The 8 Big Lessons I Learned From Gut Renovating a 100-Year-Old Home
Zio & Sons’ founder wraps up his monthslong remodel.
Published Jan 30, 2020 12:00 AM
With our New Year’s resolutions freshly penned, January at Domino is all about change—the demo and construction kind. Welcome to Renovation Month, in which we pull back the curtain on the highs (mood-boarding!) and lows (finessing the budget—again) that come with creating the home you’ve always wanted, whether that involves a top-to-bottom remodel or a rental kitchen facelift. Sign up for our newsletter so you don’t miss a thing. In this four-part series, Zio & Sons’ Anthony D’Argenzio walks us through what it really takes to completely restore an old home from top to bottom.
We’ve followed every step of renovation pro Anthony D’Argenzio’s 100-year-old Hudson home makeover: the planning process, the restoration and painting, the final kitchen and bathroom designs. Now, the time has finally come to reveal the Zio & Sons founder’s first two finished products.
D’Argenzio’s main takeaway? “Go with your instincts.” It all comes back to referencing that original mood board, not second-guessing yourself, and aiming for consistency above all. (Oh, and be prepared for your reno to take double the time you allotted.) Given that the home’s two long-term rental units have now been leased for around seven months, we’d say the designer’s work definitely paid off. Here are a few more lessons he learned along the way.
While the matte black stairwell, the two bathrooms, and the two kitchens are strong contenders for D’Argenzio’s favorite moments, his biggest point of pride isn’t a tangible one. “I’m really happy with the cohesive feeling the building’s going to have once it’s done [Editor’s note: He still has a few more apartments to go!]—the units don’t seem chopped up, like some multifamily places can be,” he says. In these spaces, he stuck to the same color palette and rotated between a roster of similar materials. “Do it the right way, versus some kind of lipstick renovation,” he adds.
Be Prepared for the Non-Design-Related Challenges, Too
One thing D’Argenzio wasn’t necessarily prepared for: the mental toll. “If you’re working full-time, it’s going to be hard,” he admits. “Be ready financially, but also be in a mindset where you can commit to the project from a time perspective.”
His solution? Micromanage. For example, if he knew that the carpenters were going to be scheduled for a specific week, he would avoid booking other work so he could be present in case a mistake happened.
Really, Really Consider Wear and Tear
Make sure any stone and tilework is properly sealed, of course, but this advice also rings true for accent pieces. Take the little stainless shelves in the bathrooms, which currently house shampoo bottles and soaps—they looked great, but after a while, they rusted from water splatters.
Remember Who You’re Designing For
“This isn’t a million-dollar townhouse in New York City, so think about the balance between the maximum amount someone would pay and keeping true to the market,” explains D’Argenzio. If you’re also refurbishing a rental, he recommends looking at where you live to determine how high-end you need to go to be competitive. Sure, you might love that super-splurge chandelier…but if it isn’t going to make a difference financially, it’s better to save.
Prioritize the Right Finishes
No matter what, though, D’Argenzio will always use natural materials. Here, he installed butcher-block countertops in the kitchens. “I wanted to do stone but the budget didn’t allow for it. Butcher block comes at a good price point, looks great, and wears nicely.”
Work Within the Home’s Era
D’Argenzio let the house itself—and the surrounding setting—guide him. Given it’s a turn-of-the-century build in upstate New York, a place full of antiques and history, he went for an industrial craftsman vibe. If it had been a Victorian residence, however, he would’ve been more adventurous with color and ornate details; if it were a 1960s A-frame, it would’ve been all about clean lines and mid-century design.
Hire the Best People
“Don’t always pick the cheapest proposal. Compare them with a fine-toothed comb, and make sure you’ve done your due diligence,” the designer says. Tracking down contractors who are truly passionate about their job is worth it when you run into a snafu and need to work through a different solution on the fly.
Never Stop Tweaking
While D’Argenzio spent months working on these units, he learned the most after he had rented them out. For starters, people prefer gas ranges and as a whole prize extra storage space, two findings he applied to his more recent projects.
The same goes for his successes: Renters’ highlights include the overall color palette (especially the pops of black), the sculptural lighting, and the window treatments from The Shade Store. “They’re a really nice touch that a lot of rentals don’t have,” he says of the latter. The most impactful decisions of a large-scale renovation can also be the smallest.
See more renovation tips: What I Wish I Knew Before Renovating My Tiny Kitchen For a Reno With Staying Power, Rethink These Tempting Trends This Kitchen Reno Trick Is Basically Money in Your Back Pocket