Urban Kitchen Updated for Rent

On a budget of $20,000, Brooklyn couple transforms an outdated kitchen in their income property with exposed brick, new kitchen appliances, painted flooring and subway tile.


Photography by Charlotte Jenks Lewis

Photography by Charlotte Jenks Lewis

By: Jen Jafarzadeh L'Italien

When New York-based photographer Charlotte Jenks Lewis and her husband Brett Hartmann found their dream Brooklyn fixer-upper, they were actually more than 2,700 miles away in Los Angeles.

While temporarily working in California, they stumbled upon the listing for a Brooklyn row house in Williamsburg, a hip neighborhood that's a favorite among creative professionals. The couple had been researching two-family homes in Williamsburg for two years, and they knew right away that this 100-year-old row house was the one.

"The price was right and the location was perfect," says Charlotte. "We knew the house was on a good street, a block from the park, and just five blocks from the subway." Charlotte and Brett had always planned on renovating, so they weren't worried about what it looked like inside. "It was a cheap house for the area," says Charlotte. "We had a lot of competition. So we made the offer before even seeing the house." Their leap of faith worked out.

Once Charlotte and Brett got the keys to their Brooklyn house, their remodeling plans focused on turning the second story into a rental apartment. "We watched so many episodes of Income Property," says Charlotte. "We learned that you should remodel the income property first, so you don't run out of money." It took their contractor three months to remodel the rental unit upstairs. Then, the couple moved into their rental unit while the team remodeled their apartment downstairs.

Modern Cottage Kitchen Remodel

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Rental Rescue

Before the remodel this kitchen was an eyesore with dated cabinets and appliances on their last leg — definitely not a space to attract renters. The chimney (the real gem of the space) was hidden behind plaster. Property owners Charlotte Jenks Lewis and Brett Hartmann worked to preserve many charming, historical details of the original kitchen. They kept the vintage washboard sink and updated it with new cabinets and a working faucet. Photography by Charlotte Jenks Lewis

Easy Updates

Color was the simple solution to unify the mix of cabinets — old and new, the cabinets are all glossy white. The couple added white cabinetry from IKEA to house the sink, dishwasher and built-in oven. A glossy white paint updated the original cabinetry and blends with the white lacquer IKEA cabinets. "There are different cabinets, but it works," says Brett. "The new cabinets are not right next to the old painted cabinets."

Affordable Solutions

Originally there was an old, inefficient refrigerator in the rental unit; however, the house came with a fairly new white refrigerator in the downstairs kitchen. Charlotte and Brett decided to move that refrigerator to the upstairs kitchen to save costs.

Charming Fixtures

Charlotte and Brett carefully chose special details, such as a vintage schoolhouse light that's now the centerpiece of the ceiling. Charlotte found the light at a local shop called Lighting Craftsmen.

Reclaimed Sink

The owners held on to some of the kitchen's original details, like the washboard sink. The sink was in good shape and adds character to the space. They replaced the old faucet with a new faucet by Kohler. Since it's an income property, they wanted to avoid any maintenance problems with a vintage faucet. The washboard sink doubles as a drying rack.

Design That Works Together

The new 48-inch cabinet from IKEA didn't match up with the vintage 44-inch sink. Brett solved the difference by buying a small piece of marble to finish it off. "It's worthwhile to have a pretty sink when you're washing dishes," says Charlotte. "It fits the vision we were going for." Above the sink, the owners mounted a knife rack as a space-saving solution.

The Fifth Wall

Originally there was a tiled drop ceiling throughout the rental unit. Their contractor removed the drop ceiling and added a new drywall ceiling. The kitchen gained almost two feet in height, which makes the space feel larger. Now there’s storage space above the top cabinets, too.

Attention to Details

Charlotte and Brett removed the scalloped trim under the top cabinets. Removing that detail instantly updated the style of the cabinets.

Color and Hardware

The owners replaced the cabinets' hardware with simple modern knobs and pulls. The neutral backdrop of the kitchen — white walls and white cabinets with light gray painted floors — makes it easy to play around with color in the kitchen accessories, like these colorful recycling bins.

Classic Subway Tile

Charlotte and Brett chose white subway tile to replace the old Formica backsplash. They were inspired by seeing the classic subway tile in many local Brooklyn restaurants and shops.

Painted Floors

The couple had just vacationed in Nantucket, Mass., and they wanted to bring that beach cottage style into the kitchen design. "There wasn't the right gray in the industrial floor paint that my contractor uses," says Charlotte. "So we mixed white with steamship gray to the get the light shade of gray I wanted to paint the floor."

Around the Range

The new range is built into the new cabinetry, so it takes up a smaller footprint. The owners added an IKEA range, which was a more affordable model. By adding the coordinating IKEA cabinetry around the range, the oven has a more high-end style. Built-in appliances feel custom and look more polished.

Butcher-Block Countertops

Brett and Charlotte added a pretty butcher-block top to the lacquered white cabinetry in front of the chimney. By doing so, they also extended counter space around the stove. Now there's a place for the coffeemaker.

Vintage Sitting Area

By removing the old, inefficient appliances that were also taking up valuable floor space, the kitchen now has room for a table and chairs. This chemist's table suits the kitchen's style, which is a natural mix of modern and vintage.

Charlotte and Brett took charge of the design without an architect. They focused most of their budget for the rental unit on the kitchen remodel, spending $20,000 on the 13'x16' kitchen space. They had to make some big design decisions during the remodel as surprises arose.

First on the list, flooring

When their contractor ripped up the kitchen’s dated linoleum floor, they discovered hardwood flooring. It was a nice surprise, but they already knew the hardwood did not extend throughout the 700-square-foot rental unit. Plywood sub-floor lay underneath the old carpeting in the bedroom and living space. Rather than spend an extra $10,000 to add hardwood to the rest of the rental, they decided to paint the entire floor a light gray— a clever money-saving solution to unify the different flooring. "No one notices the difference, because the flooring is painted the same color and you see the pretty hardwood when you first walk through the door into the kitchen," says Charlotte.



Rather than working with an architect, Brett and Charlotte are happy they made design decisions throughout the remodel process

Rather than working with an architect, Brett and Charlotte are happy they made design decisions throughout the remodel process

Dealing with the drop ceiling

The kitchen's drop ceiling had to go. They faced a dilemma: the house lacked insulation, but a new roof had just been added on. The couple had two options for how to insulate the roof: go in through the kitchen ceiling and sacrifice the tin ceiling (which was hidden above the drop ceiling) or blow off the roof, which would basically blow their budget. They picked the economical choice and worked through the kitchen ceiling, sacrificing the tin ceiling. "We gained about two feet of height by taking down the drop ceiling," says Brett.

Brightening up the space

The couple wanted to preserve as much of the cabinetry as possible, but the cabinets looked incredibly outdated. So they removed the scallop detailing and replaced the hardware. A fresh coat of white paint instantly updated the wood cabinets and metal hinges. A strip of LED lighting under the cabinets now illuminates the sink and prep space. One light bulb in the ceiling used to be the kitchen's only light source.

Preserving character

The focal point of the kitchen is now the charming exposed brick chimney. How often do you walk in a kitchen and see a beautiful old chimney. The chimney was originally hidden behind plaster. The couple knew the chimney existed from looking at their basement, but they had no idea about its condition. "We knew we were going to expose the chimney, but we thought we were going to paint it white," says Charlotte. The chimney wound up being in better shape than they’d expected. "Our contractor had already painted the cabinets a crisp white," says Charlotte. "We liked the way the rustic chimney looked against the clean white cabinets. Everything else is so white and neat — the kitchen can handle something imperfect with a little character."



The old appliances — a freestanding range and a washing machine — originally sat right in front of the chimney, and projected far into the kitchen space. Charlotte and Brett replaced the old appliances with new, efficient models and added cabinetry in front of the chimney. They moved the laundry out of the kitchen and brought in a dishwasher as an added convenience.

The kitchen now has space for an eat-in table and chairs. For this kitchen remodel, Charlotte and Brett brought in a decorating style that blends modern conveniences with rustic cottage details. They remodeled the kitchen to make it the star of their income property — and they instantly found renters to move in.

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