Apartment Renovation Architect in NYC

by | Last updated Feb 17, 2023 | Apartment Renovations, Architects, Renovations

Apartment Renovations in NYC require permits, quality design, coordination, and planning. You will need a competent team of experienced professionals including a good general contractor and a residential architect. Renovating a loft, apartment, or townhouse in NYC is a big deal and starts with selecting the right team for your project.


I am Jorge Fontan, an architect in New York and owner of Manhattan based architecture firm Fontan Architecture. At our office we work on a variety of project types especially apartment renovations in NYC. In this post I will be showing you a few apartments we renovated while discussing apartment remodeling architectural services and a general overview of the process.


NYC Architect Jorge Fontan, at an Upper East Side Apartment Renovation in NYC

NYC Architect Jorge Fontan, at an Upper East Side Apartment Renovation in NYC


Apartment Architects NYC

When you are ready to renovate, one of the first steps will be to hire an architect. Always make sure to hire licensed and insured professionals who have experience working in New York City. It is especially helpful if the architect is accustomed to working with Manhattan Condo and Co-Op boards, as they can be especially fastidious.

We are a full-service architecture firm, and we know architectural services can be a bit complicated. It is important to note that not all architects in New York offer the same services. Below are a few items to take into consideration when selecting an architect for your apartment renovation in New York.

Manhattan Loft Renovation

Manhattan Loft Apartment Renovation in SoHo


What Do Residential Architects Include in Their Design Fees?

I always tell people: Don’t only ask what is included in someone’s price. Always ask them what isn’t included in their proposal. I can tell you that architects can have some strange ways of pricing jobs, and this can make your head spin. Some architects charge hourly, some on a percentage of construction, and some charge flat rate. We aren’t going to get into the fee structure here but we will discuss some basics on architectural services.

If you want to read more you can see another post we wrote on Architect Fees.

First thing, you may not need all of these design services, especially if you are doing a small job. This is just an overview.

Residential Architectural Services

  • Existing Conditions Assessment
  • Architectural Design Options
  • Interior Design Services & Interior Decorating
  • 3D Renderings
  • Engineering Consultants
  • Architectural Plans
  • Board and Building Management Review
  • Permit Filing “Expediting”
  • Bidding / Interviewing Contractors
  • Product Sourcing and Procurement
  • Construction Site Visits & Administration
  • Sign-offs, Certificate of Occupancy, Letters of Completion
Apartment Renovation NYC Architect

Apartment Renovation NYC, Tribeca Loft


Assessing the Existing Conditions of the Apartment

On day one of starting an apartment renovation we go to the apartment and take measurements of the existing conditions. We will subsequently produce an existing conditions plan. At this time, we are generally assessing the condition of the apartment, establishing a scope of work, and setting project goals.

During assessment we can talk to the building super, review the Alteration Agreement, and generally figure out what we have to work with. Additionally during this time, we are having conversations with our client to understand their needs.


Apartment Renovation Architectural Design Options

Design is a process and takes time. I have had clients where we sent them our first draft and they loved it and never made a single change and others where we provided countless options. Sometimes your architect can spend months working on the design. You need to find the right architect for you and make sure you are on the same page.

At our architecture firm in NYC: Fontan Architecture we usually look at multiple options in the beginning and assume a few rounds of revisions. After that there will still be some fussing around. This is usually best-case scenario for a gut renovation. We cannot predict how long this process will actually take because we may not really know exactly what you want. Communication is key during design. Don’t be scared to critique your architect in a constructive manner. Ask your architect how many options and revisions are included before you sign a proposal. It’s ok to ask, “what if I don’t like your design”.

When talking to architects about your apartment renovation you need to know what is and isn’t included in the preliminary design phase. In our office all our work is done in 3D Building Information Modeling on all of our projects, even the small ones (autocad has been obsolete for 20 years but people still use it).

You may be interested in getting 3D color renderings. Or even a 3D animated walk-through or a physical model. These may not be included in your architect’s fees. Also 100 different design options probably aren’t either. Discuss that with your architect. Remember to consider that if the architect finishes the design and moves on to technical production, they could charge extra if you want to make changes after they produce the more technical documentation.

Apartment renovation Architectural Plan

Apartment Renovation Architectural Plan, Manhattan Apartment


Interior Design

At our office we often do full-service projects where we work with the clients on everything from changing the layout of the apartment to picking grout for the bathroom tiles. Some architects do full-service, some do not. Interior design can be an incredibly time-consuming part of the job. It is important to understand the services provided by your architect and design team.

Interior design services can include anything from designing custom cabinets, to selecting bathroom tiles. As I said we do full service at our firm but not everyone does. Make sure to discuss what is included when interviewing architects.

Interior Design Bathroom Renovation NYC

Bathroom Renovation NYC


3D Renderings

We produce all our projects in 3D even if it is a small job. On most of our projects we will provide the clients 3D perspectives and renderings to help them visualize the design. Not everyone is comfortable looking at architectural plans and details.

One important point I want to make about 3D Renderings is that you should select materials based on samples not based on the rendering. The digital 3D views are an artistic rendition meant to give you the idea. As close as they may get to representing the space, they are not actually a 100% accurate depiction.

Apartment Renovation Rendering

Apartment Renovation Rendering, Home Office in a Manhattan Loft Apartment


Engineering Consultants

Depending on the work you are doing you may need consultants or engineers beyond the architect’s in-house staff. If there is structural work, you will need a structural engineer. Replacing your HVAC systems may require a mechanical engineer. Make sure you know who is paying for these engineers. One architect might come in a lot cheaper, but if he isn’t including an engineer you need then you aren’t comparing the prices fairly.

Every engineer is responsible for their own work but someone has to coordinate this work. Make sure you know who will take responsibility for that. It should be the architect. On our projects we usually provide the engineers and lighting designer if needed.


Architectural Plans

The Department of Buildings filing drawings for approval are not the 100% complete drawings. The DOB does not care about a lot of the details, but you and the contractor will. Ask your architect if full “construction documents” or “CDs” are included, and ask about finish and electrical plans. Not everyone includes those automatically. Finish and electrical drawings are very fussy and time-consuming. They can also make a big difference on how smoothly the job goes and how good it comes out. Plumbing drawings and paperwork are also very important. Plumbing is the one thing that causes the most problems on a job in my opinion and is most likely to fail inspections and hold up sign-offs.

Architectural Kitchen Drawings

Architectural Kitchen Drawings, Custom Kitchen Design in Manhattan


Board and Building Management Review

I am not going deep into this subject here, but we have another blog post on Alteration Agreements discussing Co-Op Board and Condo Board requirements. The basic gist of it is that your board will need to review the work and the building may have certain specific rules you must follow. They will also have a third party architect or engineer review the project in most cases. Certainly when renovating an apartment in Manhattan, almost every building we work in has a reviewing architect.


Permitting Filing Also Known as Expediting

Expediting means doing paperwork and filing with the Department of Buildings. At Fontan Architecture we do this in house, but not every architect does. Make sure you know who is paying for this. You should also know, in my opinion, people often greatly exaggerate the difficulties of filing simple jobs like an apartment renovation.

We never include any city agency fees in our proposal, and I do not think anyone else does either. You will pay those fees, or the architect will send you an invoice for reimbursement.


Bidding & Interviewing Contractors

You may bid the job out to multiple contractors or just hire one directly. Either way the architect can assist a great deal in this process and provide valuable advice. As an architect I can say honestly that I have worked with many contractors over the years, but I only recommend a few of them. I have more to say below on contractor selection, this section will be more focused on the architect’s services.

During the bidding process, as the architect for your renovation, I can provide contractors to bid on the job or you can find them yourself. We then send out the drawings / RFP and have walkthroughs with the potential GCs. The GCs submit RFIs, which are requests for information, if they have questions and we provide responses.

Once the GCs have submitted their proposals, we review them all to see what is included and what is not in each to make certain every GC is including the same scope of work. Upon completion of the bidding process our client selects their contractor. It is important to point out that we provide our opinion on this matter, but it is your decision in the end.

The architect can prepare an AIA Document if the client so chooses. This is a standard format contract from the American Institute of Architects.


Choosing a Contractor for your Apartment Renovation

Choosing a contractor is not easy. This is a big decision. Here are a few things I have learned.

Hire the contractor you trust. I put a good amount of faith in how I feel about a person. If the contractor seems sleazy then maybe you shouldn’t hire him. At the end of the day the final decision is yours.

In my experience as an architect, I can say there is a direct relationship with how much a contractor charges and how good they are. The best contractors I have worked with are also the most expensive contractors I have worked with. The cheapest contractors I have worked with always provided lower quality services.

Make sure your contractor and architect work well together. I hear horror stories about architects not being respected by contractors and contractors not feeling respected by architects. This is childish nonsense. I have never had this problem on a job so far. Mutual respect, a teamwork mentality, and communication between the architect and contractor are key to a smooth job. My father was a contractor (I worked for him part time when I was in architecture school) and I think I have good insight on how to work with contractors.

The most important thing to know is that choosing a contractor is up to you. You have the final say on the contractor choice.

Manhattan Bathroom Remodel

Manhattan Bathroom Remodel

Product Sourcing and Procurement

Selecting appliances, fixtures, and finish materials like bathroom tiles are part of design. Ordering these items is a separate matter. Someone has to be responsible for ordering, coordinating deliveries, dealing with returns and exchanges. The contractor can do this, or the architect can do this, but someone has to do it. It may seem like not a big deal, but this is a tremendous amount of work and coordination.


Construction Administration

Jobsite visits and construction administration are a significant portion of the work. There is a great need for quality control and for dealing with the thousands of little issues that come up during an apartment renovation. Some projects require more site visits and supervision than others. For example, if you are doing a high end renovation with custom cabinets and complicated detailing we tend to do a lot more site visits.


Sign-offs, Inspections, Certificate of Occupancy

At the end of the job there are a lot of sign-offs and close out bureaucracy to contend with when renovating an apartment in NYC. The architect and their team must submit technical reports to DOB. You may need sign-offs on Energy Code Compliance or Landmarks. We coordinate all these issues and make sure to obtain Letters of Completion from the Department of Buildings or a Certificate of Occupancy, whichever is relevant to your project.

NYC Apartment Renovation

NYC Apartment Renovation, UES Apartment Gut Reno


Apartment Design Research

I recommend you do some research. Many of my clients tend to be very hands on and involved. There are lots of websites or apps like Pinterest and Instagram where you can get ideas and share them with your clients. Ask your architect to put together some images they think might help you. If you can put together some images for your architect that can be really helpful as well. It is good to see something you like before we start. You can also go to showrooms; NYC has many showrooms you can check out.


Mental Preparation for Your Apartment Renovation

Renovating can be stressful. It can be fun and exciting as well. I have been in people’s apartments where literally a husband and wife are yelling at each other with me and the contractor standing around like what just happened. So please take a deep breath and prepare yourself. Communicate with your loved ones, so you don’t drive each other crazy throughout the process.

I don’t want to scare you. I want to prepare you. Some clients enjoy the process and get involved; others find it overwhelming. Make sure you are on the same page with your partner.

NYC Loft Apartment Renovation

NYC Loft Apartment Renovation


Apartment Renovation NYC

Renovating in NYC is probably more complicated than anywhere else in the world. Apartment renovations are major investments and time consuming, so try to be prepared. Talk to your team and ask them questions. Don’t be shy to admit you need a little explanation of how the process works and what you need to know. Find a good apartment architect and renovation contractor and you will be fine. Make sure to voice your opinions and ask questions.

Downtown Manhattan Apartment Remodel

Downtown Manhattan Apartment Remodel / Gut Renovation


NYC Residential Architects and Architectural Services

In this post we covered some issues many want to know about Residential Architectural services in NYC. This is meant to give a general overview and does not assume to cover every possible situation. We wish you the best of luck with your project.


Thank You for Reading Our Post on Apartment Renovation Architectural Services in New York. 

If you want to speak with a NYC Residential Architect about a specific project you are planning please feel free to contact us directly.


Contact Fontan Architecture


Jorge Fontan
Jorge Fontan

This post was written by Jorge Fontan AIA a Registered Architect and owner of New York City architecture firm Fontan Architecture. Jorge Fontan has earned 3 degrees in the study of architecture including two degrees from the City University of New York and a Masters Degree in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University. Jorge has a background in construction and has been practicing architecture for 20 years where he has designed renovations and new developments of various building types.