After twelve years of watching HGTV, Sara + Mike renovate their classic old home
In 2018, when Sara and Mike first came across the almost 100-year-old house, they knew it had the potential to become the perfect family home for them, their 3-year old son Hudson, and their cat, Domino. An English Tudor in the Gifford Park section of Bronxville, NY, it was located in an amenity-filled town with good schools, it was a great investment, and had a most coveted feature—a big, flat, private yard. Although it had been well-maintained by the previous owners, it had a choppy main floor, awkward layouts, and a kitchen and baths that had outlived their usefulness. They knew they needed help executing their vision for the space. At the suggestion of Sara’s co-worker, they reached out to Sweeten, a free service matching renovators with vetted general contractors.
Posting their project on Sweeten, the scope of work included creating an open layout on the first floor by eliminating the wall between the dining room and kitchen and changing the path to the only bathroom on that level (you had to go through a bedroom to access it). In addition to an enlarged and combined kitchen and dining room space, there were plans for a baking pantry (Sara’s passionate about baking), a mudroom, and a new powder room in place of the old full bath. Upstairs, Sara and Mike intended to update two full bathrooms and turn two small hallway closets into a laundry room.
Sara explains, “We purchased the house in September 2018, with the intention to immediately renovate as much as possible before we moved in. We found out we were expecting again the week before we closed!” The Sweeten design-build team they chose worked to demo several walls on the first floor to open up the space. The 2,500-square-foot, single-family home had felt smaller because of the layout. The couple’s vision? “We wanted to keep the feel of the classic Tudor but hide the modernization away.”
The new kitchen included a large center island for entertaining providing an anchor between the dining space and the cooking area. The counters extend fully over the stools so that “you don’t need to strain over the chairs to get to the island,” explained Sara. With more storage built in, features inside the cabinets included dish drawers with peg separators, swiveling corner shelves, and drawers in every cabinet which keep daily items within reach and neatly organized.
Other touches added to the cooking experience: a touch faucet, pot filler, and an appliance cabinet with pull-outs and outlets. They chose a utilitarian quartz countertop with a marble look to contrast with the custom wood island stained to match the molding throughout the house. The Dutch back door, off on one side of the kitchen, facilitates indoor-outdoor living for the warm-weather months.
A place for everything and everything in its place. I wanted to be able to ‘hide’ all the mess when company came over, but without sacrificing the daily utility of the rooms.
The mudroom, a narrow space adjacent to the kitchen, was also tailored to the needs of the growing family. Outfitted fully in custom millwork that seamlessly blends with that in the kitchen, a low bench allows you to sit down to take your shoes off, and four storage cubbies beneath the bench offer space for each member of the family (including the newest one!). A closet hides messy bags, various gear, and coats, while the built-in desk offers a place underneath for pet bowls.
Another major change on this floor was the conversion of the full bath to a powder room. By reconfiguring the layout, the powder room was now located conveniently off the mudroom and the back door entrance. The couple chose to clad the lower walls in beadboard, with a bird-themed wallpaper above. Not only did the couple have an affinity for birds but Sara has had a love for birds instilled since childhood from her father and grandfather. The Great Blue Heron had become a good omen for the couple during the time of their second pregnancy.
A terrific addition to the kitchen—a luxurious butler’s pantry set up as a baking station—was one of the main bucket list items for Sara and Mike. They installed lower-than-typical counters made of butcher block for an optimal height on which to do baking prep, and added a cabinet with a pop-up interior shelf that raised a mixer to counter height when needed. And a bonus for the kids: a designated lower cabinet with pull-out shelves so that the shorter humans in the home could help themselves to snacks. Sara’s mantra for the renovation: “A place for everything and everything in its place. I wanted to be able to ‘hide’ all the mess when company came over, but without sacrificing the daily utility of the rooms.”
The kitchen faces the dining space, and where there was once a wall there is now a beam that spans the length of the room, both providing structural support as well as an architectural flourish that echoes the existing woodwork in the century-old home.
Next, we head upstairs for more updates. The first thing that you see is the brand-new washer-dryer closet, in place of what had been two basic hallway closets. The laundry—originally housed in the basement—is now relocated on the same floor as the bedrooms, a lifesaver for families with young children. A bar above one shelf was added for hang-drying, as well as a space for folding. A pocket door meant that they wouldn’t have to worry about clearance in the hallway.
Also on this level, the master bathroom received a luxe upgrade, with a large walk-in shower, high-end fixtures and tile, and a large niche for holding toiletries. They opted for a sliding barn door in order to allow room for a double sink.
The kids’ bathroom has a more rustic look, with oil-rubbed bronze hardware and a copper sink. A low wall between the tub and the toilet provided the perfect space for a built-in toilet paper shelf, while crawl space behind the bathroom was made accessible for more storage.
The duo had some renovation experience updating their prior co-op in Riverdale, but this was their first whole-house project. With “the house being nearly 100 years old, there was a surprise around every corner…and behind every wall and floorboard,” noted Sara. “We factored contingencies into the timeline and budget for this and also expanded our scope as we went along, but there were numerous factors above and beyond what we factored in,” shared the renovators.
Through the process, Sara and Mike kept sight of the goal. They recommend that first-time renovators focus on the long term. “It is so easy to get caught up in permits and deliveries being delayed, little problems here and there, budget inflations, or finding out your chimney has collapsed right as you were paying the final bills, but in the end, it all came together. We are absolutely in love with our final space. We are so excited that we get to live here!”
Want to see more of Sara + Mike’s renovation? Watch their videos from start to final reveal.
They are also happy with the way that their Sweeten contractor delivered. “By having a contractor and designer in one place (and married!), we were able to coordinate a lot of decisions immediately and there was a lot of synchronization between everyone.” They also appreciated the way that Sweeten Client Services helped along the process by providing feedback on what were normal problems that everyone encounters in renovations, and what should be of concern. As Sara added, “Sweeten helped us understand those differences and put our minds at ease.”
Thank you to Sara and Mike for sharing your new home with us!
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