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