Spring is officially here, which means many of us are organizing our homes, cleaning out our closets, and putting away our cold weather essentials. Unsurprisingly, Spring is the busiest time of the year for home renovations. We chatted with the expert, Jean Brownhill of Sweeten, to get the inside scoop on what first-time homeowners should consider when renovating. Follow along to learn more!
First off, tell us a little bit about yourself!
I graduated from Cooper Union with a degree in architecture and went the traditional route of working for a well-known firm in New York City. After 6 years at 2 different firms, I made the jump in-house to Coach, working on their real estate development team handling global architecture for the next 4 years. In 2011, I was one of nine recipients to receive a Loeb Fellowship from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. It was there that I refined my idea for Sweeten.
In a few words, how would you describe Sweeten?
With Sweeten, homeowners can enter the details of their renovation project and be matched with a shortlist of fully vetted, licensed, and insured general contractors, while having access to expert-level support to help bridge the gaps in knowledge and trust.
Was there a personal experience that led you to start Sweeten?
After working hard and saving, I purchased my first home in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood. The down payment alone was more than I ever thought I would have been able to save. On top of that, the renovation was another $125,000, which felt like crazy money.
Having spent so much time in the construction/design industry, I felt confident about launching my own remodel. However I wasn't prepared for what became a terrible experience. Despite my insider knowledge, I still wound up hiring the wrong general contractor. This showed me that even though I had come from the industry and spoke the same language as these contractors, there is a huge gap between what homeowners know and what they actually need to know in order to renovate.
For a first time homeowner, the thought of a renovation can be daunting. Where do you suggest they start?
The first step is to identify the “must-have” elements for your space. Have an idea of what’s definitively required, then make a second wishlist of “nice-to-haves.” This includes all of the changes you’d like to see but might be willing to forgo as you consider your budget. Once you have your lists, you’ll have a better understanding of whether you need an architect and/or a designer, and you’ll, of course, need a general contractor to execute the renovation.
Your wishlists and your financial resources need to be realistic. Sweeten’s cost guides are a good starting point to get a handle on your budget. The costs go up based on the price point of materials you choose.
What should a homeowner look for in a contractor?
After a homeowner posts a project with Sweeten and has reviewed general contractor matches, the next focus should be communication style. Simply put, you want to find a contractor with whom you can communicate well and who has a similar style to yours. The contractor should be able to understand and carry out your particular sense of style. Additionally, with the amount of time they’ll be spending in your home, look for someone who meshes with your personality.
With Spring around the corner, what are some easy ways to refresh your home without splurging on a gut renovation?
The kitchen is an important space for buyers. It can often be in the line of sight as you enter the home, so focus your attention here. Refurbishing the cabinet doors by simply sanding and repainting the existing surface is the most budget-friendly, or you can choose to replace the doors while leaving the interior boxes in place.
Swapping in new hardware and fixtures are small changes but make a difference. You can also go further, and replace the countertops and backsplash. Visually, these make the biggest impact.
We’re obviously all about color here at Pepper. How can you infuse color and pattern into your home without going overboard?
Color and pattern in a kitchen or bathroom backsplash or floor is like a bit of jewelry. A small touch provides a big effect. Painting, whether it’s cabinets or honing in on a feature wall, with a favorite shade is one of easiest and most affordable way to update your space.
This past year, we’ve spent more time in our homes than ever before. What changes are you seeing in how homeowners design their spaces?
For the amount of time people are spending at home, improving room flow and space efficiency means new layouts for storage, closets, and using dead space. New square footage is quickly transforming the basement, attic, or garage into living space. People are realizing that under-utilized space like the basement can be maximized for more than just to store paint cans.
Outdoor space will be a focus for patios and decks along with outdoor kitchens. The quality of materials used to build your outdoor space will determine how much time you spend on it. An outdoor kitchen or elements of one also makes it easier than running back and forth inside.
With multiple people at home doing various activities at the same time, soundproofing and putting up semi-permanent or permanent walls create more acoustic privacy. People don’t need visual separation but they are looking for acoustic separation.Ready to tackle your renovation? Head over to Sweeten for guidance!