Apartment for a young professional
A retiree’s DIY project
Photos by kc kratt
As Buffalo kicks off its rust, some city residents are finding vigor for renovation projects that match the Queen City’s new shine. Alice Robinson, a retired Abbott Laboratories quality assurance technician who purchased her Richmond Avenue home in 1996, only recently DIY remodeled the upstairs apartment and front door to welcome its first tenant, a Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus employee.
Walking into the foyer, one is struck by the rich colors in the floral wallpaper. Robinson also stripped four layers of paint from the wainscoting to reveal dark oak paneling and repaired the foyer’s original mosaic tile. The design and color evoke an elegance that suggests finery, not a place to kick slush from one’s boots.
The smartly redone stairway may not extend the grandeur of the foyer but does boast fresh paint on the walls and the risers. The wooden treads have also been restored.
The apartment opens into a short hallway with yellow walls and slate ceramic tile; a mudroom to the right has an industrial look inspired by Buffalo’s past. A length of pipe mounted via reclaimed wood door frame invites coats to be hung. Two bicycle baskets affixed to the wall store gloves, scarves, even extra pantry items; Robinson bought all five baskets for a dollar at a garage sale. For seating, Robinson restored a bench from the home’s basement and finished it with gray paint.
The entrance hall gives way to a roomy kitchen and living area, and anyone who knew this space prior to renovation would be hard-pressed to recognize it now. The kitchen linoleum was stripped to reveal original wood that Robinson sanded with a friend’s help. An island was constructed from a tabletop reclaimed from the old Spaghetti Warehouse; Robinson bought the tabletop from Horsefeathers Market in 1998. Everything below the tabletop top, including the frames and wheels, was purchased from Home Depot.
Above the island hangs a modern six-light chandelier, and the industrial theme is reinforced by Edison light bulbs installed above the sink. On the wall below the bulbs, the backsplash comprises fleur-de-lis tile from Best Tile Buffalo, framed with subway tile from Home Depot.
Around the sink, Robinson constructed a counter from plywood, and covered it with $200 to $300 worth of food-grade cement. She also installed new appliances including an eighteen-inch Bosch dishwasher, and an LG midsize fridge and gas oven/range. An electrician acquaintance did some rewiring, installed two new outlets, and converted two-pronged outlets to three-prong GFCI outlets. (Some rewiring work, which extended all the way through into the basement, was also completed in the bedroom space.)
A half-wall partition between kitchen and living room was knocked out to open the space. Near the ceiling above the sink, a section of ceiling panels formerly created a sharp slope, so Robinson removed them to uncover an alcove now covered with chalkboard paint and chalked with accents reminiscent of a French café. She also removed the drop ceiling to restore the original ceiling height. Seven or eight coats of white paint cover the previous dark eggplant walls to brighten both the kitchen and the living room.
A door leading outside to a second-story porch space has been replaced and the antique wood from that frame is repurposed into the living room floor. The new doorway pad leading to the balcony is constructed of checkerboard Carrara marble tile that Robinson says had been in the basement for twenty years.
The slate tile from the hallway continues into the bathroom, located on the left side of the front hall toward the bedroom, which Robinson says required the most work of the renovation. “I gutted everything and only kept the bathtub,” she says. She even gutted the subfloor, and knocked out the old ceiling to create about two more feet of headspace. While no new plumbing was required, Robinson did replace some fixtures, including a new shower valve with PEX tubing.
The finished bathroom dazzles compared to the more spartan varieties found in most city apartments. Glossy glass and marble mosaic tile adorns the space above the sink, in a stripe that runs along the shower wall, and as a frame around the shower niche. Robinson researched how to build this dropbox with the help of YouTube tutorials.
“I used YouTube tutorials for about seventy percent of the renovations,” says Robinson, who also did all the drywall. “It gives you the confidence that you can do it on your own. It’s helpful to see two or three different ways of finishing a project.” Robinson also helped herself by making sure she had all the necessary tools—including leveling tools—on hand, a lesson all DIYers should heed.
Aided by step-by-step instructions, Robinson spent a total of three hours installing the sliding shower door. “You have to read your instructions really well and make sure that you don’t have any screws left at the end,” she says. “If you have a screw left, you’ve done something wrong.”
The rest of the bathroom features a Kohler toilet, sink with Moen faucet, and a brand new mirror, which Robinson bought for twenty-five dollars from Habitat Buffalo ReStore. A lighting fixture above the mirror features large Edison bulbs on a stainless steel mount.
The front hall ends with the tenant’s bedroom where Robinson continues the industrial theme. The previous tenant had removed the closet doors, so Robinson installed more pipe to hold a thick curtain instead of installing a new door. She painted the walls and trim white, added four-dollar basket frames to the light fixtures, and gave the windows Levolor blinds that cost her five dollars each at ReStore. “Otherwise, they cost about $50 in the store,” she says.
The entirety of the apartment renovations took six months to complete. “It’s very rewarding,” Robinson says. “Every day, I had to get up like I was going to work.” Although she did employ some help in finishing the floors and the electrical work, Robinson completed the vast majority of the renovations herself. The result is a comfortable apartment perfect for a young professional looking to live near one of Buffalo’s favorite walkable neighborhoods.
Steve Brachmann writes on technology, business, and legal topics for IPWatchdog.com, a blog focused on intellectual property law. Locally, he has written for Buffalo News and Hamburg Sun. He lives in Allentown.