A high end apartment renovation means using top of the line products and materials, but also having a high quality team. New York City has many luxury apartments which deserve a high end design.
I am Jorge Fontan architect and owner of Fontan Architecture in NYC. I want to be clear about defining what makes an apartment high end, a high end apartment should not only have high quality materials and products, but should have a high quality overriding design and high quality construction. As an architect I will review a few things to take into consideration when planning a high end apartment renovation in New York City.
Planning A High End Apartment Renovation In NYC
High End Renovation Budgets $350 Per Square Foot and Up
$500 Per Square foot And Up For Real Luxury
A high end apartment renovation starts at about $350 per square foot and goes up from there. Over $500 per square foot, I would say you have a luxury budget in NYC. These budgets are rough and of course will vary from project to project. Architects like me, tend to use a cost per square foot budget in the planning phase. Let’s keep it simple and use a few examples. If you are renovating a 2,000 square foot apartment with a 350 dollar per square foot budget you would spend $700,000 on the renovation. If you are renovating a 5,000 square foot apartment with a 500 dollar per square foot budget we are looking at a 2.5 million dollar renovation budget.
Cost per square foot is what architects usually use to plan a budget. A general contractor will provide a take off price or full cost budget. These are not the same thing. The rough cost per square foot budget that I mention is just me, as an architect, using a simplified method to start. Once a full set of architectural drawings and specifications are prepared, a contractor can actually price out the entire job.
Hard Costs vs Soft Costs
In order to understand your budgeting and prepare you for speaking with professionals, let’s look at some common terminology.
Hard Costs refer to actual material and labor. All products, materials, and construction labor are hard costs. The General Contractor and subcontractors are hard costs, as are construction materials, appliances, fixtures, etc…
Soft Costs are basically everything that is not a hard cost. Soft costs include architect fees, engineers, interior designer, Department of Buildings fees, Asbestos testing, printing drawings, fees to your management company, etc…. The Soft Costs on a high end project will be between 15% – 20% of the budget. It can go over 20% as well, but maybe not by much and this will be for very special projects. It will vary based on the services, extent of work, and the team. A famous architect will generally charge more than a smaller boutique firm. One thing to consider when hiring a famous architect, you never want to be somebody’s smallest project.
Please realize these numbers are very rough and every project is different. The extent of the work will affect the price on your apartment renovation.
One important thing that I tell my clients is that there are lots of ways to cut a budget but it tends to be a lot easier to increase the budget than to reduce it.
Budgetary Factors for High End Residential Renovations
The picture below is of a Luxury quality kitchen faucet in a Manhattan apartment we renovated. This faucet has a list price in the neighborhood of $3,800 for just the faucet alone. If you are purchasing this level of product, the budget will quickly increase.
High End Quality vs Everything Custom
You have two choices when you are doing a high end apartment renovation, you can do custom work or you can do high end non custom. People always assume custom is better. In many cases this is true but it depends on the custom company and product. I have seen some disappointing custom kitchens and some spectacular ones. There are also a lot of very high end kitchen cabinet companies that you can look at.
Almost Anything Can Be Custom
When it comes to things like millwork (cabinets), doors, even sinks can be custom made. You should discuss this with your team and understand the differences. If something is custom and the price is unusually low, I would stay away from it. There are plenty of low quality custom companies. If you are going to spend the money on custom make sure it is high quality and worth it. Otherwise, you can find lots of good manufacturers out there.
The picture below is of a kitchen in a Tribeca Loft, with simple custom white cabinets.
Simple Modern High End Cabinets
The picture below is of an apartment we worked on with concrete finishes. In this kitchen, we did not do custom cabinets but installed high end cabinets made in Italy. If you are going to go with European cabinets, one thing to consider is the lead time for these products, which can be quite long. This is a good option if your project is not on a deadline.
One challenge with high end apartment renovations is that they can easily go from a high end budget to an extreme luxury budget. As an architect, I always ask my clients (even when they have high budgets) about critical thresholds on the budget. Let me share an anecdote to explain.
We have a client, a young woman and her husband, who hired us to renovate their 6,500 square foot Soho Loft. The husband was interested in wide plank floors therefore we brought the wife to showrooms where we came up with a few options. We presented them with a 10″ plank and a 12″ plank. The 10″ plank was going to cost about $100,000 for the entire apartment. The 12″ plank would cost $200,000 for the entire apartment. That is where we hit a critical threshold. The price jumped drastically just for going from a 10″ to a 12″. The husband actually didn’t care about the difference in price but his wife talked him out of the 12″ and we went with the 10″. She could not make sense out of spending an extra 100k just for a minor step up. There are many people who would be willing to spend that money, so identifying these issues is important.
You can do a high end apartment without going overboard. These are frank conversations that I like to have with my clients, but some people do not like to discuss budgets. For example, that same couple never discussed budgets for the overall renovation.
Hiring an Architect For High End Apartment Renovations
I have never understood people who are looking to spend millions of dollars on purchasing an apartment and then another million or more on the renovation, but hire cheap architects. Obviously, as an architect I have a dog in this fight, and am very happy to admit my bias.
High End Architectural Services
High end architectural services include a team that provides a great deal of attention to your needs, desires, and concerns. This means they are looking out for your best interest and stay on top of your project in order to ensure a quality final product. High end services means full service. The team will be involved in every decision. The architect’s work does not stop when the drawings are complete. It should stop when the apartment renovation is complete.
During construction, you will want the architect to go to the job site every week, but of course, this brings a price to the project fees. It is advised for a high end or luxury apartment renovation that the architect goes to the job site weekly.
The Design Team
The architect should assemble and coordinate the design team. Of course you can hire a separate interior decorator or interior designer. Some architects also do interior design and decorating and others do not. You can have these under your architect’s contract or not. I generally think it is easier on the client if they hire one person and the architect manages all the consultants. I personally have worked both ways, and have noticed the jobs where the client hires everyone separately seem to have the most coordination issues.
Some of the professionals that might work on your renovation, dependent on the scope of work.
- Mechanical Engineer
- Structural Engineer
- Filing Representative (some architects do in house)
- Lighting Designer
- Interior Designer (can be the architect)
- Interior Decorator
- AV Consultant or Smart Home Consultant
- Security Consultant
High End Apartment Example Drawing
The drawing below is of an apartment we are currently working on. In this project we are combining 2 lofts in Soho with a combined floor are of 6,500 square feet. The drawing below is of their kitchen.
The Design Process
When planning a high end apartment renovation in NYC, you will need to hire a New York Residential Architect familiar with high end design. You want to discuss early on with your team how much you want to be involved with a project. If you are a couple, it is good to know who is involved in what and how often you want to meet and review. I have had clients that are very hands on and want to be involved in every decision. In fact, those are usually the types of clients I get. As far as I am concerned, the client is a part of the design team unless they don’t really care to be involved, but I have never had a client like that yet.
Designing your home is a really personal experience. You should feel comfortable with the people you work with on this. When I have clients who want to be very involved on gut renovations we usually set a weekly time to meet and review. These weekly meetings can also be good for showroom visits or reviewing details at the apartment.
Working sessions are also very helpful with hands-on clients. Clients sometimes come to my office where we’ll go over progress projected on a big screen, or do a screen share meeting, and we can also bring a laptop to their home for working sessions. In these sessions, we can put the drawings and 3D model on the screen and go over the design tweaking as necessary in real time. Some of my clients love this but others do not have the patience for it. You might want to think about what your preferences are and discuss it with the architect. I always ask my clients early on about how involved they want to be.
Hiring a High End Residential Contractor in NYC
I want to keep this simple so lets just be clear about one thing. You do not want to spend a fortune on purchasing your apartment then spend a lot of money on materials and products, just to have it installed by a cheap contractor who is in over their head.
One of my clients purchased an 8 million dollar loft renovated by the previous owner. The apartment had brand new very expensive materials, finishes, and fixtures but all installed with low quality. Nothing in the apartment works and the place is falling apart having been renovated only 4 years earlier. The showers do not drain properly, the bathroom exhausts do not work, the floor boards are popping up, just to name a few problems. I am now redesigning the apartment and we will use a high quality General Contractor to finish the work. Make sure that the team is equally high end as the materials that they will be installing.
The architect and contractor need to work well together. I personally have been in luck on this so far. There certainly are some contractors I prefer to work with. It is good to get advice on the contractor from the architect. As I tell my clients, I am happy to recommend a contractor but the final decision is up to the client.
It is never too early to bring a contractor on board.
The apartment below is a high end apartment in the Financial District that we renovated. This apartment has a lot of custom finishes. The walls have concrete finishes, which I understand is not for everyone. This is a more modern industrial look. You can see more about this apartment in another blog post that we wrote on this Concrete Apartment Design.
The Contractor for the above project was KJ Remodeling owned by Konrad Jankowski.
The architect will do site visits during construction and coordinate sign off paperwork at the completion. As we already discussed you may want to pay for weekly site visits during construction as it is money well spent. The architect will review for quality control but also for issues that come up. There are a million little details and many of these get taken care of in the field. Towards the end of construction the architect and contractor will work on punch lists to finish up. You should let the team know if you want to be involved in this process.
Some clients are in town and want to go to the job site constantly, if you are not that kind of client, you can ask the team to submit regular progress reports and pictures.
High End Loft Renovation
The picture below is of a High End Tribeca Loft Renovation. This apartment is currently for sale, listed for 7.65 million.
NYC High End Apartment Renovations
As an architect, I study design and construction, but these are complicated and quite involved issues. Every project is different and must be assessed on its own unique characteristics. This post does not assume to cover every possible issue or condition, but provide a general overview of the topic.
SoHo Loft Exposed Brick NYC
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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 15 years where he has designed renovations and new developments of various building types.