Remodeling a Rental Unit in the City

After buying a building in Brooklyn, Tom Bencivengo turns a rental unit into an open, inviting one-bedroom apartment with smart storage solutions.

Original_charlotte-jenk-lewis-nyc-rental-tom-portrait_s4x3 Photography by Charlotte Jenks Lewis, Styling by Jen Jafarzadeh L'Italien

With years of experience in real estate, Tom Bencivengo knew exactly what he was looking for when he purchased a multi-family apartment building in the hip Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. He wanted a space that was in need of repair.

The first unit to get a gut remodel was a one-bedroom apartment on the first floor of the building. While Tom had no trouble renting out this remodeled apartment, the original space was in bad shape. "Nothing was worth saving," he says.

The original layout of the apartment felt dark and cramped as a one-bedroom rental. "The space is very long and narrow with the windows on opposite ends, which made access to light an issue," says Tom. "The apartment was divided into three unnecessary rooms, so opening it up was the only way to go."

After removing the divider walls, Tom came up with the clever idea of using a custom glass sliding door to separate the bedroom from the living space, but filter in some of the light from the windows.

Tom completed the entire remodel of the rental unit for about $35,000. "This was my first renovation project, so there were a lot of things I missed budget-wise at first, and it was hard to anticipate costs on things like the bathroom," says Tom.

The biggest surprise from his first remodel may have been discovering everything costs more than you think "We also found dog bones in the wall — weird," says Tom. Another unexpected surprise was finding many of the floor joists were rotting and had to be replaced.

The Scope of the Remodel Project

As Tom put it, this apartment got "the works."

  • Expose the brick wall behind the old drywall
  • Gut the ceiling and walls
  • Add new insulation and drywall
  • Install new appliances
  • Remove the flooring down to the subfloor
  • Install new hardwood floor
  • Add new cabinets in kitchen
  • Install tilework and fixtures in bathroom


Browse Pictures and Tips From This Rental Remodel

Tom used as many eco-minded materials as possible that fit into his budget. The apartment building is now certified Energy Smart. The building is weatherized via the DHCR's Weatherization Assistance Program.

Eco-Friendly Elements

  • Green foam and cellulose insulation
  • New windows throughout for energy efficiency
  • New tankless heat/hot water boiler
  • Water-saving toilet and showerhead
  • Roof and rainwater collection system for the building

Rather than remodel room-by-room, Tom and his crew worked on the whole apartment at once, since the space is so small. "It's quicker and cheaper that way rather than breaking it down by room," says Tom. "I like to think of these projects more in layers, rather than stages. Peel back the old layers and install the new stuff in reverse order."

Tom's decision to remove the divider walls and install a glass sliding door was his best remodeling decision for this tiny first-floor apartment. The glass divider door creates privacy and a true separation of bedroom and living space, which allows him to market the unit as a one-bedroom rental, as opposed to a studio, and get more rent for the space.

The remodel transformed the unit from a dark railroad layout to a light-filled, open apartment. And first impressions are everything in the rental world.

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