Renovating for Renters: One Creative Spills His Secrets
Hint: It’s all about design flexibility.
Updated Sep 29, 2021 6:44 AM
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This story originally appeared in the Winter 2019 issue of Domino, titled “Upstate Remake.” Subscribe to be the first to receive each issue.
Descended from a line of Los Angeles cabinetmakers, Anthony D’Argenzio named his creative studio Zio and Sons as a nod to his grandfather’s workshop, where he swept the floors growing up. In Italian, zio (also the last three letters of his last name) translates to “uncle,” of which he has four, one of whom carried on the family business. That heritage is clear in D’Argenzio’s approach to renovation (“I love working with my hands,” he says), as well as his thoughtful collaborations with such companies as Rejuvenation and Clé Tile. (Next up: an online shop for vintage art.)
D’Argenzio first gained attention when he renovated his apartment on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 2014—a whitewashed space with exposed brick walls, reclaimed wood shelves, and classic subway tile that defined rustic sophistication on Instagram and beyond. In 2016, he and his wife, Hillary (a sommelier), purchased a turn-of-the-20th-century building in the historic town of Hudson, two hours north of New York City, where D’Argenzio often traveled to source antiques and scout photo locations. He dubbed the building This Old Hudson and painstakingly transformed it—adding to his already unique mix of photography, styling, and brand-building skills. The property, like all his work, elevates the standard “white box” aesthetic into a layer cake of dreamy cream-colored tile, artfully weathered wood, and plaster the texture of freshly whipped frosting.
On the heels of This Old Hudson’s success, the D’Argenzios tackled their next project in town: transforming a four-family building into long-term rentals. “It was in true disrepair,” he says, but the chance to take on a larger renovation while adding value to the neighborhood was too alluring to pass up. After two years—during which the couple welcomed daughter Havana in September—the work in progress is almost complete. Here, he invites us behind the scenes.
Learn as You Go
A craftsman at heart, D’Argenzio strategically chooses which projects to do himself. He focuses on skills he wants to learn, such as tiling, and picks up the basics from YouTube videos. When South Carolina–based specialists Master of Plaster finished the walls of a room at This Old Hudson, D’Argenzio watched the process and applied that know-how to his current rental renovation, which features lime plaster walls. He acts as designer, developer, andcontractor—and hires specialists like electricians and plumbers—but admits that juggling so many roles while keeping his full-time creative job can be exhausting. His trick? “Expect delays and be patient.”
Look to the Past
Above all, D’Argenzio seeks to “stay true to the structure” and honor the history of a home. “This building is solid and well-made, with beautiful moldings and decorative trim,” he says of his latest project. Still, modern comforts—like new wiring, washers, and dryers—were a necessity to make the apartments livable. A board member of the Historic Hudson preservation society, D’Argenzio draws on local contacts for sourcing materials: Rogerson’s, a store that’s been around since 1830, for period hardware, and Hudson Valley Lighting, which spans classic and modern styles, for fixtures. D’Argenzio also recommends Hawkins New York for decor. The mix of new and old, inspired by local businesses, roots his work with a true sense of place.
Build Your Budget
To make his latest renovation financially feasible, D’Argenzio divided the project into stages. First, he brought the building up to code, which required new windows, a new roof, and replacing old wood siding. After finishing two of the apartments, he rented them out and put the earned income toward the other units. “I splurged on certain things, like kitchens and baths, but I left the bones and the structure to not go overboard,” he explains. He compared prices online, sourcing plumbing from Hausera, and relied on paint as an inexpensive way to clean up surfaces. The building’s exterior received a refresh with Farrow & Ball’s Schoolhouse White and Off-Black trim, and the interiors feature Cornforth White and Purbeck Stone.
Design for Flexibility
D’Argenzio has a talent for designing fluid spaces that can adapt to various uses. Rather than using bold patterns or colors—which could be difficult for a renter to personalize—he applies texture to create subtle interest. “I’ll mix a plaster wall with a shiplap or tile,” he says. “I like every surface to feel a little different.” At the four-unit rental, he expanded on his go-to weathered white Moroccan zellige tiles to include a diamond-inset pattern, developed in collaboration with Clé. Natural wood flooring, which he sanded and restored in some areas and painted in others, and a black-and-white palette lay an enduring foundation. D’Argenzio bought the property, built in 1915 (reportedly to house sailors), for its “great bones” and kept the layout largely intact, with the exception of converting former pantries into bath and kitchen extensions to maximize counter and cabinet space. “I left the floor plan open and didn’t go crazy with built-ins, since it’s a rental,” he explains. “People want to bring in their own things and tell their own stories.”
More from our Winter Issue: This San Francisco Home Expansion Was the Epitome of a Family Affair Zosia Mamet’s Upstate New York Home Is the Definition of Cabin Cozy Courtney Adamo’s Newly Renovated Cottage Is the Perfect Fit for Her Family of Seven