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I’ve Renovated More Than 70 NYC Apartments—This Is the Mistake I Always Notice

Plus, how I make every dollar go farther.

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Small green den by Studio DB
Courtesy of Studio DB

Britt and Damian Zunino have remodeled more than 25 houses, 22 commercial spaces, and 70 apartments in the New York City area over their 13 years as principals of Studio DB. Kitchens and bathrooms? They’ve gutted hundreds. Their last project alone had seven full baths, two powder rooms, a kitchen, and a full-size working pantry, plus an entertainment kitchen and an outdoor kitchen. “That’s just in one house,” Britt says, laughing. 

They’ve seen it all. The faux pas they consistently notice? “We often hear of people hiring the least expensive professionals and being surprised at the subpar results,” she explains. “Always remember that you get what you pay for.” While a qualified firm might cost you a little more up front, it may also save you a bit in the long run. 

We chatted with Britt about her favorite ways to cut costs, create more space, and clear clutter. Her biggest piece of advice: “It’s okay to make a mistake. You can change the wallpaper; you can upgrade to a prettier light—it’s all going to be okay.” A few more tips to get you to the renovating finish line:

Embrace the Power of IKEA

White NYC kitchen by Studio DB
Photography by Matthew Williams; Design by Studio DB

Zunino swears by a good IKEA hack as much as we do. “We love using its kitchens to save money,” she says. “The cabinets are a great foundation to build upon; they’re well made and their internal hardware is the same as that found in many top showrooms.” She spruces them up with doors from Reform or Superfront and, when upper cabinets are involved, she runs the doors up to the ceiling, creating more storage and a seamless look.

Plan Your Kitchen Around How You Use It

Red wet bar in closet by Studio DB
Photography by Matthew Williams; Design by Studio DB

In New York City, space is often limited, so every design decision is calculated. Britt always takes a full inventory of what will go into the kitchen to make sure everything has a place: “We ask a lot of questions about our clients’ routine and top cooking priorities,” she says. “We want to understand how a client plans on using the kitchen, how often they shop, the type of small appliances they use.” If space allows, they outfit the pantry to house things like coffee machines and toasters, leaving the countertops clean. “This is especially important if the kitchen is open to the living areas, which is often the case in this city.”

Squeeze Storage Into Unexpected Places

Dining room with floral wallpaper by Studio DB
Photography by Matthew Williams; Design by Studio DB

“We maximize small apartments by taking advantage of any available space, especially height,” says Britt. They look for every opportunity to work in an extra cupboard or shelf: adding a full-height medicine cabinet, designing storage under beds and around radiators, or integrating drawers into seating. This way, even the tiniest rooms are clutter-free. 

Scour the Stone Yard

Britt believes a little marble goes a long way in making a space look more luxe, especially when it comes to bathrooms and kitchens—but that doesn’t mean she’s willing to pay big prices for it. “Stone yards often have remnants they are willing to sell for below their normal cost,” she shares. However, there is one material she tries to avoid at all costs: porcelain floor tiles. “There are so many reasonable, interesting alternatives, and the typical square footage needed for a bathroom or kitchen is so nominal,” she says. “The up-charge to natural stone or a pretty handmade tile is well worth it.”

Having seen so many Manhattan apartments, there’s one thing the designer craves above all: creativity. “I’d like to see people branch out from the standard white kitchen with white marble countertops,” she says. “If you see it everywhere, it’s time to move on.”

This story was originally published in November 2019 and has since been updated. 

Discover more renovating tips we swear by: 4 Lessons We Learned From Leanne Ford’s Best Before-and-After Projects I’ve Renovated More Than 30 Kitchens: This Is My Top Tip for Remodeling on a Budget This Green Kitchen Ended Up Smaller Than Where It Started

Gabrielle Savoie


Gabrielle is most often found digging through 1stdibs in search of Tobia Scarpa sofas, hunting down the newest cool hotels, or singing the praises of Art Nouveau. She spends an inordinate amount of time looking at real estate floor plans and listening to podcasts. In her free time, you’ll likely find her bouncing on a trampoline at Fithouse, snacking on a crudo at the latest cocktail bar, antiquing for French silverware, or dogsitting for anyone who will ask—yes, even you.