High-End Apartment Renovation Planning NYC

by | Last updated May 26, 2024 | Apartment Renovations, Luxury Interiors

A high-end apartment renovation means using top-of-the-line products and materials as well as having a high-quality team. New York City has many luxury apartments that deserve a high-end design.


Planning A High End Apartment Renovation In NYC

I am Jorge Fontan, an architect in New York and owner of Fontan Architecture, an NYC-based architecture and design firm. I want to be clear about defining what makes an apartment high-end. A high-end apartment is made with top-quality materials and craftsmanship. In this post, I will review a few things to consider when planning a high-end apartment renovation in New York City, using a few examples from some of our projects.


High-End Renovation Budgets: $500 Per Square Foot and Up

Luxury Budgets: $700 Per Square Foot and Up 

high end apartment renovation starts at about $500 per square foot and goes up from there. If you can spend over $700 per square foot, I would say you have a luxury budget in NYC. These budgets are rough estimates, and of course will vary from project to project. We have clients who spend over 1,000 per square foot on their renovations so please understand that the sky is the limit when it comes to luxury. 

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 500-dollar-per-square-foot budget, you would spend about one million on the renovation. If you are renovating a 5,000-square-foot apartment with a 700-dollar-per-square-foot budget, we are looking at a three-and-a-half-million-dollar renovation budget. The flexibility of having a higher budget allows you to tailor your renovation to your specific needs and desires.

Architects usually use cost per square foot to plan a budget, whereas a general contractor will provide a take-off price or full-cost budget. These are different from a cost-per-square-foot budget. The rough cost per square foot budget that I mentioned is just me, as an architect, using a simplified method to have a starting point. Once a full set of architectural drawings and specifications are prepared, a contractor can actually price out the entire job.

 Please realize these numbers are very rough, and every project is different. 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.

High-End NYC Apartment Renovation

High-End NYC Apartment Renovation (Upper East Side, Manhattan)


Hard Costs vs Soft Costs

Let’s look at some common terminology to help you understand your budgeting and prepare for speaking with professionals.

Hard Costs refer to actual material and labor. All products, materials, and construction labor are hard costs. The general contractor and subcontractors are all 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 designers, Department of Buildings fees, Asbestos testing, printing drawings, fees to your management company, etc. The Soft Costs of a high-end project will be between 15% – 20% of the budget. It can go over 20% as well, but this is just a rule of thumb. The soft costs will vary based on the services, extent of work, and the team. 


Budgetary Factors for High-End Residential Renovations

The picture below shows a Luxury bathroom built with marble slabs for the walls and floors. Marble slabs are the top-of-the-line when it comes to luxury bathroom design. 

Marble Bathroom Remodel

Marble Bathroom Remodel

Custom Work 

Custom work is what makes an apartment renovation luxurious. Don’t assume all custom work is equal; it has to come from high-quality craftsmanship for me to consider it luxury. 

I have seen some disappointing custom kitchens as well as some spectacular ones. Also, many of the well-known brand-name kitchen cabinet companies, including many of the so-called “luxury” European kitchen companies, do not provide the high-quality craftsmanship or service one would expect. 

Below is a fully custom marble sink from one of our apartment renovations in Manhattan. This sink is entirely custom and made with high-quality craftsmanship. 

Custom Marble Sink

Custom Marble Sink


Almost Anything Can Be Custom

Nearly anything can be custom-made: millwork (cabinets), doors, even sinks. Be cautioned that there are plenty of low-quality custom companies, especially low-quality “Semi-custom” brands. If you are going to spend the money on custom, we always make sure it is high quality and worth it. 

Small Powder Room Design in NYC

Small Powder Room Design in NYC


Critical Thresholds

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 example to explain.

We had a client, a young woman and her husband, who hired us to renovate their 6,500 square foot Soho Loft. They were interested in wide plank floors, so we brought them samples 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 apartmentThe 12″ plank would cost $200,000 for the apartment. That is where we hit a critical threshold. The price jumped drastically just for going from a 10″ to a 12″ from the same manufacturer. While they had the budget for it, they could not make sense out of spending an extra 100K just for a two-inch difference in planks. Many people would be willing to spend that money on details, so identifying these issues is essential.

You can do a high-end apartment without going overboard. I like to have frank conversations with my clients about budgets early on to ensure everyone has the same expectations. 

White Oak Floors

White Oak Floors


High-End Architectural Services 

High-end architectural services include a team that pays close attention to project details as well as your needs and concerns. This means we look out for your best interests and stay on top of your project to ensure a quality final product. High-end services mean full service. The team will be involved in every decision. 

Apartment Remodeling NYC

Apartment Remodeling Architect NYC


The Design Team

The architect should assemble and coordinate the design team. At our office, we provide full service, including interior design. Some architects do interiors and decorating, while others do not. generally think it is easier on the client if they hire one person and the architect manages all the consultants. I have worked both ways and have noticed that the jobs where the client hires everyone separately have the most coordination issues.

Some of the professionals that might work on your renovation depend on the work scope.

  • Architect
  • Mechanical Engineer
  • Structural Engineer
  • Filing Representative (some architects do in-house)
  • Lighting Designer
  • Interior Designer (can be the architect)
  • Interior Decorator (can be the architect)
  • AV Consultant or Smart Home Consultant
  • Security Consultant
Architectural Kitchen Drawings

Architectural Kitchen Drawings


The Design Process

When planning a high-end apartment renovation in NYC, you will need to hire a New York residential architect who is familiar with high-end design. You want to discuss early on with your team how much you want to be involved with a project. Knowing who is involved in what and how often you want to meet and review in advance is helpful for setting expectations. I have had very hands-on clients who want to be involved in every decision. As far as I am concerned, the client is a part of the design team unless they do not want to be.

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 involved in gut renovations, we usually set a weekly meeting and review. These weekly meetings can also be good for showroom visits or reviewing details at the apartment. You should consider your preferences and discuss them 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 let’s just be clear about one thing. You do not want to spend a fortune on purchasing your apartment and 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 very expensive new materials, finishes, and fixtures, but they were installed with low quality. Nothing in the apartment worked, and the place was falling apart despite having been renovated only four years earlier. The showers did not drain properly, the bathroom exhausts did not work, and the floorboards were popping up, just to name a few problems. 

The architect and contractor need to work well together. I have been in luck with this so far, but 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.


During Construction

The architect will perform site visits during construction and coordinate sign-off paperwork upon completion. The architect will review the project for quality control and deal with issues that come up. There are many little details that get taken care of in the field. Towards the end of construction, the architect and contractor will work on punch lists to finish up. Let the team know if you want to be involved in this process.

High End Tribeca Loft Architect NYC

High End Tribeca Loft Architect NYC


Thank you for reading our blog post on Planning High-End Apartment Renovations In NYC

I hope this was helpful. Please leave questions and comments below. You can contact us directly if you would like to speak with an architect about a specific project you are planning.


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.