When Jean Brownhill decided to renovate her brownstone in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, she thought she knew what she was getting into. After all, she was a trained architect and had managed renovations before. Later, many thousands of extra dollars’ deep in a “classic overtime and overbudget situation,” Brownhill had an epiphany. If renovation was this hard on her, it had to be even worse for someone without her contacts and credentials. She launched Sweeten.com in 2011, a startup designed to demystify the renovation process and help others avoid the problems she encountered.

“We’re a free matchmaking service for renovators and general contractors,” Brownhill explains. “People post their wish list for their project, and we curate the best expert matches to make the construction a reality—on time and on budget.” Sweeten recently expanded from New York into Philadelphia, with more cities in the works. After seeing thousands of projects and helping homeowners go “from Pinterest to punch list,” Brownhill has a few tips for fearlessly choosing a palette of materials.

Go Bold in a Small Space
“A patterned bathroom floor, wall, or shower makes a big impact, and the small square footage means that if you have to change it later, it won’t break the bank.”
Choose One Strong Color
“Painted lower kitchen cabinets are a big trend right now and a great way to incorporate color on a budget. I love cobalt blue; it looks great with brass hardware.”
Make a Statement With Finishes 
“Small color spends can make all the difference. Go for the patterned backsplash or the red knobs on a Wolf stove! I’m also a big fan of matte black fixtures—so chic.”

Jean’s Picks
“The most compelling spaces happen when people bring personality to the project,” says Brownhill. Here are a few of her latest finds.

Baguette in Multi Color By Popham Design pophamdesign.com
Purist Two-Handle Bridge Faucet by Kohler $866 homedepot.com
Castle 75 Stove by Suzanne Kasler from $9,500 lacornuecollective.com