Renovating in the Big Apple—Thinking Outside the Box

By Ananth Sampathkumar and Mary Chandrahasan, Partners/NDNY Architecture + Design PLLC

RENOVATIONS CAN BE STRESSFUL, BUT TRY AND HAVE FUN: 310 W. 72nd St Living Room Before and After. Photo credit: NDNY Architects & Charlie Bennet.

Renovating your new home or commercial space can be a daunting task, even for the most seasoned hand. Having designed and managed a few renovations in the city, we can lend some insight into counterintuitive decisions that owners should consider which could add value to your project.

#1 Hire Young: Starting with the design team, hire a young architect or design firm and pay them well. Young offices have the drive, determination and time to invest in projects. They manage every aspect of the project from fielding calls, drafting the details and observing the construction on site. Clients like the fact that they have one point person to rely on for their project which might not be the case with a larger more established firm. It is risky but the rewards are big for both client and architect.

#2 Hit The Road Running: Many owners wait until the deal is sealed to start the renovation conversation and hire their design team. We suggest starting early, once the property is in contract. The 2-3 months that ensue provide a golden opportunity to make some headway on design decisions as the potential owner does not incur carrying costs. Once the lease is signed or the contract is closed, the owner takes on the carrying cost on residential projects and sometimes, the rent on commercial leases. While there is always a risk that the deal may fall through, the progress made on the design side usually outweighs any consultant fees that are paid out if the agreement goes south.

#3 Go Original with Aesthetics: With a proliferation of online image boards, owners rely heavily on precedent images to create their “vision” for the space. Websites like Houzz and Pinterest allow users to create inspiration boards for their renovation. This does not always lead to good results. The sum of the parts often does not equal a beautiful whole. Instead, we suggest looking for creative cues outside of magazines and blogs and in the real world. Dieter Wiechmann, Managing Partner and Creative Director of Tacombi describes his inspiration for La Cornelia, their West Village outpost on Bleecker Street as follows—“I took a particularly close look at how market stands, stalls and taquerias were built and presented in the Yucatan. I found an impressive resourcefulness and creativity that relied on readily available, cheap building materials. Layered on is a pride in the products they serve expressed through its display, illustration, and visual description. We employed those same values in the design of Tacombi Bleecker.” There is something familiar about the place especially for those who have travelled to Mexico. The ambience and food pair well here and therein lies the success of the project.

#4 Think About the Planet: Often times small businesses and homeowners do not even consider green ideas because of the misconception that either green design costs more or that their project is too small to count. Every project matters and being sustainable is not only easier than it looks but also good for your bottom-line. Eric Ortense, Founder and CEO of Streamline USA, a Manhattan based commercial and residential General contracting firm recommends that clients pick local materials, use energy saving lighting with daylight controls, install low-flow plumbing fixtures and salvage as much of the existing space as possible. Given the Earth’s perilous state, sustainable design is no longer an option.

#5 Lastly, try and have fun: Renovations are very stressful endeavors and it doesn’t hurt to lighten the mood with quirky design and material selections. At the end, you should have a space you can be proud of and have plenty of good stories to tell.

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