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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.  

Square footage: 210

Year built: Late 1800s

Top priority: Remove the micro-kitchen on the top floor of a Brooklyn brownstone in order to add a much needed primary bedroom.

For the first two years that Aubrey Ament and Will Glaser were living in their Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, brownstone, it was a “construction sandwich.” The couple, who run the design firm GLAM Studio, started revamping their garden level shortly after they moved in, with the goal of listing it as a short-term rental on Airbnb so they could secure some extra income and put it toward their mortgage. They treated the floor above that, the parlor, as their living room with the eventual goal of building out their dream kitchen. And until that could become a reality, the couple and their then-newborn son, Theo, holed up on the third floor, where they installed a micro-kitchen they bought at IKEA for $5,000, a dining area, and a shared bedroom. This setup made entertaining an intimate affair, to say the least. “We were cooking Christmas dinner, and my sister-in-law is sitting on the bed while the pork is roasting 8 feet away in the oven,” Ament recalls. 

Then things quickly changed. Airbnb made it more difficult to have a listing in New York City, and the pair realized traversing up and down all of those stairs was becoming a nuisance for their two arthritic senior dogs. So they pivoted: Last summer, they nixed their Airbnb and instead started renting out the space to brands for photo shoots—it was a huge hit. “In August, we booked five different shoots and made three times as much as we would have from Airbnb,” says Ament. 

Ultimately, it gave the couple the financial confidence to do something they never thought they could afford: They claimed their entire brownstone for themselves. This meant they could begin building a true cooking space on the parlor level and trade in their tiny kitchen for a proper—and, most important, private—primary bedroom.  

The Receipts 

Here’s a taste of what the designers spent (and gained!) as they transformed their old kitchen–slash–dining room into a bedroom, including newly purchased furniture and decor. 

Total: $3,563

Selling the kitchen on Facebook Marketplace: -$3,500

Final cost: $63

Listing Our Old Kitchen on Facebook Marketplace

The top floor, before. | Courtesy of GLAM Studio

Aubrey Ament: The ramping up of our production shoots has allowed us to spread out over all three floors, ditch the micro-kitchen on the top floor, and add a much needed primary bedroom (before, we were squished into a space with our toddler, Theo).

The kitchen was designed to be temporary but ended up very cute in the end. The cabinets are IKEA Sektion with Voxtorp matte white fronts with integrated pulls. The butcher block counter is from Facebook Marketplace and cut to fit. The sink and faucet are from Home Depot, and the oven is a discontinued 24-inch Smeg gas range I found on eBay. 

We thought, hey, maybe we can sell the whole kitchen on Facebook Marketplace and that’ll help pay for switching this room out.

Will Glaser: There are people who want a relatively new kitchen with relatively new appliances for half the price. A good rule of thumb is to list it for 65 to 70 percent of what the value is, especially if it’s only a couple years old. We had some inquiries right away, but they were either lowballs or, in some cases, they wanted just one part of it. It took about a month to find a buyer who was actually interested. I was pretty stoked to get $3,500 at the end of the day.

The IKEA kitchen is an easy “on and off” sort of system. There’s main support rails attached to the wall and the cabinets hook onto that. There’s legs that support it as well. But really, after you unscrew the cabinets, take off the doors, and take off the countertop, they just lift right off. A plumber had to come in to detach the appliances, and then the buyers came over with their van and moved everything out. 

A month later they called us and said, “Hey, we have some of your dishes.” We had accidentally left them in the dishwasher! It was a chaotic time, so the missing plates didn’t even register with us. They were really sweet and dropped them back off in a reusable grocery bag.

Gifting Backsplash Tile to Friends

The top floor, before. | Courtesy of GLAM Studio

Ament: We had our friends Sarah and Teddy over for pizza and wine, and we were showing them how we were taking apart the kitchen. We were like, “Hey, do you want these Block Shop x Fireclay tiles?” And they said, “Actually, yeah!”

Glaser: They were finishing out their basement and wanted a kitchenette. 

Glaser: We thought about chipping the tiles off the wall, but that seemed like a likely way to break a bunch of them. So we used a Sawzall to cut the tiles off with the drywall itself, because we knew we were going to have to replace the drywall anyway. We made four big panels of tile attached to drywall. 

Ament: Teddy came over a week later and grabbed them, and they ended up cutting the Sheetrock at their house to fit our tiled Sheetrock.

Restoring Our Neighbor’s Historic Mantels

Courtesy of GLAM Studio

Glaser: We were interested in the house next door because it had been abandoned for 25 years and it was an exact copy of our house. We were pretty sure that no renovations had ever been done on it, so we thought, maybe it has a bunch of original hardware.

A developer bought it and was demoing the entire place but told us we were welcome to look around and take things if we wanted them. We saw these gorgeous marble mantels on the parlor floor. The next day, we went over with chisels and full hazmat gear and carried them piece by piece into our backyard, where they lived for a couple of months until we were able to get them installed. 

Courtesy of GLAM Studio

To even buy a mantel new like that would be a couple thousand dollars, so even though it was $1,000 to repair and install each mantel (one is in our son’s room), you’re paying for two people to work a day and a half, matching up the pieces and gluing them in such a way that minimizes imperfections. 

Interestingly, there were no hearthstones in the neighbor’s house. The person who installed our mantels had a connection and was able to source those for us for $500 each. 

Keeping the Open Shelving (for Now)

The top floor, before. | Courtesy of GLAM Studio

Glaser: There was definitely a discussion around the most efficient way to have storage in a bedroom. Eventually, we want to build something out. But we thought the open shelves looked good, and we really don’t have a ton of budget left to do much more.

Creating a Haven for Our Toddler

The couple’s shared bedroom before it became Theo’s space. | Courtesy of GLAM Studio

Ament: The bedroom we had before was shared with our son, and we were tired of sneaking in at night and not being able to turn on the lights or make noise because we didn’t want to wake him up.

“Does a kid’s room really need a mantel?” We asked ourselves. But we are always keeping in mind our side business, and that’s a really big thing in New York: having multiple spaces where you can shoot. 

We took inspiration from other brownstone kids’ rooms and put the toddler bed to the right of the mantel, hung his mobile and some art above it, and got a full-size area rug that’s this really springy cotton that’s good for playrooms. This room can be a lot of things: You can fit a queen-size bed in here, you can turn the small alcove on the other side of the room into an exercise area or a sectioned-off bedroom for another kid. We are always down for flexibility.