Home Remodeling

A Sweeten Story: A Brooklyn Brownstone Bathroom Gets Its Turn

With a new layout, a laundry, and a lot of tiles, this Brooklyn brownstone bathroom was worth the wait

“After” photos by Kate Glicksberg for Sweeten

Homeowners: Isis and Stephano moved into their pre-war home and posted their Brooklyn brownstone bathroom project on SweetenWhere: Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, New YorkPrimary renovation: Expansion, reconfiguration, and renovation of the Brooklyn brownstone’s fourth-floor bathroom, which does double-duty as a laundry roomSweeten general contractorSweeten’s role:Sweeten matches residential renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering know-how, support, and up to $50,000 in renovation financial protection—for free.

Written in partnership with Sweeten homeowners Isis and Stephano

Purchasing the right Brooklyn brownstone

Priorities tend to shift when moving into a fixer-upper. Such was the situation of Isis and Stephano’s family bathroom. After closing on their brownstone in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, at the end of 2018, the couple and their children moved in during the summer of 2019 after an initial renovation. The house, built in 1899, is a four-floor structure comprising of two units—a family-size triplex sitting above a garden-level rental unit.

It seemed perfect to Stephano, a nurse anesthetist, and Isis, a brand and experiential marketing specialist, who had two kids and a third on the way. They’d been looking for a home to suit their expanding family, and needed room to accommodate guests, including their parents, who frequently come for extended visits.

One factor that had made buying the house possible was that it needed work. “We did small renovations prior to the move,” Stephano said, “but we didn’t complete everything—we knew we had more to do.” While getting settled, they continued bit by bit. But the bathroom, which had been on the “right away” To-Do list, soon found itself demoted. “We’d gutted it but weren’t able to immediately redo it,” Isis said, “because we had to prioritize repairs to the roof and work on the downstairs unit.” The top-floor bathroom found a role as a makeshift laundry room.

Common renovation questions: How much, and How long

During the nearly two years that followed, the family muddled through. “We had everyone sharing one bathroom,” Stephano said—including, at times, Isis’s dad. The limited bathroom space wasn’t ideal for obvious reasons. So when they saw their way clear to start working on the room, they felt more than ready to begin. The couple posted their project on Sweeten and soon met several qualified contractors.

“The biggest questions we had were: How much and how long?” Isis recalled, explaining that, like everyone, they’d heard horror stories of inflamed budgets and timeline extensions. What she and Stephano also asked the candidates was, How well do you communicate? “We know surprises happen that can extend the life of a project,” Isis said. “We hoped to work with a team that could convey all key info that might affect the timeline, so that we could collaborate on workarounds.”

Sweeten soothed jitters in the process, she says. “The company helped us gut-check our initial budget based on the market for our area, presented solid contractors for us to meet, and then checked in to make sure we felt pleased with our selection,” Isis recalls. “I felt good about the consultant who supported us and the insights shared.”

Creating a smarter layout

Once they had made their contractor choice, the project began—haltingly. Isis and Stephano had hired a designer to help them create the space, and brought the resulting plans to the table when discussing the project with the contractor. “The designer had measured, provided renderings, and even put us in touch with vendors,” Stephano said; items they’d already ordered for the bathroom included a barn door, a vanity, and the stone for its two-sink top. Then—a hard stop. “Our contractor,” Stephano said, “realized that many of the measurements didn’t jibe.”


“The biggest questions we had were: How much and how long?” Isis recalled.

The original washer and dryer, left behind by the previous owners, wouldn’t fit in the space the designer had planned for it. The vanity sizing was off, too, and the door from the recommended vendor was too heavy to be installed as intended. “It wasn’t the best experience,” Isis said, looking back on the disappointing start. But they plodded on, fueled by visions of functional space for doing the family’s laundry, and a shower lit by the morning sun, thanks to an existing, well-placed skylight.

Borrowing space to get a bigger bathroom

The original bath had been cramped, and since the new imagined design had it doubling as the laundry room, they set out to solve this major appliance problem first. When they originally gutted the bathroom, they took out the closets originally behind the bathroom. By rethinking how those spaces could work, they were able to take some square footage to accommodate. They rebuilt a closet off of the guestroom and created a custom closet for the appliances.

The 24-inch washer and dryer units they purchased are lean and stackable—the rewards of scouring the market for space-saving solutions. Finding a creative way to fit them in, Stephano said, “took amazing Tetris skills.” With their contractor’s help, they found more square footage by opening a wall and took space from a small closet.

Carving out a bit more room helped with other layout and storage challenges. “The shower is spacious! We added a custom cabinet that can hold all of our toiletry needs and were able to obtain a larger, double-sink vanity,” Isis said, noting that they went custom in the end to find a vanity that would fit.

Their general contractor was a good fit

The aesthetic they chose is a combination of natural wood, black and white, with tiles being the highlight. “Subway tile felt very NYC to us, so we led with that, but also liked hexagon tile for the floor,” Isis said. “In the shower, we opted for all black, which we totally love, and we’re happy with the custom walnut shelving, too.”

Both partners feel proud of the outcome, and the role they played in achieving it. “We took what we’d learned from other projects,” Isis said, “and used that knowledge to work really well with our Sweeten contractor and his team.” Stephano feels that their contractor played a big part in the project’s success. “He seemed to always be available, and was invested in both getting the work done and making sure we were satisfied.”

Having finally made its way to the top of the list, the renovated brownstone bathroom feels fresh and new. “I love the design, and how functional it is for all of our needs, including storage,” Isis said. Thanks to the skylight, the room has great natural light. “And,” Isis exclaims, “I love the custom door Stephano made for us!” Perfectly weighted, and smooth in its roll.

Thanks for sharing your Brooklyn brownstone bathroom story with us, Isis and Stephano!

Materials Guide

BATHROOM RESOURCES: Geometrics 2” hex matte white wall tile; Silhouette black polished 2”x10” shower wall tile; Geometrics 2” hex glazed black shower floor tile; Geometrics two-inch hex glazed black floor tile; and Quartz Jet Black saddles: Brooklyn Tile & Design. Awaken and Purist X Handles shower fixtures and hardware, Adair toilet: Kohler. Matte black rolling shower door: VIGO. Custom-built double vanity cabinet with Urbania door panels in Mariposa: Tafisa. Nicoli matte black faucet: DeltaCarbon Loft Cornwall Metal Beveled Venetian wall mirror: Overstock. Keenan two-light wall sconce: ALLMODERN. Barn door: Custom hand-made by Sweeten homeowner Stephano. SmartStandard Barn door hardware: Amazon. 24” washer and dryer: Samsung

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 A Sweeten Story: A Brooklyn Brownstone Bathroom Gets Its Turn appeared first on Sweeten.

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Home Remodeling

7 Takes On a Dreamy White Subway Tile Bathroom

In the bathroom, white subway tile is the perfect backdrop for classic or contemporary looks

Image of a bathroom with white subway tile

It’s no wonder why more and more homeowners are using white subway tiles in the bathroom. Its texture ranges from minimalist to custom handmade, while its bright appearance can contrast nicely with many color palettes. They are simple yet versatile pieces that give these 7 Sweeten bathroom renovations a polished and modern look, unique to each homeowner.

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

Opening up a bathroom with a timeless finish

Image of a white bathroom with subway tile and walk-in shower

Sweeten homeowner Mickey wanted to renovate his bathroom for a timeless look that would appeal to the apartment’s prewar roots. He was going for a sleek, bright, and cohesive look.  

He chose clear shower doors to give a full view of the shower and make the whole room feel larger. White subway tiles go from floor-to-ceiling in the shower for simpler cleaning.

Marble-honed subway tile

Image of a bathroom with white subway tile and gold accents

Sweeten homeowner Allyson always intended to renovate her 1920s East Flatbush Brooklyn home to be more true to her creative and vibrant personality. She posted her renovation on Sweeten, which included her full bathroom. She worked with her Sweeten contractor to select pieces that would match the vintage, mid-century modern, Afrocentrist, brass, and natural wood style that she envisioned. With so many different pieces and styles being added, she looked for simple tiling as a backdrop. Her solution: off-white marble-honed subway tiles.

White subway tiles deliver a handmade look

Image of a white bathroom with subway tile and walk-in shower

Nazli and Larry undertook a gut renovation on their Brooklyn brownstone in the Bedford Historic District. They wanted to transform the space into a home that matched the needs and personality of their family. 

Since Nazli’s mom was a regular visitor, they renovated the guest bathroom to be warm and welcoming. One of Nazli’s favorite things about the guest bath is the white subway tiles that were added to the shower walls: “I love these subway tiles. They are just varied enough to give them a real handmade look rather than the flat subway tiles we usually see.” Nazli says her only regret is not using them in more spots throughout the house.

Herringbone subway tiles moving upwards

Image of a bathroom with white subway tile in a herringbone pattern

Janna and her family gutted their “disgusting,” crowded, and crumbling bathroom in Morningside Heights, Manhattan. One of the main reasons for the renovation was that a seven-foot tub consumed most of the space, leaving little storage area and a messy bathroom. On top of that, the appliances were all old and in need of an upgrade. 

Even though Janna needed to update the bathroom, she still had an appreciation for the pre-war building and wanted to maintain that feel. Janna carefully selected the materials to achieve a refreshed and spacious bathroom, without compromising the pre-war aesthetic. When it came to deciding how to tile the walls, Janna’s first choice cost $12,000, something that was not in her budget. So instead, she utilized her creativity and chose classic white subway tile for the bathroom that had a twist. Instead of the typical horizontal layout, Janna had her subway tiles in a jaunty herringbone vertical design. This unique choice added an interesting element to the bathroom, supporting the industrial look that Janna hoped for. 

Freshening up a bathroom

Image of a Clinton Hill bathroom with white subway tile and bathtub

With kids now in the picture, Courtney and Jim needed to renovate their 800-square-foot Clinton Hill apartment to have more functional storage and be more aesthetically pleasing. To update the bathroom, they installed white subway tile in splash zones for easier cleaning. The rest of the walls were left painted so they could have hanging shelves. The contrasting designs add visual variety to the mostly black and white space.

Bevel white subway tiles

Image of a renovated bathroom with white subway tile and bathtub

A bathroom leak forced Sweeten homeowners Katie and Lance to renovate. They took this opportunity to redo the design of their bathroom to better match their refined and elegant aesthetic, while still maintaining a budget. To do so, they chose bevel white subway tiles for their walls and the tub exterior. The white theme gave their bathroom the sleek, polished look they hoped to achieve. The choice of bevel subway tiles also adds an interesting texture on top of the sophisticated finish.

White subway tiles straddle a vintage and modern look

Image of a renovated bathroom with white subway tile and clawfoot tub

An upstairs leak ruined the ceiling of this 1940’s era co-op apartment bathroom, forcing architect Brian Kaplan to renovate. Looking at the damage, Brian knew this renovation would not be an overnighter. So, he turned to Sweeten for help to get it done.

As a frequent business traveler, Brian wanted to base the renovation of his bathroom on all of the luxurious spaces he had seen while traveling. He hand-selected every material that went into the renovation. The result: a bathroom mixed with vintage charm and modern luxury. To achieve a simple yet sophisticated look, Brian chose classic white subway tiles for all four walls from floor to ceiling. The tiling complements the blue accent pieces that Brian chose for the flooring and tub.

Looking to add white subway tiles to your bathroom? A Sweeten contractor can make it happen.

Get Matched With Contractors

See how 7 Sweeten homeowners converted their bathtubs into showers to gain useful square footage.

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 7 Takes On a Dreamy White Subway Tile Bathroom appeared first on Sweeten.

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Home Remodeling

Creative Spice Rack Ideas

A newly renovated kitchen with a drawer open, filled with spices. A mortar and pestle and cookbooks sit on the counter.
Nat Rea

Got an impressive collection of spices? Show them off with an equally impressive spice rack.

Part of the fun of having colorful jars of seasonings around is in organizing and exhibiting them in a creative way. And if you’re planning to use these containers as an integral part of your kitchen decor, we’ve got all sorts of clever and crafty DIY spice rack ideas for displaying your collection.

Wall-mounted Spice Rack

a kitchen with open shelving and a color coordinated spice rack.
Nicolette Lovell/Courtesy Studio PlumbEye-catching spices can do double duty as works of art on your kitchen walls. Display them in a decorative frame or repurposed pallet, or install floating wall shelves for a neat, minimalist look. Just make sure the shelves have a lip or rail for keeping the jars in place.

Magnetic Spice Rack

A magnetic spice rack inside a kitchen cabinet.
Nathan KirkmanA magnetic fridge or surface in your kitchen is the perfect canvas for a spice jar collage. You can always purchase ready-made magnetic containers, but for the DIY version, simply use hot glue to attach strong magnets to decorative containers.

Keep in mind that the jars should be relatively light and flat, so they’ll adhere well and won’t protrude so much that they’ll get knocked off by accident. It might also be a good idea to use a material that won’t break, such as metal or acrylic, just in case a canister does get bumped off the fridge—the kitchen can be a hectic place.

Countertop Spice Rack

A modern spice rack in amber bottles sits on a modern kitchen counter.
Dylan Bartolini-Volk/Courtesy EvermillGone are the days when keeping your spices on the countertop simply meant lining them up against the wall. There are so many beautiful ways to exhibit your jars now, such as in an elegant criss-cross rack, on a tiered bamboo shelf (that expands!), or even in a vintage-look rotating caddy. These countertop options are as attractive as they are useful.

Spice Rack Cabinet

Spices stored inside a blue kitchen cabinet.
Nick Smith/GAP PhotosIf you’re not so into displaying your spices for everyone to see, there are some clever options for neatly hiding them away. For example, you can turn a regular kitchen cabinet into a spice rack cabinet with a slide-out organizer or a tiered lazy Susan.

Spice Rack Drawer

A newly renovated kitchen with a drawer open, filled with spices. A mortar and pestle and cookbooks sit on the counter.
Nat ReaDon’t have a cabinet to spare, but do have a drawer? Organize your spices neatly using a spice drawer insert, which keeps the bottles from rolling out of place when you open the drawer.

Pantry Door Spice Rack

Spices stored on the inside of a pantry door.
James French/GAP PhotosLike a shoe rack that hangs on the inside of the closet door, a spice rack that’s mounted to the inside of your pantry door can keep your spices organized while saving shelf space in the pantry. To avoid the mounting hardware, try these functional spice gripper clips instead.

These are just some ideas to get you started! With a pinch of creativity and a dash of imagination, your spices can enhance not just the flavor of your foods, but the aesthetic of your kitchen as well.

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Home Remodeling

My Sweeten Story: A Bronx Rowhouse Steps Up to Live/Work Duty

This pre-war Bronx remodel gives a work-downstairs space for its artist owner

Image of an entryway seating area with furniture and staircase

“After” photos by Kate Glicksberg for Sweeten

Homeowners: Steve and Lewis posted their gut renovation project on Sweeten.Where: South Bronx, New YorkPrimary renovation: A whole-house remodel in the Bronx reveals an in-home art studio and a vibe of “warm minimalism”Sweeten general contractor and architect, Shannon Reid of Reid Wilson ArchitectsSweeten’s role: Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and up to $50,000 in renovation financial protection—for free.

Written in partnership with Sweeten homeowners Steve and Lewis

Setting goals for a new home

We bought this house with dreams of a live/workspace that would reflect our style and offer plenty of room for our art collection. Steve is a painter, so having his studio at home was a life-long dream. We also wanted a place where our friends and large extended family could get together.

Image of two Sweeten renovators

Image of the exterior of a red brick rowhouse with black windows in the South Brox

We are Steve DeFrank and Lewis Holman. Steve teaches at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. Lewis is self-employed as a tax accountant. We sold our loft condo in Williamsburg after living in it for nearly 15 years to purchase a small townhouse in the South Bronx.


From a two-family to a single-family rowhouse

The engineer’s report on our 1882 rowhouse in Mott Haven, the Bronx, came back good, but we still planned on a gut renovation. The structure has three stories comprising roughly 1,500 square feet. The home had been divided into two apartments and had eight rooms on just two of the floors. We wanted to renovate and convert to a live/work single-family home.

Image of a living room with wooden floors, couches and floor-to-ceiling windows

Image of a dining area with wooden dining table, chairs and wall shelves

Image of a dining area with wooden table, hanging pendant lamp and shelving unit

We listed our project on Sweeten and began our search for design-build services. Sweeten’s introduction to our contractor and architect was a valuable service. As first-time renovators, our biggest questions before starting the project were about cost. In addition to an in-home studio, we wanted to open up every floor of the building with fewer walls and more windows. We understood that altering the building in this way would be an investment.

The plan we made with the architect was for the ground floor to be Steve’s studio and a water closet—a bathroom with the sink outside. The middle floor would be the living and dining rooms, plus a kitchen and a half bath. On the top floor would be our bedroom and a home office/guest bedroom, a full bath, and a laundry closet.

Image of a blue storage unit and pink staircase

Image of a Sweeten renovator sitting in his at-home art studio working at a crafts table

Image of an at-home basement art studio with hanging art on the walls

We did a true gut renovation—nothing was in good enough shape to retain. Our Sweeten contractors demolished down to the bricks and joists, all of which had to be replaced or sistered; this was necessary to allow removal of the central beam, needed to open up the ground- and middle-floor spaces.

Radiant heat and functional stairs

Throughout the home, we aimed for low-maintenance, design-worthy materials to evoke an aesthetic of warm minimalism. We wanted expansive wall space for hanging works of art. The ground-level studio interior is an open workspace with recessed LED lighting, a lot of artist’s storage, and radiant-heat flooring—which we installed on all levels. To bring as much light as possible to the studio, we opened the rear wall with an 8’ x 9’ three-panel glass sliding door.

We decided to remove the original front stoop and relocate the house’s entrance to the ground floor, which created some challenges. Our architect Shannon envisioned and our Sweeten contractor produced, a storage unit that divides the entry area from the studio space. We had hoped to save the original interior staircase and railing, but our Sweeten contractor showed us options that made more sense.

Ultimately, we closed the stairs from the ground floor to the first to create more wall space in the studio; we chose a vivid pink hue for the risers, which brightens the whole entrance. On the parlor and top floors, we went with a wood stair-rail that looks simultaneously classic and modern. In the end, we were very happy that we took our contractor’s advice.

Connecting all of the floors

The kitchen cabinets are custom millwork, the front panels are painted a green that evokes the palest verdigris. Our island, which has an angled front, is an homage to artist Donald Judd. We rented nearby during renovations and observed this living area coming together. Visiting the site at least twice a week, we loved seeing the gradual progress, sometimes glacial and sometimes lightning quick.

We understood that altering the building in this way would be an investment.

A dining-area drawer and shelving system provides storage and connects these rooms to the top floor, where the main bedroom and home office also employ coordinating storage units. We had fun with tile in the upstairs full bath, where we mixed matte and glossy tile in a range of sizes and colors, including chartreuse, dark green, and gray-green.

building exterior refresh

The elimination of the parlor-floor entrance led to an anomaly on the front of the house, with regards to the living-room windows. Because we replaced what had been the front door with a window, there was a size disparity between that and the window next to it. The architect’s solution—a modular window design, a component of which sort of flip-mirrors the smaller window to create a visual connection despite the size difference.

Image of a modern bathroom vanity and wall with green tile

Image of a bathroom vanity with black fixtures and modern oval mirror

Image of a shower with light green tiles, black fixtures and shelf for bathroom supplies

Steve and Lewis’ renovation advice

Throughout the job, we enjoyed a collaborative exchange with the architect and contractor. As first-time (and last!) renovators, we’d embarked on possibly the most stressful project of our lives. Luckily, we had chosen our team carefully. Our contractor and crew kept a sense of humor during a long, arduous process.

Our advice to other homeowners ready for a renovation: Anticipate bad news and delays, and roll with the punches. Be grateful for the opportunity you have, even when you wonder why you ever thought it was a good idea! And remember, issues that arise and seem monumental during the process get solved, and are forgotten once you move in. Now when we enter our home, we feel serene.

Image of a bedroom with storage cabinets and at-home desk workspace

Image of an at-home workspace with metal desk and white hanging shelves

Image of a laundry closet with washer, dryer and shelves of cleaning products

Image of a multi-story staircase with black railing and white brick walls

Thank you for sharing your Bronx remodel story with us, Steve and Lewis!

Renovation Materials

WHOLE HOME RESOURCES: Wall and ceiling in Super Matte paint; interior doors, trip/castings, window sills, stair risers, and stringers in Cliffside Gray pearl paint: Benjamin Moore. Radiant heat flooring: Warmboard, Inc. Engineered Hickory Heirloom, ¾” thick, tongue and groove softened edge, 5” face widths, Veiled White satin prefinished wood flooringCarlisleMini Orb stairwell lights: Allied Maker. Light switches: Lutron

ARTIST STUDIO RESOURCES: Interior doors and door trim in Super White pearl; studio floor and cellar stairs in Platinum Gray glossy floor/porch paint; storage cabinet in Pacific Ocean; stair risers in Hot Lips pearl; stair stringers in Cliffside Gray pearl: Benjamin Moore. Continuum 23 series architectural LED linear fixture: Alcon Lighting. No. 8 LED, flush mount recessed lighting: Dulanski

KITCHEN RESOURCES: Custom millwork cabinets: Custom by contractor. Cabinets in Antique Jade paint: Benjamin Moore. Dekton countertops and backsplash in Zenith: TK Quartz and Granite. Refrigerator, dishwasher, and cooktop: Bosch. Electric oven: Samsung. Discus Pendant 2 light over kitchen island: Mattermade

DINING AREA RESOURCES: Tolomeo variations light over dining table: ArtemideDining area drawer and shelving system: Vitsoe

FULL BATHROOM RESOURCESField tile, 6×6 in color P210 (dark green), 6×3 in color R203 (chartreuse), 3×3 tile in color P94 (gray-green), 3×3 in color S1 (off-white, behind sink): Pratt & Larson. Blu Bathworks series 1200 wall-mount vanity and matte white #SA1200-01m sink top; Duravit Darling New wall-mounted toilet; matte black single-function shower head; black Del Rp71751.Bl shower arm; black wall-mounted hand shower set: AF New YorkGravity mirror: Ex.T. Mini Dome light: Allied Maker

HALF BATH RESOURCESAdriatic 3×12 lava stone subway tile: Tilebar. Jason Wu sink faucets: Brizo. Nivis wall-mounted sink: Agape Design. Gravity mirror: Ex.T. White Darling New wall-mounted toilet: AF New YorkEndless Dome light: Allied MakerContempo II black matte towel bar: Manhattan Center for Kitchen and Bath.

BEDROOM RESOURCES:Drawer and shelving systems: VitsoeTolomeo variations wall-mounted bedside lamps: Artemide

ADUs or accessory dwelling units can transform into home offices, living space for family or as a rental, or a retreat.

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 Bronx Rowhouse Steps Up to Live/Work Duty appeared first on Sweeten.