Here’s how much it costs to renovate a prewar luxury kitchen on the Upper West Side

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One of the biggest pain points for buyers of older New York City apartments tend to be old bathrooms and kitchens renovated in an out-of-sight, out-of-mind era—a time when bathrooms resembled functional closets more than aspirational spas, and food prep was perceived as a dreary chore rather than an activity that could be enjoyed together with family and friends.

One couple who recently bought a Central Park West two-bedroom loved the gorgeous prewar layout but knew the seriously outdated galley kitchen had to go.

This particular kitchen, like most we find from the early 20th century, was originally designed as a utility space rather than living space. It was dark, hidden and not designed for people to linger and have conversations while being in them.

To transform the dark, cramped, and out-of-date space into a stylish, bright and open plan eat-in kitchen with a breakfast bar, a gut renovation would be necessary.

The owners, who with their three children split their time between NYC and Canada, decided to undertake a gut renovation of the 300-square-foot space with Bolster. We introduced them to Bolster Architect Agustin Ayuso and Bolster Contractor Aaron Borenstein, who supplied the winning bid at $164,521, or $548 per square foot.

Click here to view the winning bid

Over the course of about two months, Bolster’s renovation team will give the kitchen a major facelift, turning it into a sophisticated, livable space. Here’s a closer look at their process and the Bolster renovation process itself. 


Planning ahead

Because the scope of the work is limited to the kitchen area, planning for this renovation was relatively simple, says Ayuso. "The kitchen includes several existing elements—a service entrance and walls with plumbing pipes inside, for instance—that cannot be moved, setting clear parameters for what could be accomplished. The owners did opt to knock down one wall to create an expanded, open plan space; floor tiling was chosen specifically to create continuity throughout the new layout."

“Right now, it looks like a kitchen out of an episode of The Wonder Years,” Borenstein says. “There’s an antique stove and sink, heavy plaster, thousands of layers of paint, and heavy casings around every door.”

Ayuso met with the homeowners several times to discuss the overall project as well as the particulars, like the selection of materials, including cabinetry, tiling, appliances, and fixtures. “In this case budget was a big issue, but so was quality and durability,” he says.

As their discussion evolved, Ayuso’s presentation moved from rough sketches to detailed, three-dimensional computer graphics to provide the apartment owners a clear sense of what their kitchen would look like.

Architect fees generally account for 10 to 20 percent of a renovation’s total cost; in this case, the owners will pay $16,000.

Engaging a skilled architect for a high-end, design-driven renovation such as this one, and hiring a contractor to collaborate, in this case through a design-build firm, is essential for ensuring that your space is optimized and your project runs smoothly.

The layout of the apartment, with the work area for the proposed renovation highlighted. 

Assessing the return on investment

Though the owners initially wanted to spend between $75,000 and $100,000, they adjusted their budget upward as the scope of their project became clear and as they gained a better sense of the positive impact their project would likely have on the resale value of their apartment.

To help put costs in perspective and the return on investment, Bolster provides renovators with an estimate of how their renovation will boost their home's resale value, which reveals the true cost of the project, thus demystifying the question of what a homeowner is really paying for.

In this case, our algorithm, that uses publicly available data from accredited real estate consulting companies in Manhattan, estimated how much their apartment would appreciate in value for the duration of the time the owners lived there. With its updated kitchen, the property is expected to appreciate by about $144,018--which would reduce the out-of-pocket costs of the renovation to only $20,503.


Assessing the project risk

The owners also did not want to be exposed to unexpected cost overruns or an unreliable contractor.

If you look at the traditional way of doing renovations, there’s an endemic problem that frightens every consumer, because there's no process in place. Customers are very sensitive about budgets, and want to understand exactly what they can do within their budget.

Construction projects are particularly high-risk endeavors due to the high potential for contractor failure: There’s a one in five chance they will go under, and take their money and everyone else’s with them.

Additional risks come in when the costs of a project are miscalculated, leading to high cost overruns once the renovation is underway. Consumers want the most value for their money, but there’s usually no way  to really know what they’re buying in advance because they can’t see it—it’s not like an iPhone which is why renovators are often swayed by lower bids—which a contractor may have deliberately underestimated in order to win the project. They then find themselves hit with sticker shock when the renovation goes way over budget, which could happen for any number of reasons, from purchasing that wasn’t done on time, to materials taking longer to arrive than anticipated.

Bolster uses an algorithm to arrive at a statistically accurate estimate of a project’s minimum and maximum potential costs and shows the risk of hiring a traditional general contractor following the traditional approach to renovation vs. hiring a Bolster Contractor following Bolster's streamlined Renovation Process. Renovators then purchase our Financial Guarantee--typically 2 to 5 percent of a project’s value, which in this case is $7,834--that offsets any risk of cost overruns by transferring them to their insurance.

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