It’s Just a Heights One-Bedroom Reader Renovation Diary: Can We Take Down That Wall?

Not staged (I swear!)

Editor’s note: Welcome to the second installment of It’s Just a Heights One-Bedroom, a reader renovation diary. We’re excited to publish Robert Schwartz‘s tale of buying and renovating an apartment in Brooklyn Heights. See the first one here.

The first thing we asked at last June’s open house after “what’s that smell?” was “can we take the wall that separates the kitchen and the living room down right now?” From that moment on all the way up until the closing, it was all we thought about. Shouldn’t be too hard, right? It’s a 5 by 8 foot partition wall holding up nothing but greasy 1960s pine kitchen cabinets. I’m not saying buying the apartment was predicated on taking that wall down, but buying the apartment was most definitely predicated on taking that wall down.

brooklyn heights

The new tub!

When we were board approved and sharing our reno plans with the management company, we were told quite casually we’d need to hire an architect. An architect?! This sounds expensive, burdensome and time consuming, not to mention expensive. Plus, we’re not “architect people”! Architect people have more money and way bigger apartments than we do. Architect people invite their architect friends over for brunch and talk about their private schools and juice cleanses. We are definitely not architect people, nor are we “interior designer people” or “custom closet people,” either. But, suddenly we needed an architect and asked around for recommendations.

The first architect we spoke to was way out of our league, and brought nothing but bad news: “…draftsman…plans that need to be drawn up…asbestos report…filing with the Department of Buildings…” that last thing, he told us, being “an epic nightmare.” Filing with the city meant hiring an expeditor, a job which exists only in New York. An expeditor is a “middle man” who has “relationships” with the city so that the process “goes smoothly,” who gets paid a lot of money. How much depended on lots of things, not the least of which was how much money we could afford. Several more architects didn’t return our phone calls, or wanted to know the scope of the work before even getting on the phone. The wee little wall we wanted removed had become complicated.

brooklyn heights

Once a closet, now an office

Then we caught a break in the form of a neighborhood architect. He was really nice, knew our building, and was eager to work with us. Plus, his first name was just two initials, which for some reason made him seem cooler and gave us more confidence. He also delivered some good news: “You qualify for the 45 square foot rule,” referring to the City of New York 101-14 rule where walls less than 45 feet exempt you from having to file. Our architect and the building’s architect got on the phone and made architect small talk about mechanical pencils, tilted drafting tables and expensive eyewear, and we got our exemption! Seeing that wall reduced to a pile of rubble stacked neatly in the middle of the room was pretty satisfying.

As for the rest of the construction, we are doing what we can to make the space more efficient. We are (don’t hate!) removing two of the five closets. Since we never got the second bedroom, something I hereby promise never to complain about again (happy, Evin?), one of the closets is becoming my office. And another closet is going to be turned into a bookshelf. The plumber is installing the fancy shower system I keep glazing over about when it’s explained to me. And the electrician is installing outlets with USB ports, which sounds very adult and sophisticated.

brooklyn heights

Remains of the kitchen

And because hardwood floors, a toilet, tub, shower door, tile, fixtures, kitchen cabinets, appliances and radiator covers don’t just magically show up…cue the spending of money.

This weekend we are traveling to far away and exotic Wayne, N.J., looking at more ceramic tile than I ever knew existed.

Thoughts and prayers please!

[Photos by Evin Lowe]

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