortunately, for LA contractors and designers, remodeling has not missed a beat.

“We didn’t really see much of a change,” said Sweeten general contractor Trevor, who is based in LA. “It’s just a redirect.”

The challenge is more about materials shortages, delays, and rising costs “The cost of lumber is affecting building,” said Trevor. Sheet plywood, for example, has jumped from $18 to around $50, he said. “People are asking for alternatives to lumber, like tin framing used in commercial.”

Here, we review the rising trends in home design and remodeling in Los Angeles (plus a few design favorites that are here to stay.)

Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and up to $50,000 in renovation financial protection—for free.

renewed focus on outdoor living

“A lot more people are fixing their exterior,” said Trevor. “People want to spend money on outdoor hardscapes, swimming pools. In LA, that’s where you spend 60 percent of your time.”

LA-based designer Jeanne Chung agreed. “It’s all about indoor-outdoor living,” she said. NanaWalls, which fold in and extend the indoor space out to patios, are very popular. “They double the square footage of eating and entertaining areas,” said Jeanne.

The bonus of adding windows, especially large ones to foster the indoor/outdoor connection is gaining more natural light.

Homeowners are also investing in outdoor rooms. Pools, water features, outdoor kitchens, firepits, and extensive seating and dining areas are high on wish lists. Materials are more organic, “definitely going back to nature.” Trevor is using a lot of textured cement, stamped, and honed finishes. “A salt finish really is big. With mid-century, there’s a lot of tile work. We do ipe wood outdoors and a type of red hardwood that is slightly less hard than ipe, but about half the price.”

DUs and additions for more square footage

One rising trend for home interior design in Los Angeles is remodeling ADUs (accessory dwelling units). “It’s generating the biggest buzz,” said Trevor. These detached structures, often garages, are repurposed as guest houses, rentals, or home offices.

Many of her clients are adding to the existing footprint. “They’re knocking out walls to create a little extra space, as in bathrooms, for example.”

Modern living room with glass walls and modern gray fireplace
Above) Sweeten renovators Kirsty and David’s Mid-City/Miracle Mile home in LA

“You can build a second story,” said Sweeten contractor Trevor. “It’s contingent on the footprint of the existing structure. A lot are pushed outside of the setback, so they go high vertically. People are going for the max. It’s getting a lot of value on the price for square foot.”

Keeping kitchens fresh and updated

“It’s where you get the most bang for the buck,” said Trevor. The remodel here may happen more frequently than in other parts of the country. Apparently, design fatigue sets in earlier. He has returned to kitchens remodeled just two years before for a refresh. “It’s like changing wardrobes.”

LA kitchens tend to be large, mostly open plan, and gourmet with top-of-the-line professional appliances. But there’s not as much carving, ornate moldings, over-the-top use of stones. Instead, there’s more of a creative mix of materials. At the same time, the goal is more making it your own with custom looks—tile backsplashes, bold color ranges, and stove hoods.

Boho kitchen with verde stone blend backsplash
Above) A verde stone blend backsplash in a LA renovation by designer Jeanne Chung. Photos by Peter Chistiansen Valli.

Cabinets. Simple clean-lined styles are flat-panel and frameless. Hardware is modern, sculptural, or jewelry-like. Otherwise, there are hidden touch latches. Wood is finding competition in painted finishes, mostly in soothing livable shades.Color is taking a turn. Moody, dark colors—black, deep blues, and bottle greens—are ramping up, said Sweeten contractor Trevor. They pair well with burnished or brushed gold. “I do a lot of antiqued blue—like a muted denim—with brass pulls,” he said.Lighter woods seem to suit the lighter mood of interiors. That goes for cabinets as well as flooring. Wide plank wood floors are on trend—with an average of 7″—and in French oak whitewashed finishes, cappuccino, some with a hint of gray.Porcelain and quartz are gaining in popularity because of the similar looks to stone without the maintenance. Large slabs and large format tiles offer a seamless installation with no grout lines to break up the design. Matte finishes have overtaken shiny ones.“Here in LA, my clients don’t want polished,” said Jeanne. “I am using concrete-looking porcelain slabs and cement tiles.” Jeanne seals her concrete to guard against staining because it’s pretty porous.

Island culture. Some islands are getting bigger, some are multi-level for different functions. Waterfall sides on islands are popular.Appliances. Pro-style ranges favor stylish brands like Wolf, Monogram, LaCornue, and Lacanche. The desire to cook healthy promotes features like special burners for woks, steam cooking. Some ranges even have an integrated sous vide. The slow cooking in a vacuum-sealed bag retains more nutrients, uses less oil, fat, and salt.Gold touch. LA homeowners are opting more for burnished and brushed gold finishes in cabinet hardware, faucets, and lighting. Some appliance manufacturers now include brass pulls as options. But mixing gold, especially with black matte, is very chic. Mixing metals adds interest to the design, especially in kitchens, where there is a lot of cabinetry.

The spa bath is redefined

Freestanding tubs provide a visual tour de force. Most often they are made of stone, porcelain, quartz, or resin, so the shape lends a sculptural note. Large curbless walk-in showers are distinguished with surface materials. Linear drains are trending because they are more aesthetically pleasing. Rain showers are favored, but you won’t find multiple showerheads due to water restrictions. Floors often are radiant heated.

Bathroom with modern bronze hanging vanity mirror
Above) Variations of brass finishes in this LA renovation by designer Jeanne Chung. Photos by Peter Christiansen Valli.

The divide—choosing between tub and shower—is more about personal preferences. Many see the sculptural artistry of the tub as adding to the return-on-investment. Radiant heated is also a value-added. An alternative to slab stone walls is large format porcelain tile. These tiles, with a range in looks that mimic various stones, come in similar slab formats.

More than ever, the bath is considered an oasis. The overall style may be elegant, but again, the overall look is simplified, with cleaner, more modern lines.

Ensuite bedrooms are preferred to mega-size closets

Jeanne said her clients would rather have larger bedrooms with sitting areas than supersized closets. Still, walk-in closets are on remodeling wish lists.

Storage is key

Unseen compartments in drawers or cubbies in cabinetry and built-in benches corral stuff to keep spaces visually clean.

Modern kitchen with exposed beams and stacked washer dryer
Above) Sweeten renovators Amy and Kevin’s Westchester home in LA

Mudrooms are still going strong

Although some trend forecasters suggest the demise of these transitional spaces for hanging coats and dropping gear, Jeanne said not so in LA. “Especially with the pandemic,” she said, “There’s a desire for bigger mudrooms. It’s a like a decontamination area—coming into the home, taking off all your grimy stuff.” Typical layouts include hanging storage behind doors, cubbies, benches for putting on shoes or boots. Some incorporate pet stations.

There’s an uptick in requests for libraries

“It’s a very popular room right now,” said Sweeten contractor Trevor. “It’s only going to get more popular. I’ve had three customers recently tell me they want libraries—real traditional, with everything built in.”

Home offices are making a comeback

The Zoom fatigue is real, but so is the realization that the backdrop for those visual calls needs to step up. Jeanne recently had a request from a wife to make her husband’s office more fashionable—because of his frequent video calls.

Ongoing remodeling trends consistent in LA

Going green and sustainability is much more in demand with a more conscious effort to utilize eco-friendly materials as well as those that save energy.Smart home. Automation adjusts to temperature, controls lighting, and security. Smart devices even monitor cooking.A few things to consider when remodeling in LA: seismic codes that require tall stem walls, slab on grade with thick foundations in order to guard against earthquake damage. Also, water restriction dictates the kinds of showers allowed.

Classic and traditional design emerges

When it comes to home interior design in Los Angeles, Trevor also said that there appears to be a return to more traditional design.

“Mid-century modern has always been huge like ranch home designs,” he said. “But traditional design is coming back—I would call it a mix between mid-century, Dutch, and American traditional. Recently I’ve been seeing yellow and some of the 70s colors coming back.”Statement decorating is hot. It’s part of the remodel plan. It could be a feature wall, a painted mural, or wallcovering. It could be a pop of color in a professional range or a graphic patterned tile on a backsplash. Outdoors, it might be a pergola, water, or fire feature.There’s an appreciation for artisanal looks. Handmade tiles, handcrafted hardware lend personality to interiors. Some renovation inspiration comes from restaurant and hotel design.“Simplicity—we’re definitely going in that direction,” said Sweeten contractor Trevor. “Not so much baroque-style with lots of moldings. People are going functional. They want hip and stylish.” There’s a minimalist sensibility, but not in the spare extreme.California style—with a modern or rustic refined look—still is strong, with lighter bleached look woods and ceiling beams.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation with Sweeten

The post Renovating Design Trends in Los Angeles appeared first on Sweeten.

Did you miss our previous article…

Home Care

10 Gifts for Pet Lovers

We all know someone who loves pets as much as family. Show them you care with these gifts for the pet lover on your list.

1. Surefeed Microchip Pet Feeder Connect

Know someone with multiple pets in their household? Stop pets from eating each other’s food with this sealed bowl that food fresher and free of flies. As a pet approaches the feeder, it recognizes their microchip or RFID collar tag, only opening for them. It’s also recommended for pets on weight management diets.
$170 | Available on Amazon

2. SUREswivel 360-degree Swiveling Pet Tie-Out

Not everyone has a fenced-in yard for their dog, but now every dog can roam their yard safely and securely. This 360-degree swiveling tie-out ensures that the tether will not wrap up on the base or twist up and break.
$49.99 | Available on Amazon

3. Cube Key Finder Smart Tracker Bluetooth Tracker for Dogs

Know a pet owner who could use some peace of mind when it comes to their pet? Attach CUBE to anything and use CUBE Tracker App to find it fast—whether its Fido who got loose from the yard or your luggage on a trip.
$24.95 | Available on Amazon

4. K & H-Thermo Snuggly Sleeper Dog Bed

Keep pets warm this winter with an electric-heated dog bed. It is thermostatically controlled to automatically respond to temperature changes, and warms to a pet’s normal body temperature only when the pet is in the bed.
$64 | Available on Amazon

5. ECOVACS DEEBOT N79 Robotic Vacuum Cleaner

We love our pets, but not their messes. Gift the pet lover in your life with the gift of a clean, pet-filled home. This app-controlled robotic vacuum cleaner has a strong suction to pick up pet hair on both hard flooring and carpet.
$169.99 | Available on Amazon

6. Furbo Dog Camera

Keep an eye on your pet and let them know you’re still there with the Furbo Dog Camera and Treat Dispenser. The 1080p Full HD camera allows for livestream video to monitor your pet on your phone with a 160-degree wide-angle view, day and night. Use the 2-way audio and barking alert to detect when your dog is barking. It also sends push notifications to your smartphone when it detects barking, so you can speak to your pet and reassure them. The best part is, you can toss a treat to your pet and even play a game of catch—all via the Furbo iOS/Android.
App. $133.99 | Available on Amazon

7. Pet Qwerks Blinky Babble Ball

Spark a pet’s interest with this motion-activated ball that flashes lights and makes 18 different sounds. This is also great for pets with special needs, including those who are blind or have poor eyesight, or separation anxiety.
$11.66 | Available on Amazon

8. Le Dogue Silicone Dog Paw and Bone Molds

Create your own homemade dog treats with these safe food molds, complete with a recipe book. Bone-appetit!
$14.99 | Available on Amazon

9. K9 Sport Sack

Is there someone on your list who is always on the go with their furry companion? The K9 Sport Sack makes it easy to bring a dog along for the ride. Available in three sizes to fit a yorkie, or larger sizes for a chubby frenchie or corgi.
$69.95 | Available on Amazon

10. PetSafe New Wall Entry Dog and Cat Door

We all know pets can never decide if they want to be indoors or outdoors. Give them the option to choose with the PetSafe New Wall Entry Door. The door installs into wood, stucco, brick and most types of siding. You can install it yourself, too.
$114.95 | Available on Amazon