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How To Renovate A Townhouse in Brooklyn Edition 1 Volume 8

Updated on August 8, 2020


Three months after closing Hubbie and I started making real progress on the renovation of our 112-year old townhouse in Brooklyn. We had stressed and strained to finally own the house, yet the real work of transforming the structure from a grand dilapidated envelope into a functioning and seamless home had only just begun.

Even after editing our renovation project down to the bare essentials, we still have to rework all the plumbing, electrical, bathrooms, kitchen, roof, skylights, floors and walls. We are working with the mortgage lender to release our renovation funds as the work progresses and it is our top priority to get the job done right, according to Department of Building specifications and according to a strict 6-month timeline. This means having a simple, realistic plan and being careful not to bite off more than we can chew.

Hubbie and I quickly realized that even the best plans will require several phases of working and re-working as the house comes down and back up around us. If this were television the focus in this episode would be on the drama when the homeowner discovers that the living room door is drawn in the wrong place, or that the contractor will install but not assemble the flat-packed cabinets, or that you did not budget for the purchase of the four skylights needed for your new roof - all of which happened to us. But in non-televised life these kinds of changes are par for the course. There is no theme music or dramatic cutaways, and the savvy homeowner should expect alterations to the original plan. The only real plan is to stay level-headed, solution-oriented and highly resourceful.

And hope that nothing goes too terribly wrong.

As soon as the work began in earnest our main contact with the General Contractor became the GC’s supervisor, an energetic and easy-going young man named Carl. We did another walkthrough with Carl just a few days before XMAS. This tour lasted several hours as we reviewed all of the finished drawings and talked through every detail we could think of. We covered everything from the tile colors to the placement of the sockets in the walls to the orientation of the ductless AC blowers in the staircase. Carl was patient and inquisitive and even laughed at my jokes and made decorating suggestions. We were off to a good start.

After having spent almost four years trying to buy a house in New York City and experiencing more than one failed attempt (you may recall the bank financing that fell through on one house and the 11th hour cash buyer on at least two others), Hubbie and I tend to be convinced that things will go wrong far more often than they will go right. We have cultivated a stoic ability to keep our heads pressed to wall even when things seems to be spinning completely out of control. Hope for the best and plan for the worst, is our daily code.

We also love to micro manage.

“How often will you guys be available to come out to view the job site?” Carl asked during the walkthrough.

I am pretty sure that I began nudging Hubbie in the back at this point. A gentle loving poke that communicated “Tell him we will live here with no heat, no hot water or electricity if need be. Tell him. Tell him!”

“I am pretty flexible during the day,” Hubbie’s replied. “I can come out as often as you need.”

“That’s great,” Carl replied,” the more you guys are available the better.”

As it turns out, contractors often prefer homeowners to be hands-on when doing a project. As we are essentially the project-managers (our architects have generously adjusted this service out of our fee) it became even more important that we make and communicate even the most minute decisions to our contractor and his team on a daily basis.

Also we have a massive amount of shopping to do.

We made an agreement with our GC before closing that Hubbie and I would select each and every item needed for the house with the exception of primer, sheetrock and tape. We would select the exact materials for the house and the GC would pay for them with the funds we borrowed from the bank. We would also be doing all of the painting ourselves.

Here is a partial list of the items we had to find:

Kitchen Counters (50 square feet)

Clawfoot Bath Tub (2)

Floor Tiles for 2 Bathrooms (140 square feet total)

Tub Drains (2)

Tub Riser Conversion Kits (2)

Chair Rail Tiles (30 linear feet)

Kitchen Floor Cabinets (5)

Kitchen Wall Cabinets (6)

Kitchen Sink

Kitchen Drawers and Shelves



Double Oven Gas Range

Range Hood

Under Cabinet Lighting for Kitchen

Ceiling High Hat Lights (10)

Ceiling Pendant Lights (5)

Other Ceiling Lights (5)

Wall Sconces (4)

Vestibule Tiles (22 square feet)

Kitchen Cabinet Handles (22)

Medicine Cabinets (3)

Pedestal Sinks (2)

Toilets (2)

French Exterior Door

French Interior Door

Wrought Iron Security Gate

Bathroom Vanity

Bathroom Sink, Faucet and Drain


Door Handle Kits (2)

Door Hinges (12)

Ceiling Fans (3)

2-in-1 Ductless AC Units (2)

Our quest for materials literally took us down roads we had never travelled. We became familiar with the rental car agent as we made trips to New Jersey and Long Island to select our bathroom floor tiles, choose the marble for our kitchen counters, and to pick up a claw foot tub we purchased on Ebay.

Meawhile, Carl and his team were rapidly taking our house apart. Within days they had removed walls and ceilings, revitalizing the open floor plan that had been the structure’s original design. With each blow of the sledgehammer the house became more open, airy and filled with light. And the faintly sweet smell of the air fresheners finally went away. By the end of the second week, a crew of intrepid workmen had installed a new roof and replaced all four of the original skylights with sparkling new ones. Not only did the new skylights admit far more sunlight, but they sealed the roof of the house in a way that we had not yet experienced. It is a warm, solid, light filled house as it turns out.

We spent XMAS day sitting in the dusty dining room, eating Chinese food and fretting over where to place the lights in the ceiling. It was quite possibly the most thrilling XMAS I have had since I got a Michael Jackson album, a turntable and a bicycle all in the same year.

Hubbie will be assembling the kitchen cabinets by the way.


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