Finding My Home Sweet Home

In the 22 years that I’ve lived in NYC, I have lived in 15 apartments.  For real.  No, it’s not that I love the process of moving so much, but for many years my first husband and I bought, renovated and flipped apartments for a nice profit.  That was back when the real estate market was still somewhat “affordable” and long before the economy crashed.  And ever since I got divorced (about 8 years ago), I have wanted nothing more than to own a home of my very own – a place I could love every time I walk in, and a place my kids could feel safe and secure, and also that they would feel is their own.  I was sick of living in rentals with generic walls and floors and kitchens and bathrooms, tired of coming home to rooms filled with a mashup of furniture from various stages of my life.  You know what I’m talking about.

So about 2 years ago, I earnestly began an apartment hunt.  I was fortunate to have a great job as a senior TV producer running a show for a huge network, so I made a nice salary.  I sat down with my brother (my financial advisor) to go over the numbers, and he laid out very clearly what I could spend.  I wanted something in a great location with three bedrooms, a doorman, outdoor space and with a price I could afford.  Note: I happen to have my real estate license, but even so, I can tell you this was no easy feat.  I realized pretty quickly that I was going to have to make some tough choices…did I want to sacrifice location or a doorman?  Did I want more interior space and no outdoor space?  How big was realistically big enough to house myself and two children?  Did I need something brand new or new-ish, or was I willing to undergo (by myself this time) a renovation?

After a few weeks of determined searching, it was pretty clear that  I needed to buy a two bedroom apartment that could be converted into three bedrooms.  That meant at least some renovation.  At that point, I began thinking hard about buying a complete gut job – one that would take a while (and require me to find a temporary rental during the construction – an added expense into my budget), but that would allow me the opportunity to pick out absolutely every single thing, ensuring the outcome of truly loving where I live.

So I bit the bullet, and in a wild leap of faith, went into contract on what was to be my very own apartment.  It was small, but had great potential.  It was also located in a very good location, had a doorman and a huge balcony – big enough for real outdoor furniture.  It  basically fulfilled all of my wants and needs…and of course, it also had some challenges.

The biggest one involved creating the third bedroom.  I was not interested in converting from two to three bedrooms in the standard NYC way, which means cutting off the L-shape of the living room/dining area and making a third bedroom.  I wanted to preserve as much living space as possible, and have all the bedrooms together, so I did the unthinkable.  I chose to cut the master bedroom in half to make two rooms for the kids (windows on two walls made this very feasible), and cut my own room’s (the smaller room) bedroom closet in half to make way for a hallway outside the kids’ rooms.  This enabled both kids to not only have real rooms, but one would not have to walk through the other’s in order to get to the bathroom.

Some of the other challenges included:

  • Because of the overall scope of the work, I needed not only approval from my coop board for all of my plans, but also permits from the NYC Department of Buildings.  I had to pay an expediter to accomplish that in a “timely” manner (3 months).
  • Since I wanted to completely redo the floors, I had to have an asbestos inspector come and investigate the existing floors.  Of course there was asbestos in some areas of the apartment, which I was now responsible for paying to have removed.
  • Because I wanted the new back hallway, and to move the placement of the door to the existing master bathroom so that it could be accessed by said new hallway (as it was going to be the kids’/guest bathroom), I needed added approval from the coop board in the building to expand the bathroom one extra foot (wet-over-dry) to accommodate a new doorway that was big enough for code.
  • Due to drastically reducing the size of my own bedroom closet, where was I going to put my stuff??  I decided to build out the oversized walk-in closet in the living room and use that for shoes, bags, sweaters and some hanging things.  And good thing I did, as I met my now-husband midway through this whole process, and fortunately he sort of has a place for his suits and shirts in this closet.
  • There was no overhead lighting in the apartment, apart from a fixture in the kitchen ceiling and one in the hallway, yet the ceilings were too low to completely drop them and add overhead lighting.  But I love lots of light and don’t like rooms solely lit by lamps.  So we had to come up with a solution, which my interior designer did – a soffit along the wall over my bed in my bedroom, and a genius modified coffered ceiling in the living room.  When I came to see the ceilings once the beams were installed, I was worried I’d made a huge mistake.  I felt like I’d walked into a coffin and the room felt very claustrophobic.  I suggested removing the two center beams, which we did, and it came out amazing.
  • My daughter’s room had no HVAC unit by her window, which meant no heat in her room.  My architect suggested an electric baseboard heater on one wall, which is perfect.
  • As this was going to be my home, I was not interested in having cable wires stapled along the walls, like in most NYC apartments.  I wanted the wires hidden in the walls, like they would be in a house.  This required multiple conversations and negotiations with both my building super and the cable company, to convince them to come before the apartment was completed to install the cables behind the walls.

I’m not gonna lie – it was a very long and laborious process.  I was not just doing a little work.  I was gutting the place.  Knocking down walls, building new walls, expanding the kids’ bathroom by a foot (which is a process known as “wet-over-dry”, and which is a BIG deal in a NY coop), ripping out absolutely everything down to the studs.  At times it was hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

But I tried to savor and enjoy the process of picking out all of the finishes.  My interior designer was beyond amazing, with both impeccable taste and a fantastic personality, so he made the process fun.  More on that in the next blog.

So despite a supposed three month job taking twice as long as that, I’m here to tell you that I made it through alive.  And so did my architect and contractor.  Yes there were delays.  Yes I went a bit over budget.  And yes, I would do it again.

Here is a look at the apartment when I first bought it, and what it looked like in the midst of the construction.  The pictures still amaze me, but maybe when you see the final result (in the next blog), you’ll agree that it was worth it.


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This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Be sure to come back to see the final results and my 5 most favorite things at home in the next blog – it may inspire you to make the changes you’ve been thinking about!

Have you ever renovated your home?  What was your experience and would you do it again?

Jess xo



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