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In Renovator’s Notebook, homeowners open up about the nitty-gritty of their remodels: How long it really took; how much it actually cost; what went horribly wrong; and what went wonderfully, serendipitously, it’s-all-worth-it-in-the-end right. For more tips to nail your next project, follow @reno_notebook.

Location: Hudson Valley, New York

Budget: $15,600

Square feet: 500

Top priority: Create a chef-worthy space, complete with modern, high-functioning appliances, on a reasonable budget. 

Alex McCrery and Jenny Goodman know their way around a kitchen. “We met while working in restaurants,” says Goodman, and eight years ago they launched their company, Tilit, which makes fashion-forward, functional aprons, jumpsuits, and chore coats (they’ve outfitted such top chefs as Michael Symon, Tom Colicchio, Missy Robbins, and Sean Brock). Naturally they have a lot of thoughts about what works in the room and what doesn’t. “It’s a part of our daily lives,” says Goodman. So when the NYC-based couple and longtime renters purchased their first home 10 minutes outside of Hudson in upstate New York, they got to work on creating their dream space—black marble countertops, Verona gas range, and all. 

“It’s always been a goal of ours,” says McCrery of splitting their time between the city and the country (something that became all the more apparent when the pandemic hit and they realized they’d be cooped up in an apartment with their two daughters). With only the budget for a fixer-upper, they landed on a pre-1900 farmhouse—their real-estate agent asked them six times if they were sure they wanted to put an offer in. “He was basically telling us, don’t do this,” says McCrery, laughing. While Goodman jokingly likens the ladder-like staircase leading to the second floor to a “toddler death trap” (nothing an architect couldn’t fix, though) the kitchen had a workable layout and decent lighting. “There was a vibrance in there,” recalls McCrery. 

Still, the house had only a handful of owners during its long life and hadn’t seen a full-on update for about 50 years. Some charming details, like the pressed-tin ceilings, the couple kept. Other odd mishaps, like an upper cabinet that was placed in front of a window, went, well…out the window. Ahead, in their own words, the pair take us behind the scenes of their $15,600 renovation. 

Save: A Statement Moment in an Unexpected Place

Courtesy of Alex McCrery and Jenny Goodman

McCrery: When we started the renovation, I noticed that the old refrigerator was submerged into the drywall. I thought it was really strange. So we started looking around the house and realized the facade didn’t match up with this wall. There’s also a chimney on the roof, but it wasn’t inside. We decided to just go for it and tear it down.

Goodman: Our contractor warned us that if we removed it, there could be something crazy back there.

McCrery: We pulled the drywall back to see what was going on. Sure enough there was a brick wall and chimney that were in fine condition. 

Goodman: Our only scary moment was when our contractor called and told us the wall in the kitchen looked like it was moving; there might have been a leak. We had this total panic attack. He said, if there’s mold, you’ll have to replace the entire side of the house. Alex and I sat on pins and needles for an hour and a half while they opened it up. It turned out it was originally constructed with no collar ties (horizontal beams between the rafters that stop them from spreading), which was a simpler fix. 

Splurge: Dramatic Countertops 

Goodman: This was the hardest part, to be honest. We went back and forth on the countertops, first considering Caesarstone and quartz. But there’s something about a natural stone that felt right. This black marble slab ($4,000) just spoke to us, sort of like the house did in the beginning. 

McCrery: It was actually less expensive than the white options. 

Goodman: We used an offcut for the backsplash behind the stovetop. Given this is our first renovation, we didn’t think about what to do around the rest of the room. We maxed out our budget on the marble, so we went with clean-looking Clé tiles ($280) for the rest of the space. 

Save: DIY Dining Nook 

Courtesy of Alex McCrery and Jenny Goodman

Goodman: Last March we opted to leave the city with our two kids, but we hadn’t yet bought any dining furniture for the kitchen. Alex decided to make us a table and build a banquette for $250, which is what he spent most of April (on the weekends) doing. 

McCrery: This was actually the second table. The first one was wobbly because it was an old door and it was probably 4 inches higher on one end. 

Goodman: Shout out to the cushion maker (our DIY hero who we use for Tilit products). Fortunately we get his wholesale pricing, so it was super-affordable to have these velvet ones made. 

Save: In-Good-Shape Cabinets

Goodman: We looked into buying new cupboards, but we wanted to spend our money on a nice countertop. These were solid wood and in fine shape. 

McCrery: Plus we had enough pieces to reconfigure the kitchen, taking it from a cramped U-shape to a galley layout. The only new cupboard is the open one next to the oven, which I made out of the beams they took out of the house when we opened up the staircase (I also used the same wood to make a floating shelf for $50). 

Goodman: Everyone at the time was doing dark charcoal or navy kitchens, and we hadn’t seen that many greens (this one is Valspar’s Japanese Seaweed). There’s so much plant life and natural light around there that it just felt like a good color for the space. The total cost to paint the cupboards: $100. 

Splurge: Chef-Approved Appliances

Goodman: The 30-inch-wide range in our apartment is always crowded, so we knew we wanted to go bigger. Ones from brands like Wolf and Viking were out of our budget, so we went with a 36-inch one by Verona ($5,000) with copper burners that play nicely with the stainless steel and brass touches throughout the space. 

McCrery: The brick wall and the black marble are really the focal points, so we wanted something clean and simple and modern. 

Goodman: Then trying to get the best of what we could afford, we went with a Fisher & Paykel fridge and a Bosch dishwasher. 

McCrery: It’s hard not to look at a kitchen and say you want everything brand-new, but I think the reason our space works is because we have the wall and the shelves and the weird sort of concrete patch on the floor.

Goodman: Which our Saint Bernard loves to cool off on.

McCrery: All those things make it special. We almost ripped off the wainscoting on the lower wall, but we kept it and I’m really glad we did. Keeping that character and playing off of it rather than going the expensive route paid off.

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