Lots Of Choices Picking Countertops

A fair amount has gotten done since my last blog post, but once again some of it isn’t all that photogenic… We passed our plumbing inspection – so we can finally get water and gas working properly. They’ve continued working on the stairs. They’ve painted the bathrooms, but until the protective wrappings are off everything and the fixtures fully installed the pictures don’t make complete sense.

One thing we struggled with today was picking the countertops for the two kitchens. Our kitchen still has blue plastic wrap on most of the cabinets, so the color in the pictures is all off – so more on that later. But in the rental kitchen we first started with this demo kitchen being our concept…

Ikea Adel white cabinets with dark gray counter

That’s Ikea’s Adel white with a dark gray counter. That was pretty much my vision of the kitchen color scheme complete with a Carrara backsplash. That counter isn’t quite as dark as you might think – here’s a close up picture…

dark gray counter

But then Dan didn’t want to go so dark since the room doesn’t have a whole lot of natural light. So he started thinking outside the box, but a light color counter with white cabinets would look anemic – there had to be some darkness to it. Dan also didn’t want anything too uniform in color. The stuff you get at places like Ikea & Home Depot is really uniform because they want the sample to match what you get. When you go with a stone that has more variation you sorta have to pick a particular slab – which the big stores can never accommodate.

Here’s the slab we found today that we liked – it’s rosewood granite…

rosewood granite slab

It’s got a lot going on and when we got home we seriously started double guessing our choice. Was it too pink? Was it too busy? It didn’t look contemporary enough. And so on… But what got us back to thinking it was a good choice was looking at a picture of the kitchen…

rental kitchen cabinets

The biggest issue is the brick wall. It’s got pinks and oranges in it like the slab. And as I looked at the picture of the kitchen, while an almost black might work, a more medium gray just seemed wrong given the color of the wall.

I’m still not 100% convinced, so we’ll see… I think we’ll look a little more before making a final decision.

Our kitchen is a whole other story – but that’s for another day. The short version is that we’re going to go with polished Carrara marble counters with gray lacquer cabinets. Yes, most people say to do honed Carrara in kitchens, but Dan’s emphatic about polished. And we were thinking about just having Carrara on the island and having stainless along with wall, but I think ultimately it will look better with Carrara everywhere – even if it’s not quite as practical.


We’re now thinking the rosewood granite isn’t right for the rental… We’ll go Friday morning to pick something else. I’ll update this post when we pick the new slab…

127 & 136 W 123 Are Adding Floors

A year or so the Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association began work to try to get the blocks between Lenox and Adam Clayton Powell landmarked. Currently they’re recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, but not by NYC’s Landmark Preservation Committee.

mount morris historic district map with extension shown

The gray area is the part that’s landmarked, the blue area is on the National Register, but not landmarked – that’s the part MMPCIA has been working to get landmarked.

Well, on our block it’s a bit too late… Two buildings on the block are adding stories – something they wouldn’t be allowed to do if they were landmarked. The two buildings are 127 West 123 and 136 West 123. I’m fine with 127 adding a floor, but I’m really disappointed to see 136 add a floor…

127 West 123rd Street

127 West 123rd Street is one of two old townhouses that are sandwiched between the two halves of the Windows on 123 condos. Windows on 123 maxes out the possible building height and sorta dwarfs the townhouses. So from my perspective it’s not horrible that floors are added to the townhouses… Here’s a photo right after they started adding the floor…

127 west 123rd street

I wish they had set the extra floor back a little, but given what it’s up against, it’s not horrible… Here it is again as a 3D drawing…

127 w 123 3D drawingActually, I’m a little surprised 75′ is the max height on a 60′ wide street – but that is what it is…

136 West 123rd Street

In contrast to 127, 136 West 123rd Street is one of 16 continuous brownstones that have not been altered. Adding a floor to it is a much bigger deal since it breaks something that still has the potential to be pristine…

Brownstones on West 123rd Street between Lenox and Adam Clayton Powell

I’m really disappointed that the view you see above is going to be marred by an extra story on top of one of those buildings. Not only are they going up a floor, but they’re pushing the back wall back to the maximum 65 feet with the minimum 30 foot rear yard…

136 west 123 street 3D drawingIf we had been landmarked LPC could have mandated that the additional floor be set back far enough that it not be visible from the street. At least there’s some set back (6′ 6″), but a 10 or 15 foot setback would have been so much nicer.

As sort of a side note, 136 W 123 was for many years the neighborhood hangout – mostly older (Belizian?) guys with who were pretty big into music. (We even bought a couple CDs off one of the guys – and they weren’t bad). There used to be a social club in the ground floor which had it’s ups and downs. The guy who lives behind them on 122nd Street still has a bullet hole in his window thanks to that club. When the club closed they just moved their socializing onto the stoop. They’re generally good guys, but their hanging out got pretty loud. Just the other day one of the neighbors I “met” due to the RCN incident told me she got only 4 hours of sleep a night during the summer because they were so loud. So 136 being renovated will really change the block since it was one of the remaining centers of the old culture on the block.

Back when MMPCIA started their push to get the blocks between Lenox and ACP landmarked, I wasn’t so keen on the idea. I still don’t think landmarking is warranted for the north side of our street which already feels like it has three zilliion styles of architecture. But as I thought about it, the unbroken row of 16 brownstones on the south side of the street was worth protecting – but once 136 gets rehabbed, that purity will be gone. We can never go back to what it used to look like.

The architect seems like he’s got it in him to do a decent job. I just hope his client is spending the money to execute a good design. If we’re going to have a visible addition marring the view – please, just let it be fairly well designed.


I went to see the Windows on 123 lofts yesterday and looking down I could see that there were already additional floors added to some of the brownstones on the south side of the street. Here you can see that 132 West 123 has an extra floor added already…

132 West 123 additional floor added

That’s a rather large amount of “stuff” that was added and it’s fairly close to the edge – yet it’s not readily visible from the street, so I’m hopeful that the additional roof on 136 won’t be visible either. [136 is the one two doors down with the blue tarp.]

152 West 123 also has an extra floor, but it’s stepped back further and features a bigger/nicer roof deck off what I assume is the master bedroom…

123rd street roofs

I just find it really odd that they had the money to add an extra floor, but not enough to restore their cornice.

[In the picture above you can see our bulkhead in the distance. It looks pretty small compared to everything else…]

So seeing that there are already several with extra roofs added, I’m far less worried about roofs being added – though I’m hoping none get added on 122 that would block our view 🙂

A Good Architect Makes A HUGE Difference

Three things in the past week drove home what Dan and I have known for a while… A good architect makes a huge difference.

A real estate client of mine is bidding on a gut-renovated house that’s been on the market for nearly 2 years. It hasn’t sold because, as my client describes it, the renovation is “competent” (solidly built), but it’s just a “step above rental grade”. When it went on the market it was priced up with the high end properties that are nearby. But those high end properties are in a desirable landmark district and often have over-the-top renovations. The bottom line with the house my client is biding on is that people aren’t making an emotional connection with the house in part because it’s “just OK”. Without that emotional connection people aren’t willing to bid anywhere near the asking price.

Similar to that experience I went through a place in South Harlem with another client. The neighborhood and block could support a $2.5M+ sale, but the person that renovated it did a Home Depot renovation – it was also competent and solidly built, but like the first house, there were a lot of odd architectural choices (actually it was worse than the first house). The use of space was pretty bad with lots of wasted square footage. The bottom like was that the place didn’t feel special – but they the asking price was nearly $2 million.

It hasn’t been all bad this week though. We sat down with some neighbors for brunch and they showed us the plans for the townhouse they bought almost a year ago. I think they were a bit scared to show us the plans because the first time the showed us plans months ago we didn’t have much of anything good to say about what we saw. The architect had small, oddly shaped rooms, an absurd amount of closet/storage space, and the architect wasted a lot of their square footage on hallways. They fired that architect (thank god), and have been working with another architect – Victor Ruiz. Victor is leaps and bounds above their first architect. His plans for their place are really pretty fascinating and wonderful.

The moral of the story is that there’s something to be said for houses that people make emotional connections with. We saw it in action when we sold our coop. When we renovated we had put in a rather expensive Poliform kitchen – complete with an integrated Sub Zero and a Wolf range. People loved that apartment and it sold fairly quickly and for a good price – despite the fact that the market had crashed just a year before. In fact our sale is still the high water mark in that coop for post-recession 2 bedroom sales.

But emotional connections like that don’t happen by accident – they take a lot of planning that starts with a great architect. I’d almost go as far as asking prospective architects for sales histories – post recession $$/sq. ft., and time on the market. You might spend a little more hiring a good architect, but the money you spend will come back to you several times over when you sell. Plus, you’ll have a great place to live in the meantime.

Lighting Makes A Huge Difference

The Electrician’s guys were in today installing a few fixtures here and there. One place where they put in lights was in the bathroom and the effect was pretty dramatic. On the left is an incandescent bulb, on the right is recessed lights with MR-16s (I think).

nice bathroom lighting

(You can click on the images above to see larger versions.)

Here’s an image looking out of the bathroom into the hallway – the lighting makes the brick look pretty great as well…

nicely lit brick wallLooks like a great place to hang art 🙂

We Now Have Stained Floors

The floor guy stained the top floor today. We’re using “5% white” Monocoat which looks a lot like an unfinished floor, but with hints of white in the grain.

wood foors with 5% white Monocoat

We’re bucking the whole dark floor thing which has been popular the past 5+ years. We’re noticing more and more design magazines and new condos featuring light colored floors and we like the look. It’s a very different look than dark floors – should help keep the house light and bright.

However, we’re noticing the white in the stain isn’t having much effect on the parts of the floor that are quartersawn. (Most of our floors are quarter and rift sawn white oak, but the rental and the rooms on the top floor are flat cut). Here is what the flat cut parts look like you can see how the grain has picked up the white…

white grain in flat cut oak

But on the quartersawn parts there’s less grain, so less white – but there’s still some…

quartersawn grain

The lighter the color of the piece of wood, the less white seems to get picked up – or perhaps there’s just less of a color difference.

The floor guy had never used Monocoat before and seemed a bit apprehensive about using it. He just couldn’t believe that he was only supposed to use 1 1/2 pints on an entire floor – with other products he uses that much on half a room, but he seems to have done a good job on his first floor.

Monocoat is an oil and it needs to dry out for 36+ hours and then they’ll seal it with 2 coats of Bona Traffic HD. At the end of the project they’ll put two more coats of Bona. Bona Traffic HD is water-based but it has hardeners in it that make it harder and more durable than oil-based sealers. The first two coats will be glossy since the floor guy says glossy is more durable than matte, but the last two coats will be “extra matte” which, combined with the subtle color of the Monocoat, should give the appearance of unfinished wood floors that are actually really well sealed. And unlike oil-based varnish it won’t yellow over time.

Great progress has been made on the bathroom tile in the last week or so – but that’s another blog post…